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by June 4th, 2023

Overland from Chile to Bolivia

Chile Argentina Bolivia

Overland from Chile to Bolivia – There are many routes leading to the far north through Chile. High Andean passes, lonely roads and an incredible variety of strange natural phenomena connect Chile with Argentina and Bolivia. We have hiked them all in the last 30 years, climbed most of the mountains and done a lot of trekking along the different routes. But our favorite route is and remains the combined trip with Argentina and Bolivia. Here you can find everything your heart desires, from desert to cloud forest, from mountains over 6000 m high to salt lakes, lonely villages and beautiful cities. As always, we also discover new places and we don’t want to deprive you of them. The trip can be experienced similar to a group tour.

Talca – La Serena 730 km

Now you may be wondering why we start in Talca and not in Santiago. First of all, we live in Talca and secondly, autumn and spring in Chile are the best seasons for this route. Both are also magical seasons for the Maule region in which Talca is located. Normally, we cross the Pehuenche Pass from Talca to Malargüe on the Argentinean side, an absolutely dream route. However, we are still missing one last pass on the list, the Paso Agua Negra. It leads from La Serena up to 4770 m above the Andes and is therefore the highest Andean pass in Chile. Anyway, it is always worth visiting La Serena, which is quite beautiful, day trips in the surrounding area are a must.

Elqui Valley

La Serena – Jachal 372 km

From La Serena we enjoy the trip through the green Elqui Valley in the middle of a rather desert-like landscape. Vicuña and especially Pisco Elqui seduce with many excursions, hikes but especially with visits to Pisco distilleries and observatories. It is worth to stop here for several days. From Vicuña, the paved mountain road ascends in many serpentines up to the pass at 4770 meters. For mountaineers, this is the approach to Cerro Las Tórtolas with its 6160 m altitude. The first town with good accommodations on the Argentine side is Jachal. For steak lovers there is only one name here: 1000 Ochocientos.

Road to Jachal

Jachal – Villa Union 270 km

There are two national parks on the route, those who start early will be able to visit both. We chose Talampaya Park. It is true that it is organized in a rather touristy way, but it is worth it. Red rocks rise vertically into the sky, with a little luck you can see maras, condors almost always and strange stone sculptures formed by wind and rain strain the camera. From here it is not far to the small town of Villa Union, with accommodations of all categories.


Villa Unión – Cafayate 573 km

The Cuesta de Miranda is a beautiful pass road that leads through Chilecito to Belén. I like Belén very much and have made several trips there in recent years, the classic being a visit to the Inca ruins of Shinkal. Surprisingly, there are good accommodations in this small town. Chilecito is the starting point to the Famatina mountain range, with elevations over 6000m. This time, however, we stayed at an estancia. This time, however, we drove all the way to Cafayate in one go. It is a place I could live in, very touristy but resourceful. Wineries, the Quilmes Inca ruins, beautiful places like Cachi in nearby Los Cardones NP with its huge cacti and endless excursions are on offer there. In any case, plan 2-3 days.


Cafayate – Salta 197 km

On the direct route past the Cabra Corral reservoir, you should not miss one of the short hikes through the surrounding colorful ravines. This time we explored the signposted Quebrada Colorada and did not regret it. The last stretch before Salta is a bit annoying and the traffic in the city itself is no fun either. But the city itself is a real pearl. I always choose a hotel on the main square. A vegetarian’s nightmare but the ultimate meat lover’s paradise is El Charrúa, try the Tomahawk steak. For a half-day excursion, I still recommend a short walk through San Lorenzo. Nowadays you have to hire local guides, but finally being able to walk through a forest of incredible beauty again is a delight for the heart and soul. Birdwatchers should not forget their binoculars.

Trail Colorado

Salta – Los Toldos 440 km

Today there is also a new route for us, we travel over the Bermejo Pass from Argentina to Bolivia. Be sure to spray yourself with insecticide at the border control. We continue through beautiful scenery along the Bermejo River through dense forests to Los Toldos. This small town can only be reached through Bolivia, but belongs to Argentina. There are some cabins, but we did not find any restaurants. Baritú National Park can only be reached by 4WD. The drive is a success, and the hike along the Lipeo River is just great.


Los Toldos – Tarija 118 km

Compared to the previous routes, from Los Toldos to Tarija is only a short distance. Tarija has the reputation of being the most pleasant city in Bolivia and I can only confirm this. The small city is known for its good wine and paleontological attractions. On the other hand, the day trip to the Cordillera de Sama reserve is not worth it, as there are more rewarding tours along the way. In the main square you will find two first class restaurants and the best coffee in town. It is good to know that nowadays all vehicles need a PIN to refuel. Actually, this PIN should be handwritten on the customs entry papers at the border. If it is not, you will have problems getting fuel in Bolivia. By law, the state company YPFB must also sell fuel to vehicles without a PIN, but at triple the price.


Tarija – Tupiza 268 km

Yes, there is a normal road from Tarija to Tupiza, but we wanted to know and took the road of death via Yunchara. A first class route, but only for good nerves and on a dusty track. Tupiza is not a big city, but the excursions are a dream. The landscape is dry but very diverse, with deep gorges, biking and hiking. Be sure to plan at least a day. Tupiza is also the starting point for jeep safaris in the Uyuni desert, although there are not as many agencies as in Uyuni, but everything is much more relaxed. The hotel and the Mitru agency are highly recommended. I have done several tours with them and I was always delighted.

Tupiza – Uyuni 242 km

Bolivia now has better roads than Chile, today’s route is also asphalted along its entire length and in good condition. Tolls are now charged on almost all good roads. On the way there is a larger town with the possibility of getting a simple lunch – Antocha. Uyuni itself has become a large town with a multitude of agencies offering tours in and around the salt desert. On the outskirts of town is the train cemetery, a worthwhile area for photography buffs. The best restaurant in town is Tika, in the center.


Uyuni – Colchane 517 km

I didn’t expect much from this section, so I was surprised. It is important to know that you don’t have to go through Oruro. The 601 leads west from Lake Poopo to Corque, where it meets the main road leading back to the border. The only place we found for a simple lunch was in Huachacalla. In Caripaya there is a beautiful old church to see, but the highlight of the day is the scenery with views of the great snow-capped volcanoes such as Sajama and Parinacota. The border crossing is absolute chaos. The kilometer-long queue of trucks can be easily passed, which saves a day or two of waiting. On the Bolivian side there is one last gas station. Patience is needed now. It is important to know where the chassis number is stamped on the vehicle. It will be checked.


Colchane – Putre 243 km

Of the entire trip, today’s route is perhaps the most beautiful, but above all the richest in animals. The track can also be traveled without four-wheel drive, only the section over the pass was a bit tricky. The route is known as Ruta Andina and passes the active volcano Isluga. In the Bofedales we are always surprised by a great variety of bird species, and llamas, alpacas and many vicuñas walk along the road. Reaching the pass at 4500 m altitude, we soon see the Surire salt flat. A 10 km detour leads to the hot springs of Polloquere, not to be missed. On the west side of the salt flat is the park ranger station. Viscachas are almost always seen behind the building. Do not feed them. On the last stretch to Putre, there is an important stop at the church of Guallatire, where you are likely to see suris and vicuñas. Putre is a small town, but a good starting point for several hikes and mountain ascents. From here it is only about 2 h downhill to Arica, where you can leave the rental cars and reach Santiago by plane.