Ruta Andina Adventure Road – Chile, Atacama
On four-wheel-drive roads to Chile’s volcanic giants
Ruta Andina Adventure Road – In Chile, the paved Ruta 5 runs from north of Arica to Puerto Montt. To the south, the Carretera Austral, well known by tourists, follows and ends in the great fjords and the mighty inland ice. Scenically a delight and due to the construction of roads in increasingly better condition, it gradually loses its adventurous character. Its northern counterpart, the Andean Route, on the other hand, is still more adventure than road. It connects the tourist magnet of San Pedro de Atacama by dusty tracks along the Bolivian border over huge Andean passes to the border triangle near Visviri. In addition to scenic diversity, the volcanic giants along the route offer great opportunities for mountain hiking.
- Best months from May to November.
- There are hardly any gas stations on the road, so carry sufficiently full jerry cans.
- In Ollagüe, Cariquima, Colchane and Putre, fuel is available on request.
- There is hardly any cell phone network and there is no roadside assistance service. It is recommended to travel with two or more vehicles.
- Lodging can be found in San Pedro, Ollagüe, Salar de Huasco, Cariquima, Ancuaque, Colchane, Putre and Parinacota. In some cases it is not possible to make reservations.
- For the stretch from Colchane to Putre, there are excellent tours departing from Iquique.
Excursions around San Pedro are ideal and a prerequisite to adapt to the tremendous altitudes along the Andean Route. In addition to the standard excursions, such as to the Puritama hot springs or to the Miscanti and Meninques Lagoons, as well as to the Salar, there are also good opportunities for hiking and mountain excursions. A good day trip from San Pedro is the roundtrip to Corniza.
Shorter but no less scenic is the round-trip excursion through the nearby Salt Mountains or, with a longer trip, the Valley Arco Iris. An easy ascent to the Cerro Toco offers even beginners the opportunity to climb a 5,000-meter peak.
San Pedro – Ollagüe
The route leads to the Tatio geysers, on the way there are some good mountain destinations, such as the Sairecabur at an altitude of almost 6,000 m, the CerroSoquete or the Cordón del Tatio. Smaller hikes lead from Guatin to the Puritama hot springs or along the Puritama valley to the Geysir blanco. On the way back to San Pedro, there is a track that leads through ChiuChiu to Ollagüe. In ChiuChiu there is also lodging and a restaurant.
Ollagüe – Colchane
The first day was a good test, today’s route will be even more solitary and also a bit more demanding. North of Ollagüe we have to cross a bridge, although it is an old railway bridge. Here there is not much room left and right. A must is the short detour with the very easy ascent to the 5165 m high Irruputunco. Incredible amounts of sulfur lie here on the flanks of the crater and everywhere it hisses and steams from the ground. Those who have had enough of the mountain air take the asphalt road to the coast to Iquique. The Andean Route, on the other hand, continues through the enchanting Salar de Huasco to Colchane. If you book in advance, you can stay overnight on the edge of the Huasco salt lake, otherwise the next accommodation is not until Cariquima. Before Cariquima, we pass another high Andean pass, at the foot of Cerro Toroni, with good opportunities for hiking.
Colchane – Putre
From Cariquima you can make a detour to the Bolivian border overlooking the enormous Salar de Coipasa. However, ask at the lodge if the route is currently recommended. The whole area, including Colchane, is increasingly unsafe due to border smugglers. In Colchane there is fuel for vehicles, so it is best to ask at the lodge who sells it. Here you can cross the border with Bolivia, but of all the border crossings I know, this is currently the most complicated. We recommend a day trip to Puchuldiza and, above all, a mountain hike to the Cerro Blanco. The Andean Route now continues beyond the volcano Isluga. The ascent is a bit monotonous, but the surroundings are fantastic. In the village of Isluga, but also in Guallatire and Parinacota, you will find some of the most beautiful and oldest churches in the country. The road now climbs up to 4700 m and can be in bad condition, especially on the steep passes. At the same pass, a beautiful hike leads downhill past Cerro Colorado to the hot springs of Polloquere, which are on the edge of the Salar de Surire, known for its flamingos, condors, vizcachas, but especially for the elegant vicuñas. The distance between Colchane and Putre is not great in kilometers, but with the eternal photographic stops it is a long day’s journey. Those who undertake treks or mountain hikes along the way have to camp anyway. The highlight is of course the ascent of the active volcano Guallatire, and more easily the ascent of Acotango, which is also over 6000 m high.
There are several places to stay in Putre, among them our own; La Chakana. The place also lends itself to endless hiking and mountain tours. Beautiful hikes lead to the Lluta ravine and, for the most part, downhill along ancient Inca trails to Socoroma. Those who start the Andean Route in Putre can get used to the rarefied air of the Altiplano with a short hike to the 5,000 m high Cerro Milagro. For us, the most difficult climb of the entire route was the ascent of the Parinacota volcano with its steep icy flanks. However, scenically adorned with Lake Chungará, the hill is a real dream and a real pleasure even without a mountain tour. Easier hikes lead to the panoramic mountain GuaneGuane or Cerro Choquelimpie.
Putre – Visviri
The Andean Route to the northernmost point of Chile, at Visviri, is already paved all the way, except for the short stretch between Parinacota and the crossing to Caquena, as this section is inside the national park. If this is too comfortable for you, you can take the road past the Tarapacá volcano, the local mountain of Putre and the Tacora volcano.
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