Peru is a fantastic cycling country for those who love mountains, winding roads, cycling above 4,000 meters, a lively culture and beautiful views. There are dozens of beautiful cycling routes in Peru, from well-paved roads to dirt roads without any traffic. For us, one of the most beautiful cycle routes in Peru was the road from Huanuco to Huaraz, along the Cordillera Blanca. The cycle route is 335 kilometers when you choose the paved road, and 275 kilometers when you cycle through the Huascaran National Park.
We started the route in Huanuco, the gate to the Amazon. They claim that they have the best climate in the world. Huanuco is at 1,900 meters altitude and during the day is indeed pleasantly warm. From Huanuco you climb up a small dirt road along the river. It is a beautiful route with, especially in the beginning, very steep sections. After the climb, you will descend on a perfectly paved road, following a beautiful route along the Rio Marañon and the Rio San Juan. From La Union the long climb to the Abra Yannashallash starts, reaching to 4,689 meters. At the top you have two options: asphalt or unpaved.
- The unpaved route passes through the national park. If you take the unpaved route, you cycle past glaciers, beautiful snow capped peaks and you, almost, only descend towards Huaraz. The quality of the road is poor and the descent requires a lot of cycling and body. The highest point on this route is at 4,872 meters. Because you cycle through the National Park Huascaran, you have to pay an entrance fee for the park. In 2018 this was 30 soles (€ 8) for one day.
- The asphalted route makes a loop around the south of the national park. On the asphalted route you get a beautiful descent along the snowy peak of the Wallanka. Then follows a heavy and steep climb of 15 kilometers, after which you have a long descent to Huaraz. The loop around the park is about 45 kilometers longer than the dirt road through the park.
Most cyclists opt for the unpaved route, but we took the asphalt because a long descent with our thin tires is very uncomfortable. Moreover, we would go hiking in the national park for four days so we had the beautiful views coming up the next days. The 335 kilometers took us 5 days.
Day 1: Huanuco to Pampas | 45 kilometers | 2000 vertical meters climbing
Day 2: Pampas to Pachas 78.5 kilometers | 1660 vertical meters climbing
Day 3: Pachas to Huanzala 53 kilometers | 1280 vertical meters climbing
Day 4: Huanzala to Road to Huaraz 100 kilometers | 1750 vertical meters climbing
Day 5: to Huaraz | 60 kilometers | 170 vertical meters climbing
Total: 335 kilometers | 6850 vertical meters climbing
Most world cyclists cycle from north to south and start in Huaraz. From here you have to climb less altitude meters and you can cycle to Huanuco in four days.
There are beautiful camping spots on the entire route, almost always next to a river. Only on the first day the climb is steep and there are hardly any flat grounds to be found. There is nothing else than cycling until you are in a village, where you can set up the tent on a soccer field. We had a lot of rain on the first three days, but always found a place to sleep inside. That's how we slept in the police station for one night, in the house of a primary school teacher and in an empty store room. In the larger villages there are hospedajes, where you can find a room from 20 soles (€ 5).
After five hard days you arrive in Huaraz and you can treat yourself with a comfortable hotel. We stayed in guesthouse Casa de Zarela. It is a beautiful hotel with comfortable beds, a hot shower, nice rooms and a nice breakfast. In the months of July and August the hotel is full of climbers from all over the world and there is a cozy mountain atmosphere. It is the place to get more information about hikes and climbing routes in the national park.
The route is full of small and larger villages where there is always food to be found. Even in the smallest villages they often have a small restaurant where you can get an almuerzo (lunch) or a cena (dinner). A small shop with the basic necessities such as pasta, rice, bread and bananas can be found everywhere. We always bought our food on the day and never had to climb the mountain with kilos of food. If you choose the unpaved route through the park, Huallanca is the last village you will encounter. You will have to bring food for two days because you probably spend a night in the park.
As easy as you can find food, it can be so difficult sometimes to get drinkable water. The water of the rivers in Peru is contaminated by large-scale, unregulated mining. The local inhabitants never drink water from the tap in most of the villages that lie downstream of the mine. They cook it first before they drink it. In Huanuco we drank water from the tap and the day after we were sick in bed with heavy diarrhea. Often you can ask for boiled water or buy bottled water. Filters or tablets to purify the water are certainly recommended in Peru. Higher in the mountains, often above 4,000 meters, the water is not polluted and drinkable.
The winter months, June to September, are normally the dry months in Peru, but in the mountains it is unpredictable again. In good weather there are several beautiful camping spots along the route. We were unlucky with the weather and had a lot of rain at the end of each day. Yet we found everywhere a place to sleep inside, albeit primitive, but dry. A large part of the route is above 4,000 meters where it cools down at night. During the day it is pleasant to cycle, especially when there is sun, but at night you need a warm sleeping bag.