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CHILE – Bicycle Touring Information

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Map of ChileTime of VisitÂ
November 2006-August 2008

Visa
European, Australian, New Zealand, South American and North American citizens get a 90-day visa free of charge at the border or airport. You can always cross the border to Argentina, Bolivia or Peru and come back to Chile the same hour to get another 90 days. I did this about 6 times, never any questions.

Borders
I enteedr the country by bicycle from Argentina and Bolivia, and once by plane from the US to Santiago de Chile.
I left the country by bicycle to Argentina and Bolivia, once by plane to the US.
For detailed bike touring information by kilometers (supply, altitude, etc.), check this pdf file: Bike Touring Info – CopiapĂł (Chile)/Paso San Francisco/Fiambalá (Argentina)

Route
Carretera Austral (south) from Chile Chico to Villa O’Higgins. Total distance: 410km
The famous Carretera Austral is probably one of the most beautiful roads in the world, but you have to be waterproof, even in February, the driest month of the year, it still rains a lot. The road from Chile Chico to the Carretera Austral follows the southern shores of the huge Lago General Carrera. Views are fantastic, winds usually from the west and stronger in the afternoon and road conditions sometimes bad, no pavement. About 12km past Puerto Guadal (some food, water) you join the Carretera at Cruce El Maiten, 120km from Chile Chico. Bad washbord road to Puerto Bertrand (some food and water). Colchrane is the biggest village on the southern half of the Carretera, buy your supplies here, guesthouse and camping.
South of Colchrane very quiet, be self-sufficient. Wild camping possible, but can be very wet. Caleta Tortel is worth a side trip, but very bad road (35km) that you have to do twice. From the turnoff to Tortel to Puerto Yungay the main road is in a very bad shape and climbs steep for about 10km to drop back to sea level. In Puerto Yungay you will find some barracks and a free ferry a few times per day across a narrow see arm. On the southern shore you can find shelter in a waiting room, sleeping possible for a few persons. The final 100km to Villa O’Higgins is deserted and the road quite good. In Villa O’Higgins you find food, water, camping and guesthouses. From here you can organize the boat trip across Lago O’Higgins and Lago del Desierto to El Chalten in Argentina. This is not a remote adventure any more and getting more expensive every year. I heard somebody talking about another possible crossing to Argentina, you have to wade the Rio Mayer and get your entry stamp near Tucu Tucu.

Carretera Austral (north) from Chile Chico to Futaleufu. Total distance 800km
From Chile Chico you can take a ferry to Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez and continue to the north on the Carretera Austral. However, I suggest everyone to cycle the whole way around the lake, it is stunning! Cycle the 120km west to Cruce El Maiten and turn right. It is another 50km on bad ripio and washboard to Puerto Tranquilo. Here you find food, accommodation and excursions. From here you can make a side trip to Bahia Exploradores. This is a new road, still very bad. About half way there are possibilities for a walk to the glaciers of the ice field and a view of the highest mountain in the region: San Valentin. You have to come back the same way. Take food for the 250km to Coihaique. North of Puerto Tranquilo the road is still bad for a while and then suddenly very good. The last 100km to Coihaique are paved, but include the highest pass on the Carretera (1100m). Coihaique is by far the biggest city on the Carretera Austral. Bike shops, bookstores, camping, guesthouses, hotels, supermarkets. Also to the north of Coihaique you will find about 100km of pavement. After that it is all fairly bad ripio until Futaleufu. Villages are closer together now. You find some food in Manihuales, Villa Amengual, Puyuhuapi, La Junta and Villa Santa Lucia. If the weather is too bad, you can cross to Argentina in many places, see the online maps. Wild camping is easy everywhere and all water you find is drinkable.

Far south: Cerro Castillo-Puerto Natales-Punta Arenas. Total distance 350km
The traveling in this part of Chile is relatively easy. Everything is paved and Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas have everything to offer, Punta Arenas is a real city. They are 250km apart. It might be windy. Coming from Argentina you can cross into Chile at Cerro Castillo or further south at Rio Turbio. Many people visit Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales. In 2007 it was still possible to cycle into the park without paying the enormous entry fee. You have to take the new road the runs more to the west form the main entrance.

