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PERU – Bicycle Touring Information

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Peru Map

Click to enlarge

Time of Visit
November–December 2008

Visa
Citizens of Western European countries, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Israel and most Latin American countries don’t need a visa for stays up to 90 days.

Borders
I entered by road from Bolivia at the Copacabana-Yunguyo border crossing (Lago Titicaca). And left to Ecuador by road at the Namballe-La Chonta crossing, a very quiet one in the mountains near Jaén.

Route
Lago Titicaca (border Bol)-Cuzco, 490km (paved)
After cycling the beautiful Bolivian side of Lago Titicaca the Peruvian side is a bit disappointing. The road runs across a fairly densely populated, barren plain and gets busier as you approach Puno. The Holy Lake is rarely visible. Puno (140km) and Juliaca (185km) are both quite big cities and good basis to explore the shores of Titicaca, some temples and the floating islands. Unfortunately, the mass tourism also attracts thieves. In Puno I had my only moment of feeling unsafe in 2.5 years South America, when a clearly organized group of criminals tried to direct my girlfriend and me away from the main road to rob us. Fortunately, some friendly locals warned us in time and we escaped. We didn’t like the area and decided to put in some bigger days to quickly reach Cuzco (490km), passing only one minor pass, Abra la Raya (308km, 4312m). The cycling is easy, on paved roads. The scenery not spectacular, but interesting and the closer you get to Cuzco the more Inca ruins and other remains of ancient cultures you will find. For the whole area I think it is better not too be too early nor too late on the road. We always asked in a school or a church if we could sleep inside, we always got a yes. We encountered a lot of roadblocks and demonstrations, but always got through with smile and a wave. Still the atmosphere was often a bit tense.

Loops around Cuzco
Short loop: Cuzco-Pisaq-Urubamba-Cuzco, 130km (paved)

There is more to be found around Cuzco than just Machu Picchu. The ruins of Saqsaywaman can be visited from the city, but also on your way out to Pisaq. You will pass many more ruins that can all be visited for free if you are very early. Enjoy the sunrise without other people around! The Rio Urubamba is disappointingly dirty and smelly, but still the valley has a great feeling about it.

Long loop:
Click here for details

Cuzco-Ayacucho, 593km (some pavement)
Ilse and Tore have described this difficult stretch very well in an excel file. I just want to add some general comments. The route that they describe is not the only one. When I asked for directions, local people always called it a remote and exposed road through the altiplano, they directed me to lower, local roads with more villages. The first choice you have after Abancay. You go first down to a big river, cross it with a bridge and then you start climbing. In a small village, already quite high up you can turn left to the road of the Excel file, or go straight to Huancarama. Both roads will take you to Andahuaylas, but the last option passes by the Laguna Pacucha and nearby Inca ruins.
The second choice comes in Talavera, about 5km after Andahuaylas. Here you can turn right and follow a very quiet road through small villages to Uripa and continue the main road to Ayacucho. There are several more variants to the route. In general it seems that the main road has higher passes and is more exposed. But I don’t think you have to climb less on the variants.
The whole stretch is very hard, due to the enormous climbs and sometimes, bad road conditions. In the valleys annoying sand flies will keep you moving, it is better to camp or lunch higher up. I encountered an incredible hospitality in the villages. Four days in a row I was invited for dinner and for the night. It is easy to find water and food.

For more details by kilometers for the route between Cusco and Huancayo, please check: Bike Touring Info – Cusco/Huancayo

Ayacucho-Huancayo via Abra Apacheta, Abra Chonta and Huancavelica, +/-400km (partly paved)
The shortest way to Huancayo is described in the Excel file mentioned above. I chose another, extremely beautiful route over some very high passes. You have to take enough food to reach Huancavelica. From Ayacucho take the paved road in the direction of Pisco. Slowly you climb higher and higher to the Abra Apacheta (100km, 4750m). About 10km after the pass you have to turn right. It is another 52km to Santa Inés on a dirtroad in moderate condition. You continue climbing through incredible landscapes to Abra Chonta (200km, 4853m). A bit later you see to your right a turnoff to a even higher pass (5059m), one of the highest in South America. But go straight to Huancavelica, a pretty town (compared to other cities in the area) at 3680m. After Huancavelica most of the road is paved to Huancayo. The scenery changes from the high plateau to narrow dry river valleys. But traffic is still light and cycling pleasant.

