ExpeditionPlus! Bicycling Across the High Andes
The 2009 Expedition is underway you can track the progress of our group of 10 on ExpeditionPlus! member, Bill Weidenfeller's blog: Biking with Bill.Welcome to the most exciting bicycling expedition in the world! This trip is everything you've ever wanted in an adventure bike tour: exhilarating climbs and descents; spectacular colors and mountain/volcano scenery; welcoming people and towns; biking at 4600 meters (15,091 feet) above sea level; paved roads; crossing the High Andes plateau; a side trip for 2 nights into Bolivia to visit colorful geysers, lagoons and get deeper into the famous Andean Plateau; long mileage through the Pampas at the end of the tour. ExperiencePlus! has been planning this trip for more than a year and we have found the perfect route to pedal the High Andes. You'll acclimate gradually to the high elevations by spending 3 nights at 8,000 ft in San Pedro de Atacama, while following the mountaineering mantra of "climb high, sleep low". For instance the day you bicycle to your highest point of 4600 meters (15,091 feet), you'll return to San Pedro to sleep.
Scenery on this tour will vary from desert and rock formations to sepctacular mountains to great salt flats to colorful canyons to cactus-covered hills and pre-Colombian ruins to the great Pampas expanses. Sights will include Chilean mines, colorful Andean villages, Bolivian geysers and volcanoes, Incan ruins, Jesuit estancias, famous colonial cities, Uruguayan beaches and everything in between. We'll travel through three countries--Chile, Argentina and Uruguay--before finishing in one of the most famous cities of the world, Buenos Aires. Join us on this first-of-its-kind expedition across one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world!
Because of the popularity and challenging nature of our ExpeditionPlus! adventures, we require an application for this expedition. If you would like to join us, click here to fill out the application today.View Day-by-Day ItineraryHide Day-by-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Meet in Santiago de Chile
Highlights: Santiago, capital of Chile; welcome dinner
Gather today in Chile's capital and spend time walking around the center of the town. Anybody who wants to properly visit Santiago should come a few days early. We'll have a welcome dinner together tonight in a local restaurant.
Daily mileage: no ride today
Day 2: Transfer to Northern Chile
Highlights: Flight to Antofagasta; Northern beaches of Chile
We'll fly to Antofagasta today and transfer to a northern Chilean coastal town where we'll begin our bicycle expedition. Most of the coastal towns in this area were important ports that shipped out (some still do today) minerals mined from the Andes in northern Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Our town was founded in 1843 as a mineral port to ship guano from the vicinity as well as the minerals from the mines from the interior. We'll fit bikes and anybody who wants can take a test ride along the coastal road. Enjoy dinner together tonight.
Daily mileage: test ride
Day 3: Bike to Maria Elena
Highlights: Bicycle the Cordillera de la Cuesta
The climb to the Cordillera de la Cuesta starts from the Pacific coast and meanders up through a quebrada (canyon) to an elevation between 1000 and 1500m. The landscape is mostly desert-like from the beginning. Our destination, Maria Elena, is another mining town founded in 1926. There are many mines and mineral purification plants around town. Dinner is together tonight.
Daily mileage: approximately 70 km
Day 4: Ride to Calama
Highlights: World's largest open copper mine; Chuquicamata; Calama
Enjoying the solitude of stark desert landscapes, our ride today takes us to another important mining city, world famous for its extraordinary copper mine. We climb up to the pass of Cuesta de Montecristo and then descend to Chuquicamata and Calama. We'll have dinner together.
Daily mileage: approximately 110 km.
Day 5: Cycle to San Pedro de Atacama
Highlights: Cordillera de la Sal; salt mountains; Valle de la Luna
The route climbs gently out of Calama across the desert plains before reaching the first range to cross, the cordillera Barro Arana. From the pass you can already begin to see the majestic Andean cordillera and volcanoes. Descend into the valle Llano de la Paciencia and then begin climbing the Cordillera de la Sal, an entire mountain range made of salt, caused by the uprising of part of the salar (salt lake) de Atacama. From the pass, you can see the fantastic eroded figures of the Valle de la Luna, one of the famous sites of the area. Dinner is on your own.