Tierra del Fuego: Porvenir-Cameron-Paso Rio Bellavista. Total distance: 250km+80km to Rio Grande (Arg)
You will find some of the best cycling in Chile if you take a ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir. You are now on Tierra del Fuego, an island. Beautiful grasslands, patches of forests, thousands of guanaco’s and other wild life. From Porvenir head south and later east on the shores of Bahia Inutil. The villages that are shown on the maps are not more than estancias, where you can sometimes not find anyone and sometimes encounter the greatest hospitality. So, take enough food from Punta Arenas to reach Rio Grande in Argentina (at least a week). Water is also scarcer here, but you will find some. Winds can be very strong, but in your favour. The road is fairly good. Camping is easy everywhere, but look for a place out of the wind. Turn right at Onaisin toward Cameron. Even if you have to battle the wind now, you will be awarded later. From Cameron turn left (east). After about 70km there is a police station with water. Here you can go south to spend some nights at the fantastic Lago Blanco or turn east to the border crossing at Rio Bellavista. You will have to walk across the river. After the border it is another 80km up and down on bad roads to Rio Grande.

Tierra del Fuego: San Sebastian-Punta Delgada-Rio Gallegos (Arg). Total distance: 300km
On the Argentinean side of the San Sebastian border, north of Rio Grande, there is a waiting room where you can spend the night. As you cycle northwest, the west wind will be difficult. Most days it is very strong. There are a few different possibilities to get to the ferry across the Straight of Magellanes, but it is always clear what the main road is. Expect grassy hills, lots of wind and emptiness. Take water and food for a few days. After the wild ferry ride you can turn west to Puerto Natales or northeast to Rio Gallegos. The latter is the easier option because of the winds.

Mendoza-Santiago de Chile (Paso de los Libertadores/Cristo Redentor). Total distance: 380km
From Mendoza there are three possibilities to get to Uspallata. You can leave the city to the south and later turn right on the main road number 7 to Chile. This is a beautiful option for landscape and pavement, but heavy in traffic. A more adventurous way is to leave the city to the north and cycle the 365 curves of the Villavicencio road number 52. You have to climb on a dirt road from 700m to 3100m and than descent to Uspallata at 2000m. A third option is road 13 that I only know from the maps. It goes directly west form Mendoza.
From Uspallata you climb 80km very gradually to the tunnel that takes you to Chile. On perfect pavement you follow the valley, only the last 10km are a bit steeper. Don’t forget to take a look at the Puente del Inca and the Aconcagua. Food and water you find in several places. You don’t have to go through customs on this side of the pass. The last village in Argentina is Las Grutas (3150m), there is a guesthouse, but you can camp everywhere you like, really. Now you have to decide if you want to cycle the old pass, or take the vehicle that will take you free of charge through the 4km long tunnel. Of course the pass is the most beautiful option. You have to climb another 10km on a good dirt road to the statue of Cristo Redentor (3860m). The downhill in Chile is a lot worse and steeper. Go through Argentinean and Chilean customs here. Now follows a fantastic downhill to Rio Blanco (food) and down to Los Andes (city).
From Los Andes to Santiago you cycle on a main highway, but it is not very busy. You can cycle the small Chacabuco pass on a bad dirt road, or take another lift through the tunnel, a car is waiting for you. The best way to cycle into Santiago is in my opinion via Chicureu and Piedra Roja. You have to leave the highway about 10km south of Colina and turn left to Chicureu. Then ask for the road to Santiago over the Piedra Roja climb. You will enter the city in the rich suburb La Dehesa. This road climbs for about 7km and is so quiet that you could still camp one night just 3km before the city. On your way to the center you can find some bike paths. By far the best time to enter the city is on Sunday morning or on a public holiday.

