Portezuelo del Cajón, an Andean gravel pass
Portezuelo del Cajón is an international high mountain pass on the border between Chile and Bolivia, at an elevation of 4.480m (14,698ft) above the sea level, located on the lower southeast flank of Juriques volcano, in the Andes.
The road over the pass begins at the junction with Chile Route 27, close to Cerro Toco. The climb begins gently from San Pedro, staying at 1% for 14kms, then becomes steep, climbing over 2,000m in the next 30km. It’s all on tarmac and there are plenty of Paraguayan truckers. Portezuelo del Cajón (also known as Hito Cajón) is the highest point on the road from San Pedro de Atacama (45kms) to Laguna Blanca (13kms). The Bolivian side of the border is in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, close to the Laguna Verde and to the Laguna Blanca. The crossing is frequently used by tourists travelling between Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama.
Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. The Bolivian Aduana is around 80km from the actual border right in the middle of the nowhere. It’s actually sited at over 5000m so will be many peoples highest driven point in their South American travels. It’s also hidden away behind a guarded barrier in a processing plant. The Chile border post is actually another 40km down the road at one end of San Pedro de Atacama. Check weather forecasts before leaving home, and remember that it becomes cooler and often more prone to storms at higher elevations.
Pic: Pablo Andrés C. P.