bicycle travelling
preparing for 3onTour!
TourSur – Info – The Salares

5. May 2014


This page gives detailled information for other cyclists about the route we took in April 2014 from Pisiga (border town to Chile) heading south to cross the 2 big Salares (Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Tunupa). Then to Chile at Ollagüe. 400 kilometers in total, nearly completely on unpaved roads (or no roads at ll on the Salares).

We have not been using GPS devices on tour, so the information does not contain any GPS data. With a map, a compass and this information you should be fine anyway. I additionally put some photos online, which should help to find directions.


  • be fully acclimatized. do not underestimate the altitude. you will always be at about 3.800 meters.
  • carry always enough water and food. do not rely on a single supply point!

We partly used information from the following 2 websites (they are providing GPS data and sketch maps as well). Thank you very much for your effort!

On this website, additional information about this route can be found here:


Please note that i have taken all information carefully. But nevertheless i will take no responsibilities for any wrong information or mistakes. The situation can also change during the time. Check carefully with locals before heading off.


  • the given altitude is most likely not exact in absolute terms, but should help in relative terms
  • the location of the linked orientation photos are also exactly marked on the

Situation in April 2014

point no. point km km total altitude (m) road condition remarks
1 Pisiga 0,0 0,0 3760 excellent pavement border village. several shops, restaurants, money changer, hostals, no public internet, vegetables&fruits (behind the new building, last block)
2 Pagador 11,0 11,0 3745 excellent pavement probably good for water (?), begin easy climbing
3 top of ridge 14,1 25,1 4090 excellent pavement sign says 4.041 m altitude
4 turn off Salar de Coipasa 14,9 40,0 3790 gravel road if you do not need to go to Sabaya, turn right here for Salar de Coipasa. we continued on main road to Sabaya.
5 turn off Sabaya 3,2 43,2 3790 dust road turn left on dust road for Sabaya
6 Sabaya 1,1 44,3 3790 paved shops, hotels
7 turn off short cut Salar de Coipasa 1,3 45,6 3790 gravel road go back to main road and there for 200 meters to the right. take small gravel road heading straight across the plain of direction 200 degrees (ignore other tracks until you hit the main road from point no. 4 at a small wind wheel)
8 join main road to Salar de Coipasa (from point no. 4) 3,4 49,0 3790 gravel road turn left on main gravel road (near wind wheel)
9 Buen Retiro 12,2 61,2 3700 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) some small settlements along the way (probably good for water (?)), „Buen Retiro“ is written on a small sign (right hand side of road) and on small church to the left (see )
10 turn left 0,2 61,4 3700 dirt track, good cycling leave main road and head to the left on small track heading to Salar
11 leave dirt track to the left 8,0 69,4 3700 salt surface of Salar, good cycling when there is plain salt on the left of the track after about 8 km, we left the track to the left and headed straight south on our own. we then joined a track heading to Isla de Coipasa, and stayed on this track until the island and pueblo Coipasa. for orientation: head to the 2 characteristic small hills at the left (east) side of the island, in between lies Coipasa (see )
12 Isla de Coipasa 16,0 85,4 3700 sandy road on the shore a small, very sandy track lead us after about 1 km to the main road to Coipasa
13 join main road to Coipasa 1,0 86,4 3720 gravel road turn left on main road for Coipasa
14 Coipasa 5,0 91,4 3735 gravel road water, basic shops
15 Salar de Coipasa 0,0 91,4 3720 Salar surface, good cycling leave Coipasa heading east onto the Salar. keep near island and head for the 2 small islands just off the main island.
16 between 2 small islands 4,6 96,0 3720 Salar surface, good cycling head now to the obvious „nose“ of the main island just about 2 km ahead
17 „nose“ of main island 2,6 98,6 3720 Salar surface, good cycling now keep always direction of about 165 degrees (head for right slope of biggest mountain ahead, see ) to get to southern shore of Salar de Coipasa
18 southern shore 38,5 137,1 3740 Salar surface, good cycling last 2-3 km difficult, found dirt track heading to the right (west)
19 Tres Cruces 2,5 139,6 3750 very sandy road when we saw a village to our left (Tres Cruces: water, basic shop) we went straight to it. alternatively you can stay on the sandy track heading west.