Around Santiago de Chile: Cajon del Maipo, Termas del Plomo, Paso Portillo de Piuquenes (4030m), Banos de Colina
If you have time in Santiago then a side trip to Cajon del Maipo, a great canyon to the southeast, is very recommendable. The canyon has several branches. The Rio Yeso valley takes you to the free thermal hot springs, Termas del Plomo. From here it is theoretically possible to cross to Argentina. I carried my bike up to the Piuquenes pass and went down again to get my bags. It is probably better without the bike, you can’t use it. A description of this crossing you find here: https://www.masterlyinactivity.com/andes/intro.html
The more southern branch of Rio El Volcan takes you to more beautiful hot springs, but here you have to pay and it might be busy in summer. Great walking possibilities to Volcan San Jose and its glaciers.

Around Santiago de Chile: Valle Nevado, La Parva, Yerba Loca, El Plomo (5430m)
My favorite ride out of Santiago is the huge climb to Valle Nevado. You start from the center at 500masl and a paved road takes you with 61 hairpin curves to 3000m! You can continue to 3600m on a dirt road. From here it is possible to climb Cerro El Plomo, a straightforward walk with some scrambling to 5430m. Fantastic views on the way of Topungato and from the top of Aconcagua and many other 6000ers.
Another option is to turn left at curve 15 (they are all numbered) and go to the camping area of Yerba Loca. Great camping and walking here. Also at curve 40 you can turn left to La Parva (2800m).

From Las Flores, San Juan province, Argentina to La Serena: Paso Agua Negra (4765m)
If you like cycling in beautiful untouched mountain scenery and crossing big passes, then this is for you.
The best direction for almost all the passes between Argentina and Chile is from west to east. But sometimes you have to go the other way to get back to Chile. The Agua Negra is a good choice, it is not too exposed (like the San Francisco, Paso Sico or the Paso de Jama). This pass closes in winter (the ones more to the north and the Los Libertadores stay open all year, except one or two days after a snow storm). It should be open from November to April.
From Las Flores in Argentina, you follow the signs to the Paso Agua Negra. After about 50km of gradual climbing on a not-as-flat-as-it-looks plane you enter a valley where you find the customs to check out of Argentina. From here it is still almost 60km to the top. Water is no problem, you follow a river almost all the time and also the Chilean side has lots of water. But take enough food for a week (I did the pass in 3 days, but I climb well, had good weather and traveled very light). Also be aware of altitude sickness, turn around and go down if you start to feel very bad. The first 25km of the downhill in Chile are steep and have very bad road conditions. You will find the customs at Junta del Toro, 92km from the top. Vicuna, another 93km, is the first village of significance. About 20km before Vicuna you can turn left to the famous Elqui valley and try some Pisco.

From Copiapo to Fiambala, Catamarca province, Argentina: Paso San Francisco (4726m)
In my opinion only experienced cyclists should try to cross the San Francisco pass. I made notes when I crossed and put in a excel file. Extremely beautiful cycling, very remote and exposed.

From La Serena to Arica (two options: Ruta 1 and Ruta 5). Total distances: both 1600km
The Panamericana in Chile is called Ruta 5. It is all paved and in great condition. The coastal road from Antofagasta and Iquique is also paved and very scenic. Both roads have some truck traffic, but never too much. In general you can say that the cycling is easy. No steep climbs, water and food available about every 100km, light traffic, always good weather, not much wind, camping possibilities everywhere you look. The distances can be read from the map. More to the north the radiation of the sun becomes extreme. You need sunscreen or better protection for arms, legs and face. Nights can be cold, down to -10C. On the coastal road the temperature doesn’t drop below 14C at night. In my experience near the coast the wind is mostly from the south, and more inland from the north.
Besides in all the cities, water can be found in the following places on Ruta 5, 60km north of Vallenar is a roadside restaurant at the turnoff to El Donkey, about 100km north of Chanaral at the turnoff to the P.N. Pan de Azucar, also at the turnoff to Taltal, Agua Verde, now longest stretch without water about 120km to a posada, la Negra (close to Antofagasta), Baquedano, the crossing of Ruta 5 and Ruta 24, Quillagua, Park Headquarters of Pampa Tamarugal, Pozo Almonte, Huara, down at the three rivers you cross and finally Cuya.
A very interesting, though not easy, variant is Ruta 1 from Taltal to Antofagasta. It is unpaved north of Paposo and unfortunately the last part doesn’t exist any more, so you have to go inland from Caleta El Cobre to the Panamericana, a huge climb from sea level to 1800m. I saw whales here!!! You can also go inland from Paposo and take the road that comes close the ESO observatories of Paranal. This road is being improved.

