Lagunas Route Bolivia

The Lagunas route is a dirt route through the lake region of Southwestern Bolivia. It’s 260 miles between Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama Chile. My max gas capacity would get my about 215 miles at best, so I had to fill up empty 2 liter bottles. The good thing is there are empty water and soda bottles laying all over the roads so it was easy to find spare fuel bottles.

Since it is such a remote region I wanted to ride with some other riders. It worked out that I caught up with Paul and Ian so we would ride together. We planned on taking 3 days and camping along the way so we each packed enough food and water to get us to Chile. I packed 5 extra liters of fuel and 4 liters of water.

Day 1

Once all loaded up we hit the road.

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As soon as you leave the main street in downtown Uyuni it’s a dirt road from there until Chile.

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IMG_5146 It was flat and fast. We were blazing along when Ian had to pull over. Not even an hour out of Uyuni and Ian’s radiator was leaking coolant. Luckily I had stop leak and a small bottle of coolant. He poured the stop leak in and it didn’t leak anymore so we continued the journey.

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We stopped in San Christobal which is 60 miles from Uyuni and filled up on fuel. This is the last official gas station until Chile. In the next small town of Villa Alota there was a group of three cyclists sitting by the road. They gave us some tips and told us about the route which they had just completed. It took them over 10 days on bicycle. They warned us the wind is really hard until late at night.

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No fuel in Villa Alota but there is a tienda to buy water and basic dry goods.

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Leaving Villa Alota we turned off the main dirt road and headed south. Instantly we hit soft deep sand. After a minute I realized that off the road to my right was nice hard grassy land. Time for a slight detour. Following the sandy trail we came to a small river. No way around so we had to go through. Ian went first and barely made it out. I took a different path as he got caught up on some rocks. I hit the throttle and rode into the deep river. Water halfway up my motorcycle. I reached the other side and got stuck in some thick muddy water. I wasn’t going down here. I gave it more throttle and my bike ripped out of the mud. Covered in mud and tall grass I continued down the trail.

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Further down the road we hit more sand. This time it had deep tracks left by the jeeps. I made the mistake of trying to move to the other side and lost traction. I was moving along at a good speed when I lost control and thought for a second that the bike was going to highside. I somehow saved it and wobbled further till eventually the sand got the best of me and I slid into the soft deep sand. Paul was behind me and helped me get the bike up.

We rode for an hour or two crossing more rivers and riding through the beautiful land. It would soon be getting dark so we began looking for a place we could camp for the night. To the west we saw a large area of massive boulders. We rode off road and Paul got his Vstrom stuck. When we reached the boulders we realized there was a nice dirt road just a few hundred feet away that we could have taken. Better to make your own roads sometimes anyway.

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Probably not meant for motorcycles but it worked.

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We hiked around until we found a good spot to set up camp. The wind was strong so we needed the boulders as a wind block.

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Once the sun was down the temperature dropped and we quickly started making pasta for dinner. After dinner we searched the area for fire wood. There weren’t any trees but a lot of dead grass and dried up bushes. Under a clear sky showing off millions of stars we were warmed by the campfire. The flames casting shadows onto the surrounding boulders. With nothing but the sound of crackling wood we talked about how for some people moments like this are the highlight of a year but for us it’s another day on this adventure. I’m not taking it for granted.

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Day 2

The sun shining onto our tents had us awake by 7. We packed up our gear and made coffee and breakfast. Breakfast was tuna fish and black beans on a tortilla with hot sauce. An interesting breakfast but filling which was all we needed. Just as we were loading the bikes the SUV tours started rolling in to explore the area. We had it better. The jeep tours are 3 days and from what I saw they crammed 6 people into the SUVs and drove them around. I guess that could be fun.

Before we left I wanted to top off my fuel tank with the spare fuel bottles I had filled up. When I looked at the fuel there was a lot of sediment and gunk at the bottom of the bottles. The same fuel was pumped into our tanks at the gas station but I couldn’t just pour that fuel in seeing all that gunk. I took folded up a bandana to use as a filter then cut an empty water bottle in half and made a funnel. This would at least filter the big gunk from going into my tank.

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I’ve never filled clear bottles with fuel elsewhere but Bolivia has some dirty gas.

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After an hour we reached the small town of Villa Mar (the last town we’d see for a while). There was a fun river crossing to get into the town. We bought water and some snacks from a women who ran a small tienda. Before leaving we found a guy at the southern edge of town who sold gas. He only had 4 liters so we split it. We paid only 6 Bolivianos per liter. By midday we reached Laguna Colorada.The view was worth the miles of washboard dirt roads. Hundreds of flamingos stood in the lake which reflected the mountains in the background.

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Wishing my 18-135EF lens hadn’t broken! This is as close as my lens could get.

Southwest of Laguna Colorada, nowhere near the border, Bolivia has set up it’s customs office. Following the dirt road to nowhere we road to the highest elevation of the trip. My GPS was slow to determine the altitude but checking the coordinates later we reached 16,556ft! Is this is the highest customs office in the world?

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We actually reached 16,556 ft. Shattering the records from Peru.

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At the Bolivia Aduana/Customs office

Just after the aduana Ian’s radiator started leaking again. He used the rest of the stop leak and it held for the second time so off we road.

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We rode on and as the sun started setting we still had no place to set up camp. The wind was stronger than yesterday and we couldn’t find anywhere with something to shelter us from it. Pitching tents here would be a nightmare. On the map we saw there was a refuge only 15 miles further. We pressed on. The sun was almost setting and the temperature dropped and dropped. By the time we reached the refugio my teeth were chattering. The refugio ended up being a regular hostal and a room for the night cost 40 bolivanos. We were just happy to have somewhere out of the wind!

Day 3

We left our hostel on Mars and headed for the Chile border. Riding around here feels a bit like I’m on a different planet. Except there is water occasionally.

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The border and immigration office was only a few miles down the road and it was a simple process to get our passports stamped. We would have to ride almost an hour into Chile to get stamped into Chile.

Bolivia border crossing

Bolivia border crossing

As soon as your enter Chile the difference is noticeable. The dirt road had road markings for curves and distance signs. After a few miles we reached the end of the dirt road which officially ended our off road Lagunas adventure. From there to San Pedro de Atacama it was nice highway riding for 45 minutes.

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Checking into Chile took only 30 minutes. Though the customs agent must have been having a bad day because he was quite angry about the fact that he had to process three motorcycles that just arrived from Bolivia. He cussed and cussed about why couldn’t have we have gone through Argentina first. It only took 10 minutes to process us in so I didn’t understand why this guy was so angry about it. We’re not the only ones who travel that route. It was actually pretty funny. In all the chaotic and stressful borders I’ve crossed I had never seen a border agent flip out and start cursing. That dude would have a panic attack if he worked in Honduras.

So glad I was able to ride this route and with Paul and Ian. It was an amazing three days. I could have done with less washboard but overall the experience was great. There is a route further west that others take that might have been different but I had a good time on this route. The route is on the OpenSource Maps for Bolivia. Pretty easy to follow.

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