Overlanding from Mendoza to the Atacama desert

What is life but a grand adventure!
In this chapter of our trip, we had an astonishing encounter with offroad tracks and desert life.
We hopped over mountains and experienced the effects of high altitude. Much to our surprise, the 2000 km stretch between Mendoza and San Pedro de Atacama was all but dull, quite the contrary!

What did we like along the route from Mendoza to the Atacama desert?

  • Leave the road and take the trails when overlading. You get butterflies in your stomach from not knowing where the offroad tracks will take you and if you’ll make it through on some parts. Just make sure one of you is laidback and acts like superman so the other one doesn’t get a nervous breakdown.
  • Mountains, rock formations and sunsets in the color of rainbows.
  • Endless desert views with giant cacti.
  • Feeling shivering cold and whopping warm in the same day.

What didn’t we like?

  • The high altitude gets you to marvelous landscapes but it has some unfavorable effects. Headaches, nausea and difficulty to breathe: we had it all. Coca leafs do help against the headaches, but I find the taste to be obnoxious (you win some you lose some, right?). Ideally you ascend not more then 500 meters per day, but we did 2500 up to 5000 meters above sea level!

The highlights of overlanding from Mendoza to the Atacama desert.

  • Offroading between Mendoza and Uspallata. Before taking Ruta 13, we read scary things about steep dips and falling off cliffs. Good thing we met Hans (from Belgium) and his Posada who encouraged us to take it. Turned out the road was gorgeous and challenging in a fun way. Embrace the detours and always enjoy the open road, but don’t go there without a proper 4×4 😉
  • Ruta 149, North from the Lioncito NP, is a marvelous stretch of asfalt through a vast scenery of colored mountains. Views are fantastic, asphalt is great, no blind corners and wide lanes: friends motorcyclists, this one is everything the Ruta 40 is not, you’ll enjoy it!
  • Ruta 68 between Cafayate and Salta brought us spectacular, moon red rock formations. If you’re up there, take your time to enjoy and wander around.
  • Using Purmamarca as the biggest playground ever! Hiking, strolling, running and gazing at the hill of seven colors. The town is small and filled with tourists only but if you visit really early or late, the village and its fairytale colors are yours to explore.
  • Sand between our toes and a sunburn on our nose, exploring the Atacama desert.
    • Waking up at 4 am to see the Del Tatio Geysers, steamy gems of mother nature! Why so early in the morning? Because the steam is best visible when it’s cold. And when is the coldest moment of the day? Right! Luckily, you can heat up in the thermal pool – a cosy and warm dip with mountain views. We did this one with a tour because they said the roads were too bad to drive by ourselves. That was a lie. You don’t even need a 4×4, just leave at 6 am so you can be at the Geysers at 8 am. There are plenty of busses driving tons of tourists you can follow.
    • Meeting flamingos on far away salt flats at the Reserva Nacional de Flamencos. It was our first time seeing flamingos but (spoiler alert!) there are bigger and better flocks elsewhere. If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by. If you’re not, you can skip it 😉
    • Driving and climbing mountains in Valle de la Luna. Big highlight! Sand, sun, salt and snow in one. We loved it! Don’t miss the sunset while hopping on mountain tops. A charming and mysterious moment to end our Chilean adventure.

Where to next?

Right now we’re in Uyuni, Bolivia. Crossing the border was a 4×4 challenge but we made it 🙂 After driving along the Lagoon Ruta and visiting the Salt flats, we’ll be heading for Sucre, Cochabamba, Torotoro National Park, La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Copacabana and then off to lake Titicaca where we’ll cross over to Peru. More about that in our next blogpost!
Enjoy our pics and leave us a comment 🙂
Lots of love and adventure to all of you,
Sarah & Dimitri

4 Comment

  1. Guy Smets says: Reply

    spijtig van de mechanische mankementen 🙁
    wel prachtige locaties, have fun

    groeten vanuit het soms zonnige België

    1. Dimitri says: Reply

      Och, hoe meer overlanders we leren kennen, hoe meer het duidelijk wordt dat we niet alleen zijn om af en toe een mecanieker te moeten opzoeken 😉

  2. Lucy & Timo says: Reply

    oh wow… someday we´ll gonna see the atacama as well. please enjoy your time in bolivia. timo and me are pretty sure that this landscape will impress you more even than the atacama.

    kind greetings from aachen y un abrazo,
    Lucy y Timo

    1. The Atacama is stunning! Especially watching the sunset on top of the hills.
      We forget to bring the Pisco sour so we might join you when you head up there in the future 😉
      We’re absolutely enjoying Bolivia 🙂 So much to see! Wish our honeymoon could last 3 years instead of 1 😀
      Warm hugs!
      Sarah & Dimi

Leave a Reply