Border crossing San Pedro de Atacama to San Augustín [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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The situation in July 2002. See also the Laguna Verde story and the Tunupa Off the map.

From San Pedro de Atacama to San Augustín 

Distance

314 km

Ascending

4926 m

Days

10

Main difficulty

No water

At the time we did the crossing a snowstorm had closed the Cordillera Occidental for days. Paso Jama was closed for 10 days, geysers del Tatio where closed and also the border crossing was closed for many days.

A snow shovel machine had just opened the way from Laguna Verde to Laguna Colorada the day we arrived in Laguna Verde. But the western road from Laguna Colorada to San Juan via the Arbol de Piedra and the High Laguna's was still closed. So from Laguna Colorada we had to head east to Villamar to be able to travel further north.

Note: June 2003, Thomas & Manuela from Switzerland
We are a couple from Switzerland and are traveling on a tandem from Lima to Tierra del Fiego. Before Uyuni we used your homepage, a big complement and thanks for it. Your maps are quite usable. We took the other route from Colcha K to Laguna Colorada. It is very beautiful but very hard way and water is a big problem. We carried 30 liters of water in some parts.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
We think there is too much emphasis on getting water and hospitality from those who live and work in the National Park (ranger stations, miners).
It should be emphasised that cyclists in this area have to be self sufficient and not dependent on the hospitality and generosity of others. The western route from Colcha K to Laguna Colorada as mentioned by Thomas & Manuela: Colque Tours in San Pedro told us that there is water on this route and that they can give GPS co-ordinations to locate it.
Iris en Tore: When we did the crossing not many cyclist took this road, therefore the locals were very eager to help us. But now more and more cyclist are taking this route and I think it is therefore a very good note from Daniel & Victoria to emphasis that cyclist should be self sufficient.

 

Day 1-2
In San Pedro de Atacama (2430 m) is the Chilean customs. Just after the customs the road splits. The left branch goes to Paso Jama and to Laguna Verde. The asphalt road climb very very steep (great descent) for 42 km to the turn off (4530) to Laguna Verde on the east side of the volcano Licancabur.  The asphalt road continues to Paso Jama and the left turn gravel road to the Bolivian custom post which is called Hito Cajones. Here a 30 day visa stamp can be obtained (60 days extra can be obtained in Potosi for free) and the entrance fee for Parque Nacional de Eduardo Avaroa has to be paid (30 bolivianos pp or equivalent in dollars). The road continues and after 13 km from the turn off the Refugio of Laguna Verde (4296) is situated on the south side of Laguna Blanca, the lake besides Laguna Verde.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
The 60 days extra for the visa stamp can also obtained in the imigación in Uyuni - for free. The 30 Bolivianos for the entrance to the Parque Nacional are not accepted in dollars anymore. But it's possible to change small amounts of pesos to bolivianos before in the Bolivian tourist agency named "Colque tours" in San Pedro. There is a new building of the Parque Nacional Eduardo Avaroa on the point where the road splits (left to the refugio Laguna Verde). There the entrance had to be paid.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
Some nationalities (e.g.Swiss) have to pay ca. $20 U.S.A. for a visa extention. It's possible to change money to Bolivianos in several places in San Pedro, at the Bolivian customs post and in Villamare.

The Refugio has sleeping places for about 30 bolivianos pp and serves an evening meal for about 11 bolivianos pp. Tour guides also stay the night here to pick up a new group of tourist and bring them to Uyuni. They are a very good source of information and can drop water and food along the road if you need.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
There where no tour guides the night I slept there. It seems like most of them are staying in Laguna Colorada now. But I am not sure about it.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
Most tour guides stay at Laguna Colorada and drive through to meet new groups between 9 and 11 a.m.

Day 3
The road continues to the other side of the lake and enters the valley on the far north west side of the lake. In the valley the road turns sharp east to climb over a pass (4650) and descend on the other side to the north, along the Rocas de Dali, to the Salar the Chalviri where the hot springs are situated (4320), 41 km after Laguna Verde.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
It is also possible to cycle a bad direct roads between the Laguna Verde and the Laguna Blanca. Stunning landscape and if it's dry enough it's possible to cycle on the salt front of the laguna.
There's a puesto of parque nacional officials 3km further along the road from the hot springs. If it's really cold and windy that seems to be a friendly accommodation. The guys there are very friendly.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
If you cycle the road between Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca, there are thermal pools east of the road as you exit the 2 lakes (straight on to join the main road). Water from the hot springs at Salar the Chalviri is drinkable after treatment.

