2017 Peru

Cordillera Blanca & Huayhuash

In July Rudi and I cycle in Peru for 3.5 weeks. The roads we ride go crisscross through the Cordillera Blanca and along the Huayhuash: the area with the highest concentration of five- and six-thousanders in the entire Andes. We travel through wide valleys and deep gorges, over the vast pampa, through rural areas, and of course over many high mountain passes. We travel almost 1,200 kilometers, of which about 40% on unpaved roads, and ascend nearly 23 kilometers.

Before: Flight > Bus > Acclimatize in Huaraz

There is chaos at Schiphol – and not for the first time. Apparently the airport has not prepared well for the holiday rush. We only just catch our flight. (With a better organization and signaling it could be smoother.) In the plane I am sitting next to a German who has been living in Lima for ten years. With the best intentions he tells me about his experiences. In the beginning his story is still positive, but the longer he’s talking, the more grim it gets (crime, corrupt police etc.). Not really inspiring to start a holiday.

From Lima Airport we take a taxi to bus terminal Plaza Norte. Bus company Cruz del Sur transports us and the bicycles in an excellent way at night to Huaraz (3,050 m). In this lively city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, which was totally destroyed by the Ancash earthquake in 1970, we acclimatize for two days. We take a nice walk from the city up the hill, from where we have a beautiful view on several summits reaching over 6,000 m.

Day 1: Huaraz > Caraz (70 km)

This morning we finally start our cycling trip. But just when we’re on our way, we get stuck in a protest with mainly women who are against corruption and in favor of education. Or something like that. After we have escaped the protest, we cycle to the northwest, over a largely asphalted road, which descends 800 meters in about 70 kilometers. Despite the fact that we cycle on the main road, it’s not that busy, and drivers keep sufficient distance to us.

On our right hand side we see several snow-white six-thousanders, of which the Huascaran (6,746 m) is the second highest peak on the continent. We drink with French fellow cyclists on a terrace. Following their advice we go looking for sticks to keep off annoying dogs (we are already carrying some stones). The owner of the café doesn’t understand that in Western Europe families have on average less than on two children; in Peru girls get pregnant from the age of fourteen, and the families tend to be large (and poor). We end the day in lively Caraz.

Day 2: Caraz > Santa Rosa (60 km)

Today we continue our way to the northwest. About 20 kilometers after Caraz we dive into the Canon del Pato: a narrow gorge carved out by the Rio Santa, with steep walls and peaks that reach up to one kilometer above us. There are no less than thirty-six tunnels within the next fifteen kilometers. After Hualanca we descend further to about 1,200 m. The valley here is suddenly much wider, with beautiful relief and all kinds of colors (ochre, mint green, orange) on the mountain walls. However, we don’t want to stay at this low altitude, because we haven’t been vaccinated against yellow fever and malaria.

In Yuracmarca we leave the tarmac road and take the dirt road to Santa Rosa (1,850 m). There we arrange accommodation on an upper floor of an aunt of a visitor of the shop run by Ovelia. Washing can be done in a bagno downstairs. Communicating with locals is a challenge: we recognize quite a few words (and if not, Google Translate can help), but having a conversation is difficult. Just before we go to sleep we hear the religious songs of villagers. It feels far from home here.

Day 3: Santa Rosa > Tarica (43 km)

We have breakfast in Olivia’s village shop. Then we ascend 550 meters over a sometimes bad dirt road. I don’t understand how buses can go up through some of the steeper bends full of loose sand. After about eight kilometers we reach the asphalt. We climb steadily high above the valley. On the other side we see beautiful mountains with many structures. It is quite hot: up to 47 °C in the sun.

In Yanac we stop to eat something. Prices are low here: we pay about 2.50 euros per person for a plate of soup, a plate of pasta, potatoes and chicken, two glasses of lemonade and a cup of coffee. We continue our climb up to Tarica (3,350 m) where we will stop after having climbed more than 1,700 meters. There are a lot of people on the streets of this village, including many women wearing those typical hats, vests and skirts. Everyone laughs and shouts “Gringos!” to us. We sleep in a basic hotel where pigs roar under our room window.

Day 4: Tarica > Andaymayo (52 km)

When we leave Tarica it’s much quieter than yesterday. The men have taken the bus to work, and the children have been brought to school by their mother. During the first, steep kilometers we encounter a nasty dog. Fortunately, stopping and waving the stick for a while proves to be effective. We head east, with deep down on our left the Rio Utuhuaylla. On the other side of the Abra Cahuacona pass height (4,200 m) the mountains are covered with many small fields.