20 Challacollo 28,0 167,6 3800 dirt track leave Tres Cruces to the west, track leads to edge of Salar again. for about 23 km you always cycle at the edge of the Salar. cycling not that bad, sometimes sandy. 3 villages along the way on your left – ignore (probably good for water (?)). keep west (straight) all the time, do not take right options out to the Salar. The road then turns more and more to the left, leaving the Salar. road then gets sandy and bad a few kms before Challacollo (probably good for water (?))
21 junction 1,1 168,7 3810 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) take the most right option
22 junction 4,4 173,1 3800 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) keep straight for Llica (a 180 degree turn to the right would lead to Chacoma)
23 top of ridge 2,4 175,5 3825 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) first view at Salar de Tunupa
24 Llica 3,2 178,7 3800 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) shops, hotels, internet, restaurants, money change
25 entering Salar de Tunupa 12,3 191,0 3795 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) leave Llica at a military checkpoint and stay on main road (you could take 2 shortcuts at the edge of the Salar) heading to Salar
26 Salar de Tunupa 0,0 191,0 3795 Salar surface, good cycling you should be able to see Isla de Pescado (see ). otherwise head direction of about 130 degrees
27 Isla de Pescado 51,0 242,0 3825 Salar surface, good cycling nice, quite island (not inhabited). proceed heading direction of 130 degrees for Isla de Incawasi.
28 Isla de Incawasi 24,1 266,1 3825 Salar surface, good cycling water, beverages, restaurant, sleeping (everything more expensive). we camped on the backside of the island for free.
29 leave Salar to the south 0,0 266,1 3825 Salar surface, good cycling head for direction of about 175 degrees for San Juan until you hit a dam
30 dam 40,5 306,6 3810 Salar surface, good cycling turn right on the dam for the shore
31 Puerto Chuvica 5,0 311,6 3810 gravel road probably good for water (?), turn 90 degrees to the left for Colcha „K“
32 turn off before Villa Candelaria 6,1 317,7 3895 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) turn left for Colcha „K“ (Villa Candelaria: 2 basic shops, water, hostal)
33 junction 11,3 329,0 3850 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) keep right (straight) for Colcha „K“ up on a hill. we kept left for bypassing Colcha „K“
34 join main road from Colcha „K“ (from point no. 33) 4,7 333,7 3875 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) keep left on main road
35 junction 1,5 335,2 3875 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) turn left (sign says: left for Santiago de Chuvica, straight to Mañica)
36 join main road from Mañica (from point no. 35) 2,7 337,9 3850 bad gravel road (washboard, stones, sand) keep straight (south)
37 junction 4,7 342,6 3860 dirt track on Salar, good cycling left for Julaca. turn right for San Juan. after about 1 km another sign pointing to San Juan to the right (indicates wrongly 24 km). turn right (west) here, leaving the Salar!
38 San Juan 16,2 358,8 3890 good maintained gravel road hotels, shops, no restaurant, no internet.
39 IMPORTANT 0,0 358,8     please note, that we obviously did not take the direct road to the Chile border. This seems to be leading across the Salar. Nevertheless the following route describes OUR way we cycled, which is nice -but more kms, more climbs and bad road. But it points out where to turn off for a possibly better route (see point no. 42). Please comment if this correct or wrong.
40 leaving San Juan 0,0 358,8 3890 gravel road take the main road heading west
41 junction 14,2 373,0 3880 gravel road, turns more and more into a stony,bad road turn left (sign says: left for Avaroa, straight to San Pedro de Queméz)
42 IMPORTANT 0,0 373,0     for a possibly better route (see point no. 39) turn left on the first path leading to the Salar, and stay on the Salar, heading more to the other side of the lake to Chiguana and on to the end of the Salar
43 junction 34,6 407,6 3910 gravel road turn left (the other road goes straight and then a little up)
44 Avaroa 23,0 430,6 3960 good gravel road bolivian immigration, water. nothing else
45 Ollagüe 4,4 435,0 3960 gravel/tarmac road
immigration Chile. water, basic shops. we had been refused to cross the border with our bicycles! had to take a Uyuni-Calama bus on the next day (see: thread)
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