Day 4
The road starts almost climbing directly and bends to the west. After 20 km the geysers of Sol de Mañana (4815) are situated a kilometer down to the left. Look out for touring cars who have stopped, because the geysers are not to be seen from the road. 

Day 5
After the geysers a road heads west to a mine and the road to Laguna Colorada heads to the north. The road goes now up and down and it will take another 16 km before it will start descending (4700) on the west side of cerro Pabellon. After 7 km of descending the road splits (4250) and the left branch will go to the Refugio's of Laguna Colorada (4220) which are situated on the far north side of the lake, another 16 km.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
Perhaps it should be mentioned that the left branch is a very bad washboard road.

Their are 2 Refugio's, which are both good, 30 bolivianos pp for the night. They don't serve meals, but there is a small shop which sells (if there is any supply) cookies, drinks and some food. The Refugio's are kept free in the high season for touring cars, and will not give a bed away before all the tours are arrived (tours don't have reservations though). There is also a private Refugio where you can stay if they don't expected their tour coming.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
They do serve meals - especially for individual travelers. But when I was there (June) only the small refugio was opened, the big one was closed. Maybe the other one is only opened in the main season.

Day 6 
Just north of the Refugio's a track turns right and will continue along the north side of the Laguna. This avoids the loop around the Laguna (back to the south end of the Laguna from were the normal road continues (left turn) on the east side of the Laguna to the north entrance of Parque Nacional de Eduardo Avaroa). With some pushing the main road will be reached after 11 km just north of the north entrance of the parque(I think their are only people here during the day). The road starts climbing again through a brought valley (4502) and then descends to Campamento Capinas (4352), a salt miners camp,  after 25 km. Here some men are at work and they will maybe give you a bed in one of their houses.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
It should be mentioned that the route on this day is very hard. Before I thought: "Well, will be a relaxed day - only 36km to the campamento." But I didn't know how really bad the condition of the road/trail is. I had to push the 11 km to the main road the whole sandy trail for more than 4 hours! Some hundred meters of the trail now have changed into a icy creek where pushing and cycling is impossible (I had to find another way to avoid this creek). On the pass the road is splitting and the best solution may be to take the left branch. The last kilometers before the salt miners camp are very, very sandy. It was possible to sleep in the kitchen in the salt miners camp after I asked a leading person and after I asked many times many different people. It was very interesting there but at first sight they where not so friendly as I thought.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
The road north of Laguna Colorada is closed to traffic and in a very bad condition. The last kilometers before the salt miners camp are now in good condition and easily ridable.

Day 7
Besides the salt lake the road continues for 9 km more before starting to climb for 7 km to the pass (4566) in the north. The road descends and will climb up again to reach a second pass (4500) after 4 km. Then the steep descend begins to civilization, the village Villamar (3967) which is reached after 19 km.Villamar is a small village with 2 hostals and several shops.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
The village is to be seen on the last kilometer. It is irritating because some kilometers before I had to take a left instead of a right which was also possible.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
The 7km to the pass - steep gradient, rocks and sand patches. Pushing necessary. Villamar's shops are well stocked and it's possible to change money.

Day 8
The road continues over a high plain and will only start descending (4026) after 36 km. The descend is sandy and reaches the valley bottom (3777) after 8 km. Following the cycling tracks and cycling bridges Alota is situated 5 km more to the east. Alota is a small village with several hostals and several shops. We found even a bakery.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
Maybe the creek which has to be crossed has too much water on the main road. In this case there's also a cycling trail with a stone bridge over the creek (ca. 100 Meters to the right down the creek). The road is a very bad washboard road with a lot of sandy parts. Before the pass there are very nice rock formations. On Sundays there's a camion (truck) that sells bread and other food in the main road of Alota.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
The bridge was down, but the river was easy to cross.