Daily mileage: approximately 95 km.
Day 6: Rest day in San Pedro de Atacama
Highlights: Easy bike ride to Valle de la Luna; Salar de Atacama; museum of Andean archaeology
Our first rest day of the trip is in San Pedro; our first colonial town, and quite distinct from the mining towns with its adobe houses and tiny streets. Make sure to visit the church and the wonderful museum of Andean archaeology with well-preserved artifacts due to the dry climate. You might choose to bike to either the Salar de Atacama or the Valle de la Luna.
The Salar de Atacama is the largest salt lake in Chile and the third widest in the world. Regardless of what you do during the day, you may want to visit the Valle de la Luna with its pointed salt crests and illuminated colors at sunset. Enjoy dinner on your own tonight in one of the many restaurants of town.
Daily mileage: optional 32 km roundtrip to Valle de la Luna
Day 7: Climb to 4600 meters (15,091 feet) and return to San Pedro de Atacama
Highlights: 2200 meter climb; bike up to the Cordillera Plateau
Today's ride is an endurance test: climb approximately 2200 meters (7,217 feet) up to the Andean plateau before returning (by bike or van) to sleep in San Pedro de Atacama. Anybody wanting to take it easy can turn around at any point during the ride. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Daily mileage: approximately 45 km one way from San Pedro.
Day 8: Rest day in Bolivia
Highlights: Bolivian altiplano; spectacular scenery; volcanoes; hot thermal waters; geysers
We take the day off the bikes, but return to 4000+ meters (13,000+ feet) to acclimate to this altitude. We start the day by going through Chilean customs in the morning to cross the border into Bolivia and then return up along the road we rode yesterday. Our plan is to spend the next two days with 4x4s in the Bolivian altiplano to visit volcanoes, colored lagoons, hot thermal pools and spectacularly multi-colored geysers, all with a majestic setting of Andean volcanoes. We'll bunk down in warm sleeping bags in a rustic "refugio" adjacent to the "colored lagoon" a red-colored salt lake in the middle of the plateau with flamingoes. Dinner is in our refugio.
Daily mileage: no biking today
Day 9: Walk in Bolivia
Highlights: Bolivian altiplano; Andean scenery and volcanoes; red lagoon; thermal waters
We continue our exploration of the desert altiplano before returning toward the Chilean border. We'll sleep in a refugio next to the "green lagoon" a lagoon filled with arsenic (no flamingoes here!) and the white lagoon. On our road today, we might see the only mammal that lives in the region, the vicuña, one of the 4 types of camelids in S. America (it is smaller than the llama and its chest fur produces the second most expensive thread in the world (after silk). Dinner together in our refugio.
Daily mileage: no biking today
Day 10: Bike at 4400 meters (14,435 ft) altitude along the Andean plateau
Highlights: A relatively flat ride on top of the Andean altiplano; rock formations; approach the Argentinean border; cycling Paso de Jama
We bid farewell to Bolivia this morning and rendevous with our bikes when we reached the paved road to head off on the international highway toward Argentina. Take your time today pedaling at this altitude; we won't have more than a 200 meter (656 ft) elevation gain as we are already on top! It is another day of spectacular scenery with more lagoons, rock and mineral formations with fantastic colors. We'll either reach or get very close to the Argentinean border (but can't cross) and then will shuttle back to "re-enter" Chile, shower and sleep in San Pedro de Atacama. Enjoy dinner on your own.
Daily mileage: Approximately 100 km
Day 11: Enter Argentina
Highlights: Complete crossing of the Andean plateau; bicycle Paso de Jama and into Argentina; colonial town of Susques
We leave Chile definitively today by first passing through customs and then shuttling to the Argentinean border (where we arrived yesterday). After the formalities, we'll pick up our bikes and enter Argentina by bike; cycling by another salt flat and desert area. Our destination tonight is Susques; another small colonial town, much less touristy than San Pedro in Atacama. Make sure to visit the adobe church with its original paintings from the 1670s. Also visit the chapel in the cemetery, quite unique. We'll have dinner together tonight.
