San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) – Portezuelo Paranal – Paso Jama – Susques (Arg)
This route from San Pedro de Atacama to Susques is the main highway between northern Chile and Argentina and is an easier (and we believe less interesting) option than the unpaved alternative to the south via the Paso Sico. Going west-east as described here, the majority of the climbing is done right at the beginning on the dull climb out of San Pedro which takes a day or more. After that there isn’t a huge deal of climbing to do and you’re likely to get some nice tailwinds as the prevailing winds are from the west/northwest. If you cycle this in the opposite direction the wind will probably be a menace, but you won’t forget the 2,000m+ descent to San Pedro for a while. 10% gradients and few corners – check your brakes before you take the plunge…
The scenery is excellent for much of the route, especially the section between the turn-off to Hito Cajon and the Chile/Argentina border. Water can only be found at a couple of places on the road and basic food can be bought only at the Pueblo de Jama, so it’s a good idea to take all food you need with you from San Pedro (or Susques if you are going in the opposite direction). We were passed by over 100 vehicles each day of this cycle, so you should be able to get help if you get into any difficulties. Note that if you leave San Pedro unacclimatized you may have issues with the altitude as the road climbs straight up to 4,800m and stays over 4,500m for about 60kms.
|Total dist.||Stage dist.||Description|
|0km||San Pedro de Atacama (2,440m). Tourist town with all facilities, but no money in the ATMs on Sundays.|
|57.7km||After 1.4kms pass the Chilean immigration office. As of 2013, you do not do immigration formalities here if you are crossing Paso Jama – they are now done at the border. The office is for people heading over Paso Sico, or Hito Cajon. Then turn uphill for a gentle 12.3kms climb to 2,530m. Climb steeply for the next 32kms to the turn-off to Hito Cajon (4,665m) and the Bolivian Lagunas. Staying on the tarmac the climb eases for 12kms to the Portezuelo de Suco.|
|57.7km||Portezuelo de Suco (4,825m – GPS01).|
|42.7km||Descend and in 23kms come to a rest area (all the rest areas have walls where you could put up a tent and get protection from the wind) by a bofedal (marsh). Just after the rest area a stream (drinkable after treating it) which leads out of the bofedal runs alongside the road – this is the only water between San Pedro and the Pueblo de Jama. The road is flat for about 11kms, then climbs for 9kms to the Portezuelo Paranal.|
|100.4km||Portezuelo Paranal (4,836m – GPS02). The highest point on this route.|
|66.3km||Descend for 14.6kms to a rest area by a salar. There is another rest area (4,240m) 22.6kms further on. From here it’s a gentle and easy 11.1km climb to a high point (4,410m), then 13kms to the border (4,290m) and a 5km descent to immigration at the Pueblo de Jama.|
|166.7km||Argentine and Chilean immigration and Pueblo de Jama (4,100m). Possible to get very basic supplies, and water. There are also good free showers at the YPF, as well as WiFi, and there is also a motel.|
|50.8km||Flat to Archibarca. Road is heading south-ish so sidewinds likely.|
|217.5km||Archibarca – only a few houses, but they were inhabited and there was water. There is a road to Catua from here, so if you fancy heading there and the road over the Paso Sico, turn right.|
|67.4km||Staying straight, in 8.8kms reach the junction with Ruta 70. In a further 27.5kms you are at a low point (3,910m) before a 10.9km climb to the Abra de Taire (4,110m). A 17km descent brings you to a service station (water, food) at the junction to Sey (turn R), but if you stay straight, on the tarmac, it is only 3.2kms to Susques.|
|284.9km||Susques (3,630m). Scruffy little town with ATM, accommodation, restaurants, shops but no bike shop. There is an internet place but it didn’t work when we were there.|
|Time taken – 3 ½ days and amount climbed – 3,650m||10 hours: San Pedro – Port. Paranal (2,860m climb, tailwind).
3 hours: Port. Paranal – Pueblo de Jama (400m climb, tailwind).
6 hours: Pueblo de Jama – Susques (390m climb).
|Traffic||121 vehicles our first day (we were so bored on the climb that we counted), and 100+ vehicles the other 2 days.|
|When we cycled||Early December 2010.|
|How much we had to push on this route||Not at all|
|GPS01||Portezuelo Suco||22.9250 S, 67.7030 W, 4,825m.|
|GPS02||Portezuelo Paranal||23.0725 S, 67.5047 W, 4,836m.|
View San Pedro de Atacama – Susques in a larger map
I rode from Susques Junction to SPdA in June 2015.
Hotel Pastos Chicos, The manager of this hotel, Paul, he speaks fluent English and helped me greatly with my troubled bike. my Rohloff gearshit cable has snapped and I had to make do with what I have. Paul went to Susques town to see if there are bicycle cables that I can use. The wifi works great here. I camped at the hotel’s carport for free.
There are animals here at Susques Junction that will steal your food. I lost my pots, instant soup and bread, they are all in a bag.
The prevailing wind is head wind if you are riding east to West, although the road is paved but the wind is very strong.
You can change money here but the rate is not good. there are also mobile food stall that sells food and snacks, again, the prices are very high compare to Argentina. There are 2-3 kiosk within the township of Jama where you can buy food such as rice/poridge/spaghetti/bread/canned food, no butchery or bakery.
There is an abandoned house just behind YPF station where you can freecamp inside. some local calls it Casa de Ciclista. You can camp at YPF but need to pay for shower, there are junk food that you can purchase at the YPF, expensive though. Jama is very windy. even camping behind the station where suppose to be no wind is not going to be easy.
Dont ride this route east to west in June if you dont like freezing headwind. the road are icy, the winds are unforgiving. I pushed my bike through the last section of Paso Jama, I couldnt feel my legs and arms.
There are 5 man made Mirador where you can camp behind wind break wall, but the wind is still very strong, I feared my tent was going to be blown into pieces. check my blog for details.