Cycling towards Copiapó

Freirina to Copiapó

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While this coastal route in a desert isn't the most spectacular one, it is much better than taking on Ruta 5. And quite solitary. Except for a few trucks and two or three villages, there is virtually nothing and nobody here.

April 11

I am enjoying my standard when-in-camping slow start. With a morning check of emails I get a response from Urs who took this route a few days ago. His news are quite great. All the road before me is either paved or paved-like ripio so I don't need to fear that my bike will fall into pieces every second. I am also learning that a hiking trail in National Park Llanos de Challe is actually on the coastal road and there won't be any need to get inlands as I expected. This further shortens my route. So I am taking tons of water (ok, only kilos), plan to buy sardinas in Huasco Bajo and I am ready.

A short stop in Huasco Bajo reveals that sardinas are out of stock. To my delight, they have salami which means even better tasting dinner. After the shopping I am ready to ride out of the village but my progress is stalled for a few minutes because I am waiting for a veeery slow and long train to pass. Only then I can really leave the village.

Huasco valley
Rio Huasco

I quickly pass a bridge over the river which makes Huasco valley so green. A bit further and I am learning that this valley is a huge producent of olivas. And then the desert route starts. First I see a signpost with my route in details. Then I see sand. And more sand. Actually, big sand dunes. And while the sun is blazing, the weather is as if from Hotel California -- [on a dark desert highway] cool wind in my hair.

An overview of my next route
Huasco is an industrial city
Looking at the sand around I am quite happy that the main road is paved.
Lunch break

The day's highlight is the interpretative trail in NP Llanos de Challe. I am learning that the huge rocks with holes in them are made by sand and wind. There are multiple types of cactuses growing here. And just when I am returning, the nature prepares a nice treat for me. I spot a playful Zorro Chilla (Andean fox) and it is nice enough to let me take a few good pictures. Delighted by this encounter I quickly finish the trail.

NP Llanos de Challe provides an overview of different cactuses
Wind and sand play with the rocks on a grand scale
There isn't much green in a desert but when you see something it needs to be quite nice
I am meeting an amazing fox
It isn't very shy and even poses a bit for the photo

Now I have two choices -- either I stay in a camping right next to the trail or I continue on but I need to cycle out of the national park for camping. Looking at the clock I am risking the second option. I cycle for 11 more kilometers and then make a detour to Carrizal Bajo to check on local shops. Strenghtened by an empanada and a soft drink, I quickly cycle halfway back to the junction and set my tent just next to the road.

April 12

Today is mostly around the coast. But usually not too close to have stellar views of the ocean. The views aren't much exciting -- dry hills, lots of cactuses, not much sand and this repeats and repeats. When there isn't much to look around the road, one starts observing the road itself. For some reason this stretch is quite popular with trucks. And with bugs. For some reason there are dozens of them crossing the road towards the west.

Ready to go
Delta of the river near Carrizal Bajo is the only green sight for today
Good road, desert and ocean -- a typical view of today

This is also a solitary route because there is only one small village along the route -- Caleta Totoral is so small that there isn't even a kiosco, it is just a few houses.

Caleta Totoral is the only small village I pass around today. Although I am not sure if the real village isn't hidden by the hill.
Beach near Caleta Totoral

The evening views change a little. Instead of dry hills it is now more like vast dry plains. And to my surprise the wind picks up only now.

What catches my eye is Planta de Cal
I finish my day around here. Left goes a road to a large village Barranquillas which if 6km from the intersection and as I have enough water and food I gladly pass the opportunity of this detour.

April 13

The morning is full of surprises. First of all, I see clouds. I mean, lots of clouds! But even bigger surprise is the wind, which is blowing from the east (damn it!). My plan for today is go mostly east and reach Copiapó, my next big stop. As I progress towards the east the scenery starts to improve. Now I can see quite interesting distant hills.

Looking back at the ocean
Slowly distant hills appear
And I enjoy this stretch of the road which isn't much uphill

I have the lunch break just before I rejoin Ruta 5. Unfortunately this time I cannot avoid it. Or can I? After 2 kilometers I am scouting a "calle local" and immediatelly taking this opportunity to get off the busy road. Of course, the local road doesn't go all the way to Copiapó so I am again forced to rejoin the autopista. But a few kilometers before Copiapó a ciclovia appears. This would be quite comforting apart from the fact that the bike path is in various states of construction/disrepair and so I am forced to switch frequently to the main road.

The hills get more pronounced before Copiapó
Copiapó seems to be hungry for new electricity

In Copiapó I take a bit of a time to locate the city center and discover a "hotellito" with a reasonable price. Now nothing holds me back from getting a dinner and a nicely sweet wine.

April 14

My plan for today is to go shopping for a week's worth of supplies for my planned attack on Paso San Francisco. Apart from that, I would like to get a new chain as I am not sure when will be the next time I will be able to buy one in Argentina. But this proves to be an utmost failure. I did not realize that today is Easter Friday and everything is basically closed (with the exception of the main supermarket, thanks God). Well, chain-no chain, I probably would easily survive (I still have one spare with me). What is more important that the laundry service is closed as well. And you can guess how I feel about that. Fortunately, I am able to solve this more pressing problem by convincing the lady from hotellito that she will run the washing machine for me. The only thing remaining now is to stroll around the city center and breathe the liveness of all the small shops which seem to be selling mostly mobile phone accessories or useless crap.


Loading map...

Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
Pedal rotations
bike 206 1.5 45
hike 3 0.1 -
Stats by day:
Date Distance
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
April 11, 2017 59.0 0.52 20.3
April 12, 2017 83.6 0.80 21.5
April 13, 2017 65.9 0.30 26.1

Elevation data

Loading graph...
(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 133.3
< 4 17.0 13.1
< 6 5.9 5.8
< 8 1.2 1.0
< 10 1.2 0.2
≥ 10 0.1 0.3

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