Extreme sports

Mountain biking in Chile

Whether you’re two-wheeling through the northern desert, the foothills of the Andes, or the immensity of Patagonia, exploring Chile on a bicycle is a fascinating experience.

Friday, July 22, 2011  
Chile is a mountain biker’s heaven. Chile is a mountain biker’s heaven.

Chile combines all the factors of mountain bike heaven: natural beauty, a variety of climates, and lots of downhill. There are three overall zones for mountain bike terrain, determined by Chile’s varied geography -  the north, the center, and the south - and what you bring depends on where you’re planning to ride.

Below, This Is Chile highlights some of the best rides in each zone, and gives you an idea of what to expect. 

Northern Desert

Trails in northern Chile (from Arica to La Serena) are characterized by dry terrain and extreme temperatures. Packing enough water should be your first priority, since towns are few and far between. The other key factor is weather: during the day, you are pedaling under a scorching sun, and at night, you can wind up facing below-freezing temperatures. If you’re well-prepared, however, mountain biking in such places as the Valley de Elqui can open up a new perspective of Chile. 

In the town of San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile’s most popular tourist destination, various companies rent bicycles to the intrepid traveler who wants to see the area’s attractions on two wheels: the Pukará de Quitor, the Aldea de Tulor, the Valley of the Moon, and even the Laguna Cejar, a 31 mile (50 km) loop.

Central Chile

The central zone of Chile is defined by its Mediterranean climate and metropolitan character of Santiago and Valparaíso-Viña del Mar. In both urban centers, you can easily find places to rent mountain bikes to explore the beautiful areas just a few hours outside the city limits.

The best places to mountain bike are nestled in the central zone’s national parks and nature reserves. The Cajón del Maipo is just an hour from Santiago, and you can rent mountain bikes at several outfitters in the main town of San José de Maipo. Nearby in Pirque, the national reserve Río Los Cipreses has beautiful paths designed to accommodate both hikers and cyclists. National parks like Los Andes and La Campana host trails for mountain bikes over a variety of terrain and difficulties. 

Southern Wilderness & Patagonia

If you’re biking in southern Chile, the weather will never be far from your thoughts. Even in summer, it’s possible to find yourself in a sudden downpour - and in the winter months, plan for rain. But the spectacular landscapes can still be enjoyed from the seat of a bicycle, and many of the largest, most celebrated national parks are located in the south, like Conguillío, near Temuco, or Puyehue, near Osorno.

South of Chiloé, the stakes become even more extreme: treacherous weather and panoramas unmatched in beauty. The Carretera Austral, Chile’s famous mostly-unpaved highway that dips and curves through the fjords between Puerto Montt and Coyaique, is an excellent summer route. Even further south, you can rent mountain bikes in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales and pedal through Patagonia’s flagship park, Torres del Paine