Peru part 1: Let the climbing begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco (03-11 Sep 2016)

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What we did

Blog Post

Route Map and Altitude Profile



What we did

Here’s a few stats about what we did on this leg:

  • Days taken: 9 (including 1 rest day)
  • Distance cycled: 596 km
  • Total elevation gain: 5,060m
  • Max daily distance: 103km
  • Max daily elevation gain: 1,122m
  • Max altitude reached: 4,850m
  • Max altitude slept at: 4,747m (highest in Peru)
  • Nights spend under a roof (in a tent): 7 (2)


Blog post

Our first target after crossing into Peru was the great Inca capital and now modern cosmopolitan city of Cusco; gateway to Machu Picchu, regional cultural and culinary center, and the proverbial first name on the teamsheet when most tourists draw up their itineraries for a trip to Peru. And just the odd 500km away.

After completing the immigration formalities, our journey actually began with quite a boring ride on the flatlands skirting the west side of lake Titicaca (I know, cry me a river/lake), on a road that got progressively busier and against a headwind that became progressively stronger as we drew closer to the end of the flat altiplano and the beginning of the mountains that would be our home for most of the next three months.

This part of Peru is famous for its indigenous Quechua-speaking communities, and while we did see some interesting traditional village life at some of the colourful regional markets along the way, our most interesting – and useful – cultural insight was of the importance of Sunday lunch, whereby, as we discovered on our second day in the country, come around 1:30pm every Sunday, Peru’s city dwellers (in this case, those from Puno) descend on nearby towns and villages to feast on something deep fried (usually pork, fish, duck or guinea pig) whilst glugging beer or ‘gaseosas’ – the local name for carbonated drinks, by far the most popular being the Irn Bru rip-off Inca Kola. So, after making the mistake of eating our staple lunch of about 8 cheese sandwiches this first time around, on almost every Sunday since we’ve done our best to join in the fun and games.

After stopping off in regional capital Puno for a day to see the famous floating reed islands – traditional homes of the indigenous Uros people that were used literally to float away from foreign invaders, and that now seem to exist only as a way to trap unsuspecting tourists offshore so they can be flogged reed-based souvenirs – we decided to turn off the main highway, and to reach our destination via a series of mostly unpaved back roads. Our route was inspired largely by the sprawling and beautiful Big Sur blog that we’ve been intermittently working our way through over the last six months, and the fact that the main highway was quite uninspiring. This added on a few extra days and more than a few extra beads of sweat – and as we toiled up and over the first of what would be many 1,000+ metre climbs we did question whether it was really worth it. But the following five-and-a-half days turned out to be some of our favourites of the trip so far: on the way we passed some remote precolumbian ruins, unspoilt colonial villages – in particular Juli, Lampa and Andahuaylillas with their beautifully preserved 17th century churches – a series of picture-postcard lakes on Peru’s own mini-lagunas route near the village of Acopia, and the first of many spectacular deep canyons as we dropped back down to the main highway outside of our final destination, Cusco.

Away from the beautiful scenery, Peru did have a few less welcome surprises in store. These mostly revolved around – you guessed it – the food. On our first night, in the pretty colonial village of Juli, our dreams of spending the next three months indulging in the delights of the Novo Andean cuisine that we’d heard so much about were brought crashing down when the only restaurants that were open were doing fried chicken, and thanks to Peru’s Lima-centric time zone, they were all shutting up for the night by around 7pm. The one that was still open transpired – after keeping us waiting for over an hour – to have run out of chicken, and a rather regretful argument ensued which may or may not have involved the owner chasing us down the road. Next we discovered that one of our on-the-road staples – pate – isn’t sold in Peru, with its shelf space taken over by cans of tuna and evaporated milk, which together must make up more than half the stock of most of the country’s food shops. And finally, hoping to find an array of interesting and delicious local delicacies on sale at the central market in Puno, we were a little miffed to find out that the local delicacy was ‘caldo de cabeza’ – a starchy rice and potato soup poured over a whole boiled sheep’s head!

(I should say that the food on this leg wasn’t all bad: we did discover an ice cream version of the amazing sublime chocolate bars that are basically like a snickers but better, and we also had our first taste of the quite incredible alfajores, which are essentially a load of caramel sandwiched between two biscuits and coated in icing sugar. Also, Charlie makes a mean tuna and tomato pasta, obvs).

Lastly, in case you’re interested, for accommodation we wild camped (i.e., by the side of the road) a couple of times, and otherwise stayed in ‘hospedajes’, ‘hostals’, or ‘alojamientos’ – basic guesthouses whose names seem to be completely interchangeable. The camping was a lot more fun, and we vowed to do more of it in Peru than we’d done before (this wouldn’t be hard). The weather also continued to be great – by the time we reached Cusco we’d had about 2 hours of rain in the past 75 days.


Route map and altitude profile

Here’s another one of those fancy maps and altitude profiles that I made with the rather too much time I’ve had on my hands recently. In case you didn’t know, we were travelling from South East to North West.


Map of our route from Titicaca to Cusco


And here’s a fancy altitude profile I made – you can view a larger version here



Welcome to Peru!


