Luís Simões, travel sketcher around the world
Sur Lipez Bolivia
Our last chapter of cycling Bolivia. Sur Lipez is known as a desolated region in high altitude loaded with snow-capped volcanoes, natural thermal pools, colorful lagoons, and geysers. Famous among adventure cyclists who wonder about their comfort limit in an intense full week.
An unreal plan in a surreal place – Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route
The Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route, located in the southernmost region of Bolivia, is known to be the second most famous route among bike travelers to reach the border with Chile, the first being the Salar de Uyuni route.
The Route is easy to follow just from Uyuni to Cerro Caquella on the only main road number 701 (distance about 186 km). From there onwards it is pure adventure. Along this route you will always be at an altitude above 4000 m and you will pass four peaks, the highest of which is 4919 m altitude.
Due to the lack of affordable accommodations and because it’s a large and difficult desert, the vast majority of bicycle travelers do not dare to go through Bolivia’s most incredible 388 km, or they go on an organised tour during 3 exhausting days on a 4×4.
In this last chapter of Bolivia, we started with lots of considerations. We read many articles and saw photos of Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route and all of them look awesome! They made us envy and want to experience it ourselves. Yet, the cyclists’ tourers who did this route mostly have bike-packing setups. This reason made us doubt if it will be fun or will be a full week of torture. It all sounded like an unreal plan in a surreal place.
Long story short, we did this epic route during the end of the year of 2018, with a 11 days route we found at that time. However you should take the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route in your way of traveling and judge by that. We think if you manage to carry enough food, it’s worth to do it slower.
Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route
In this article we will tell you about all the stages of the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route from Uyuni to the Chilean border. We also share a map of the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route where you can see all points that connect the city of Uyuni and the Refugio de la Laguna Blanca.
Below the map you will find several tabs with detailed information of the whole route and in the tab called “GPX Files” you can download for free the stages, map, route of Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route in GPX / KML format to use in Google Earth, your GPS device or smartphone.
Day 1 – From Uyuni to Ramaditas (55 km)
Take the city of Uyuni as your starting point. There are plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, budget hotels to spend a few days and many travelers to share a beer with. Visit the “Cyclist’s House” in case you need help or get to feel the spirit of the travelers who, like us, have been there. The owners used to have a restaurante with abundant food! If you’re lucky you’ll find company for the next few days or even change the direction of your journey 🙂
Starte the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route by leaving Uyuni and making a turn to “Ruta Nacional 5”, and from there it’s always straight. The road it’s mostly flat, and gravel road, and you will be around 3830 m of altitude. The environment isn’t impressive, it’s dry and dusty and when the cars, trucks pass by they raise a some dust. Our first night we camped at around a little almost abandoned hamlet (-20.87853, -66.99514). Don’t worry about it, you will have plenty of days ahead with overwhelming views.
Day 2 – Ramaditas – San Cristobal (39 km)
Start your day early, the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route weather can be quite unpredictable, but mornings tend to be better than afternoons. The road will continue flat with an overall inclination of 126 m during the 39 km. On this day we stayed in a school with water, electricity, and benches tables, that was stopped due to holidays. You probably can do the same, just ask the locals first if its okay.
We stopped in little hamlets before we get into the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve – Ramaditas, San Cristobal, and Alota. In these places, we ate in local restaurants. So, we didn’t have to bring lots of food from Uyuni.
Day 3 – San Cristobal to Alota (57 km)
As you get closer to the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route mountains the environment will start to be greater, Alpacas will be the main animal attraction. You will do a total climb of 243 m and a total descent of 187 m, so it’s still fairly flat. On this day we stayed at Hostel Sol Radiante that can also provide food.
Day 4 – Alota – Camp Cerro Caquella (34 km)
Today’s leg has some differences from the other days, where the monotonous, wide roads give way to rocky formations and snowy peaks. The route starts with a first climb at kilometer 5 and only stops at the top of the mountain at 4486m, making a total of 653m with the inclinations not exceeding 6%.
Our day ended at the top of the mountain when we were surprised by a rainy and windy storm. We stopped and put up the tent to let the weather calm down, but it wasn’t until the end of the day that the rain stopped. We were left to enjoy the view around Caquella peak.
If you have a day without rain, you can probably pass the peak and reach Laguna Hedionda, skipping day 5 without any problem.
Day 5 – Camp Cerro Caquella – Laguna Hedionda (29 km)
If you did as we did and stayed overnight at the top of the mountain, today you will get the reward you deserve for the effort and courage of spending the freezing night near the Caquella peak!
The Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route today despite not bringing any big climbs, will have several challenges such as crossing a river, many rocks and stones and at some moments you may need to push the bike. All the effort will be more than worth it on the route between the mountains and the arrival at the Hedionda lagoon filled with flamingos.
If you get bad weather or simply want to rest, the Los Flamencos Eco Hotel and its luxury restaurant is an option. But if you prefer a more affordable option, ask if the hotel’s dormitories intended for drivers, are available for overnight stays. On our pass, the dormitories had several beds pretty much joined together, a mattress, blanket and a pillow. The hotel people were so nice to us that they even took leftover food for our dinner.
Day 6 – Laguna Hedionda – Hotel Taica (37 km)
Get ready for a long day (ours took 9 hours) of the Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route with many physical and mental challenges, and of course filled with fantastic places. Take the opportunity to start cycling as soon as the sun comes out so can see the 4 magnificent lagoons coiled at the foot of the Ollagüe volcano (5,868 m): Lagunas Hedionda, Chiarkota, Cañapa and Negra, with the flamingos that live there.