San Pedro de Atacama to Jujuy, Argentina (see article Argentina)

San Pedro de Atacama to Sur de Lipez, Bolivia (see article Bolivia)

San Pedro de Atacama-Calama-Panamericana (Ruta 5)
There is no water or a house between San Pedro de Atacama and Calama. Don’t under estimate this stretch of about 100km that starts with a huge climb to about 3300m, and can be windy and hot. All paved and in good condition, beautiful landscapes, especially the Valle de la Luna (first 10km). From Calama to Chuquicamata runs a busy 4-lane highway. Between Chuquicamata and the Panamericana you will find nothing. Ask water at the power plant near the crossing. Also the 60km from here to Tocopilla nothing.

Arica-La Paz, Bolivia: Paso Chungara (4660m), Total distance: 530km
This stretch is all paved and in good condition. Some of the most beautiful cycling I have ever done. Don’t under estimate the climb from sea level to 4660m. Take it easy because of the altitude. Water is no problem.
From Arica you can enter the valley of the Lluta river. It is an incredible sight with the barren mountains towering over the green valley floor. The climb to the altiplano really starts when you leave the river. After a huge climb you will find water and a restaurant in Zapahuira (3500m?). From there it is up and down to Putre, your last place to stuck up on food for a few days. From Putre you continue climbing to Parque Lauca, an absolute jewel. The police officers at Lago Chungara are very friendly. You are on 4400m now and altitude problems can be severe. Climb another 20km to the border at 4660m. On the Bolivian side you will cycle around the fantastic Sajama volcano, a sight you will never forget. In Carahuara and Patacamalla you can fill up on food supplies.

The BEST route
Arica to La Paz, some of the best scenery I have ever seen. Paso San Francisco and Paso Agua Negra are amazing as well.

The WORST Route
Cycling out of Santiago to Cajon del Maipo, very busy and noisy and smelly.

Bicycle Shops
Only in big towns. Everything available in Santiago. Look for Oxford Santiago and Arica.

Bicycle Touring Gear Shops
In Santiago almost everything is available or can be ordered. Andes Gear has Ortlieb panniers and good racks. Oxford has factories in Santiago and Arica and shops in most major cities.

Camping Gear Shops
Everything available in Santiago. Try Andes Gear or Nautika.

Best Season
South of Santiago the best season is summer. February being the driest month on the Carretera Austral and in Torres del Paine. Central Chile has a rain season in winter (June to August). In the north winter might be better, with a little less radiation of the sun. But near the Pacific temperatures are pleasant year around. On the high passes snowstorms and white outs are uncommon, but possible year around.

Worst Season
Santiago is very unpleasant in winter, when the smog stays in the city.

Maps
Scale https://www.chileturcopec.cl/int_rutas.html

LanguagesÂ
I suggest everyone to learn some Spanish.

Average for Cheap Lodging
6 USD.

Locals’ Average Salary
600USD per month

Transport your Bike
By bus: Chile has some very good long distance busses, easy to take a bike.
Hitch Hike: Hitchhiking is easy everywhere in the country. Even with a bicycle

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Author
Peter Van Glabbeek (Netherland)
7 years of bicycle touring experience including a 4-year long journey around the world
Cycled through 40 countries
Peter’s website

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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