Daily mileage: approximately 116 km.
Day 12: Leave the Andean Plateau
Highlights: Salinas Grandes; Abra de Potrerillos; bike down the Cuesta de Lipan; Cerro de Siete Colores
Today is our last stretch in the Andean high plateau and we'll cycle by the last "salt lake" of the trip as well (salt is still extracted, the going rate is 7 cents a kilo). After biking through the flat salt lake (wear your sunglasses), we have one last climb up to the Abra de Potrerillos before a thrilling 2000+ meter (6,561 ft) descent over 25-30 km (15 - 18 miles). Have fun and be careful as you fly down the Cuesta de Lipan; and it's almost 30 hairpin turns. Tonight we are at 2200 meters (7217 ft) above sea level in Purmamarca, a splendid typical Andean "pueblo", famous also for its Cerro de Siete Colores, a seven-colored hill next to the town center.
Daily mileage: approximately 135 km.
Day 13: Rest day in Purmamarca
Highlights: Handicraft markets; walk the Cerro de Siete Colores; visit the Pucara' de Tilcara; UNESCO World Heritage Site of Quebrada de Humahuaca
Today is a rest day; anybody who wants an easy ride can ride up the Quebrada de Humahuaca, surrounded by multicolored canyon walls to the town of Tilcara with its Incan fortress. You can ride as far as Humahuaca or even the Bolivian border approximately 240km to the north! Those wanting to give their legs a rest can shuttle to Tilcara to visit the famous fortress. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Daily mileage: Optional 40 km roundtrip
Day 14: Bicycle to Salta la Linda
Highlights: Screaming downhill; San Salvador de Jujuy; great climb up and over to Salta; High Andes Archaeological Museum
We start off with a 60 km (37 miles)downhill to the capital of the Jujuy region; San Salvador de Jujuy. Grab a coffee and then prepare to climb through different landscape than what we've been used to lush green forests.We arrive in Salta this evening, capital of the region by the same name and pretty enough to have earned the nickname "Salta La Linda". Enjoy the main square and lively atmosphere; dinner is on your own in one of the many restaurants of the city.
Daily mileage: approximately 155 km
Day 15: Coronel Moldes/Dique Cabra Corral
Highlights: Museums in Salta; optional ride to colonial town and lake; lush green valleys and quiet countryside
Take it easy this morning in Salta and visit one of the famous archaeology museums before heading off for an easy ride in the nearby countryside. We leave the city for the green valleys south of Salta toward the small village of Coronel Moldes or the verdant area around the lake resort area of Dique Cabra Corral.
Daily mileage: approximately 64-85 km depending on final destination
Day 16: Bike Quebrada de las Conchas into Cafayate
Highlights: Rock formations in the canyon; wine town of Cafayate
We'll pedal through the Quebrada de las Conchas, riding by geological formations eroded into forms such as the "Devil's Throat", the "Frog", the "Amphitheater", the "Monk", and more. Take your time through the canyon as the late afternoon light creates an explosion of colors over the last 30 km. We arrive in the colonial town of Cafayate tonight, famous for its wines and a base for adventure travel in the area.
Daily mileage: approximately 126 km
Day 17: Amaicha del Valle
Highlights: Vineyards of Cafayate; Quilmes ruins; Mother Earth (Pachamama) museum
We have another easy ride today by several of the vineyards that make this area's wine famous. We are riding along the valley toward the most famous ruins in Argentina-Quilmes. The indigenous community here resisted the Spanish occupation until 1667 when they were finally conquered; the Spaniards forced the population to evacuate the village and march toward Buenos Aires. Nobody survived the trek, and the town of Quilmes fell into ruin. Wander through the partially restored ruins for a stunning view of the entire valley and visit the museum. Continue for another 14 km to arrive to the small town of Amaicha, famous for its museum complex dedicated to Mother Earth. We'll eat together in the hotel tonight.
