More Criss Crossing: Paso Copahue

As the Andes winds it’s way south from Bolivia it takes on a somewhat slimmer figure and, rather than being faced with multiple ranges and an expansive altiplano, crossing it becomes a simple ‘up and over’ affair. Forming a natural frontier between chile and Argentina, those of us with a penchant for riding in the mountains subsequently find ourselves crossing from one country to the other pretty often, with the tail end of my passport becoming quite the collection of scribblings and stamps from obscure Andean border outposts. This post details my fourth crossing, since followed up with a fifth (there’s a bit of a backlog!), with at least four more in the pipeline….

Each with their own quirks and distinct personalities, this constant hopscotching between the two countries certainly keeps things interesting. Argentina brings to the table it’s impressive old banger collection (more Renault 12’s than you can shake a stick at), rather absurd 11pm dinner times, curious mate addiction, currency crisis (packing US dollars makes you 50% better off…) and general laid back steak loving friendliness. Whereas over on the other side, things are somewhat more orderly, with Chile often feeling more North American than Latino. It’s cosmopolitan cities and obvious wealth came as quite a shock at first, not quite ‘Crocodile Dundee in New York’, but I’ll admit I felt strangely out of place with my hole strewn merino and battered belongings. Suddenly the daily budget doesn’t get you very far and, for the first time since the US, I feel poor again. That said, they’re a nice bunch who make a great empanada. As with Argentina though, for us it’s really all about exploring the vast swathes of incredible natural beauty on offer, camping wild and riding some epic dirt routes.

Our Paso Copahue crossing from Argentina back into Chile is great example. Credit to Sam for unearthing this little gem, a result of much time spent staring at disconnected lines on maps and wondering what’s in-between. In this case a brilliant little bikepacking foray. Veering off Argentina’s classic, but ultimately quite dull, ruta 40, just past Chos Malal, it was back to dirt and onto this great little route over the Andes. Photos of late are limited due the bizarre theft of my camera charger, but here’s a little taster…


Rise and shine


Dulce de leche, spreadable sugary goodness that’s an absolute staple out here


The further off the main road network you stray the more it feels like a lost frontier; small, ramshackled ranches pop up every now and then, some functioning, others abandoned. The horse is king out here, with four legged traffic overwhelmingly outweighing the motorised kind.




Argie ripio at it’s best


The dirt road peters out at the small town of Copahue, a strange little place frequented by droves of aging Argentinians seeking the healing magic of the volcanic thermal spas and mud pools.


From here there’s a little used horse track to take us over the pass (a mere 200m climb) and onto Chile.


Mostly rideable, it’s a relative walk in the park compared to our previous Andean crossing. Classic bikepacking.



Through the volcanic boulder field…


And onto a rather sketchy section of hike a bike. The only serious challenge of the route, you need a head for heights for this bit.


Sulphurous fumes and bubbling mud pools are common trail hazards on this route. All a bit different from Ashton Court.


A short way into Chile and we pick up a rugged little dirt road to take us to Ralco and the start of an equally epic route into the Chilean Lake District. So good it’s got it’s own post, coming soon…

Route Info

Chos Malal – El Cholar – El Huecu – Copahue – Trapa Trapa – Ralco

Sam will put the nitty gritty up at some stage here 

8 responses to “More Criss Crossing: Paso Copahue

  1. I wondered if our paths would cross once I saw you were heading south from Santiago. They did but not at the same time. I came north through El Hueco and El Cholar to Chos Malal. Safe travels further south, hope the weather is kind for you!

    • Iain, shame, it’s been a while since we’ve bumped into anyone else… All the best with the ride north, you’ve got some incredible stuff up ahead and you’re certainly heading in the right direction weather wise! Cheers, Paul

  2. Pingback: The Lake District (The Chilean one…) | THE RIDE SOUTH·

  3. Hi guys! I am leaving Chillan today I want to make this pass. Where did you get your passports stamped? Thanks! Kate

    • hey kate, on the argentinian side you can get them stamped in the town of copahue there’s a small office in town, just ask and someone will show you (it’s in a mini-mall like building). I can’t remember the name of the village on the chilean side, but it’s the first one one of any size and you’ll see the green and white building of the cabineros on the left, which is where you go. Good luck, there’s a couple of hairy bits!

  4. Pingback: The long way around (a shortcut) – Chos Malal to Lonquimay via Paso Copahue – Fatcycling·

  5. Pingback: Santiago to Pucón – The Long Way – Paso Vargara, Copahue. Monkey Puzzle trail. | Nick's Bike Tour·

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