Cycling Peru’s Mountain Route

As far as we know, Peru is only rivalled by Tibet when it comes to high altitude dirt road touring. Which is why it’s depressed us a few times in Huaraz when we’ve had the following conversation with cyclists going north. ‘How’s Peru been?’ ‘Ah, not much fun – the main road from Cusco’s too busy with terrible drivers and lots of roadworks.’

There is an incredibly large network of small roads crisscrossing the Peruvian sierra (unlike, say, in Argentina or Chile where there are few options) giving almost unlimited route possibilities. We’re excited about seeing what these quiet, high roads will bring.

The Plan

Having spent 2 months spiralling through southern Peru in 2010, getting no further north than Abancay. the plan this time is to head down from Huaraz to Abancay on back roads. It all depends on the weather though – those high passes won’t be much fun in the snow. We hope the weather will stay fine in October, but know we won’t be able to outrun the snows as far as Argentina, so expect to take buses from Abancay (Cusco, La Paz) to Uyuni and continue on bikes from there to Chile. Most of the time between now and February we’ll be on the Puna in Argentina, cycling to (and hopefully climbing) some big mountains. More about that later.

The Preparation

The biggest task before pedalling off into the wilderness is to plan our route in detail. Paper maps of the back roads in Peru are next to useless, and when we’re on the road in the mountains we don’t expect to find many road signs or people to help us find our way.  Where possible we’ve been spying roads on Google Earth  – most of the pictures for the Peruvian mountains have improved hugely since 2010 and are now clear enough to spot even small 4WD tracks. For the few areas where they’re not, we’ve been looking at the Peru Ministry of Transport and Communication electronic maps – the most accurate ones we know of on the web. The route planning has been Neil’s job. If we get lost, it’s his fault.

Haz has been in charge of getting our kit/tools/spares ready, and as usual on the road she’ll be in charge of repairs. First job before departure was to replace Neil’s worn back rim:


With a £12 Mavic from one of Huaraz’s bike shops. Wouldn’t have gone for it at home, but there wasn’t a whole load of choice out here. That’ll teach us for forgetting to get new rims back in the UK, when we had the chance.

Then the bikes were spruced up…



This is Fredy, our landlord for the past 5 months, and a lovely man. Next to him is Greco – the world’s worst guard dog. When Fredy and wife Diana are away from home he’s as meek as anything. When they’re at home, Greco attacks us at every opportunity. So far the battle scoreboard reads: Greco 2 Harriet 0. Greco 1 Pike 0. Pike has tried to kick him in the head about 50 times, but the blighter ducks and dives better than Mohammed Ali. Then bites your calves when your back’s turned…  Just look at those fangs!

Tools and spares….check





Hopefully Haz will be warm enough with all these for the route through Peru.

Camping gear….check


The contents of Neil’s panniers.


And here’s what’s in his front bag/Osprey pack lid. The thermometer falls within the ‘essentials’ catergory and so gets to come on the bike to Abancay. Most clothes do not.


Haz carries (and is in charge of using) all the cooking stuff…

Mountaineering kit……err we’ll post that to Cusco…


Neil’s mountaineering kit and front panniers/rack for the Puna. Adds a good 10kg to the bike, so it’ll be nice not having it for all the passes we’ll be crossing as we head south through Peru.


Harriet’s mountaineering kit looks surprisingly similar.


…leave this stuff here…


Sadly even all our lovely maps are too heavy – we’ve photocopied the bits we need. Along with these we’re leaving behind lots of downy goodness that we hope won’t be needed on the Puna (it won’t be much below -15C, right?), as well as plenty of non-essentials like non-outdoor clothes, which we had the luxury of bringing to Huaraz.

…one final pizza…


The campesina. Enough bacon to keep us pedalling for a few weeks…

…a last pachamanca…


…and we’re ready to go!

Will check in again when we find internet, though we can’t guarantee this will be before Huancavelica – the first big town on our route, and some 850km of cycling away.

10 thoughts on “Cycling Peru’s Mountain Route

  1. Bryan Young

    Love the pictures of the bikes and the equipment layouts. I am just beginning bike touring and the pictures help me visualize what I need and how to pack…

    1. Harriet and Neil

      Cheers Bryan! The trick is to take as little as possible, particularly when in hilly places like Peru. The last fortnight we’ve been able to ride all but a couple of short sections of road. We’ve each got less than 15kg of kit (including panniers) with us – had we been more heavily loaded we’d have spent a lot of time pushing the steep hills. So much more freedom to take the tough roads if your bike doesn’t weigh anything!

  2. Bob A.

    Funny, was just thinking to myself, ‘what do/dont they take’, because on the blog photos (of late) it doesnt look like you have much stuff, but you, of course, are able to split the load between the two of you. So where does the food go? And netbook even (or whate did you ditch that?

    Photos look fantastic, seeing what people take is so helpful!


    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Hi Bob,
      We just had rear panniers each, and I had the tent strapped to my rack. We had enough room in the panniers for food (carried a maximum of 4 days, though only ever went 2 days between shops). We’ve just got a small tablet with us, no laptop or netbook. We were pretty happy with what we took – needed everything except for our thermals. Even used our first aid kit, when we came across a couple who’d fallen off their motorbike. Had we taken more kit, it’d just have been luxuries, and would have slowed us down greatly, because quite a few of the climbs were steep and with heavier bikes we would’ve been pushing….

  3. Michael

    Hi ,
    that stuff looks really cool, what time of year are you doing this and the mountaineering. Are there any peaks which you could just do with aggressive trail shoes?

    What tread and tyres do you have? Would some continental marathon plusses(35mm) be enough to get over the dirt tracks on the highest passes.
    1 more, if you are collecting your climbing gear in cusco , how long will you carry it for or are you only using it in cusco and then sending it back. love the site by the way, really informative.

    Cheers ,

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Hi Michael,
      We cycled down Peru in October which wasn’t ideal as the rains had begun. The best season for cycling and mountaineering is the dry season, generally May – Sept. I’m sure there are plenty of peaks you could do in Peru with trail shoes, but probably not any of the really high ones. There are lots of non-technical peaks on the Puna/Altiplano area in southern Peru. Further north in places like the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash you’ll need far more moutnaineering equipment.
      We were using Schwalbe Marathon Extremes – they worked well.
      I’d want wider tyres than 35mm to ride the dirt roads – our tyres were 2.0″.
      We picked up our mountaineering stuff in Cusco, bussed to Uyuni, then cycled with it from there to Argentina. We needed it for lots of peaks on the Puna in NW Arg.

  4. Bill

    If you’re in the middle of nowhere for so long and you only carry around 15 kg of kit, where do you get all your food and water from? The place looks barren. Do you get your water from some creeks somewhere? What food are you carrying and where do you get the rest?

    1. Neil and Harriet Post author

      Yes, we got water from streams and came across villages with basic shops at least every other day, so never had to carry too much. Mostly ate porridge, pasta and biscuits!

  5. scott McDonald

    great to see all your gear! very similar to ours, except tor the climbing stuff….we are a bit past that!
    rode the Carratera Austral until March this year…got as far as Coyhaique but the weather turned and we went home. must go back>
    we want to go to Machu P , perhaps do the walk…but ride as well.
    any ideas?
    scott(75) Liz (65)

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