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Atacama Desert Crossing, 17-day Mountain biking tour in northern Argentina and Chile

Atacama Desert Crossing
Atacama Desert Crossing
Atacama Desert Crossing
Atacama Desert Crossing

EPGAMT-certified guide Ilan leads the way on this utterly thrilling, special and unique 17-day mountain biking tour in Northern Argentina and Chile, as you bike along the Atacama Desert Crossing, taking in the awesome sights and sounds of the Andes and soaking up the fascinating culture of this region.


17 Days

Mar - May, Sep - Nov




* Mountain bike through the Andes from Argentina to Chile!

* End up in San Pedro de Atacama - the driest desert on earth!

* Physically and mentally test yourself on the Abra el Acay Pass

* See volcanoes, salt flats, mining towns, mineral lakes and condors

* Relax in hot springs and visit the Salta wine region


The vast, desolate and humongous landscapes of Northern Argentina and Chile are a truly wondrous sight, and I will guide you on this amazing 17-day mountain biking tour through the region, as we traipse and travail past volcanoes, salt flats, lakes and more, all while riding through the Andes, Abra el Acay Pass and San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert on earth.

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world, and is mostly made up of stony terrain, salt lakes, sand and felsic lava. It stretches from the Pacific Ocean on the Western Coast of Chile to the Andes in the East, and contains an array of flora and fauna that have been able to adapt to the hostile environment.

After meeting in the Northern Argentinian city of Salta, where all relevant safety and general information will be dispensed, we then head off for 5 days of riding through the gorgeous and pretty Calchaqui Valley, where we will stop in at the numerous quaint and rustique colonial towns that dot the landscape, as well as sample the local wines the region is famous for.

Day 7 is when we move on to challenging yet rewarding 16,150-foot high Abra el Acay Pass, with the high altitude pushing you to your physical and mental limits, the spectacular views out over the dry scenery providing welcome respite.

A well-earned rest day is spent in the town of San Antonio de los Cobres, with the Train of the Clouds a highlight, before we tackle the Andes Mountains. This section includes riding at high altitude past brightly coloured volcanoes, the salt flats of Aguas Calientes, old mining towns and the Argentine/Chilean border.

We finish our trip with a few days of fun and relaxation in San Pedro, including a visit to some local hot springs, and we will be immensely proud and satisfied at having completed such a magnificent journey.

Book now to experience this truly epic and awesome adventure in the dry terrains of Northern Chile and Argentina!


Day 1: Salta

Arrival in Salta. Adjust bicycles, trip briefing and safety talk. Tour this beautiful colonial era city and enjoy a dinner of the delicious local cuisine.

Day 2: Cafayate

Transfer to the spectacular red sand stone cliffs of Quebrada de las Conchas (Seashell Canyon) where the riding begins. The day’s destination is Cafayate, the center of northern Argentina’s wine country. In the afternoon, tour this charming colonial town, visit a local winery and taste the aromatic, yet dry, white torrontés varietal special to this part of the country.

Day 3: Quebrada de las Flechas

On this first day of riding up Valle Calchaqui the road passes San Carlos, the first of six small colonial villages to be encountered along the valley. At San Carlos the pavement ends as the road continues to Quebrada de las Flechas (Canyon of Arrows), a gorgeous canyon with unique rock formations and beautiful panoramas of the fertile river bank and the immense Andes to the West.

Day 4: Molinos

Pass the sleepy village of Angastaco, seemingly untouched by time – sitting in the central square one is transported to another era. End the day in Molinos in the enchanting Hacienda de Molinos, formerly the house of the last governor of Salta to be chosen by the King of Spain before the Argentine independence.

Day 5: Cachi

Start the day with a challenging climb that leads to Seclantes, an artisan village that specializes in weaving colorful woolen products. Continue past a vibrant sandstone canyon to Cachi, the gem of Valle Calchaqui. Houses dating from the XVIII century have been carefully restored and converted into hotels, restaurants and cafes, making it a popular destination for tourists attracted by the less beaten path.

Day 6: La Poma

The views of the snow capped Andes are memorable on this stretch of the road. After a break in quaint Payogasta,
continue past farm houses dotted along the river and giant canyons that contrast breathtakingly with the blue skies and snowy peaks. Pass the night in La Poma, a small agricultural village, for the first time above 10,000 feet!

Day 7: Negra Muerta

Climb slowly out of the Calchaqui Valley towards the Abra el Acay Pass. The riding is not steep but challenging
due to the altitude. There is a chance to see vicuñas, a cameloid similar to the llama with a short-haired, brown
coat. The only inhabitants along the road are goat herders who live in small isolated huts. Spend the night in a well appointed tent near the creek that follows the road.

Day 8: Abra el Acay - San Antonio de los Cobres

Today is a unique challenge, only possible in the Andes or the Himalayas: a 2,290-foot climb on an unpaved road
up to 16,150 feet above sea level! The road is well maintained and the grade is never excessive allowing for a very manageable, slow-and-steady ascent to an incredible view and an unforgettable feeling of achievement. What
follows is a joyous descent that zigzags towards San Antonio de los Cobres where a well earned bed and shower await.