Daily mileage: approximately 68 km.
Day 18: Pedal to Concepcion
Highlights: Biking over the "Infernillo" pass; landscape ranging from cactus and mountainous landscape to tropical rainforest.
We leave the Quilmes valley to ride up and over 1000 meters (3300 feet) to enter the valley of Tafi del Valle. Set in a fertile valley this famous town acts as the local resort for the people of the nearby city of San Miguel de Tucuman. We'll climb just under 1000 meters (3200 feet) through a desert environment with cactus covered mountains to the summit the Spanish conquistadores used this pass to enter Argentina as they traveled East from Peru. From Tafi and its valley, we descend through the Yungas (near-tropical forest) to reach the plains. Our hotel tonight is in a small town below the mountains.
Dinner together tonight.
Daily mileage: approximately 140 km
Day 19: Concepcion to S. Fernando del Valle de Catamarca
Highlights: Capital of Catamarca region; tobacco fields; tapestry, carpet and weaving workshop in San Fernando
We're breathing easy now that we're closer to sea level, so we'll have an easy spin through the flat countryside. We'll spend the night in the capital of the Catamarca region, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca.
Daily mileage: approximately 177 km
Day 20: San Fernando to La Rioja
Highlights: Los Riojanos, Sierra de Ambasto
We border the Sierra de Ambasto today but ride along the flat to reach the next capital of the La Rioja Province. This particular landscape is called "monte": a dry region with low forest and shrubs. This area has always been an example of the "caudillo" culture in Argentina - strongmen or warlords who controlled the politics and economy of the region. Even today, the Riojanos see themselves as having a distinct culture within Argentina.
Daily mileage: approximately 140 km
Day 21: Rest day in La Rioja
Highlights: Explore La Rioja or head for an extra ride
La Rioja was founded in 1591 with the name of Ciudad de Todos los Santos de la Nueva Rioja. Here you can visit the convent of Santo Domingo, one of the country's oldest places of worship. In the convent of San Francisco, you can admire the image of the Nino Alcalde, to which the people of La Rioja have a great devotion. The Archaeology Museum has a collection of finds of the Diaguita civilization. If you would like to keep biking we suggest a ride up to and past Villa Sanagasta in the arid Sierra de Velasco.
Daily mileage: optional 40 km roundtrip
Day 22: La Rioja to Chamical
Highlights: The plains
Today we'll have a small sample of the plains that we will find in the coming days. The red-earth plains begin in Patquía (literally "intersection of roads") from where we start heading east. Scientists have discovered a plethora of fossilized plants that once grew in this area. Now quite arid this area has one of the largest date plantations in South America.
Daily mileage: approximately 130 km
Day 23: Chamical to Villa de Soto
Highlights: Pedaling through the southern tip of Salina Grande to Sierra de Cordoba.
As we keep heading east, the landscape becomes more and more arid as we reach the south end of the great Salina Grande salt plain. Here the long ridge of Sierra de Cordoba stops the water flowing from the Cordillera to the east. The warm weather makes the water evaporate and creates a white salt crust on the ground. Our destination for today, Villa de Soto, lies at the foot of the last mountain range to climb before the big plains.
Daily mileage: approximately 134 km
Day 24: Villa de Soto to Mina Clavero
Highlights: Traslasierra Valley and the Sierra de Cordoba
As we pedal south leaving behind the arid plains we enter the Tralsasierra Valley where the scenery becomes greener. Past Salsacate we'll have views to some of the old volcanoes that populate this mountain range and make it so rich in minerals. Mina Clavero is a famous resort area for people from Cordoba and as the name suggests, it was an old mine village.
Daily mileage: approximately 116 km.
