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Argentina / Chile

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WS Member Stan Olsen's picture
Argentina / Chile

My wife and I are leaving Alaska mid Sept 2015 for a 5 month ride south from La Paz, Boliva. We plan to ride south to at least Mendoza, maybe the lake district, before entering Chile and the Carretta Astral. Any suggestions as to places to visit, to camp, sites not to miss and general information will be appreciated. We don't plan very much and take each day as it comes but do have a general route in mind. However far we get in 5 months will be the end as March is the supreme skiing month here in Alaska. We would love to meet as many local people as possible and experience the culture and food!

WS Member WS Member's picture
Carretera Austral part

We used this guide
and found it pretty useful. Mostly accurate we thought.
And highly recommend the Phone app - - for offline map with all useful things marked like campsites and shops

The road works will be changing over time - lets just say the new bits are nice, but they do rip up big sections up at a time. There will still probably be sections with timed no access (blasting etc) such as south of Puyulhapi.

bits we liked
(there will be some things missing here because of rain for us, so check other people)

try and have enough food to spend time at a couple of the camp sites in Pumalin Park. We had to hurry through but would have liked to stay longer

Lago Yelcho campground - 10k pesos but so nice. Voted top 5 or 10 chile campgrounds
A few kms further on from here there is a 2hr walk to a glacier - v nice

We enjoyed staying in Coyahique - there is a nice national park just outside, which you can bike around (have to pay) and then go for walks. The town has all services and good beer & pizza.

Very scenic from Cerro Castillo onwards. I think most people go to marble caves but we missed it. Cochrane has a national park right by the town with crystal clear lake. Saw a guy catch a fish in 30seconds!

Villa O Higgins has some nice hiking given you might be waiting for the boat. and if the weather looks calm then definitely worth paying the extra for the boat to take the trip up to the glacier - although maybe being from alaska you have seen all that...

I didn't think the crossing to argentina was so bad - certainly muddy and rough in places. I guess it depends how much weight you have.

El Chalten is great. Full of hikers (tourists) but not cars. Restaurants and good food. And great day hiking on the doorstep. We had great weather and it was fantastic scenery.
El Calafate was too busy and commercial for us, although the Glacerium museum was very interesting

WS Member Ken Nawrocki's picture
Starting a bike trip in La

Starting a bike trip in La Paz? You must have red blood cells to spare. I get a headache for at least the first day or two everytime a go to the Altiplano - and thats just taking a bus and walking, not cycling.

Assuming you are well aware of the altitude of the Altiplano I recommend the following.

La Paz - Do the death road, even if it is touristy these days.
I first did it about 15 years ago before all the tours existed. I rented a bike in La Paz and asked the shopkeeper where I should go. He grumbled "La Cumbre" so I found a van to take me there and where I got there it was snowing. 5 hours, 70 kms and one flat tire later I got to Corico and was sweating profusely. I managed to catch the last van back to La Paz though but had to sit on the right (cliff ) side of the poorly maintained overloaded van. A nailbigting experience but these days there are tours that will take you and your bike to the top and pick you up at the bottom (and in very nice vans).

Uyuni - Beware that hotels fill up quickly and almost never had running water during the day. Also note that even in summer the altiplano gets very cold at night. I know you are from Alaska though so I am sure you have the gear.


The Cornisa (route 9?) between Jujuy and Salta. Scary in a car but should make for a nice bike ride.

From Salta I recommend taking the route to Cafayate and not route 9 further south. Once in the Calchaquies valley it is surprisingly flat.

Once on the 40 you can go all the way to San Juan without passing through a city. It might get a bit desolate at times but your other option would be to go "down" to the plains or "llanura" as it is called in Spanish. While it would be much faster to ride on the flat part you would also have to put up with more traffic, higher temperatures/summer thunderstorms and less scenery.

I live in a city on the edge of these plains and beside the foothills to the Andes. So if you plan on passing through San Miguel de Tucuman send me a message and you and your wife can stay with us.

Note that in the north of Argentina high daytime temps can result in afternoon rainstorms. From late December to March these storms can get quite fierce. In March of last year 11 bridges in my province got washed out (although poor maintenance might have played a part as well).

From Catamarca to San Juan I have only driven and not biked. However I can tell you there are some long stretches there with absolutely nothing for miles and miles. The same goes with the south of Mendoza and the north of the Neuquen.

Mendoza in pleasant enough. If you like high altitude hiking this is a good place for you. I find the Andes a bit bare in this region but have done some mountaineering there.

The lakes district is my favorite part of Argentina. I know you are from Alaska so the scenery might be a bit "more of the same" but its still worth a visit. I recommend:

7 lakes road - This can be done in one day but most cyclist take a few days to a week to complete it. Dusty in summer unless they have paved it since I was last there.

Mountain huts around Bariloche - the mountains around Barlioche are not high and if a few hours you can hike to one of the huts. They do get very busy though in January so if you are there during that busy time I suggest you bring a tent.

The mountain huts around El Bolson are a little more rustic but are definitely worth a visit as well.

If you like beer you can camp at the El Bolson Brewery.

El Bolson to Esquel - little water and what water can be found is said to be bad.

Esquel: La Trochita train is an narrow gauge steam engine that takes you on an hour ride to nowhere. But it is very cool.

Get any need bike parts in Esquel since they will be harder to come by on the Austral highway.

I crossed over to Chile in the Futaleufú region. If there was a continental divide there I didn't notice it. Almost flat.

Its been 10 years since I did the Carretera Austral so I think you are better taking advice from others.

One thing I can comment on though is the weather. I crossed to Chile on January 1st and rode for two weeks without getting heavily rained on. I am not sure if that is typical but many have told me that it rains like crazy other months of the year.

My experience in Bariloche is that it can rain non stop before Christmas but then it always seems to clear up in January.

Well thats my 2 cents. Let me know if you have any questions or need help finding maps or any other info online.


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