the atacama desert
copiapó to san pedro de atacama
laguna chaxa to san pedro de atacama
A cold morning but easy cycling on good dirt roads all the way to Toconoa - a small village with hostels, cafes and shops. From here, its tarmac all the way to San Pedro de Atacama but no posadas or shops en route. About 15km out of Toconoa there is a small Oasis of treeswith what looks like a free camping area. San Pedro is very touristic with great hostels, shops and restaurants.
desert camp 3 to laguna chaxa
Camped 18km from the village Peine (which is 208km from Baquedano) which has shops, a cafe and a hospedaje. Restocked on some water and food There are cave painting to see here and everyone was really friendly. We continued to Laguna Chaxa to see the flamingos at sunset - there is a tarmac road for about 20km. At the lake there are many tourists... there is an entrance fee of 2500pesos. We asked the main guard if we could camp here and he let us stay within the museum... much warmer than our tent. We even had running water and a toilet.
desert camp 2 to desert camp 3
Up and over the final climb with one of the most amazing views on the descent. More trucks offered us water and we passed a mine entrance with a friendly guard (176km from Baquedano). Saw a drinking water tank in his office but we had enough so didn't ask. Camped 18km from the village Peine... but on the Salar de Atacama, this is not very easy due to the projecting, sharp salt crystals! We found a small clearing and camped right beside the road without any problems.
Top of climb (From Baquedano) - 155km, altitude 2944m
desert camp 1 to desert camp 2
Amazing sunsets and night skies. Head wind in the morning, tail wind in the afternoon. Truckers often offered us water and food. We were given 3L of water which was great. Drunk most of it there so not to carry it further. Camped just off the road.
Top of climb (From Baquedano) - 97.5km, Altitude 2477m
baquedano to desert camp 1
More climbing out of Baquedano. We stocked up on 12L water each. After 10km - there is a small coffee shop with cold drinks and hot dogs - the last for 208km. There where mining building at 38.5km, 47km and 52km. We didnt approach them but they undoubtedly had water for the workers. We camped away from the road after a mine at 62km.
Top of climb 1(From Baquedano) - 10.5km, Altitude 1400m
Top of climb 2 (From Baquedano) - 49.5km, Altitude 1729m
antofagasta to baquedano
A steep climb followed by a more modest climb all the way to Baquedano. No shops or posadas so take what you need for the whole day. Baquedano is a small village but has 2 hospedajes (we stayed at the one at the end of town which is also a restaurant). Basic accommodation but cheap - 7000 pesos/person. Stocked up on food and water for 4 days inorder to cross the desert. The ruta 5, which has a large hard shoulder to cycle on, joins the ruta 25, which has NO hard shoulder, is very narrow and very busy. So we decided to cycle accross the desert road instead.
There was little info about this route so we tried to map the POI on our GPS from here onwards.
mano del desierto to antofagasta
More downhill to Chiles second largest city. Antofagasta has a really nice coast with 2 good bike shops - one is one the sea front (Rana Bikes) and the other in town (Oxford bikes). Rana bikes is more for mountain bikes and even had fat bike inner tubes! At Oxford bikes, the mechanic spoke really good English and let us use the workshop with him. Antofagasta has also a large shopping mall with good camping shops. Otherwise - its another big city!
wild camp 1 to mano del desierto
After a short climb, its all downhill to Antofagasta! We stopped for food and drinks at the posada (106km from the previous posada) and carried on to camp at the statue of the Hand of the Desert.
agua verde to wild camp
On leaving Agua Verde, there is a posada at 30km (San Fransisco) and then a nothing else for 106km, except more long uphill climbs, so we stopped here for lunch, took water for 36 hours and set off onto the plateau. It is very windy on the top and evidenced by the wind farm, with little shelter for our tent. We found a small mound to pitch our tent.
posada 2 to agua verde
More looooong uphill climbs in 30 degree + heat! But reaching Agua Verde (55km) - which consists of a Carabinero station and 2 restaurants is great. The first restuarant is ok but the second is great - great food and many more drinks and snack to choose from - also has a shower which you can use. Again, we camped here for the night.
posada 1 to posada 2
More amazing desert views and good roads but long climbs. Very hot days and cool nights. 61km to the next posada from wgere we set off and had dinner here. Camped out on the hill behind the posada and watched the amazing night sky. Breakfast at the posada before setting off again.
chañaral to posada
There are about 6 posadas along this road and otherwise nowhere to get food or water. We used "The Phitrons Pedal North - crazyguyonabike.com" - This couple penned out exactly where there is a posada and the top of each climb (start from km973 for Chañaral onwards - but it starts much sooner) - all very accurate. Here is the link and we would recommend taking a copy with you on this 400km stretch.
Below is the elevation profile for the journey from Chañaral all the way to Antofagasta
So following "The Phitrons Pedal North - crazyguyonabike.com" starting at km 973 (see full link above) - we took the Ruta 5 through the desert. A long climb out of town with amazing scenery once over the first hill. We had dinner at the posada (57km) and camped just beside it... also had breakfast here and stocked up on water for the day.
caldera to chañaral
Many small ups and downs on a good tarmac road. There are a few posadas along the way. We stopped at one at about 37km for a cooked lunch and again about 20km later for tea. About 3-4km before Chañaral, there is a free campsite on the beach - very visible from the road. Chañaral has some hostels and supermarkets. There is a national park (Pan de Azucar) which you can go through and meet the Ruta 5 some 60km later but this was closed when we were there so we headed out onto the desert road towards Antofagasta.
copiapó to caldera
There are 2 routes to Caldera from Copiapó. One goes over a mountain pass (about 800m gain) and the other is mainly downhill all the way to the coast. We took the latter. There was a petrol station at about 31km with a restaurant and more shops along the way (about every 20km) so no need to carry to much water.