Welcome to my blog post on Peru! Because we spent so much time here, I’ve decided to split it into separate posts, with this being a sort of overall summary. So please, read on to find out more…
I’ve written each individual post in four parts: a summary of what we did with some statistics (because, at heart, I am a stats geek); a wordy blog post; a map and elevation profile of the route we took; and then a photoblog, where you can find all the pretty pictures and witty captions.This main page doesn’t have a photoblog, as it would just duplicate what’s in the individual blogs.
The contents of this main post are:
What we did in Peru
So before I get started, here’s a little summary of what we did in Peru. By the way, this all translates to a hell of a lot of climbing!
- Days spent in Peru: 94
- Of which biking or hiking days: 64
- Of which rest days: 24
- Of which transport days: 6
- Nights slept in Peru: 93
- Of which under a roof: 64
- Of which in a tent: 27
- Of which on a bus: 2
- Days cycled : 43
- Distance covered: 2,854 km (trip total =8,078 km / 5,019 miles)
- Total elevation gain: 40.6 km (about 85% of a Tour de France)
- Max daily distance: 143 km
- Max daily elevation gain: 2.7 km
- Max altitude reached: 4,980 m above sea level
- Max altitude slept at: 4,747 m
- Days hiked : 23
- Distance covered: 368 km (a bit more than 2x the South Downs Way)
- Total elevation gain: 18.5 km (a lot more than 2x the South Downs Way)
- Max daily distance: 26 km
- Max daily elevation gain: 1.8 km
- Max altitude reached: 5,098 m above sea level
- Max altitude slept at: 4,642 m
I thought I’d start this post with a quote from the Big Sur blog, provider of much inspiration to us both before and during our trip (including the route for our first week’s riding in Peru): “give us a few weeks in a new country and chances are we will soon be extolling its virtues to anyone that will listen. “We love [insert name of latest country here]! The food is delicious, the scenery is beautiful, and the people – well, the people are just sooooo friendly!”.” Sounds familiar? It’s with the benefit of hindsight that I realise my own previous blog posts may at times have descended into similar saccharine nonsense. Especially when most of my (many, I’m sure!) readers are probably tuning in from their office computers, wanting nothing more than to stick a big needle into a voodoo doll with my face on every time I say how amazing something I’ve done on my really long holiday has been. So, how better to start this one than with just how awful cycling in Peru has really been?
In fact, there is a lot to dislike about cycle touring in Peru. For example: I don’t know too many people who enjoy being chased by packs of large dogs every day. Or being kept awake by their barking almost every night, even when seemingly miles away from any form of civilisation. Or, if the dogs are having a night off, being kept awake anyway by stereos blasting out the mega-popular Chicha music (a curious mix of Andean folk, reggae and rock music) – especially on Sundays, when Peruvians seem to prepare for the week ahead by staying up all night getting drunk. Or being woken up the next morning by the incessant beeping horns of shared taxis and buses kerb-crawling for business. Or, even if you’ve managed to get a good night’s sleep, being subjected to some of the most out-of-tune, out-of-time brass band music I’ve heard since I was first trombone in my school’s jazz orchestra, every afternoon in every highland town and village plaza.
Or being called ‘gringo’ constantly, often in quite an aggressive way and often whilst simultaneously being wolf whistled at. Or being asked the same three questions – ‘a donde (se) van’ (where are you going), ‘de donde vienen’ (where are you coming from) and ‘de donde son’ (where are you from) dozens of times every day by people at the side of the road, in cars, in shops, you name it. Or Peruvian food.All this talk about Peru being the gastronomic heartland of South America couldn’t seem further from the truth when all you can find in most towns at night is fried chicken, pasta broth, an endless selection of stale cakes, or the dreaded salchipapas (see my Bolivia post), all to be washed down with a huge helping of Inca Kola, the mega-popular Peruvian take on Irn Bru. And god knows why most restaurants bring the starter and main to the table at exactly the same time, but never the drink. And… well, trust me, this list could definitely go on, but I’ll stop as doubtless the length of the last two paragraphs has already cost me about half of that big readership of mine.
But – and you knew this was coming, didn’t you – who am I really kidding? Peru is of course a bloody fantastic country – and especially for cycle touring. And if you don’t want to hear/read it, tough! As you will read – if you have the perseverance to get to the end of this series of blog posts, Peru really does have it all: soaring snow-capped mountains, plunging canyons, lush tropical valleys, golden beaches, emerald lakes, and sweat-drenched tropical jungle; beautiful colonial towns, traditional highland villages and breathtaking Inca ruins; awesome, rugged dirt roads and remote hiking trails as well as some of the best tarmac on the continent (I’m running out of adjectives here); friendly faces at every turn; and, best of all, ceviche!
In this amazing country we cycled almost 3,000km, climbed the equivalent of about 50 Mount Snowdons, camped on more than 25 nights in some of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine, and ended up overstaying our visa – quite a feat when it lasted for three months. We also hit the major milestone of 5,000 miles on the road just an hour or so before crossing into Ecuador. So now, without further ado, I’m going to try to achieve the impossible and do justice to Peru in less than an encyclopaedia’s worth of text.
Peru is one hell of a big country, and we could have chosen any of hundreds of different possible routes from Bolivia to Ecuador, our ultimate destination. Ours ended up being chosen somewhat organically, with plans often changing at the very last minute, as a result of reading blogs or the excellent andesbybike website, talking to fellow cyclists, and (most commonly) clicking on the next place we’d like to go on strava or ridewithgps.com’s route planners and seeing what happened.
The result was that we began by skirting the lesser-cycled west coast of lake Titicaca before turning off the asphalt onto the dirt roads heading the back way towards the great Inca capital of Cusco. After locking the bikes away to do some trekking (including, of course, to the incredible Machu Picchu), we got back on the saddles and headed over the Andes and down to the deep jungle in Peru’s drug trafficking/terrorism heartland on a road that’s just a few years old and wasn’t even on our Michelin paper map. Still alive and in one piece, we climbed back up to the mountains in the back seat of a pickup truck, before setting off on the dirt again towards the awesome Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash mountain ranges.
After downing pedals for a second time to do a couple of weeks’ more mountain trekking, we took to the tarmac once more and in three long days, descended a dizzying 3,000 vertical metres to the Pan-American highway on the west coast of the continent – completing our South American coast-to-coast in the process. We celebrated by taking a bus to Lima, and after eating lots of food we took another one north to Piura to avoid some of the arduous (and dangerous) coastal desert cycling. Our final leg involved cycling along the pacific coast and more of the Pan-Am to to the Ecuadorian border, via the surfing mecca of Mancora.
Here’s a map and altitude profile of our route that I’ve made using a combination of the gps files from Charlie’s Garmin device, the ridewithgps.com route planner, and a bit of artistic license!
Links to individual posts
Here are the links to each individual blog post. You can also follow the links on the bottom of each page if you want to read them in turn. Some haven’t been written yet, they will be on their way soon.
- Let the Climbing Begin: Riding from Lake Titicaca to Cusco
- From Biking to Hiking: The Wilderness Trail to Machu Picchu and Choquiquerao
- Awesome Ausangate: Trekking Around (Probably) Peru’s Most Beautiful Mountain
- The Mighty Jungle: Cycling from Cusco to Ayacucho, the Unconventional way
- The Greater Divide: Off-roading it (Mostly) to Huaraz
- Walking in the Wilderness: Trekking the Huayhuash circuit
- An Andean Summer: Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca
- Back to the Ocean: The Canon del Pato, Lima and the Coastal Roads to Ecuador