Day 25: Mina Clavero to Alta Gracia
Highlights: Climb the highest Sierra de Cordoba; Alta Gracia and its beautiful Jesuit Estancia
Two important climbs await us today to complete our crossing of the Sierra de Cordoba and reach the plains. The landscape along the climb resembles Mars due to the orange color of the granite rocks. A thrilling downhill brings us to Alta Gracia, famous because a young Ernesto Che Guevara lived here, and its Jesuit history. Be sure to visit the former house and "estancia" (farm/ranch) of the monks, now an interesting museum.
Daily mileage: approximately 125 km.
Day 26: Alta Gracia shuttle to Cordoba
Highlights: Cordoba, its historical centre and the Manzana Jesuitica
After the last climbs we really deserve a rest day! You can enjoy the pool, wander around Alta Gracia, or take the shuttle to explore Cordoba, the second most important city in Argentina. The Manzana Jesuitica (literally the "Jesuit block") reminds us of the Jesuit's important influence on Cordoba; the city became an important cultural center in great part due to the Jesuit University established here in the 17th century. Daily mileage: optional 40 km roundtrip.
Day 27: Alta Gracia to Rio Tercero
Highlights: Hills and lakes before the plains
Today's ride is guaranteed to have winds and plenty of rolling hills, but no big climbs. We'll pass through Villa Gral. Belgrano, where German sailors arrived after the Graf Spiel was sunk in the Rio de la Plata and Peron accepted the shipwreck victims. After that, many more Germans came and developed the town, which today resembles something out of a German storybook. After passing by many artificial lakes we arrive in Rio Tercero, our destination for today.
Daily mileage: approximately 120 km
Day 28: Rio Tercero to Justiniano Posse
Highlights: The Pampas
Today we leave the mountains of Sierra de Cordoba behind and enter the Pampas (which in the Guarani Indian language means plains), the famous South American lowlands. The Pampas cover almost 300,000 square miles and they lies through the Argentine provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa, Santa Fe, and Cordoba, most of Uruguay, and the southernmost end of Brazil. What a big country to cross by bike!
Daily mileage: approximately 157 km.
Day 29: Justiniano Posse to Cruz Alta
Highlights: The wide Pampas
We keep riding through the Pampas, once an ocean of grass and wetlands now some of the richest farmlands in the world. But draining, intense farming and fires have severely affected the original ecosystem. The Pampas is also home of the legendary South American cowboys Los Gauchos and you'll be surprised to see how many Italian descendents are here among the farmers.
Daily mileage: approximately 90 km
Day 30: Cruz Alta to Rosario
Highlights: The city of Rosario
As we leave Cruz Alta we'll continue through the Pampas to Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina. Rosario lies on the banks of a huge wetland furrowed by many meandering rivers that form the system of Rio Parana. This river merges with Rio Uruguay forming Rio de la Plata that goes all the way down to Buenos Aires.
Daily mileage: approximately 102 km
Day 31: Rest day in Rosario
Highlights: Rosario, birth place of Ernesto Che Guevara; strolling along the riverbanks
Rosario is officially known as the Cuna de la Bandera, or Cradle of the Flag. It was here that in 1812, General Manuel Belgrano designed the Argentinean flag taking inspiration by the clear blue Rosario sky. You can feel the intercultural roots of Rosario as you stroll by imposing English mansions and faux French chateaux.
Daily mileage: optional 40 km roundtrip.
Day 32: Rosario/Victoria to Rosario del Tala
Highlights: Crossing the Rio Parana and back on the hills
We leave Rosario today with a shuttle to cross the huge wetland of Rio Parana' as bicycles are not allowed to bike on the 60km long bridge. On the other side we'll be back riding among low lush green hills in the province of Entre Rios (between rivers), the southernmost tip of what is considered the Argentinean Mesopotamia.
Daily mileage: approximately 109 km.