For more details by kilometers for the route between Huancayo and Trujillo, please check: Bike Touring Info – Huancayo/Trujillo

Huancayo-Lima, 306km (paved)
Some people prefer to stay in the mountains on their way north, they can follow the notes of Iris and Tore. I chose to visit Lima, the huge capital of Peru. It is all straight forward. Follow the main road to La Oroya (125km), a busy mining town. Traffic around La Oroya is annoying but dies out soon. Turn left to Lima. It is a long gradual climb to the Abra de Anticona (175km, 4843m). From there on a huge downhill takes you to the outskirts of Lima, almost on sea level. Expect some headwinds. Lima is huge, traffic shocking. Still I found cycling into the city not too bad. Especially going downhill you can keep up with many of the old cars, trucks and busses. Closer to the center there are even some bike lanes!

Lima-Huaraz, 427km (paved)
Cycling out of Lima to the north is not too much fun, but acceptably safe. Locals pointed me to some bike paths and quieter roads, including the coastal road to Ventanilla. Still there are 50 very noisy kilometers from the center to leave the outskirts, even more from Miraflores. After that the desert road to the north becomes surprisingly quiet, considering the nearby metropolis. Winds usually blow from the south and will help you to quickly cross the sometimes boring desert. In Barranca (+/-220km) I turned left to the Cordillara Blanca. The road climbs for more than 100km from sealevel to over 4000 meters. When you reach Conococha (345km) you have done most of the climbing. From here the easiest way is to follow the Rio Santa down stream, with on your right the Cordillera Blanca and on your left the Cordillera Negra.

Some loops are possible in the Cordillera Blanca
Beat Heim:
Through Punta Olimpica Pass
Through Abra Yanashalla Pass

Tracey and Colin:
Cycling the Huascarán Circuit

Huaraz-Trujillo, 331km (partly unpaved)
This section is completely present in the Excel file of Iris and Tore. It is mostly downhill, but the Cañon del Pato (40 tunnels!) and the dirt road after that can still be hard at times, because of bad road conditions. The lower you go the hotter it gets. Important is to cross the bridge 8km after Chuquicara (we stayed with the very friendly police here). Somebody will open the gate for you and you can take the shortcut to the Panamericana. Take enough food and water, you are entering a desert. There is almost no traffic and only a few villages.

Trujillo-Namballe (border Ecu), 700km (almost all paved)
Most cyclists stay for a while in the famous casa de ciclistas of Lucho. He can give you all the information you need. Going north is easy. The wind almost always blows from the south, very strong in the afternoon. I cycled in one day to Pacasmayo (120km) and another day to Chiclayo (220km), staying with friends of Lucho in both cities. Some cyclists have been robbed around Paiján. Look for an escorte or take a bus. As on most of the Panamericana in Peru and Chile, there is some truck traffic, but the pavement is good and the shoulder mostly wide enough. If you like deserts you will enjoy this stretch.
From Chiclayo you can follow the main road to Ecuador or go inland to a more quiet border crossing. Both options still have the great tailwind. I went inland, slowly climbing to one of the lowest passes across the Andes (370km, 2145m). After that you follow the Rio Chamaya downstream to the village Chamaya (511km). Turn left here to climb to Jaén (533km). There is another casa de ciclistas here. The roads are quieter now and the more you move east, the greener it gets. From Jaén you have to continue north on a road that gets worse and more remote. The border crossing, about 160km from Jaén and almost 700km from Trujillo is very quiet. I was the only one crossing that they (except for the smugglers a bit downstream, carrying patrol across the river). Expect some steep up and down on dirt roads in the last 60km or so. Locals are very friendly in this area.

The BEST route
Abra Apacheta and Abra Chonta, surprisingly beautiful landscapes, quiet cycling.

The WORST Route
Puno/Juliaca area, I had a bad feeling there. Not very pretty.

Bicycle Shops
Lima is by far the best place to get good stuff. Other big cities have something as well. Lucho can fix almost everything.

Bicycle Touring Gear Shops
I don’t know, I haven’t seen any.

Camping Gear Shops
I guess Lima and the bigger towns around the Cordillera Blanca have best choice

Good Address
Casa de ciclistas in Trujillo, Lucho is a living legend.

Best Season
May to October is the drier season in both the Amazonas and the mountains. Clearer skies, lower chance of snow on the passes.

Worst Season
November to April is the raining season

Maps
Reise Know How, 1: 1,500,000

Languages
Spanish is useful

Average for Cheap Lodging
2 USD

Locals’ Average Salary
150 USD

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Author
Peter Van Glabbeek (Netherland)
7 years of bicycle touring experience including a 4-year long journey around the world
Cycled through 40 countries
Peter’s website

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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