When you’re looking for a good bicycle day-route, there are two vital things to consider: that the terrain is apt for biking and that the landscapes are so great you’re not thinking about how tired your legs are. We chose this 77 km route between Coyhaique, the heart of the Simpson Valley and the small town of El Blanco, with these two important factors in mind. The majority of the route is on asphalt and the scenery is top notch; a mix of serene rural landscapes and the mountains of the Cerro Castillo National Reserve accompany you throughout the ride. You’ll cross bridges over several rivers and streams, where you can stop for a picnic, relax and even fish for a while, as well as two small villages where you can buy snacks, visit local museums and get to know some of the pioneers of the area.
Section 1: Coyhaique – entrance of Valley Simpson, Route X-674 (16.2 kilometers)
The first section of the route consists of a series of hills and straightaways, bordered by the high walls of the MacKay and Divisadero Mountains, as you make your way to the Simpson Valley. Begin your ride at the corner of Simpson Street and Ogana Avenue, leaving Coyhaique in the direction of the Balmaceda Airport. After the first winding hills, you’ll reach a long straightaway. On the right side, between kilometers 5.5 and 6, you will see luxury fishing lodge, Cinco Rios, which offers great amenities and plenty of options if you are looking for an unforgettable fly-fishing experience. Shortly thereafter, you’ll come upon the Foitzick lagoon sector, named in honor of one of the most important settlers of the valley, Don Eduardo Foitzick, who came to the area in 1909. Here, the road makes a few hairpin turns in order to avoid the lagoon and in this sector, known for its black ice in winter, there have been several accidents that have prompted locals to install different shrines to remember the victims and to ask for protection and good luck.
Many ayseninos pay homage to Saint Sebastian, who they believe to be the protector of travelers and they also honor several popular Patagonia saints, including the Difunta Correa, who according to legend, died of thirst wandering the pampas of Argentina, but, miraculously, was able to save the life of her baby by protecting it with her own body. The Difunta Correa is an icon in Patagonia, with many devotees, as you will note each time you pass a small shrine with a collection of plastic bottles in front, left to quench this heroine’s thirst. Another popular saint is Gauchito Gil, also of Argentine origin. According to devotees, Gil saved the life of the dying child of his executioner, saying “As you are about to spill the blood of an innocent man, call upon me to intercede before God and to heal your son”. According to legend, the executioner took heed of Gil’s command and the sick child was immediately healed. Gauchito Gil’s shrine is characteristically a small red house with his picture and red flags. You can view these sanctuaries around the lagoon and in many other sectors in the region.
After the lagoon, you’ll wind another 6.5 km through farmlands and an interesting rock formation, known as the “Wall of China”. This formation is very popular with local climbers who have several routes armed along its length.
Section 2: Simpson Valley (Route X-674) – Mate Museum in El Blanco (27.5 kilometers)
Turn right when you reach the crossing for Route X-674 and the Simpson Valley (Km 16.2). After pedaling a couple of kilometers, you will enter the small village of Valle Simpson where you can stop, buy a snack, visit the Museum of the Colonization and the greenhouse of the Señora Blanca Molina, a charming resident of the valley who sells an impressive variety of vegetables, in addition to handmade crafts knitted from sheep and alpaca wool. Her house is located on the right side of the street in the second block before you get to the school. If you have problems finding her, ask any of the town’s residents for guidance.
Continue through town and into the valley along Route X-674. Around kilometer 20, you will spot an ancient house that was the first school for the area. Don Hugo Wahl, owner of the site, has an excellent talent for storytelling, especially tales about the sector and how the region has developed and changed over the years. Drinking mate with him is always a great experience. And only 500 m beyond, you’ll cross the bridge over the Simpson River and find great places to rest, picnic or fish.
In kilometer 22 you’ll encounter the crossroad, Route X-680 on the left, marked by signs for the regional campus of INIA (Institute for Agricultural Investigation). You’ll turn here and enter the part of the route that travels over gravel, a fitting surface for this stretch that is filled with remnants of the colonization period in the valley. You’ll bass old barns and houses, tiled with handmade wooden shingles, called tejuelas, and lots of traditional wooden fences marking the boundaries of ancient farms and fields.
You’ll reach the end of this road around kilometer 34 and reconnect with Route X-674, where you’ll make a left and travel another 9.5 kilometers to the small town of El Blanco. This section borders follows the same course as the Simpson River and takes you through beautiful farm country. In El Blanco, you’ll find a fun little museum dedicated to yerba mate, with lots of historical photos and artifacts from the colonial era and a few places where you can buy a snack before the trip back to Coyhaique. Be sure not to miss the fun wooden sculptures, like the giant mate, ax, gaucho knife and horse-head, among others. They are a great place to celebrate your ride with a new “selfie” for your Facebook profile.
Section 3. El Blanco – Coyhaique (33.6 kilometers)
When you leave El Blanco turn to the left, to rejoin the asphalt and start your return route to Coyhaique. You’ll pedal approximately 33.6 Km and along the way there are several options to stop at local farms and buy vegetables , fruit, cheese, and freshly laid eggs. Don’t forget to wear a backpack to load everything you buy; you’ll be glad for the farm fresh dinner after this great day ride.