From San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Montt – 22 days – 2408 metres above sea level

Version française disponible ici. 

We entered in Chile by the north of the country. Passing by the Volcano Licancabur, symbolising the Bolivian border, we did our first kilometres in Chile at the sunset time. We are surrounded by mountains, lakes and a salt desert. The wind was already blowing, plus with the fresh temperatures at the dusk, we were looking forward to being in our sleeping bags to warm up.

We spent the night in a campsite alongside the Loa river. For our first Chilean day, we reached the village of San Pedro de Atacama, located in the middle of the desert of the same name.

This desert is famous for being one of the most arid in the world. Indeed, it has not been clement with us, this is the least we can say. During our trip, we needed to face strong wind gusts blowing the sand in the tents and in each corner of our belongings. A stifling heat didn’t help as well. It was not easy to get use to the 45°C, the experienced temperature, to discover the area. 

We rode with our sidecars in the Moon Valley. Located at one of the extremities of the desert, the valley has the shape of a long canyon between the cliffs. Below one of them, we visited a cavern with salt crystals on the walls. The salt of the Atacama Salar is coming from a volcanic ground of the surrounded area. A few kilometres further, we summoned up our courage to climb the highest dune of this desert in a blazing heat.

Before to go back to the campsite, we explored the archeological site of Pukara de Quitor. According to us, the only true highlight of the site is the view over the desert. We returned to the village to get some fresh air in the shadow of the streets. San Pedro de Atacama has many nice little streets with beaten earth, surrounded by walls of small houses made of cob. There is a special ambiance, between tourism and spirituality which is impossible for travellers to feel indifferent about it. 

After changing the oil, we dismantled our camp and headed to the Pacific Coast. We arrived a few hundreds of kilometers further the seaside city of Antofagasta. With a Californian atmosphere, this city is overlooking the ocean. Located in the middle of the city centre, the port is the economic heart and soul of the city with many colourful containers waiting. For us, that will be our stop for Christmas… we will celebrate with the wind in the air enjoying the fresh sea air after the heat of the desert.

For the pleasure of our taste buds, we cooked some recipes with the ingredient we missed the most: cheese! We found many varieties in the main shopping center of the corner. Indeed, Chile being considered by its South-American neighbours as the United States of the South of America, offered us the opportunity to find many imported products. Cheeses, baguettes and other ingredients to cook nice dishes for the celebrations and satisfy our lack of French dishes…

Our stomachs being full, we went back on our sidecars and headed South. La Ruta 5 is crossing the desert with straight and monotonous lines. In the middle of the dunes and rocks, we saw the Mano del Desierto, a sculpture made precisely in a rock by the Chilean Mario Irarrázabal in 1992. From its height of 11 metres, we had some shadow and a good wind protection for our lunch break. But, above all, we would need a push from this hand to leave this sandy field as quickly as possible.

We left the Ruta 5 to go alongside the Pacific Ocean. We were happy to have some fresh sea air by the small village of Paposo. 

With the wind, always with us, a little foam was  formed over the ocean. The coast is deserted, we didn’t see anyone before our arrival in the small seaside city of Talgar, except a couple of houses made randomly and selling a few things. 

We continued to go down towards South and we reached “Bahia Inglesa”, a nice beach in a bay with white sand and clear waters. After a night in the middle of a handmade olive grove, we continued our road alongside the coast. Paths replaced the asphalt, the area was again deserted, the coastline was rocky with no sign of urbanisation ; except Carrizal Bajo, a small village of fishermen. After many hours of riding, we arrived in the valley of the centenary olive trees which follow the Huasco river and ends in a port of the same name. We walked on the seawall, impressed by the hard workout of two young kayakers and then intrigued by two brown shapes floating underneath the pier. It was actually two sea lions rocked by the rhythm of the waves. 

We left the coastline in Huasco to go meeting Alexander, the only importer of Ural sidecars in South of America. The desert and the coast have been replaced by nice hills where grow olive trees and grapes. After some curves and a night on the Cogoti lake, we reached Salamanca. A few kilometres further, after following a path and crossed a ford, we arrived at the house of our host. We spent three days, between mechanics days and New Year’s Eve. Working on the sidecars with hands full of grease, but finally dancing with te sound of the guitar of Paco de Lucia. After these three days, we went towards Valparaiso accompanied by Alexander.

