Cafayate to San Pedro De Atacama: Wine, Rarefied Air and Birthday Cake

Fortified on Torrientes the fruity vino blanco that makes Cafayate and the surrounding Valle Calchaquíes famous throughout Argentina, Cass and I begin our journey in to the high mountains.

Stood high above the area’s vineyards the snow capped Andes stand as sentinels seperating the neighbouring countries of Argentina and Chile.


Leaving the vineyards behind we pass through a series of villages with shaded plazas. Street sellers offer up fresh fruit and vegetables by the side of the road. The smell of asado almost too much to bear for perpetually hungry cyclists.

As settlements thin out the asphalt eventually gives way to much anticipated dirt, the proverbial carrot that kept us sane pedalling along arrow straight roads further south.

Happy to be back on the rough stuff, sun baked deep red gorges provide the perfect back drop.

Sun Scorched Rocks

Melt water fed from the high mountains, supports a lush and verdant valley.

Water and Life

It might be lush, but its comparative. Saguaro Cactus stand tall.


The tall grass pleases inquistive animals.


Equally pleasing to cyclists, the tall grass offers the perfect spot for a relaxed post lunch nap.


Dirt roads sweep through the valley, as snow capped mountains stand in the background.


Dazzling white washed churches leave us squinting under the intense afternoon sun.

Whitewashed Churchs

La Poma

Cachi Sign

A morning spent fording icy rivers take us to the good stuff. Switch backs.

Abra Del Acay

Climbing ever higher switchbacks slowly turn in to squiggles far below, taking us in to a stark landscape with rarefied air.

As the top of Abra Del Acay (4994m) comes in to view, we spend the final two hundred metres inching our way upward. As the altitude begins to play its part, we hop on and off bikes, pushing and pedalling braced in to the ever strengthening afternoon winds.

Views Back

Hit by a wall of wind as we crest the pass, we take momentary shelter before beginning the long descent with childish glee. The solitary figure of Cass set against a big landscape.

Abra Del Acay Descent

Comfortable day time temperatures turn in to chilly evenings. Having been forced out of our tents in the early hours by strong winds we begin to seek shelter in disused and abandoned buildings. Four walls and roof providing much needed shelter and protection.

A home from home. We even find a blanket.

Abandoned Buildings

Our arrival in San Antonio De Los Cobres is perfectly timed as ever. As sand whips down the main high street the following morning, the forecast confirms what we already know we´re stuck in the middle of a 3 day storm coming off the mountains in the Puna. If the wind blows in Patagonia, it really blows in the Puna winter.

Preferring to sit things out we head down to the rich air far below in Salta and gorge on plentiful Argentinian steaks. For old times sake, of course.

Back in the saddle we head for the lesser known Argentina/Chilean border of Paso Sico. Navigating vague roads across salt falts.

Salt Flats

Our tyres crunch once the salty crust is broken.


Its all smiles as we make it across the border. In previous days wethe steep and had been told the pass was closed, along with many of the trans Andean borders between Chile and Argentina.

A full frontal Spanish charm offensive by Cass at the border sees us offered coffee whilst we sign a disclaimer and with it our lives away. Welcome to Chile.


Vivid yellows and ochres in a monochromatic landscape. Magical.

Lunar Scapes

With delays at the Argentinian border, and Chilean border officials more interested in the World Cup we told to head to seek accomodation at a mine over Paso Sico (4500m). Feeling the effects of altitude and the onset of a cold we are left to make a steep climb past the border and on to the sanctuary of mine.

Paso Sico

Cresting the pass we catch the last light of the day as the hills glow red.
Paso Sico

Descending from the high mountains, I wake on my birthday morning to sunrise over the Atacama Desert.

Socaire Campsite

By lunchtime Cass manages to source birthday cake and we roll in to the town of San Pedro De Atacama sat on the edge of the desert.


As birthdays go it will certainly take some beating!


  1. Neil

    Beautiful photos Mike! Glad you managed to sweet talk your way through!

    • Mike

      Thanks Neil!

      I have to admit Cass did most of the sweet talking.

      Still it was more than worth the effort. Abra Del Acay and Paso Sico make a great combo.

  2. travis

    Amazing pics. Thanks for sharing. How did you plan the trip?

    Is your bike a fat bike?

    Happy birthday.

    • Mike

      Thanks for the birthday wishes Travis.

      In terms of planning my trip, I just looked at a map worked
      out where I wanted to go. Did the usual Lonely Planet reading and worked out which sights I wanted to see.

      From there I started reading some cyclist blogs like Crazy Guy on a Bike, Andes By Bike and looked at Google Maps and Google Earth for more detailed planning.

      If you need any more info just contact me through the contact section. There are tonnes of inspiring blogs to read to get your trip off the ground.

      Nope my bike is a 29er running 2.35 tyres. I’ve got plans for a fat bike at some point though 😉

  3. Mark

    Have you seen any alpacas on your travels?
    When are you back you dowg ?

    • Mike

      Hey Mark

      Crossed in to Bolivia last week and we are now in Alpaca country. Will post some pics for you!

      Not sure when I’ll be back. Thinking some time towards the end of the year. I’d like to make it to Columbia before my money runs out.

  4. Adventures in San Pedro De Atacama » Mike Howarth

    […] Instead uncharacteristically I want nothing more than an early night and something to soothe a cough and cold picked up over the previous weeks exertions crossing Abra Del Acay and Paso Sico. […]

  5. Cherry

    Can not wait to get on this Don Miguel!

    • Mike

      You will love it Dama Cherry!

  6. Adventures in San Pedro De Atacama | interpedalers - Discovery by Bicycle

    […] Instead uncharacteristically I want nothing more than an early night and something to soothe a cough and cold picked up over the previous weeks exertions crossing Abra Del Acay and Paso Sico. […]


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