Day 9: San Antonio de los Cobres - Rest Day

Take time to recover from the previous day’s efforts and explore this small town, once an important stop along the Tren de los Nubes (Train of the Clouds). In the early 1900s the train connected mines in the Andes with Salta in
Argentina and later with Socompa in Chile. Now it is a tourist attraction taking travelers for a day ride from Salta to
San Antonio de los Cobres and back. The highlight of the trip is the 230-foot high viaduct crossed by the train and
the high altitude it reaches.

Day 10: Olacapato

Renewed from the previous day’s rest, begin the adventurous, five day crossing of the Andes from Argentina to
the Atacama Desert in Chile. Enjoy the panoramic views of the valley engulfing San Antonio and of Abra el Acay,
the high pass from day eight, as the road slowly climbs out of town. Seventeen miles of great riding top out at Alto
el Chorri Pass (14,980 feet) before crossing into a new valley. The rest of the ride is a delightful descent past incredible rock formations and green patches of marshland called “Vegas”. Transfer 15 miles to Olacapato, a
small village that houses miners in the summer months. Winters here are frigid, forcing most of the local population to return to San Antonio or Salta when the mines are closed.

Day 11: Argentine Border Crossing

Reach today’s pass (14,270 feet) after twenty miles of gentle climbing. The goal on this day is to reach the Argentine border crossing. The silence and remoteness of this high altitude desert landscape is a unique
experience in today ́s hustle and bustle world.

Day 12: Laguna Tuyajto

Take in the kaleidoscopic colors and the view of tall volcanoes on the twelve mile climb to the first pass of the day (14,680 feet). On the way, cross the Argentine/Chilean border!! Take out the passports anew at the Chilean border crossing, Avansado Laco (14,320 feet), at mile nineteen. At mile twenty two, reach the high point of this part of the trip, (15,050 feet), as well as the last important climb. From here to San Pedro de Atacama, it is all downhill with the exception of several small hills. Descend past a coal mine to camp at Laguna Tuyajto for one last night in tents under the awesome, star-filled sky of the high Andes.

Day 13: Socaire

Ride thirty miles past the salt flats of Aguas Calientes (13,134 feet) and many more colorful volcanoes to where the dirt road ends and the smooth asphalt begins again. Take a side trip by vehicle to visit Laguna Miscanti y
Meñique. Finish the day with an elating twenty mile, 2,500-foot descent to Socaire, where comfortable beds and
a panoramic view of the Atacama await.

Day 14: San Pedro de Atacama

Begin the day with another memorable descent to the junction with highway 23 that leads to San Pedro de
Atacama. The last forty miles of this journey are a pleasant, smooth ride past small towns amid an austere
landscape of tall, conical volcanoes and the dry, flat valley floor. San Pedro de Atacama is a small oasis in the
middle of this immense desert. A little paradise of adobe houses, delicious eateries and fun bars. The perfect
ending to an epic adventure!

Day 15 to 17: San Pedro - Rest, hot springs & excursions

Spend several days relaxing in town and taking advantage of entertaining excursions that include a wonderful
visit to the local hot springs. From San Pedro there are flights to Santiago, Chile or transfer with us over the Andes
back to Salta, Argentina , this time via the Jama Pass.


About the guide

Guide profile image


Mountain Guide

For most of my adult life the mountains, especially the Andes of South America, have been a source of self realization and fulfillment. There is nowhere I feel more mindful and free then out in the hills. I fell in love with the outdoors on family hikes in the Israeli desert. My love affair with the mountains started while working in the Alta Ski Resort in Utah, USA. But it was in Argentina after a season working as a porter on Aconcagua that I decided to make guiding my profession. I am forever grateful for the chance to share my passion with others as a way of making a living.

During the austral summer I work exclusively on Aconcagua leading groups up the western hemisphere's tallest mountain. For most of my clients these expeditions are their first foray up a high altitude mountaineering destination. The altitude, extreme weather and two weeks of tent life are a new and challenging experience. Supporting clients through this experience is my favorite aspect of guiding: being able to introduce people to this knew powerful environment and to help them discover their inner strengths to complete this exciting challenge.

When I am not guiding on Aconcagua the Cordillera Real in Bolivia, the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash in Peru and the national parks of Patagonia are my favorite places for climbs and treks in South America. Especially the Huayhuash Trek in Peru and Mt. Illimani in Bolivia for their utter beauty and incredible cultural richness.

I am also an avid mountain biker and hill runner. There is nothing I like to do more during the off season then to explore mountain biking itineraries that cross the Andes. I offer trips that cross the Andes twice in Patagonia, go over 5,000-meter high passes from Salta, Argentina to the Atacama desert in Chile and a ride that starts in Cusco, Peru descends to mythical Machu Picchu and then climbs up to Lago Titicaca.

The amazing thing about South America is that there is an infinite number of untapped destinations ready to be discovered. Whether it be for trekking, mountaineering, mountain biking or hill running there is an ideal itinerary for everyone. Some are classic destinations offered by various outfitters but many are bespoke trips tailored for your specific interests. It would be my great pleasure to be able to organize and lead you on your next South American excursion.


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