It’s hard for us to choose our favorite scenic bike routes in Chile. For us, the near and far south of the country draw us in again and again, where we cycle through the productive wine and agriculture valleys, over the coastal range, beside glittering lakes and past volcanoes near and far. Choosing our absolute favorite is like choosing a favorite child, or for some people, the best possible meal. Here are four of our favorites to feed mind, body and soul.
Panguipulli to Choshuenco
In addition to starting in Panguipulli, which is a fantastic point for nature exploration of Chile’s Región de Los Lagos (Lakes Region), this 52-km ride enjoys what many call the most “buttery” asphalt they’ve had the joy to cycle in Chile. Others call it the “Rolls Royce” of roads. It’s up and down, like a roller coaster, giving just enough momentum so you feel like your legs are stronger than they’ve ever been as you cycle up the next small rise on a road that feels like it was carved into the terrain. The ride is along Lago Panguipulli for some 30 kilometers, and there are 360-degree views (though please keep your eyes on the road) of native Andean forest. At the end of the ride we stop for a hearty lunch with terrace views of the lake. More than one guest has walked straight down the beach on the black volcanic sand and taken a dip in this lake’s unusually crystalline waters.
Pucón to the Argentine Border (through Currarehue)
While this ride lacks the smooth asphalt typical of the Panguipulli ride, the road is still good. The ride is beside Lago Villarrica, which starts many days with a long, low cloud, which burns off by mid morning. This ride is an exercise in the geographic processes of the earth, as you see the observe the basaltic formations, various volcanoes, and the Tabanacura River that crosses the landscape from the cordillera to the valley. From Currarehue, which is a seat of local indigenous Mapuche culture, the ride grows steeper. Going up toward Paso Puesco (also called Mamuil Malal), the landscape changes, becomes more Andean. A great indicator that you’re getting close to the pass, which is at 1210 meters, is the presence of Araucarias (monkey puzzle trees) which occur naturally from about 1200 meters. This Andean pass, which divides Chile and Argentina is a great spot for seeing wildlife, and coasting Andean condors can often be seen. We usually combine this day with a walk to Laguna Escondida, (literally hidden lagoon), named due to its diminutive size, but it is a lake with a feeding and draining river. This is a ride that we do in both directions, which is to say, you can make a day of an uphill ride, starting in Pucón and ending at the border, or capitalize on bright skies and cool breezes and a gravity-assisted ride to do it from the border down to Pucón. Either way, it is 70 unforgettable kilometers in Chile’s Lakes Region.
Marchigüe to Viña VIK
This ride, which starts near Curicó, is in the heart of Chilean road biking country. It’s where most kids who will later become pro cyclists get their start, and when you look at the topography, you can see why. We start off the ride in relatively flat terrain, surrounded by the vineyards that will go on to produce some of the world’s best wine. Grapes later give way to olive trees, and then, especially in the areas of Pichidegua and San Vicente de Tagua Tagua, give way to fruit plantations, with everything from plums (which bloom first), to apples, pears, lemons, oranges, grapefruit and even avocado. This area produces by volume some 70% of Chile’s fruit. In this highly productive zone, in the town of Larmahue, there are historical water mills, which are used to feed sustainable irrigation practices, and which we stop to visit. We continue on to Rengo, where as if by magic, the coastal range (cordillera de la costa) appears, and keeping our eye on this, we continue on to Viña VIK, a world-class hotel with unique architecture and some of the highest-rated wines in Chile. This 70-km ride is relatively flat, and quite forgiving, and though cyclists of all skill levels enjoy it, it is particularly suited to mixed groups that contain less serious cyclists.
Coast to Marchigüe
While a beautiful route, one of the things we like best about the ride from Navidad to Marchigüe is the pacing. Serious cyclists will go crazy for this ride, heading out from the coast of the O’Higgins Region towards the Rapel River, with its braided landscape before it dumps into the sea. From here we head south towards Litueche crossing the entire coastal range (summiting five hills in en route), towards an area called “Las Damas.” In contrast to ride above, which begins in Marchigüe, this ride goes through an area that is almost entirely unexploited, with no agricultural plantations. Instead, this area is dotted with bushes, acacia trees and, pimiento trees, which sway in the wind and bear pink pepper berries in season. The first 30 kilometers have several climbs, and the next 20 give a reprieve for tired legs, to gain strength for the remaining parts, again uphill, with rewarding views over the whole valley. This 90-km outing is the kind of ride that leaves serious cyclists buzzing, and thinking about returning to ride it again, but perhaps taking a recovery ride first.