It all began with a long, flat, smoothly paved road. Better not get too used to this!

Most of what we found in the local shops was canned tuna and evaporated milk, with lots of brands and types to choose from! These photos were taken in the respective aisles of a Lima supermarket, but you get the point

Me sampling some of the local liquid delicacies: first, a raspadilla, which is basically a slush puppy. Second, a ‘jugo especial’ which is a pretty serious concoction made with, amongst other things, papaya, peach, carrot, egg, algarrobina (a kind of syrup), evaporated milk, sugar and malt beer!


Unfortunately that great north headwind was out in force again and our progress was quite slow. Here’s Charlie cycling well under the minimum speed limit!


We stopped in Puno for the day to go to the Floating Reed Islands – traditional homes of the Uros people hiding from and sometimes literally floating away from the Spanish and other invaders, and Lonely Planet’s number 2 thing to do in Peru. Things started to go wrong when despite trying to visit the islands independently, we were made to wait until a boat filled up with foreign tourists


Once on the islands, we were sat in a circle and given a 15 minute sales pitch for a proverbial catalogue of reed-themed trinket souvenirs, before being whisked off to the local ‘restaurant’, and then just as quickly back to terra firma. In a rare free moment I did, however, manage to sneak up a watchtower and capture this pretty special view of the place


Although we were a little underwhelmed by Puno, it sure has a beautiful setting on the shores of the great lake, and we were sad to leave


After turning off the main highway, we first paid a quick visit the spectacular precolombian funerary towers of Sillustani


And found a picture-perfect spot for another avocado sandwich lunch


This would be our final day riding on the flat altiplano that began back in Bolivia


Late that night we arrived in the colonial village of Lampa, which was (in a good way) seemingly stuck in the 1600s. The church in particular was stunning and seemed to have been untouched by the centuries


With the church being closed to visitors, we promptly began our first big climb in Peru, 980 altimetres up to a pass above the village of Vilavila


Our typical on-the-road lunch – avocado, tomato and absolutely loads of bread


With the road in bad nick and us being a little out of mountain pass practice, we didn’t quite make the top that evening, and had to wild camp at the side of the road. But hey, it wasn’t a bad spot


The next morning we made for the pass bright and early. Here’s Charlie struggling her way to the top!


And on the other side, we were confronted with more beautiful open road


After a night in the uninspiring village of Hector Tejada, we soon hit a bit of tarmac near El Descanso, where Charlie decided to have an impromptu costume change


A few moments later, we were passed by a convoy of motorbikers led by one Billy “biketruck” Ward. Turns out they were on a ‘Ride with Charley Boorman’ (I.e. the guy from Long Way Round and Long Way Down who’s mates with Ewan McGregor, and quite a hero of (my) Charlie’s), but Mr Boorman had managed to break his legs some weeks before and so he’d been replaced by the mildly famous cameraman from those shows Claudio von Planta! I did tell Billy the slightly plagiaristic name of my blog, so if this site gets taken offline in the near future you’ll know why


Up and over another pass, we were greeted by this stunning view of Laguna Langui below us


We soon turned off the pavement once more, to begin our final big climb before Cusco. The weather had been stunning for weeks now, and the riding was truly idyllic


Yet again we failed to make the top of the hill that day, and yet again we didn’t care! Our expensive MSR tent was finally beginning to get some use


The next morning, the views towards the town of Yanaoca were spectacular


And the descent was unforgettable, as we let go of the brakes and raced through pine forest to the valley floo


In Yanaoca we finally discovered a South American town that had showed some interest in the olympics! Pretty sure one of those is Wiggo…

Our final piece of riding before rejoining the highway was some of our favourite in the whole trip – a beautifully paved, wonderfully quiet, winding road past four brilliant blue Andean lakes, it really could be Peru’s own ‘lagunas route’


Beautiful view approaching the last of the four lagunas


After a vertiginous descent back to the highway, it was headwind o’clock once more. But the road itself was pretty spectacular


And again, lunch spots were hardly at a premium


Our final evening stop before Cusco was the beautiful village of Andahuaylillas, famous primarily for its spectacular cathedral


Just before Cusco, we passed my idea of heaven – Oropesa, Peru’s bread capital! There were hundreds of types of bread in all shapes and sizes on sale here; though we regretfully spent our spare change on a rather disappointing giant pretzel


Being Sunday, we indulged in a huge and delicious lunch of chicharron (fried pork) served with canchitas (fried corn) in one of the villages just outside Cusco. But being drunk by the time the food arrived, we didn’t take any photos. Shortly after getting back on the road we wobbled into the magnificent city of Cusco. This is the cathedral on the main plaza, built in 1654

Next: From biking to hiking: the wilderness trail to Machu Picchu and Choquiquerao >>>


2 thoughts on “Peru part 1: Let the climbing begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco (03-11 Sep 2016)

  1. Pingback: Peru part 2: From biking to hiking: the wilderness trail to Machu Picchu and Choquiquerao (12-23 Sep 2016) | Long way up

  2. Pingback: Peru (03 Sep – 05 Dec 2016) | Long way up

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