Thurs 8 Nov: Salta Campo Quijano (1470m) (30km, 300m ascent)
Campo Quijano is a mere 1¾ hours riding from Salta, but has the only formal accommodation we knew about between there and San Antonio. Good ice creams at Popy.
The tourist office has some useful maps, but the best of them is the one painted on the wall by Fabian Nanni which illustrates the entire route we cycled. Unfortunately it isnt quite clear at web resolution, even in the enlarged version, but the road we followed can be added as an overlay.
Fri 9: Campo Quijano Santa Rosa de Tastil (3090m) (76km, 1800m)
A very hard ride,
The 24km of ripio are reached after 3km; there is a comedor at Chorrillos where tarmac is regained. Incamayo is at 33km, Ing. Maury at 38, and El Gólgota comes just after it with a very welcome small shop. Alfarcito, a minor tourist attraction, is at 66km, and we had lunch at another comedor soon after it.
There are zigzags after the comedor and the rest of the route is fairly easy.
Notes: There is a dormitory attached to the museum at Santa Rosa. If you ask the curator, he and his wife may be able to accommodate you there. Camping is possible in the village, which comprises a few houses and a hotel which appeared to be shut.
There is an estancia at El Gólgota which may offer a luxurious alternative to Campo Quijano for the first nights lodging.
Another hard ride, again with a headwind. We passed two small shops (not then open) at around 15km; the route sweeps round a high plain exposed to the wind and begins a zigzag ascent at 32km, reaching the Abra Blanca (4000m) 3½km later.
The rest of the route is across an exposed altiplano. Tarmac ends at 41km, and at 50km you reach the named place Los Patos, the junction for the road to the Abra del Acay and La Poma. At 54km there is a 40m climb, and 3km later there are views over the plain to the Salinas Grandes 50km north. The road remains flat until the final 100m descent to San Antonio de los Cobres (ie. of the coppers) where we arrived in time for lunch.
Distances are given from the Hostería, not from the town centre.
Sun 11: rest day
We mooched around town.
Mon 12: day trip to the Abra de Chorrillos (60km, 830m)
The pass is the first high point on the road to Chile, and makes a good acclimatisation ride. The route begins as gently graded ripio. There is a turning for the famous Polverilla viaduct at 8km: we sampled the road but its appallingly sandy and we couldnt be bothered, though the viaduct looks impressive in photos. We made do with a picture of the plainer structure just outside San Antonio.
The gradient steepens and zigzags begin at 20km, with a false pass reached at 24km. There are good views back over the altiplano as you approach it. The road trends round and climbs to the final pass at an altitude of around 4400m. We had a picnic and turned back.
Tues 13: rest day
We arranged a taxi to the Salinas Grandes, but owing to complicated circumstances the vehicle turned out to be a white van and didnt arrive until dusk was approaching. Its a long and sandy road, but the salt flats are spectacular, especially in the falling light.
Note: Before setting off for the Abra del Acay, its a good ideal to get a local weather forecast from the gendarmería. We were assured of tiempo normal unbroken sunshine.