Day 9
Beginning by following the river through a very beautiful valley, the roads starts climbing again to a pass (4192) which is reached after 22 km. Then a nice descend for 13 km brings you to San Augustin (3813). San Augustin is a village with several hostals and several shops. 

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
The valley bottom before San Augustin is very sandy or muddy.

Note: February 2006, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
The road from Alota to San Augustin is a "camino olvidado" and no more used by cars. The valley bottom was great, but if you don't want to push your bike for kilometres through a horrible washed out riverbed road it is maybe better to take the brand-new street over San Cristobal to Uyuni. You can also enter the Salar from there (consult the note by tips and tricks).

Day 10
From San Augustin it is possible to head straight to Uyuni our continue to Salar the Tunupa (Salar the Uyuni) via Julaca or San Juan (see Off the map-Tunupa map).

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
There is also an alternative road from Alota to San Juan. The road climbs steadily to a pass and descends to a Salar. Easy cycling across the Salar to San Juan.

 

Tips and tricks
-Altitudes can be different from shown on maps, because the altitudes are measured values. The altitude differences dough should be more or less correct.

-Because of the snow we needed more time then normal. The snow shovel machine cleaned only the road where it was not possible to ride besides the road. With the result that the climb from the hot springs to the geysers was all over steep 4-wheel drive tracks, beside the road, full of stones. We had to push almost the whole way !!!!

-We came from paso Jama and where already quite good acclimated before we started. This made it possible to sleep above 4800 meters the 4th day. 

-Don't underestimate the altitude !!!! It kills you.

-We brought food for 8 days and 2.5 liters of fuel. Tore carried (up to day 7) 10 liters of water every day.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
That was irritating because I didn't now if the 2.5 liters were for two or for one person. 1 liter is more than enough for one person. In Villamar it is possible to buy fuel from the people living there.
Iris en Tore: This was indeed for 2 persons.

-We took several resting days, which are not indicated in the above outline.

- Because we already calculated that under the circumstances we had, it would be 3 days from Laguna Verde to Laguna Colorada (This stretch is normal 2 days). We asked a touring group to drop 10 liters water at the hot springs, which they did, thanks !!!!

Note: May 2003, Hans de Schryver
We cycled the boarder crossing from San Pedro de Atacama to the Salar de Uyuni in may 2003. Your description was very complete, thanks for that. I only want to say that there's no problem for finding water. You can obtain drinking water at the refugio on Laguna Blanca/Verde, the hot springs at the Salar the Chalviri, the refugio on Laguna Colorado, the salt miners camp, and in all the villages on the road to the Salar. For me the main difficulties are the bad roads, lots of washboard and loose sand. It's a wonderful trip!

Iris en Tore: I am not sure if the water at the hot springs at the Salar the Chalviri is drinkable, it has some minerals dissolved in it!

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
That was really a great information! I did the same and without any problems "Colque tours" in San Pedro dropped 5 liters of water for me at the same place for free!!!

-The map we used (Altiplano number 5, Mapas, Chile) showed only old roads. A tour guide was so nice (and very good) to draw in the correct roads. We followed the touring cars as much as possible to obtain more safety. Coming from Bolivia it is possible to use topographic sheets, which can be bought in Potosi at the Instituto Geografico Militar for 10 dollars per sheet. But also these maps are old, so check with a tour guide about the correct route.

-In the high season every day about 30 touring cars are passing. 

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
Thank you very, very, very much for this great route description!!! It was the first time in my life when I cycled such a breathtaking route without villages for several days where I had to buy my food for several days in advance. And just because of your great homepage all that happened without any problems. And also I can say: The map is quite usable and the best available for this part of Bolivia. Many times on this tour I thought about how to thank you for this and I hope that this "update" is helping you keeping your homepage up to date.
I met Manuela and Thomas from Switzerland on their way down to San Pedro and we were talking about your route description. It seems like you're getting famous step by step now. ;-)

Note: February 2006, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
Cycling this off the map in the rain season was possible, but be prepared for heavy snowstorms between Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorado in the afternoon / evening. Start early in the morning, with good weather and solid frozen streets.

 

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