Salar de Tunupa [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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The situation in July 2002. See also the Laguna Verde Off the map.

From San Augustín to Uyuni via the Salar the Tunupa (Salar the Uyuni).

Distance

226 km

Ascending

370 m

Days

4

Main difficulty

Bad weather

The original name of the ´Salar the Uyuni` is ´Salar the Tunupa`. The local people prefer this original name and therefore we use this name here too. Also the island where all the tour cars are heading for is called wrongly Isla de Pescado. The correct name should be Isla Incawasi. The real Isla de Pescado is situated more to the north.

Day 1
From San Augustin there are 2 roads to Colcha K. We took the road via Julaca instead of San Juan, so we could avoid the washboard roads followed by the touring cars. From San Augustin (3813) many cycling tracks can be followed along the river. After 17 km a pass (3832) is reached and a descent to a road crossing follows. Here the way to the village of Calcha K is directed to the right. But this is a different village from Colcha K and the correct road is to the left !!! 21 km from the pass the village of Julaca is reached. After crossing the railroad, which goes through the middle of the village, the road continues along the right side of a graveyard. Colcha K is after 21 km more, hidden behind a curve in a valley. Colcha K is a large village, with a hostal owned by the municipal. Many little shops and fresh bread at noon.   

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
Between the pass and Julaca the road is very very sandy in many parts. I've measured 3888 Meters on the pass and you have to take care that you see the road sign! It's just a small stone with the directions to Julaca (right way to Colcha K) and Calcha K. After many days on bad roads the road from Julaca to Colcha K on a dirty salt basin is really great for cycling! But be prepared! The last kilometers are very sandy again. In some way the entrance to the village of Colcha K is very interesting because its a military camp. Maybe you'll have to answer some questions from officers before they let you get through to the hotel. Just answer to them, that you are from Germany, the Netherlands or some other "good European" country. I think they won't be so friendly if you tell them you're from the US.

Iris en Tore: We also entered the village by the military camp, but it is possible to avoid the camp by heading straight/right just before you see the entrance of the camp.

Note: May 2005, Peter from the Netherlands
Your website is still up to date, even the famous Calcha K stone is still there.

Day 2
It is 22 km more along the coast of the Salar de Tunupa, before reaching the port of the Salar. Here a road heads straight to Colchani. Because the side of the lake is wet, it is better to take this road for the first approximate 3 km. At the 3 baden (dip in the road) head north, compass direction: 354 degrees. There are not much tracks on this part. In the North the Volcano of Tunupa is seen. The Isla Incawasi is just left of it. After 8 km the Island is just popping up behind the horizon, it is another 32 km to the Island.

On the Island is a hostal and for bikers a meal will be cooked by the lady living on the Island.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
Nothing to say. Just GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyone has to experience that great island and salar itself. It's not possible to explain that in words.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
The 22km along the coast of the Salar de Tunupa are sandy. We found it easier to take the sporadic cycling tracks on the salar's shore. At the road crossing (the port of the salar) there is a Natural Mirador lookout, which gives a good view from above of the salar (early on in the season this was helpful to judge how much water was on the salar). The 3rd Baden is marked with an old tyre on a wooden post. A lot of tracks head off from here across the salar. If there is a lot of water at the 3rd Baden, it may be possible to follow the dam road to the end (a further 2km, marked by a tall metal post) and enter the salar through a shallower and less wide water trough. When out of the water, gradually bear left to pick up the numerous 4WD tracks to Isla Incawasi. If you decide to push your bike through the water, wear sandals. The salt crystals under the water can cut your feet.
It now costs 8 bolivianos to officially visit Isle Incawasi (eg. to sign the cyclist's guest book and to walk the short track to a look out over the salar). There is a fast food cafe and hostal cater for tourists.

Day 3
From the Isla Incawasi it is easy to follow car tracks to the Salt Hotel, 64 km away, compass direction: 106 degrees. The Salt Hotel was closed at the time we were their due some permits which were not renewed. We camped 10 km before the Salt Hotel on the Salar. Very cold, but a wonderful night sky.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
The Salt Hotel is opened again and they offered me an accommodation for 10 US$. Might be interesting but don't miss to camp on the salar.

Note: February 2006, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
The Salt hotel is closed again and now transformed in a museum.

 Day 4
Another 7 km though the salt miners working place brings again earth under the tires instead of salt. 6 km further is the village of Colchani. From here a road heads south to Uyuni, which is another 24 km away. After the first crossing of the road with the railway, a cycling track starts on the left side besides the railway. Much better cycling. Uyuni is a town. Money can be obtained with cash dollars, travellers cheques or Visa Creditcard. Bikes can be cleaned at a lavadero for about 5 bolivianos.

Note: June - July 2003, Sascha from Germany
At some parts on the way from Cholchani to Uyuni there's no cycling track or acceptable road available. There it is the best solution to cycle on the railway as far as it is not too sandy.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
Colchani has shops and a hotel. A new ripio (unsealed) road leads to Uyuni

Tips and tricks
-The map we used (Altiplano number 5, Mapas, Chile) showed the Isla not at all. 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.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
Any compass reading should be made at least 2 meters away from the bicycle as a steal frame can influence the reading.

-Don't underestimate the Salar !!!! Check the weather forecast. Water on the Salar can make it impossible to cycle and then I am not even talking about camping. 

-The UV level is very high on the white Salar. Use a high factor sun cream.

-After the rain season the Salar is like a mirror and cycling goes fast. But soon cracks in the salt will appear and by capillary effect, water with salt will come through the cracks and dry up in the sun. The dried up salt forms ribs (a few centimeters high) making the well known hexagram shapes on the Salar and reducing the cycling speed to less then 10 km / h.

Note: April 2005, Daniel & Victoria from Switzerland
We were on the Salar in mid April (shortly after the rainy season) . The salt conditions vary throughout the salar. Some sections are easily ridable (like a ripio road), other sections had SUNKEN hexagon formations, and some parts were saturated salt which sticks to the tyres.

Note: February 2006, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
It wasn't possible to enter the Salar in the raining season (middle February) from Puerto Chubico. A lot of water (50 cm) and mud for many kilometres. It's easier to enter the Salar on Uyuni - the waterlevel remains lower, you reach the solid salt surface faster and there are many touring cars to the salt hotel that can pick you up if you have to return. If you decide to cycle the Salar by water take care: During this time the touring cars stop by the salt hotel and you are without help for the rest of the way. If you take this way you can continue from the island to the north (consult our connecting off the map "from Isla Incahuasi to Colchane". We tried this way in middle of March and it was successful. A dry Salar for the first 40 kilometres.

-Bring a stone when camping on the Salar, because the salt is very hard.

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


   Sascha from Germany on the Salar! (photo from Sascha)

Note: February 2006, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
The compass degrees in this off the map don't include declination correction.

 

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