Sunday, April 10, 2016

Following Guanaco Tracks: The Back Door to Puerto Natales.March28th-April 1st

El Calafate-Cancha Carrera-Cerro Castillo (Chile)-Puerto Natales

South of El Calafate, any and every map will tell you that the only option is the main road. It loops way out east, avoiding the mountains entirely and staying in the flat pampas. A main route through flat grasslands isn´t really our thing, so naturally we were motivated to find the road less traveled, which in this case is the road never traveled, because there´s no road at all. Through a feat of mapping ingenuity, or perhaps insanity, we patchworked together a route south starting on dirt roads and progressing to remote 4x4 tracks and terra incognita, regions with no paths at all. In the three days we were in the mountains, we saw one vehicle, three gauchos on horseback, and vast herds of the wild, llama-like guanacos. Here´s the story:

Not even a few kilometers out of town, things kick off with a rough start when we find these signs all over the place. Fortunately the owner of the land, Juan Carlos, is extraordinarily friendly, allowing us to pass and even giving us tips for the road ahead.

Just past the gates we are rewarded with a perfect track up into the mountains...

...with wildflowers to add some color to the monochromatic, golden pampas.

What better way to leave the city?!

No tire tracks, only guanacos.

Tam, riding in her light green fleece, is camouflaged perfectly among the grasses.

After a few hours of bikepacking bliss, our road becomes a bit rougher...

...and then ends altogether, leaving us pushing through endless Patagonian steppe...

...before things get a bit steeper and we take the bikes onto our backs. Not so bad, that iPhone camera.

Above treeline, the ground is steep and rocky but relatively easy going (the bike-on-the-back thing notwithstanding)...

...and eventually we reach the top of the pass.

On the other side we sometimes find game trails...

...and sometimes we don´t, leaving us freestyling across wide alpine meadows.

They´re frequently a bit marshier than they look, but even with the wet feet we are happy to be able to ride at all.

After a series of river crossings, we encounter and hop some fences...

...and head down a smooth trail on the other side worn into the patchy grasses by thousands of hoofsteps.

Meeting back up with a road, especially this scenic, untrafficked one, is a reward in itself...

...but not too long after, we turn off onto a smaller road that quickly turns into a grassy track and, soon after that, no track at all.

We play "avoid the bush" for an hour or so...

...before completing the last blank section on the map and coming across a road again. Yay!

With all the previous unknowns and worries behind us, we´re elated to be on this pleasant two-track as evening falls.

Later, in the tent, we reflect on where we´ve been and rest our sore bodies. I think this worn water bottle is a good representation of what we´ve been through. Tam´s ¨Fass Bike¨ sticker is starting to take on a new meaning

With the previous few days having been a search for remoteness, on the other side of the mountains we find wind. Incessant, powerful, cold wind.... we take advantage of any kind of shelter we can find. We find this one just before the hail starts...

...and later that day, the Argentina gendarmería, the border officials, offer to let us sleep in this run-down building, a peaceful, wind-free home for the night.

The next day we opt out of a slightly more interesting route, which would also involve punishing days of riding into the wind, and instead fly to Puerto Natales with the wind at our backs.

A black-chested buzzard-eagle stares at us from its roadside perch

Soon we roll up to Puerto Natales and the Pacific Ocean. The wind here is anything but pacific, day and night, so we´re happy to have a home inside and a rest before the next adventure: Torres del Paine!

In Pto Natales we stayed at Hostal Mary on Calle Sanchez. Not so much a budget option, but with breakfast included and a homey atmosphere, it was a perfect place for us.
Contact us for more detailed route notes.

Update 4/28/17: a fellow cyclist on this route was stopped and almost forced to turn around by owners of some private property, though he managed to beg his way through. I'll still send you route notes if you like, but beware of that possible complication. For those who love poring over maps, it may be possible to find another way around that part. 


  1. Hello! I was curious if you could share some information on this route. I am looking to do it the same way, but return to El Calafate after touring through Torres del Paine. It seems there could be some problems returning to Argentina without having a stamp stating I left. Was this a concern/ did you talk to anyone about it? Thank you!!

    1. Hey Russell,
      You're right, it's never good to try to enter a country without an exit stamp from the previous visit, but there's a way around that :) Presumably you've left the area by now, but if you'd still like info, send me your email address. My apologies for the extremely tardy reply!

  2. Hi Danny,
    Do you have a gpx for this? Also, what did you all do for customs on both sides? Thanks,

  3. Hey Tyndall,
    Yeah, I have a GPX track that I'd be happy to send to you. What's your email address? I'll also send you customs info in an email.

    1. Thanks!

    2. Hi Danny,
      Could you please send me GPX/details too? Am in El Chalten right now and plotting route South!
      cgoodwille at
      Thanks very much

    3. Sent. Let me know of any questions.

    4. Hi Danny,
      Any chance you could send me the GPX/details as well?

      justi nbill24[at]