Paso Socompa (San Pedro – Salar de Pocitos)

This is an adventurous ride, and by far the least transited of the high routes between Argentina and Chile. There are various reasons for this, including that the road surface is often poor, and that if you ask officials in San Pedro de Atacama or San Antonio de Los Cobres about the pass, they’ll often deny its existence or claim it’s not a legal crossing point.

The Argentine Gendarmeria and Chilean Difrol websites both state it is possible to cross the pass, and we found this to be true in practice. Exiting Chile, we obtained exit stamps in San Pedro (though we are aware of at least one cyclist who has since obtained an exit stamp at the border) and Argentine entry stamps at the border.

The bad surface, a lack of water sources, zero traffic and the heat in the desert on the Chilean side make this the most challenging of the six Chile-Argentina 4000m+ crossing options, despite it being the lowest. The Chilean scenery is dull from San Pedro to Monturaqui, but after this it is very beautiful, classic Puna as you cross a wild part of Salta province.

It will take most people at least five days between Peine, the last village on the Chilean side, and Tolar Grande, the first village on the Argentina side. Carrying provisions for this amount of time, added to the fact you have to carry a lot of water makes for a heavy bike.

We’ve only cycled the section from San Pedro to Paso Socompa. Thanks to Reginaldo Rohden for providing us with information and a GPX file for the whole route from San Pedro to Salar de Pocitos.

Reginaldo’s photos:

Dist (km) Altitude (m) Information
0 2430 San Pedro de Atacama. Take paved road towards Paso Sico.
37.5 2500 Toconao. Shops, accommodation.
71.3 2550 R to Peine, onto dirt road.
78.9 2320 L to Peine/Antofagasta.
86.6 2320 Straight.
101 2360 Straight. R goes to Antofagasta.
101.9 2360 R. L is for short detour to Peine (basic shops, water). Stock up on water – nothing reliable after this until the border.
~115 2370 R, in Tilomonte (some trees, slightly salty stream, but not an inhabited place).
138.4 2740 L, under pylons. Hot, desert, no water.
149.6 2880 Pozo 4 (concrete tank with leaking pipes, so maybe can get water).
155.6 2930 Campamento, normally unoccupied.
182.8 3370 R.
185.2 3480 R. (L goes to Baical). A few mine vehicles for a while.
186.7 3450 L.
192 3340 L to Socompa on Carretera Internacional. Straight goes to Mina Escondida. End of traffic.
203.6 3920 High point, and junction (take L of the 3).
210.9 3450 L.
214.7 3440 L. R to Estacion Monturaqui (uninhabited) and Llullaillaco (78km).
221.8 3430 R. L goes to Pozo Monturaqui.
238 3880 Portezuelo Socompa, Chilean Carabineros.
239 3880 Argentine Gendarmeria, immigration. Get water.
~378 3530 Tolar Grande. Basic shops, water, accommodation, fuel for multifuel stoves available.
~402 4050 Abra Navarro.
~462 3670 Salar de Pocitos. Shops.

San Pedro – Salar de Pocitos Details
Distance (of which paved) 462km (71km)
Time taken 7 days
Amount climbed ~5000m
Traffic Some between San Pedro and Peine, a few vehicles an hour between Baical junction and the Carretera International. Zero elsewhere.
Best time to cycle October – January, March – April
When we cycled December 2013
Difficulty 5
How much we had to push on this route 1km

[map maptype=satellit gpx=”” style=”width:610px; height:610px; border:1px solid gray;”]

Files for Pikes’ Route: San Pedro to Socompa:
Download GPX Download KMZ

Files for Reginaldo’s Route: San Pedro to Salar de Pocitos:
Download GPX Download KMZ

4 Responses to “Paso Socompa (San Pedro – Salar de Pocitos)”

  1. Nathan 03/12/2014 at 02:00 # Reply

    If you are an experienced remotest or dirty tourer than I feel this is an unmissable route. The entire ride had a buzz about it that comes from being away from people in an ever-changing environment where you probably shouldn’t be. But be warned, this isn’t the kind of route you can freestyle off someone elses route notes. Even with the aid of others notes you should be doing your own TRIP (thoughtful research and intelligent preparation). Study satellite images, become acquainted with the route beforehand and figure yourself out a game plan. From experience you should know how well you ride on hills and bad roads, use this to plan out how much food and water you should be carrying. This is entirely your responsibility so don’t rely on what anyone else says; route notes are only ever a guide and never a gospel.

    Things to note in addition to the information above:
    – The road west from the 23 that you turn onto after 71.3 km is now paved
    – The right turn at Tilomonte branches off about 1km before actually reaching the oasis and runs around the west side of the hamlet. Tilomonte is most definitely inhabited but don’t expect to find any services there.
    – At 168km (3,180m) there is a potential water source up hill to the right. It is a pipe that runs warm slightly saline water. Not the best to drink but a good emergency solution
    – At 198km, on the climb up the Carretera Internacional there is a walled enclosure that could make a good camp spot. Again at 200km there is abandoned buildings that could offer good wind shelter for a camp

    IMPORTANT: There are both Chilean and Argentine immigration facilities at the Socompa border crossing so all related formalities can be completed when you cross. When I set out there was a lot of confusion as to whether there are Chilean immigration facilities at the border, there are. Do not get an exit stamp in San Pedro de Atacama, get it at the border.

    Detailed route notes for the section from the international border to Tolar Grande can be found in the last section of my post:

    I was on the route in early/mid November 2014 and I loved it.

