A Scenic Exit – Ollague, Chile


Route Calama, Chile – Ollague, Chile (RN21)
Distance 197Km
Travel Time 5.5 hours
Road Conditions 1 hour Tarmac then mostly Gravel, some hard pressed
Weather Clear, Cold
Terrain Altiplano, Curvy & climbing
Food and Petrol Calama, Ollague only in some shops or hostels
Accommodation Hostal Atahualpa, Ollague

We avoid the southern border to Bolivia (near San Pedro) because we’ve seen the dirt road and we’ve heard stories of banditry there. So we drive to Ollague. I’ve read reports on the HUBB of other bikers doing this route and it seems the best option.


The road there turns out to be dirt as well. Sometimes hard pressed, but mostly pretty rough. At least the scenery is beautiful. It’s a stunning landscape of volcanoes and salt flats, desolate, deserted.



Surprisingly, we find this one tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere and roll up for a cooldrink at this lady’s little tienda. It’s unbelievable how people can survive up here in this barren place!


The volcano opposite actually has a road going up into its crater, where large machines are mining it.

Apart from that ‘village’, a temporary road buiders’ camp is the only human inhabitance we see before Ollage. The rest is deserted.



But there are some other attractions as well…

As we approach Ollague we skirt around a huge volcano bellowing yellow smoke out of one of its stove pipes. This, it turns out, is Mt. Ollague, the mountain the town has received its name from. There’s an old disused track that leads up its back to service sulphur mines, reaching an altitude of over 5600m (one of the highest in the world), but we don’t attempt it.


The approach to Ollague is pretty spectacular…

In Ollague we find two streets, a few buildings – a couple of eateries and alojiamentos – and a railway station. The alodgements are pretty grim, all but one. And the petrol station is nonexistent. This is a problem, because we have little fuel left and we have at least 150Km to the next petrol station at San Christobal. Worse case 250Km to Uyuni! (Everyone gives us varying estimates on the actual distance.) I am certain I read on the Internet blogs that other bikers found petrol here! We ask the police but they don’t seem to have any to spare.


The surroundings here are unbelievable. We’re on an alpine plateau with massive volcano calderas poking up high above us – the most prominent being Mount Ollague. Apparently


Finally, we lodge at the Hostal Atahualpa (http://www.atahualpa.cl/) where the rooms are very nice but costly (10000/pp/night) and they have hot water – really HOT!

Nothing better to make a girl happy than a hot shower…

The lady there sells petrol, she has a large tank out back, but at double the normal price (1600Pesos/litre). Luckily we meet an old chap in an eatery across the railway who will sell us some of his fuel for 1200/litre. He spares us 10 litres, which fills our tank and gives us about three litres in the spare, so we’re good go go until Uyuni. Whew, close one!

(At night, sitting huddled by the side of the wood oven in the common dining room, we meet a few mining contractors in the hostel and get talking to them. They stay up here for a couple of weeks at a time and construct water reservoirs for good money. Talking about Chile, the one chap expresses the same opinions about the attitude of people in the North. How curious.)