In Pasacancha we eat (like every day) pollo and arroz and drink Inka Cola. Outside on the street four women in traditional costumes are knitting and chatting. They find us very interesting, because they shout all kinds of things. But we don’t understand their Quecha (officially the second language of Peru). We leave the asphalt and start a long, unpaved road through rural areas. Without exception all the people we meet, from young to old, are very friendly. We get the impression that cycling gringos are rare here.

In these rural villages people still grow their own food and live together with their animals. We see and hear dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and cows. The pigs and horses are usually standing along the road, with on leash attached to a tree or stone. Sheep walk with a shepherd through the village. Cows are led by girls from the mountain over narrow paths to the houses. Chickens walk everywhere. Few people have a car. Some children have a bicycle: quite cool in these mountains!

In the village of Pariashpampa we have a conversation with a gentleman, who teaches us the Quecha word for mujer (woman). During the next descent we avoid a few growling dogs, who make it a sport to bite into the tires of passing vehicles. In Andaymayo (3,090 m) we find a primitive room, where spiders and chickens just walk in. We mess around with the Primus stove: the leather turns out to be dehydrated, and the fuel bought in Huaraz keeps clogging the nozzle.

Day 5: Andaymayo > Pomabamba (58 km)

After breakfast on the sidewalk in front of our room we’re on our way again. The often bad road winds along the mountainside to the east. The view of the mountains on the other side, covered with many fields, is beautiful. The people are friendly, and respond to our greetings. Unfortunately we don’t see any shops open today, so we have to survive on leftovers from yesterday. After reaching Palo Seco (3,770 m) on a bad unpaved road, we end up in a kind of Scottish landscape.

The descent is much appreciated, and goes surprisingly fast. The scenery changes rapidly. We cycle mainly through forests with eucalyptus trees and it’s relatively humid here. On this side of the pass the adults often look stoic. Children on the other hand sometimes burst into laughter when they see two men in weird clothes on bicycles with panniers. In Pomabamba (2,950 m) we find a fine room in Hotel Las Begonias: a more than 100-year old house with courtyard, which withstood the severe earthquake of 1947.

Day 6: Pomabamba > Llumpa (45 km)

Last night I suddenly started to shiver and got very tired, and today I don’t have a lot of energy. That’s not so convenient, considering the almost 1,000 meters climbing over unpaved road planned for today. Fortunately, there is a lot of distraction. After Pomabamba the people are getting friendlier again and there is a lot to see. We pass several small villages, and people are working on their land. They are shaking the grain with the help of two oxen. We also see the usual cows, horses, goats, chickens, roosters, pigs, sheep, cats, dogs, donkeys etc. But no llamas…

After Huaycho we descend 300 meters to a sublime picnic spot on the Rio Lucma. After this we climb 400 meters on a sometimes steep and bad road, with lots of stones and loose sand. In Lucma (3,070 m) the shabby houses make way for a renovated plaza, with a church, park, yellow painted houses and shops. There is even a modern apartment building block. On top of it hangs a large poster stating what to do in case of an earthquake, landslide or deluge.

After Lucma we suddenly see some snow-covered peaks in the distance. According to a man waiting there, one of them is the Alpamayo, “la montana mas bonita del muendo”. From now on we keep having excellent views on beautiful mountain walls with diagonal bulges, and of course on the many little fields. Just before our final location Llumpa we see many more peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. While I arrange the overnight stay, Rudi is followed by a horde of enthusiastic boys. They would like to touch his bike, and help us carry the panniers to our rooms.

Day 7: Llumpa > Yanama (32 km)

Our overnight stay is an extension to a house with a nice courtyard, where, like elsewhere, corn cobs are drying on ropes. From here we have a beautiful view of the valley of the Rio Pomabamba. In the morning sun the many ridges of hills contrast nicely against each other. Outside Llumpa, a few kilometers after we’ve left we see a police car on the lookout, perhaps to intercept smugglers from the area east of the Cordillera Blanca, where according to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs cocaine is produced.

We continue the route down a bad, unpaved road. After a long descent we arrive at a river in this mainly dry valley. Along the Rio Yurma we climb via a number of hairpin bends. After a while we pass through villages with shops and schools. The school children are in uniform just like elsewhere in the region, and some of them have bicycles of the brand Ruta Solidaridas. At one point we see at the end of the valley the beautiful peaks of the Yanapaqcha, Chacraraju and Paria.