  2. paul g 28/02/2015 at 03:07 # Reply

    Just to clarify; there is no popsicle stand on socompa, a massive let down it has to be said. In all seriousness though nathan’s got the Argentine side of this totally covered, check out his blog.

    The only thing I’ll add is that there are two reliable water sources in the vicinity of Chuculaqui station just off the road between Socompa and Tolar Grande . If you’re camping at the station there’s a pipe with good water about 200m to the east of the main group of the buildings, about 30m up the slope on the north side of the track (the water flowing down to the track is visible on Google Earth). If you’re not camping there you’re better off going to the second pipe outlet, which if travelling from Socompa is just past the station (maybe 400m) at the bottom of a short steep decent in the road and is just up the hillside to your left. Combined with the water source at Caipe station there’s really no need to lug loads of water with you between immigration and Tolar. It’s a tough stretch that pays to ride light.

    I also rode the stretch from salad de pocitos to tolar via desert diablo, this is a cracking route; full details here:



  3. Brigitte & Ivo 12/01/2016 at 02:09 # Reply

    Thank you for your route description. We did some Puna riding and here is our update:

    To reach the water pipe at Chuculaqui station it makes sense to follow the train line from point S24° 45.607′ W68° 02.212′ to S24° 44.692′ W68° 04.517′. It’s shorter and with less climb. Most of it is ridable with 2,2“ tyres and a medium loaded bike. To find the water pipe quicker here are the coordinates: S24° 44.868′ W68° 03.705′

    At Monturaqui station is another reliable watersource, some hundred meters behind the abandoned main buildings. It consists of a small pool and a pipe with clear water (GPS: S24° 20.595′ W68° 26.271′)

    To avoid a sandy and steep 600m climb to the highpoint at km 203.6 in the road description we recommend to follow the train line between Neurara and Monturaqui station. With 2,2“ tyres and a medium loaded bike about 70% of it is ridable and the panoramic views are stunning. Train line entry point at S24° 09.857′ W68° 28.010′ and exit point at S24° 18.057′ W68° 27.198′.

    We used the pipe mentioned by Nathan at 168km. For us the water was OK after treatment (same water as in the leaking Pozo 4).

    We think it’s better not to turn right 1km before Tilomonte village like Nathan mentions. There is a direct connection straight on (probably the way Pikes meaned it) which join up with the Socompa road at GPS: S23° 57.220′ W68° 11.596′. This saves 8.8km with an unnecessary downhill to Tilopozo (nothing out there) and a horribly outwashed climb up again.

    Paso Socompa is only open for hikers and cyclists because there is no customs, only immigration. For this reason you don’t get the (mandatory since a year) chilean custom form for your bicycle. Try to get this form at the custom office in San Pedro afterwards. We had quite big troubles without it when leaving Chile over Paso Sico.

    It’s difficult to find information about the opening of the pass. Best is to call directly the Carabineros at Reten Socompa: (55) 755136

  4. Carlos 18/11/2017 at 18:49 # Reply


    I did this route about a couple of weeks ago (Mid/late Oct 2017). Here are some updates:

    There is more activity (mining) along both sides of the pass. I saw an average of 4/5 cars a day.

    I only found a greenish puddle in “Pozo 4”, probably the remnants of previous cyclists showers. It seems like with the new activity they are repairing the pipes? Nevertheless, just a few kms further on (near Pozo 1) there is a mining camp with very friendly staff. I was told there are people most of the times, otherwise the big building next to the cabins have accessible taps (unchecked by myself).

    The well and the pipe/hose in Monturaqui is still there. But I found the well in Chuculaqui completely dry. I used Briggite & Ivo gps coordinates to find the well and I looked around but there was no water to be found, regardless I was confirmed by gendarmes that there was “agua de vertiente” here. I didn’t bother to climb to Caipe to get water as I had melted some dirty snow from penitentes left inside the buildings in Chuculaqui. Anyway, there was a new small new mining camp with (again) very friendly staff just after the downhill from near Caipe, just at the entrance of the Salar de Arizaro. In that camp I was told they are prospecting and only will stay if they have positive results. There is a fairly amount of both mining and tourist traffic on Salar de Arizaro (6/8 cars a day?).

    Take Brigitte & Ivo advice about cycling on the railways. It doesn’t only save a lot of energy but is also very cool.

    Now, the border crossing funny situation. I contacted the Carabineros in Socompa (see Brigitte&Ivo comments above for their phone number), first to confirm the pass was open, and then to ask about where I should get the stamp. I was told twice that I should go to the PDI in San Pedro. So I did the long line in San Pedro, just to be told by the PDI officer that it is Carabineros at Socompa who have to do it. I said what carabineros told me and gave him their phone number to sort it out themselves. Yes, it is Carabineros at Socompa who have to stamp your passport and they had no problem to do it, but they don’t know it, or at least not all of them. So my advice: call Carabineros in Socompa and don’t leave San Pedro untill you are assured that they will stamp your passport up there.
    The PDI officer point was that, if he stamped my passport in San Pedro, I would be arrested the minute they saw me riding to Toconao.

    I saw bike tracks and was told a couple of cyclist crossed the pass one or two weeks ahead of me. I also know for certain that some other cyclists crossed after me. Despite this, there are no more updates since last year. If you read this website and are doing the route, please be kind to leave your updates once you’ve done it, if there is any.

    Safe travels,

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