I’m writing this sitting in the home of Anibal Vazquez, a mountain guide in Antofagasta de la Sierra. He’s kindly let us stay with him for a couple of days while we decide how to push forward. Our plans have been halted by a golf ball sized lump which has developed on my backside. Our beautiful adventure route through to Paso San Francisco is definitely a no go, rough roads and shredded shorts are a recipe for me ending up in the hospital at this point.
Tolar Grande treated us well despite its ugly first impression. By the time we were ready to leave we’d stuffed ourselves with countless homemade pizzas using real salami and cheese to boot! Having experienced the hounding eastward winds of the Puna firsthand, we were keen to set off early and smash out the first section before the headwinds picked up. We had assumed that we could ride to Mineria Arita to pick up water and camp there, so we took our time despite the seventy odd kilometers actually being a very quick and easy ride. Unfortunately, we turned up and discovered that while there was plenty of water, camping was not allowed. After a bit of discussion however, they allowed us to stay. We don’t think anyone should rely on this mine apart from as a water source. We were treated really kindly and had lovely company for the evening. However, we put the guard in an awkward position, not cool on our part.
We’d expected the first few days to be pretty dull riding, so as we carried on skirting the Salar de Arizaro, we weren’t suprised by the repetitive and relatively uninteresting scenery, but as we climbed the first pass things started to get more interesting. The descent to Antafallita was beautiful, a lush paradise as if delicately painted into a dehydrated landscape by an artist’s hand. These “Vegas” (Grassy Plains) never ceased to amaze on this section. We took the opportunity to pick up a few liters of water and set off towards the Salar de Antafalla. This proved to be one of the most beautiful parts of the ride. The surfaces and rock formations changed almost minute to minute and the deep greys and reds created stunning photographic oppertunities. I’d waited a long time to ride through the Puna, and it was not dissapointing.
The wind pushed us along until we landed about fifteen kilometers outside of Antafalla. We decided to wild camp, heading into the small community in the morning for a water stock up. By this time, a small lump was forming on my butt and the nurse in town gave me a tube of antibiotic ointment to help. We opted on taking the longer route to Antafagasta de la Sierra via Cuesta del Diablo. Named after the colours of the surroundings I would assume, not the difficulty of the climb which was relatively well graded. Again, an unforgettable stretch, especially near the top where numerous beautiful Vegas sprouted up out of nowhere making for an almost surreal ride. Unfortunately it was by the fourth day that this sore had become so large, I was forced to ride out of the saddle for the run into Antofagasta de la Sierra. It’s safe to say we probably won’t be riding for the next week.
Tolar Grande – Mineria Arita – Antafallita – Antafalla – Antofagasta de la Sierra
From Tolar Grande, roughly 15km west on the Salar Arizaro brings you to a well defined junction south. Take the turnoff and follow the road until Cono de Arita.
Around km 72 is the turnoff up to Mineria Arita, it’s not a good place to assume you can stay, but they’re very friendly and will help with water.
Roughly 15 kilometers further, there is a junction. Take the left for a slightly longer route through Antafallita and onwards to Antafalla, or right for a slightly more direct and steeper route to Antafalla. We went via Antafallita and it was absolutely stunning, can’t comment on the other route.
The first 20 kilometers on the Salar de Antafalla provide some great camping opportunities, after that be prepared to pitch in more exposed places. One could probably pitch up in Antofalla as well. There is actually an open WiFi network at their community center!
From Antafalla, again two routes to Antofagasta de la Sierra. Direct route which climbs more but is 35km shorter, or via Cuesta del Diablo. We took the route via Cuesta del Diablo, which again was beautiful but we can’t compare it to the other one.
As you climb up to roughly 3800-3900m, you’ll hit the first Vega. We were told this water wasn’t very good. Climb to the second Vega which is about 100mm higher in elevation just as you ride up a short and steep 20m climb. From there on you can look for a good stream and find water (best filtered).