Cycling the North of Chile: Antofagasta to Santiago

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Over 29,000km! According to the world record rules, I could have gone around the world and been back in the UK by now but I am not attempting to break a record- this journey is my own and I love the tough but adventurous route I have chosen. Scroll to the bottom for the distances in the North of Chile.

The best thing about the North of Chile is not the beaches, the awesome sunsets, the very pleasant cities and towns, nor the excellent wine, nor even the superb quality of the roads. It’s the people. The first thing we noticed when we crossed into Chile was the respect shown to us by almost every truck that passed, waiting patiently and then giving us plenty of space and often a wave and an encouraging ‘beep-beep’. When we have been in trouble we have always been offered help, and when we stopped at a town to rest we have usually enjoyed a warm welcome and great company. I would say the Chilenos are the friendliest people since we left Colombia, but a lot calmer! (I love Colombians but Chilenos are very conservative in comparison).

The worst thing about cycling the North of Chile is not the huge distances between cities, the occasional boredom of cycling 1000km of the Atacama desert, or the hills. It is being back to fighting headwind every afternoon, much like the north of Peru. Our plans to move quickly through Chile evaporated every afternoon, when the wind started blowing.

…I am feeling proud though. We have had great adventures and have finally arrived at the lush vineyards of the South. A blog about how much cycling in repetitive desert and how much the wind has attempted to break our spirits would be about as exciting as a night with an ex-girlfriend so I will focus on the more dramatic moments.

Drying Up

When we left the copper-exporting port of Antofagasta towards Taltal, we joined route 5 at the junction at La Negra (where there are shops and gas stations) and then we turned off to take the new “semi-coastal” highway (not even visible on googlemaps). We had expected to see somewhere along hte way to refill our water bottles but there was nothing except dust and heat for 100km. We ran out of water and were getting a little desperate when some nice ladies working on the road gave us some. We asked if there was anywhere nearby and we were told we were out of luck. The only thing nearby was the Paranal observatory. There were plenty of stars that night (quite an awesome sight) as we camped near the road. But in the morning we had no water again and with 100km to go, I was worried. We waved our bottles at passing cars in the hope one would stop. It wasn’t long before a truck pulled up. A smartly dressed polite man named Patricio opened a gallon of water so we could fill up. We were so grateful. I think I said “Muchas Gracias” ten times. And then he said we could take a lift with him to Taltal. I don’t like taking lifts but this time I would have been crazy to refuse. With 100km still to go, running out again was a strong and dangerous possibility. After Taltal there would be less distance between towns and I would make sure we always had plenty of water. We arrived safely and enjoyed a rest in Taltal (thanks Pato)!

Sand and Cacti

We loved Pan de Azucar national park, where we saw Guanacos (a bit like deer) and a lot of wierd ball-shaped cacti. It has 3 great beaches, but camping in the park was expensive so I would suggest the gorgeous white beach just South of the park which would have been free. Caldera, was a nice town to rest, and we continued along the “ripiado” road (perfectly smooth mud road covered in Bitumen) to Huasco. At Huasco we found a gorgeous green valley full of olive trees, and enjoyed a short day without wind to Vallenar. We were again shown kindness as we headed back towards La Serena on the coast when the wind stopped us in our tracks at Higuera. A group of volunteers from a university were repairing old buildings and gave us a room, a shower and food. Awesome people and so many of the students were excited to learn about our journey. It was a genuine pleasure.

We were also lucky in Serena, a really nice city, with a long beach. We met like-minded new friends, Justin (a keen bike traveller) and Paola, a Chilean teacher who offered us a room at their place in Concon. We were heading towards Valparaiso so that seemed like a great place to stop on the way.

Falling apart and rebuilding

On the way to Concon we encountered heavy wind. The clue was the windmills. We stopped to camp one night at Socos which has a really good and very reasonable campsite and some thermal baths.  We pushed very hard up and down the hills but vthere was nothing after Socos until Los Vilos so we had to camp one night in the car park at a Posada (in Colombia a posada is a hotel, but in Chile it is just a restaurant). When we eventually arrived at Los Vilos the next night, we were beat, so we rested a day. And the next night, I started having extreme back pain at the beach resort. Plus an all night party on the street outside our hotel meant I had no sleep. Then in the morning, after 10km, the gears on the bike stopped working, the shifter stuck in first gear and the cable snapped. I was was sitting by the side of the road trying to replace the cable when Paola decided to thumb a lift and a truck stopped for us. Another great guy. He took us to a junction so we just had 50km to reach Concon. I decided to simply carry on in first gear without the gear shifter and take it slow. But I was in a lot of pain so we stopped in Quillota. THere was nothing there but plenty of shops where we bought some heat rub for my back, and where I got a good nights sleep at Hotel Boston (the only affordable hotel in town).

After taking an extra day for my back to recover, and to get some sleep, we had an easy ride to Concon. And then some nice cyclists helped us find our way into the town. One of the cyclists, Jaime also told us about a bike shop in Vina del Mar, just 12km along the coast. So we took the bikes to the Specialized shop, Bike Chile, who were awesome and got both our bikes (which were also full of salt and sand) back to perfect condition.

Valentine’s Paradise in Valparaiso

We had taken so long but I felt good, Paola was fine and our bikes, Silver and Onyx were great. Tip-top in fact.  So we arrived in Valparaiso in good spirits. The wonderfully arty hillside port was a fabulous treat.It is a unique place, and a total treat. Every wall is a work of art and the steep hills have lovely old-fashioned funiculars to travel up and down on, and with hundreds of great restaurants it was a great place to explore and enjoy. Unmissable.

The valley of Wine, Casablanca

We climbed 400m and then got off the busy autopista as soon as possible, and stopped in Casablanca after tasting wine at the Casa del Bosque vineyard. My favourite was the Syrah. Heaven. We then headed further South to Melipilla before finally making our way to Santiago via the Unduragga vineyard. Beautiful grounds, and lovely wine but terrible receptionist. Grumpy and unhelpful. Maybe she was having an off day.

It may seem an odd route, but going via Melipilla involves a 500m climb but it is over 60kn so you barely notice it, and actually avoids the steep thousand metre mountain between Valparaiso and Santiago

Distances:

From Antofagasta to desert near paranal 80km 16 Jan

To Taltal 10km (140km on a truck) 17 Jan

To Pan de Azucar 100km 19 Jan

To Pan de Azucar campsite 20km 20 Jan

To Chañaral 25km 21 Jan

To a beach at Obispito 50km 22 Jan

To Caldera 40km 23 Jan

To beach at Puerto Viejo 40km 26 Jan

To dry riverbed 60km 27 Jan

To Huasco 92km 28 Jan

To vallenar 51km 29 Jan

To domeyko 55km 30 Jan

To Higuera 85km 31 Jan

La Serena 55km 1 feb

La Serena to Guanaqueros 40km 3 Feb

Socos 70km 4 feb

Socos to camping in a car park 75km 5 feb

Camping in car park to Los Vilos 75km 6 feb

Stayed in Los Vilos 7 feb

Quillota 25km (plus 100km on a truck) 8 feb

Concon 30km tues 10 feb

Viña del Mar (to drop off the bike at the bike shop) 12km wed 11 feb

Casablanca 40km 16 Feb

Melipilla 60km 17 Feb

Santiago 60km 18 Feb

1260km in the North of Chile

7,769km in South America

29,277km so far around the world!