Halfway through the afternoon we arrive in the beautifully situated Yanama. This little town with its clean square is a nice place to stay. For the first time in days we see another tourist. There is an Evangelical Church; are the Americans trying to convert people here? From the doorway of our room in Hostel Pino we watch as two men and a woman grind straw with the help of two horses. All this against the backdrop of beautiful mountain peaks, including the Pyramid (5,885 m), a kind of Matterhorn.

Day 8: Yanama > Orkoncocha (49 km)

After breakfast we take some more pictures of the village and the somewhat misplaced church. The first part of today’s stage goes up and down, so we hardly gain altitude. This changes after the village of Vaqueria (where we see Western hikers for the first time this holiday): from now on we ascend continuously. There are thousands of loose boulders and pebbles on the road. This demands a lot of our concentration and agility, in increasingly low-oxygen circumstances. When we’ve finally dragged ourselves to the pass height of the Portachuelo de Llanganuco (4,700 m), we enjoy a magnificent view of the largest concentration of six-thousanders in South America.

The pass road down is constructed on a huge mountain wall. Seen from above, the many hairpin bends seem to be a relief after the demanding ascent. Unfortunately the road surface on this side is really bad, and we have to bounce on our unsuspended bicycles 800 meters down. There we arrive at a camping site on a meadow next to the mountain stream. After dinner, we enjoy the many thousands of stars. At night I wake up when I hear strange animal sounds. When I look outside using my headlight, I see animal eyes moving back and forth at a distance of about twenty meters. Could they be foxes?

Day 9: Orkoncocha > Caraz (44 km)

We sleep late until the sun lights up the valley at 8 am. While we are having a relaxed breakfast, the others on the camping meadow start their hike or mountain ascent. Buses arrive that drop even more hikers. But we go further down. The first part of cycling along the lake is bumpy. After the entrance of the national park the road gradually gets better, and at the lower villages we can even go cruising. From Yungay we continue on the asphalt road to Caraz. At the Plaza de Armas we find a hotel with internet (Perla de los Andes).

Day 10: Caraz > Chicarhuapunta > Caraz (80 km)

The Cordillera Negra is the barren and rugged mountain ridge west of the Cordillera Blanca. From the Negra side the view of the snowy peaks on the Blanca side of the valley is said to be fantastic. That is why today we cycle from Caraz over 2,000 meters all the way up to the pass height of the Abra Chicarhuapunta. We cycle lightly packed and over asphalt.

From the bridge over the Rio Santa, it is already quite a climb (8%) to and through the first few villages Tocash and Pueblo Libre Nuevo. In that second village two aggressive dogs are waiting for us. After that there follows an easier second part. The third quarter of the climb is irregular, sometimes steep (up to 12% in unpaved bends), and there appear more and more holes in the road. Against the steep slope, with beautiful structures from top to valley floor, we see a tiny village with fields.

In the last quarter of the climb the road becomes less steep. Here we also see the special puya raimondii. This plant occurs naturally in Peru and Bolivia, where it grows in cool highlands at an altitude of 3,200 to 4,800 meters. The flower cluster can reach a height of ten meters, with thousands of single flowers. Mid afternoon we reach the Abra Chicarhuapunta (4,314 m). During the grandiose descent we have to be very careful with all those holes in the road and the abrupt transitions between low sun and shade.

Day 11: Caraz > Laguna Paron (18 + 14 km)

We want to go to Laguna Paron: a climb of almost 2,000 meters over unpaved road, with no accommodation on the way. We decide to arrange a taxi, which will take us up the first kilometer. The bicycles, all panniers and myself are stuffed in the back of the station wagon. The driver drops us off at the barrier at the border of the national park. While we fill in some administration form, we are harassed by small stinging flies. Or rather: bite flies, because the blood just runs out.

On the bad road we cycle at a speed of only 5 km/h. Still we hardly slip anywhere – a matter of looking closely and maneuvering meter by meter. The hornets are a bigger challenge: they buzz annoyingly around our heads, and strike as soon as they get the chance. After fourteen kilometers we arrive at the mountain lake. It’s beautiful here, although we’re also a bit trapped between the steep mountains. That afternoon we make a few short walks. After that we take shelter in the refugio, where we stay together with Chileans and French people by the fireplace.