Day 33: Uruguay
Highlights: Leaving Argentina and entering Uruguay, crossing Rio Uruguay
From Rosario del Tala we keep heading east through green hills and many rivers towards the border of the country: the river Rio Uruguay. This river has recently been the theater of a diplomatic conflict between Argentina and Uruguay, as residents of both sides started protesting against the project of building two big paper-plants, claiming that they will pollute the river shared by the two countries.
Daily mileage: approximately 140 km.
Day 34: Paysandu to Mercedes
Highlights: Mercedes and its wineries
Another pedaling day through Uruguayan Pampas, where the gaucho culture is still alive in the many estancias. Our destination is Mercedes with its nice river promenade and the ancient Viscount of Maua's castle, featuring a spacious lawn, a winery where wine is handmade and a paleontology museum.
Daily mileage: approximately 125 km
Day 35: Mercedes to Carmelo
Highlights: Rio Uuguay and the old town of Carmelo
We'll ride again through rich and fertile countryside parallel to the river Uruguay, down to the city of Carmelo where the river flows into Rio de la Plata. Carmelo is considered one of the quietest and most beautiful cities in Uruguay. Check out its beaches lied back along the river for a nice rest after the ride.
Daily mileage: approximately 102 km
Day 36: Carmelo to Colonia del Sacramento
Highlights: The Colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento, UNESCO World Heritage Site
We are getting close to our final destination as we pedal to Colonia del Sacramento on the opposite side of Buenos Aires on Mar de la Plata. This jewel town was founded by the Portuguese in the 17th Century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its remarkably well preserved structure and architecture allows us to appreciate the differences with the Spanish colonial style that we saw all over Argentina.
Daily mileage: approximately 71 km
Day 37: Boat to Buenos Aires
Highlights: Crossing Mar de la Plata sea; bike ride in Buenos Aires
We take a ferry today from Colonia del Sacramento right into the city center of Buenos Aires where we'll have a short bike ride through the city as we head to our hotel. A gala dinner awaits us tonight to celebrate our ExpeditionPlus!
Daily mileage: city biking to our hotel.
Day 38: Tour ends in Buenos Aires
Highlights: Tango, visit Buenos Aires
Our adventure ends after breakfast today, we encourage you to spend some time visiting this important city before heading back home! Buen viaje!
HighlightsCrossing the Andean Plateau, flamingoes and viñ, Incan ruins, Quebrada de Humahuaca, rest day in Cordoba, pedaling the Pampas, Rosario, final boat ride across the Mar de la Plata (the widest river in the world) into Buenos Aires, salt lakes, colorful geysers and lagoons, Stunning scenery, San Pedro de Atacama, Salta, Argentina, vineyards of Cafayate, Jesuit "estancias" around Cordoba, 3 days in Uruguay, small indigenous towns in Northern ArgentinaKeep in Mind: We work hard to maintain consistency across all of our tours, but some trips have unique differences. Here are some things to keep in mind about this tour.
Includes38 days, 37 nights of accommodations, van support; approx 70% of dinners (beverages excluded); 27-spd quality bicycle; flight from Santiago to Antofagasta; approximately 70% of lunches (packed); bilingual and local tour leaders.
CountriesArgentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay
Begin/EndSantiago, Chile / Buenos Aires, Argentina (biking begins in Antofagasta, Chile, ends in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay)
Arrive/DepartSantiago de Chile, Chile / Buenos Aires, Argentina
Total Distance2049 - 1915 miles (3320 - 3102 km)
Daily Distance64 - 60 miles (126 - 97 km)
Rating501 This is an expedition with high elevations, significant climbs and daily mileages
TermsTerms & Conditions
Dates Price Private Room Charge Notes
* We are happy to match solo travelers who would like to share a room with someone of the same gender. If no match exists, due to hotel pricing, we will charge 50% of the private room charge. This charge will be collected at the time of the final payment. If a roommate assignment is available it will be refunded at the conclusion of the tour.
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Keep up the good work. We are looking forward to our next tour.Carolyn M., Centerville, UT
Great tour. Where are we going next?Harold M., Centerville, UT