The only reason we were able to ride the classic lagunas route was because of our fatbikes. If you don’t own a fatbike you should forget about even trying. In fact, you should probably just stay home and play computer games because you’ll be a lot more successful doing that.
We rode this whole route in half a day from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama. Anyone who says that’s impossible obviously has a shitty regular bike and has never ridden a fatbike.
For real though
The Lagunas route is a toughie, even on fatbikes. We kept asking ourselves how people with skinny tires managed (a lot of pushing!?). Deep sand and corregations make the riding very slow and rather painful.
I kept wondering why the hell I was doing this until we stumbled upon the first beautiful flamingo filled lake, one of several to come. We even got to spend a chilly evening at 4900m next to the Sol de Mañana geysers. Soaking our sore muscles in the hot springs at Polgues absolutely made up for the rough riding beforehand and was a definitive highlight.
Being on the classic laguna route meant that tourist-loaded jeeps kept cruising past us. While we generally prefer to go off the beaten track, having tourists around was actually quite refreshing. Not only could we easily ask for water when we ran out but three times we even got offered lunch leftovers. Never would we have expected to get some vegetables and fruit on this section! Thanks goes out to those who saw our skinny frames standing next to our fatbikes and thought the food would be better off in our tummies than in the garbage ;). Food aside, it was also very encouraging to have people cheer out of the jeeps and give us thumbs up (and applaud us as we pushed… erm I mean rode up the hills.
We had to pull long days as we could only fit so much food on our bikes, but relaxed a bit toward the end as we ended up having enough food left and both our bodies and minds needed to take it a bit easier. Leaving Bolivia was a piece of cake (a 10 second business really) (note: some cyclists reported having to pay a fee of around 15 Bolivianos upon exiting, we didn’t and actually heard that it’s a scam. So if you get asked for money you should ask for documentation of the fee). Finally we cruised downhill into San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), we hadn’t knocked off so many kilometers so quickly in quite some time. We might as well have stayed in bed longer – just as we arrived, around 10 packed minibuses were offloading their passengers at immigration, and only one officer was at work. Of course we were last and had to wait at least an hour in the boiling desert heat. But what would a more developed country be if there wasn’t a queue. Hello, Chile!
Uyuni – Julaca – San Juan (1.5 days; no restaurants but a few shops, pricy alojamientos catered for tourist groups) – Chihuahua – National Park Eduardo Avaroa (150 Bolivianos entry fee valid for 4 days) – Laguna Colorada (park entrance, a bunch of refugees with alojamiento) – Sol de Mañana geysers (4 days from San Juan) – Polgues hot springs (only about 1-2h from the geysers, we spent the rest of the day in the pool; small shop but no restaurant as stated in a popular guide to cycling south west Bolivia (pdf) and a alojamiento, usually booked out by jeep groups) – Laguna Verde – Laguna Blanca (about a 4h ride from the hot springs, park exit, alojamiento that serves meals and has a tiny shop) – San Pedro de Atacama in Chile (another 3ish h ride, all up 9 days from Uyuni to San Pedro, with the last 3 being very short)
PS a big thanks to the French woman at the exit of the park who gave us 100 Bolivianos she had left before leaving for Chile. We treated ourselves to a hotel room at the alojamiento there, very nice not having to deal with the tent after more than a week of everyday camping, relax in a room and not be chilly at night and in the morning.
Here a poem dedicated to the Lagunas Route.
Bend over and receive my splender
My tires are stuck deep in the sand
Yet I still have to pedal to get overland
The wind tries to choke me and blow me away
But hell I’m telling ya I’m not gonna stray
I almost don’t find time to look around
But when I do a purpose comes about
Flamingos, foxes, birds and vecuñas
Mountains, geysers, hot springs and lagunas
I’m burnt and sore and my muscles are drained
I struggle all day and I almost faint
But hear me lagunas route, I will proceed
Even if eventually my ass begins to bleed
By Gina and Dan