Day 12: Laguna Paron > Carhuaz (68 km)

At 7.15 am the sun rises between the Artesonraju (5,999 m) and the Chacraraju (6,108 m) and the ice layer on the tent disappears. During the long descent we ride carefully to avoid a bump, or a spoke or rim fracture. After a stop in Caraz we take the main road southeast. Between Yungay and Carhuaz we regularly encounter annoying dogs that suddenly run onto the road. Several times we have to stop and threaten to hit them Rudi with his stick, me with my PVC tube– and throw stones. We are really fed up with those dogs now.

Day 13: Carhuaz > Catac (70 km)

Today we would like to go to the Punta Olimpica, and from there tomorrow to San Luis. We’re running out of money, but Huaraz’s only ATM is broken. We now have three options: (1) cycle over the Punta Olimpica and gamble that the ATMs will work there (but if not, we have a problem), (2) catch a collectivo for 3 Sol p.p. back and forth to Huaraz (but then we’ll lose a day), or (3) cycle to Huaraz, withdraw money from an ATM  there, and next continue on to Catac, from where we can go to the Cordillera Huayhuash. It’s going to be option 3. Unfortunately it results in a day so boring that we don’t take any pictures. To make things worse, Rudi gets a nasty saddle pain.

Day 14: Catac > Chiquian (78 km)

We have breakfast in the restaurant of Hotel Yadir, which has very kind owners. The first part of our stage is a bit monotonous. The road over the pampa is mostly flat with long straight stretches, and little traffic. On our right side there is not much to see. Or perhaps there is: are those birds in in the distance condors? On our left side the view is better: above the pampa towers a mountain massif with the Caullaraju (5.682 m) as its highest peak. At one point we cycle along a vast grassy plain where tiny villages and the occasional cattle can be seen.

We have lunch in Conococha (4,110 m), after which we leave the main road to Lima and cross the grassy plain. Again there are nasty dogs that even chase us for a while. After the plain follows a short climb to Mojon (4,260 m), where we turn right. During the winding descent we see many small fields on the other side of the valley against the mountainsides. And in the distance the peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced “waiwasj”) are visible. In Chiquian we spend the night in Hotel Los Nogales: an old house with thick walls painted in bright colors, and in the courtyard is a beautiful garden.

Day 15: Chiquian > Pocpa (32 km)

In the morning we have breakfast with Marc, a Canadian in his early fifties. He lives on income from shares and rental property, and regularly cycles through South America for a few months. He is a real chatterbox, but we have to move on. We take an unpaved road to the river, from where we continue our descent through a beautiful, rough and dry valley, with cacti and other beautiful plants. At the lowest point of the week (2,620 m) we turn left and gradually climb up next to a mountain stream.

In Llamac we find with the help of a little boy a shop in Llamac that is open during siesta; I reward him with a lollipop. The local campground is behind a closed gate, so we cycle a few more kilometers to Pocpa (3,470 m). There we can camp on a field next to the stream. In front of the tiny village shop I almost get bitten by a sheepdog, that also harasses us at the tent later on. He keeps barking for a long time, at a safe distance afraid from our sticks and stones.

Day 16: Pocpa > Quartelhuain (13 km)

Finally at 9 am the sun reaches our camping spot. Rudi still suffers from saddle pain and now also his intestines, and therefore has little energy. Luckily we don’t have to cycle far today, and the road is a lot better than yesterday, although there are sometimes vicious climbs of around 10%. In the higher part of the valley we see remarkable structures in the mountains, with sometimes four different directions at a glance. In the distance snowy peaks rise up, the most striking peak being the steep Rondoy (5,870 m).

Next to the babbling mountain stream we see a small walled meadow on which an old lady straightens her back. We also pass a mine and miners village. There a man with a pickaxe asks us for food, but unfortunately we hardly have anything with us. All the time we cycle next to the Cordillera Huayhuash. In this area there are three six-thousanders and countless five-thousanders, often with very steep, snowy walls. Here is one of the most beautiful hiking trails on the continent. It is also known from the book ‘Touching the Void’ by Joe Simpson. We laze and camp on the vast meadow of Quartelhuain (4,170 m).

