Inspiration: Big Trip

Exploring the Andes on a Triumph Tiger

Ride mountains, desert and moon

FTR Bio:, Pablo Berardi

Works for: Triumph Experience, Brazil

Job role: Hosting riders from around the world on themed trips through South America

Favourite spot: Moon Valley… “no picture can truly capture the scene”

At 4,500 metres above sea level, high in the Andes where Argentina links with Chile, motorcycle riders are often lost for words. Pablo Berardi puts it down to the rarified air, but it might be the spectacular scenery that leaves them speechless. After all, when they roll into one of the world’s only desert towns a little later, the effect is the same.

San Pedro de Atacama, a high-altitude town whose sand-dusted roads suggest that the surrounding desert is constantly trying to reclaim it, is a stop-off point along the Paso de Jama, a mountain pass climax of a series of perfect asphalt bends.

The arrival here of lead instructor Pablo and his guests comes midway through a circular 1,300km-round trip, which starts in Salta la Linda in north-west Argentina and loops north-west through the Andes into Chile and back again.

“The Paso de Jama is an amazing road, full of bends and breathtaking landscapes after each one. Daytime temperatures reach up to 30˚C, while at night, temperatures tend to drop below freezing in winter,” he says. “From the highest point you can see mountains, part of the world’s driest desert and some of the town spread out below. The views are amazing but for me, the best part is the great road surface, the corners and the fact that it is stunning but safe.”

Between September and April, when the weather is at its most clement, Pablo, part of the Triumph Experience team in Brazil, meets up with around eight Triumph riders on Tiger 800s or Explorers, to take them on a tour ‘like few others on the planet’.

Setting off in Salta

A sedate start in Salta, at the foot of the mountain range, consists of a welcome supper of Argentinian parrilla – succulent grilled meat – in the coolest part of the city, accompanied by a local wine.

“It’s a one-week trip, starting and ending at Salta, which has become a major tourist destination due to its colonial architecture, friendliness and valleys to the west. It’s also the start of the well-known Ruta 40e,” says Pablo. That road stretches the 200km to Tilcara and, en route, the group visit Purmamarca, home to ‘Cerro de los siete colores’ (The Hill of Seven Colours). The product of a complex geological history, the colourful striped hills rise above lakes and rivers created by the movement of the tectonic plates deep in the earth’s core.


Once-in-a-lifetime views

After lunch and an overnight stay in Tilcara, it’s through the Paso and on to San Pedro, base for a series of daily ride-outs to some of the nearby areas of natural beauty, including:

  • Moon Valley – a quick ride and you’re greeted by volcanic stone and sand formations, with colour and texture that give it the impression of looking like the moon’s surface
  • Coyote’s viewpoint – the sunset from here is a major tourist attraction and the perfect end to the day
  • Miscanti and Miniques Lagoons – two heart-shaped lakes separated by a lava flow from an eruption of the nearby Miñiques volcano, itself part of a larger volcanic complex of craters, lava domes and flows
  • Salt flats – not as big as Bonneville but still a major draw for motorcyclists, along with a network of small lagoons
  • The geysers of El Tatio – about an hour’s ride, the name derives from the Quechua word for oven. The area has more than 80 active geysers, making it the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world. Visitors are encouraged to swim in the thermal waters.

Pablo says: “The great thing on top of all the beauty itself, is that all of these attractions are close to San Pedro de Atacama and easily reached whatever your level of riding. The roads throughout are good apart from a few easy dirt roads and we get to see things that you would never see in a lifetime in Europe.

“Moon Valley is about two minutes by bike where there are rocks you can stand on to watch the sun going down over the valley. No picture can truly capture the scene.”

The longest day is the final one as the group retrace their steps on a 600km ride and, for those who would rather sit back and watch the world go by at this stage, a support car with capacity to hold a bike or two can sustain riders until they hit Salta and a delicious farewell dinner.

Pablo says: “As soon as the trip is over, we begin the fun part of organising the next one, meeting new people and seeing incredible new places.”

Your turn to take the trip

Triumph Experience Brazil offers training, experienced guides and instructors for on and off-road motorcycling and trips in Brazil and South America.

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