Ruta de las Vicuñas is bikepacking route that follows the border between Bolivia and Chile. We initially didn’t plan to take it but we changed our plans in view of the situation in Bolivia changing every minute.
Right after crossing the border in Tambo Quemado (where they didn’t want to let us into Chile on bicycles for security reasons, we had to officially take a bus), we camped at the CONAF office by Laguna Chungara. The park guards weren’t there but there were amazing shelters for camping, water, bathrooms and amazing views in the evening. What we could have wished for more. The main difference between Chile and Bolivia (or Peru) was the amount of wildlife surrounding us. So interesting to watch all these colourful birds and listen to their voices until we fell asleep.
Then we did a short ride to Putre where we re-supplied for the Ruta de las Vicuñas (as the Chile officers will take you all fruits, veggies, legumes etc at the border). The prices of everything went up multiple times because Chile. We stayed for two nights in very friendly hostel Pachamama and set off for the road altogether with French cyclist Philippe.
The first part of the ride, from Putre up to the altiplano, was easy for me as I took a taxi with the dogs, their trailer and the panniers of all of us and the guys did the lightweight cycling for some 1000 vertical metres. Ruta de las Vicuñas stands for its name and since the first minutes we were seeing these beautiful, elegant, smaller llama relatives. They are very timid though so always when we appeared at the switchback, they fled.
There are nearly no villages on the route (unless you take the alternative via Guallatire). It feels very remote and that’s what we needed in this difficult political situation.
The second day Philippe left half an hour earlier and we followed his tracks. Suddenly Tom stopped on the uphill, yelling “Again?”. I knew what he meant. On one very rocky dirt road in Peru a big rock got stuck in his derailleur. And as he pushed on the pedals, he torn the the whole derailleur off. Now he’s yelling “Again” again. In the middle of nowhere. No traffic here.
This time one of the links in the chain opened partially and got stuck in the derailleur and as he pushed on the pedal, it twisted and bent the whole thing. Really not good timing. We put the bikes down and started straightening bent parts with a rock on another flat rock. Suddenly a car appeared. Full of people. Tour. But fortunately he was followed by another back-up car that was empty and had a rack on the roof. They took us to the closest police station at Salar de Surire. Here we spent three hours trying to make it work (with a huge hammer ;)). It worked.
It was late afternoon when we reached our camping spot at Mirador de Flamingos. This place was pure magic. Hundreds of flamingos, beautiful reflections in the morning when the wind was quiet, we could make a fire, sheltered by the old houses.
What do we carry for bikepacking trips like this?
Next day there was a treat waiting. Thermal pools Polloquere. Philippe was planning to spend the night there but we wanted to carry on after the dip. You’ve got two options. Either a shortcut route that goes over a 4400 metres high pass and through Bolivian land for about 2-3 kilometres and smugglers use it. Or 30 kilometres longer route that goes over even higher pass. Guess which one we chose. Apart from the smugglers threat, there was a huge thunderstorm coming so we did our best to escape from the area quickly.
We camped that night at the abandoned village by the church and we could see a lot of trucks passing by without the lights on. So the smugglers stories are most probably true…
It’s one of the prettiest routes full of wildlife we did on this journey and even though Ruta de las Vicuñas is all dirt, it’s not too challenging at all. The biggest challenges are the ever present wind, some sandy and washboarded sections and one pass (whichever you choose). It’s very quiet cycling and we can definitely recommend it as a link between La Paz and the Salars.