For entry into Bolivia via the northern-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca, see the Peru route notes.
For the rest of our very brief sojourn in Bolivia we followed information liberally laid down for us by large numbers other cyclists.
A principal reference was the pdf generated by journeys made in late 2009, and to be found here (http://www.tour.tk/tour-guides-south-west-bolivia.htm). Since then a few things have changed, so I offer distances and comments based on our passage as clarification and occasionally amendment of their extremely useful document.
La Paz to San Juan
It’s possible to avoid the ‘pista for a few kms by following the railtracks through the back streets of El Alto. From the peaje station get onto the parallel road on the La Paz side and head 100-200m to the jumble of markets and trucks to pick up the lines.
As mentioned in the La Paz to San Juan blog post Cristian has some ideas for an alternative that avoids El Alto altogether and hits the highway at Catamarca (within a day south of La Paz).
In contrast to the pdf, the pavement now extends to Quillacas so directions beyond Huari are now simple – follow the road (which curves sharply right after 18km – straight onwards heads to Uyuni). The unpaved foundation extends from there until after Salinas rendering navigation easy. The surface is ok. The dirt road from Salinas is as in the pdf though it has had some attention nearer Tahua.
Heading from Isla Incahuasi head south and keep to the left of the visible mountains until you hit the several km long spit heading out from Tanil Vinto towards Uyuni. From there on to San Juan the pdf is fine.
San Juan to San Pedro de Atacama
The water and camping points are all fantastic on the pdf along with most of the distances. There are some additional camp spots. The park entry fee is now Bs 150 and we were charged Bs 15 each after the border official proferred a semi-official bit of paper at us when we exited Bolivia.
Here are our distances – recorded from our cycle computer (not GPS) and with no pushing (ridden December after rains started on bikes with 2-2.4inch MTB tyres) – distances inclusive and make reference to pdf for mudmap etc.
- 30km along 4WD tracks (chose best), then 90deg L. to military camp and railway crossing
- 35km from railway crossing to International road – 500m to St. (track goes L) with a small collection of graves at junction. 22km from railway to stonewall shelter mentioned in pdf (is 100m to L up dry river bed). end of climb 26km from railway. Prominent stone cutting 2km before international road with some sheltered camping (see blog post). sign mentioned in pdf is 1km further on.
- 8.2km (not 20km) to signed R. turn off international road towards Lagunas – Cañapa first.
- 14km to north shore and old buildings at Laguna Cañapa -(3km to pass – top R. (west) of morraine)
- 10km to lodge at Laguna Herionda – can siphon spring water from blue barrel on request (as per pdf)
- 26km to beginning of pass before junction to El Hotel del Desierto. Shelter (as per pdf) off to L. prior to this and in bays in the pass. Narrow for 3-4km then widens, and continues to highpoint at c.5km. 4WD tracks leave to L and R during this. Stick to main pass cutting.
- 10.6km to Hotel del Desierto turn-off
- 8.5km to Rocky outcrop on R. (Basura sign – see blog photo)
- 1.5km to Reserve entry sign
- 8.3km to old building on R. (see pdf)
- 10km to Arbol de Piedra
- 17km to Park Office at Laguna Colorada (last 10km downhill)
- 6km R. at Y (we went L. and after 2.5km took a R. followed by another R. onto the road back towards the pass – t.16km from the Refugio and another 6km to beginning of climb).
- ?km R. at T and begin climb. (likely c.15km from Refugio as per pdf)
- 18km to border notice (see pdf picture) with 7-8km climbing then undulating. immediate L. after this
- signposts (see blog photo) – L. towards Laguna Chalviri. St. over brow of hill to Sol de Mañana.
- 23km from signposts to Laguna Chalviri Restaurant.
- 33.5km to Laguna Verde turnoff. 13-14km to steeper climbing, 17-18km to beginning of pass, and 19.5km to high point (these from restaurant).
- Rest of distances as per pdf.
Our trip. (for reference and planning)
6 days (it would be possible to do it in 5 days if you were in a particular hurry, or longer if you were willing to carry more food). Days 1, 2, 4 and 5 were curtailed by weather (early stops or late starts). Also bear in mind we did the route after and with lots of rain (firming up the softer sand) and with off-road oriented bikes and relatively big tyres (mine 2.4″-2.25″ and Sarahs 2.2″/2″)
1 – San Juan to 2km short of international road – 65km
2 – to 19km beyond Laguna Hedionda – 58km
3 – to Laguna Colorada – 64km
4 – to Sol de Mañana – 41km (including 6km extra)
5 – to Laguna Blanca – 60km
6 – to San Pedro de Atacama – 68km
It would be entirely possible to go from Laguna Colorada to the restaurant at Laguna Chalviri (and thermal hot spring) in a day, then either a short day to Lagunas Blanca and Verde or a longer day to San Pedro (last 45km is downhill/easy pavement).