Chile Offers Cyclists an Array of Splendours
Chile is certainly an under-appreciated gem amongst the natural crown that is South America. Unique in its culture and customs, Chile boasts an equally unique geography – a long spit of land, grappling to the entirety of West Argentina. It is 25 times longer than it is wide, blisteringly hot in the north and perishingly cold in the south.
While Chile has over 6000km of coastline to the west, a cyclist can experience every kind of terrain on their travels. There is everything from the Atacama, the driest desert in the world to wine country and volcanoes, to mountains and fjords.
We take a look at some of the best spots the country has to offer, and why exploring on two wheels is the best choice.
Atacama Desert and Altiplano
As mentioned, the Atacama Desert exists as the driest on Earth. Vast expanses of salt flats, intersected by geysers and glistening blue lagoons provide a stunning foreground to towering volcanoes and rock formations. At night the sky above transforms into a clear canvas of constellations and stars, and is said to be one of the best places to stargaze on the planet. While stunning in its natural beauty, it also provides a challenge for the more experienced cyclists, in particular the Altiplano sits high in the northeast of the Andes Mountains, within the desert itself.
The most extensive area of high plateau in the world, it touches the Chilean, Argentine, Bolivian and Peruvian borders. Lake Titicaca, which stands at a breathtaking 38,000 metres (12,4672 feet) above sea level, is certainly not to be missed.
Moving further south into the cooler central region, it would be a shame not to talk about one of Chile’s greatest exports; wine. For the more intermediate riders, this region resembles the sorts of temperatures you’d find in the Mediterranean, with cool ocean breezes sweeping east from the Pacific Ocean.
However, Casablanca Valley is famed for its vast vineyards that produce world renowned wine, and is a region brimming with rolling chasms of green dotted with traditional Chilean settlements. It also stands between the coastal mountains and just northwest of the capital Santiago, so there are plenty of places to stop off and experience the local delicacies.
Said to be the most popular route in all of Chile, this incredible 621 mile stretch pretty much covers it all. While certainly a challenging ride, those lucky enough to experience it will venture through rural Patagonia. In parts, it is one of the most isolated regions in South America boasting glacial waterfalls, tropical plants, dolphin-infested fjords and marble caves.
Those with a yearning for an adventure after over a year full of restrictions to daily life, this is the choice for you. Puerto Río Tranquilo earns at least two days of your trip. After a rugged, bumpy journey, drop the bike for a kayak, and drift through the enchanting General Carrera Lake’s Marble Chapels, a matrix of glacial caves veined with blue striations carved over a period of 6,000 years.
Finding ourselves in Chile’s southern Lake District region, Lake Llanquihue is home to the largest paved cycle path in the country, so if the Carretara Austral route was somewhat daunting, this is for those who are looking for a light ride.
It is the second largest lake in Chile, and the cycle route takes between 3-4 days to complete. While the vast body of water relaxes the senses as you cycle round its circumference, you will find towering snow-capped volcanoes, including the great, glaciated Mount Tronador on the Argentine border (11,660 feet).
Its western shores are bordered by a sumptuous blanket of farmland, while the east is shrouded in shadow as the Andean foothills start to climb from out the water. Puerto Varas, Llanquihue, and Puerto Octay are popular lakeside towns, and offer many places to stay during your trip round the area.