With him, no highway roads, he knows the area perfectly. We went by side roads and through old tunnels built by French architects before to go alongside the coast to reach the second biggest city of the country. 

We arrived to the city by the Avenida Argentina before to follow the sea front to reach the Carvallo tip and climb the hills of Carro de la Playa Ancha where the Villa Kunterbundt is perched, the hostel where we stayed. At the end of the afternoon, we went back on our sidecars and followed Alex to the moto club of Valparaiso where we have been invited for the evening. This is actually the oldest moto club in the world!

The next day we discovered the city by foot. We passed by the Plaza Sotomayor and the Plaza Victoria before to go the other side of the Avenida de la Independancia to combine tourism with mechanics. The aim was to find a new battery for the sidecar of Marie and Julien, with the hope to resolve the starting issues. Part that we will find behind a covered market in the “mechanics street”, with the help of Alex. We named it as such as, often from our arrival in South of America, the shops specialised in mechanics are gathered in a same street. Therefore, it was with a new battery that we opened the doors of the O’Higgins restaurant. A typical restaurant in Valparaiso where we shared a board of meat grilled on a plancha (South-American barbecue) for the lunch. 

Once our stomachs full, we used the trolleybus to go up the Avenida de la Independancia. Then, we climbed up the heights of the city by foot, the lift being out of order. The small and steep streets are very colourful. We reached the Cerro Florida area where we visited the house of Pablo Neruda, writer and poet. His house, with an unusual architecture, is overlooking the port and its dynamism, his source of inspiration. We went back to the hostel, by the hills. Stairs going up and down, ones after other ones. Upon our arrival, the “parilla” was on. We spent the evening around a barbecue between beers and grilled meat.

Leaving “Valpo” behind us, we went alongside the Pacific Coast by nice and small roads. Around the Rapel city, unfortunately it was a sad show offered to us. There was a fire spreading over the surrounded mounts. The helicopters were going back and forth, between the mountains and the “rio”.

Many curves on this small coastal road, until the surfing spot of Pichilemu. But it was finally a few kilometres further, nearby the salt manufacturing of Cahill that we spent the evening. By continuing our trip towards South, we met the riders of Chillán and discovered the local food speciality before to stop in Santa Clara where, this time Tonio invited us to share a “parilla”.  The next day we set up a last time the tent in the 7 lakes area on the side of the Pullingue lake before to arrive in Puerto Montt.

This city marks the entry gate of the Chilean Patagonia. It was our base to prepare our adventure in Patagonia. We did a break for a few days to check the sidecars in the aim of going down the Carratera Australe, famous for challenging the vehicles using it. It was after changing the swinging arm of the sidecar of Julien and Marie, plus changed the oil on both sidecars that we opened the gates of Patagonia…

Where to eat?

Restaurant O’Higgins
Victoria 2788, Valparaíso

A traditional place with small wooden rooms to enjoy the local specialities. Under the eye of Colonel O’Higgins, considered as one of the fathers of the Chilean motherland, famous figure of the independence of Chile.

Cafeteria La Fama
Bernardo O’Higgins 324, Panguipulli

A good address for the breakfast. You can enjoy a delicious espresso and a nice slice of pie made of “panqueque”, the local pancake. Like the rest of the village, the wooden architecture is giving a style of a shop in a mountain village.

Where to sleep? 

Villa Kunterbundt
Vista Hermosa 394, Valparaíso

Perched on the heights of the hill of Cerro Playa Ancha, above the port, the hostel is hold by Martina and her husband welcoming riders-travelers from all over the world. The house is a nice mess but very welcoming. The common areas are nice and well designed for sharing. We shared with the other riders the itinerary advice, from each experience, between the ones going North and the ones going South.

Martina is also able to import 2-wheel vehicles in Chile and to help riders for the paperwork.