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Tour • guide Cycling South West Bolivia cycling around the world



From Oruro to San Pedro de Atacama / Villazon
Maps, route description, elevation charts, photos, tips
Related links
First edition published October 2010
Second edition published June 2011
Current edition published April 2012
Size: 5.4 MB

James Pratt of
Kevin Bauer of
Patricia and Marcus of
Jean-Christophe Boillat of for Atola route details and changes to the Laguna section
Melissa Amacher of for their detailed route notes and comments on our pdf
Neil of for his invaluable contribution changes
Sarah and Tom of for their detailed route description and comments after using t
Benoît and Anne-Sophie of for their comments and additions to this pdf

No matter where you cycle in Bolivia, it will most likely be a challenge, but none more so than in the south western region.This miniature book has been compiled for those of you willing to take on the challenge of this extremely unique area of South America.

So, if you are wondering why anyone would want to compel themselves to long periods of bike pushing in deep sand and along washboard surfaces, limited options for obtaining water and food supplies and often achieving only 30 kilometres a day; it is because you will probably experience perfect starry nights; encounter incredible landscapes with wondrous rock formations; soak in thermal baths; and capture some of the pinkest flamingos in the world on camera. Good enough reason? Read on...

Creative Commons License
Cycling Southwest Bolivia by Sonya Spry and Aaldrik Mulder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Following information was provided by Maud Bailly from after she succesfully navigated the laguna route at the start of November 2012. As we all know, road conditions change all the time, therefore we've decided to list the latest here as you encounter them. Please keep sending us your updates! Below Maud's update are the comments from early October provided by Corinne and Joseba from

- At the exit of the Salar going to Colcha K, there are two salt hotels which are a lot cheaper than the famous one next to Colchani.
- When going to San Juan, there is a sign that says "San Juan : 24 km" : don't believe it, there is 14 km left!
- Access to Internet once you left Challapata : Quillacas (close early), Salinas (but it was closed when I passed).
- Access to a farmacy once you left Challapata : none !
- North of the Salar, you  can also enter the Salar by Jirira (there is also jeeps trails). There is one accomodation and two little shops (no bread).
- In Isla Incahuasi lives Don Alfredo, the co-owner of the island : ask him about his incredible story! He is the one who put the exception for non motorised travellers in order to let them stay the nights on the island. So don't leave without having filled the non motorised travellers' book kept by Don Alfredo. To eat, you have the choice between expensive but I heard very good food at the tourist restaurant or a cheap popular plate cooked by Don Alfredo.
- The Salar was not easy at all to cycle through, at least not between Jirira and Incahuasi : there was a lot of dumpings due to the season of the year and the big amount of rain that had felt on the previous days.
- In San Juan : no farmacy, no Internet, 2 public phones, mobile network at one spot 1km away from the village. Once a week there is a car selling fruits.


- Cold : it can get really cold at night in the South Lipez region : until -25°C in July and until -20°C in August. So don't do like me : be really prepared for it!
- On the lake road in August, there is about 15 to 20 jeeps passing per day : don't hesitate to ask them for water or to carry one bag with weight to the next refugio.

DAY 1: When you arrive in front of the big mountain where the paths bring you, turn left (leaving the mountain on your right hand). The Chiquana camp will then be on your left.
DAY 2: Ecolodge Los Flamencos is very expensive but ask for the (jeeps) drivers rooms : 50 bol + 15 bol for a real hot shower. The local spring is not close to the path.
DAY 4: For girls who are on their own, don't stop to sleep at the Arbol de Piedra : the keeper is very oppressing and he didn't made me feel comfortable at all, which was confirmed by other girls I met.
DAY 5 and 7: There is some refugios that are not on the document : refugios de Wailajada (there is 3 diferent refugios), situated just after you passed Laguna Colorada.
- In the refugios of Laguna Colorada and Wailajada, there is lukewarm showers (10 Bolivianos) and always pasta (I asked). Wailajada shop is better furnished than any other on the road.
DAY 8: Hurrying up, I did this stage in 2 hours. Good to know if you don't want to spend the night at the geysers and want to sleep inside.
- At Polque restaurant, they don't ask any money to sleep inside. The evening meal is a bit more expensive than in other places and for me it was nothing more special.
DAY 9: Second paragraph : 33 km after Polque's restaurant, turnoff to the right... --> because it's really hard to see, there is no signpost at the junction anymore !

Following information was provided by Corinne and Joseba from after they succesfully navigated the laguna route at the start of October 2012.

Day 2: It is extremely difficult to cycle the 10km climb up (80% is pushing due to the sand and stones). This climb is a shortcut instead of going to Ollagüe and taking the international road to Villa Alota. Since the climb is so tedious and there is so much pushing we would rather recommend to take the longer option through Ollagüe. The condition of the international road leading to Villa Alota is excellent.
Day 3: After Laguna Santa Cruz the road does not disintegrate badly. There are many tracks, try to follow the least sandy which was for us the one most on the right (a track that is almost new and not too much run over). This way we did not have to push any single km, just a few hundred meters before the top of the pass.
Day 4: The 6km descend to the junction to the Hotel del Desierto (real name is Ojos de Perdiz) is very hard to cycle. There is so much sand that we had to push in the descend (60% of the time). 20km before the Arbol de Piedra the road is maintained till Laguna Colorada. The road conditions are from good to excellent depending whether the machine has repaired the stretch the same day or not. From now onwards till the end (Laguna Verde) the road is maintained by a machine that eliminates the corrugations and the excess of sand. However conditions of the road vary depending on the stretch, it is not the same quality all the way.
Day 7: After the old customs post you will have to turn left (right goes to Chile through Apacheta border), but do not turn on the first junction which is shorter but very stony and not possible to ride, instead make a longer way and turn left on the second junction (the road is in much better condition and you will be able to ride)
Day 9: The climb through Desierto Dali is mostly impossible to cycle due to the sand (60% of pushing).
Day 10: The first “refugio” 7km from the observatory is closed and out of use. Go to the other “refugio” 1km further.
You do not have to pay anything to leave Bolivia (there is no 21 Bolivianos exit fee) and there is no option of changing money in the border.

Thanks Corinne and Joseba for your update !




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