Wind, sand and beauty. Cycling in Chile and Bolivia

Posted: October 15, 2019 in Bolivia, Chile, Cycling
Tags: , , , , ,

If I were to describe my last cycling trip in one word, the word would be ‘tough’. If allowed a few more words, I would add, ‘but beautiful and rewarding’. Here are a few more words of my three week cycle in Chile and Bolivia.


Starting in Antofagasta on the coast in Chile, I crossed the Atacama Desert to San Pedro de Atacama. I passed into Bolivia and rode (and pushed) my bike along the Ruta de Lagunas before ending on the Salar de Uyuni – the famous high altitude salt pan in Bolivia.

The Atacama Desert is an incredible moonscape of sand and rock. The rolling landscape is punctuated with rocky mounds poking out from the sand. The earth (and cyclists) are scorched by the sun hanging in the ever cloudless skies.

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

The 200km traverse of the desert from Baquedano to Peine saw me pass solitary trees marking the passing away of loved ones, eat lunch in the shade of mine buildings and road signs, and cross the vast salt expanse of Salar de Atacama. It was then an easy amble to San Pedro de Atacama where I spent a few days on an acclimatisation trip to get ready for the tough high-altitude road ‘Ruta de Lagunas’ in south-eastern Bolivia.

The Ruta de Lagunas was tough. Deep sand and a constant gale force headwind meant that I pushed my bike a lot of the way. There were moments I just stopped and hung my head over my handlebars in despair. In the elements you can feel the force of mother nature, and you feel so small and insignificant.

Ruta de Lagunas

Ruta de Lagunas

I camped some of the time and lived it up in luxury when I could. One evening I sat inside with my ‘gourmet meal’ in front of me looking out through the glass panoramic windows out over the inhospitable terrain.

I saw windswept sandy plains, bright pink lakes swarming with feeding flamingos and volcanos lining the horizon. I was sprinkled with snow, buffeted with horizontal sleet and blasted with the eternal headwind. I had a meal with a fox and with big Bolivian rabbits called viscachas.

The goal of my trip was to cycle on the Salar de Uyuni – a massive salt pan on the high altitude plains. Well, it wasn’t meant to be – kind of. Worn down by the struggle, by the time I got there I was exhausted, had diahorrea and didn’t believe I could make it across to the island in the middle of the lake through the soft salt and headwind. My bike trip kind of fizzled out at the lake’s edge. I joined a jeep tour across the lake. I did, however, get the chance to honour the age-old tradition amongst cyclists of taking a nude shot on the lake.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni

The trip was challenging and well worth the effort. I love bleak landscapes away from people and my route through Chile and Bolivia certainly provided that.

  1. valerievolk says:

    Another terrific trip, and a very honest account of its joys and challenges

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Epic! Did you know about the sand and soft salt beforehand or was that a surprise? What a workout! How much weight did you lose overall in the exertion? That was one tough challenge.

    • I knew that it was tough. I knew tbe wind was strong. I thought the wind would be a tailwind though. 🙂
      I lost a couple of kg which I have since put back on.. 🙂

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