A little further on is the impressive Laguna Honda with an incredible view among the snow-capped mountains. With your camera already filled with memories, take advantage of the view to grab a bite and start your second long climb of 637 m up the rocky, sandy mountain range. Here we had to push the bike several times until we reached the top.
Tip: use a “mantra” to overcome physical and mental challenges and repeat it over and over again when you feel like giving up. Luís’ was “everything will pass and we’ll be alright again”.
When you start going down the mountain, you will have to choose if you want to camp somewhere in the desert (good option if the weather is good) or if you need a shelter, to recover strength for the next day (option that we took). If you choose the second option, look for hotel Tayka El Desierto and, if money is not an issue, enjoy the luxurious hotel in the desert. Otherwise, ask about the prices of the drivers’ dormitories or do as we did and look for the person in charge of the hotel’s workshop house and ask him to take shelter there.
Tip: There are free hot water showers next to the drivers’ cabins. However, If you arrive late, the hot water will not be available as the water is heated by the solar panels and runs out as soon as the drivers arrived and take shower.
Day 7 – Hotel Taica – Camp before Arbol de Piedra (26 km)
Begin the day with the usual scene of this Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route, colorful Ayaviri mountains on your right side, and the corrugated trail towards Arbol de Piedra. You’ll climb 214 meters with up to 12% of inclination in this stretch.
Before you start the day, don’t forget to fill your water because there will be nothing between Hotel Taica and Laguna Colorada. Also because the stretch from this point until the lake is quite hard, you may need to stop overnight as we did.
Back then, we stopped a few km before Arbol de Piedra due we get caught by the blizzard. We had to put out our tent in the middle of the desert earlier than we planned. So, in case you get better weather, proceed with cycling up to Laguna Colorada.
Day 8 – Camp before Arbol de Piedra – Laguna Colorada (22 km)
From this point to the famous isolated rock formation Arbol de Piedra, is only 5 km with the same terrain, corrugated loose sand. So, again, If you are lucky with the weather, this stretch can be your 7th day or even 6th day.
Once you reach the Arbol de Piedra, take your time to contemplate the work of wind erosion over millions of years. Don’t forget to take picture of it with you since it’s one of the most iconic and famous locations not only in this region of Bolivia but in all of South America.
After done pondering, you will cycle down to 4386 meters altitude where the authentic gem of the Bolivian altiplano is, Laguna Colorada. Also, here you have to pay the entrace ticket of the National Park. Although the ticket says only valid for four days, it’s flexible for cyclist. Hail bicycle!
We suggest you take at least a rest day here since there are plenty of viewpoints to mesmerize this natural wonder right in front of the hamlet. However, the color of the lake may vary depending on the presence of certain minerals or algae. Yet, it is expected to come across flocks of flamingos that scrutinize the shallow lagoon bed in search of food. Do you need more reasons?
Day 9 – Laguna Colorada – Huallajara (12 km)
This stretch is easily skipped as we did this because we met some cool travelers and decided to spend some time with them. It’s a hamlet that also has plenty of hostels like the previous hamlet in front of Laguna Colorada. Usually, the price isn’t fixed. So, bargain at your best.
Day 10 – Huallajara – Camp at the high pass (21 km)
Start your day as soon as the sun is out and get ready for a long climb after the first easy 5 km. In this stretch, you will reach 4918 meters altitude with a max of 16% of inclination. It is the highest altitude in this route and all the routes we did in Bolivia.
If you have good weather, you can easily proceed with the journey until Laguna Chalviri. If you get caught by the hail like us, the walled stone we found has good protection from the intense weather.
Day 11 – Camp at the pass – Laguna Chalviri (26 km)
However, there is another option to stay before Laguna Chalviri. It’s called Sol de Mañana which literally means morning sun. Intense volcanic activity and the sulfur springs field that is full of mud lakes and steam pools illustrate the area, bringing a summer zephyr in here. Despite the temptation, you have to make a little detour to go there.
If you decided to skip Sol de Mañana, after 5 km from the starting point of this stretch, the path is mostly going down until Laguna Chalviri. Be ready to indulge your body and soul in the natural spring water.
Day 12 – Laguna Chalviri – Refugio Laguna Blanca (44 km)
Leaving Laguna Chalviri, you will get into a constant climb on the first 20 km before rolling down to Laguna Blanca. This is your longest stretch in this Sur Lipez Bolivia Cycling Route before finish but be prepared to keep wow-ing as you go. A Bolivian altiplano is a surreal place that you will never regret to travel especially by bicycle.
At the end of this stretch, you may ask the people from the military base if you are able to camp near their building and get cover from the wind. If you have a budget, there is a refugio in front of the checkpoint of the national park building.
Day 13 – Refugio Laguna Blanca – Bolivia Border (7 km)
Before leaving, make sure you check out in the checkpoint office and keep your national park ticket with you until you reach the Bolivian immigration border.
must to know: In Arbol Piedra, there was a fox that use to human. So, feel free to share your supply with him.
See you, Bolivia!
In the end, this last chapter of Bolivia is surely one of the best memories we have in Sketch and Bicycle Tour through South America. Once we roll to the Chilean side, the road changes into a perfect tarmac road. For 30 km, we rolled down 2200 meters altitude. We didn’t need to pedal at all.
How to use this map: Click the tab in the top left corner of the map to see the points of interest. You can click on the selection folders to hide or show the folders. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the map title, the map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “My Places”, click Maps, and you will see this map in your list.
- Surreal landscapes: snow-capped volcanoes, colourful lagoons, and geysers.
- Natural thermal pools around Laguna Chalviri