Day 17: Quartelhain > Hualanca (37 km)

The sun doesn’t show up behind the mountains until late. When we start cycling all the hikers and donkey men are already on their way up the mountain. This morning the road was sprayed by a tank truck, allowing the heavily loaded trucks from the mine to cross the pass. The mud makes our bikes quite dirty. During the climb to the Cuncush we have the striking Rondoy behind us all the time. The last part to the pass height (4,600 m) is quite steep (9 to 11%). After the first, bumpy part of the descent we pass a very high mine. In Hualanca (3,550 m) we eat as much as we can, as we have only had noodles and crackers today.

Day 18: Hualanca > Carpa (67 km)

We have breakfast in the ice-cold restaurant of our hotel. Next to us sit contractors who probably work for the mines around here. Just like them we eat a huge bowl of chicken soup containing a potato, a boiled egg and lots of spaghetti. The first part of the stage goes over asphalt from Hualanca to Yanashalla. On the way there is a lot of mining activity to be seen. They dig the mountains bit by bit. For the first time in the distance we see many llamas on a mountain meadow.

At the pass height of From Yanashalla (4,690 m) we turn right onto an unpaved road, which at 4,880 m reaches its highest point. After that the road keeps going up and down for a long time around 4,800 m. The views are truly phenomenal. We see peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash and the Cordillera Blanca, with the Huantsan (6,395 m) standing out, some 40 kilometers away. The more nearby mountains have peculiar shapes and beautiful colors. There are also funny bright green clumps of grass on a soggy surface. On the shady side of the mighty Huarapasca (5,418 m) we see a frozen waterfall and ice on the fens. The last pass of the day goes right between two five-thousanders.

After this we have to descend for almost 20 kilometers. With the setting sun right in front of us it is very difficult to find the ideal track. Just when the sun sets, we pass through an area with lots of puya raimondii. It is a shame we can’t take a picture of them anymore. We stop at the Carpa visitor center. That is already closed, but we can pitch our tent behind the building. That does require some attention: the grass is razor-sharp, and there are plant stakes that can pierce right through the groundsheet and air mattresses.

Day 19: Carpa > Chavin (89 km)

We get up early, eat a cake, ignore the local women with tourist goods, and rush down to Catac. The area is boring and the gravel road is bad, so we’re relieved to reach the asphalt road again. After Catac we cycle past a bistro where two dogs come running up the road. Rudi throws a stone at one of the dogs: actually too far, but because the dog is frightened by the throwing movement, he still gets it against his head. Oh dear…

Then the climb begins. The strong headwind makes me develop saddle pain. The rather boring landscape suddenly changes at Laguna Querococha, which is beautifully situated at the beginning of a valley with the peaks of the Yanamarey (5,200 m). There is even a bistro – quite unusual for this area, where you usually just have to figure it out yourself. The third part of the long climb goes through a green valley, which has nothing to offer apart from the road and a few cows and horses. So we’re glad when we arrive at the 500 meter long Tunnel de Kahuish (4,660 m).

On the other side of the tunnel is a huge white statue of Cristo de los Andes. The road down turns out to be a gravel road with an occasional patches of old asphalt. The cars and busses produce huge clouds of dust, which at some point cover part of the valley. In the descent the dogs are tricky from time to time, especially when they threaten to run on the road just in front of the bike. At the destination Chavin (3,170 m) we take up residence in Hotel Inca at the Plaza de Armas.

Day 20: Rest day Chavin

Today we have a rest day in Chavin. In the hotel there are archaeologists from the USA and Italy, who’ve come here for the ruins. In our hotel there is a courtyard with a garden, a parrot, a long-eared owl, and a little further away a vegetable garden and chickens. That’s how they often do it in Peru: just grow their own food and keep animals for local consumption. We sleep late and wash our clothes. We also clean our bicycles. Rudi does that in the territory of a ram on a leash, that is first friendly, then annoyingly curious, and after some time downright aggressive.

Around the Plaza de Armas there are beautiful old houses with balconies. We have brunch in the cozy Café Renato. Further on in town we see a huge bus terminal, which contrasts sharply with the relative poverty of the immediate surroundings. Along the road is a pile of crates with densely packed chickens, under the shelter they are slaughtered under the roof, a little further on they sell plucked chickens (and eggs), and next to that are the pollarias. A very efficient process, and not as shielded and clinical as in the Netherlands.

Day 21: Chavin > Huari (38 km)

Today we want to cycle up the hills along an unpaved route to Huari. But as soon as I sit down on my saddle I feel an enormous pain. Apparently this is due to the stage two days earlier, during the long climb when I took a different position to avoid saddle pain. Because of the sharp pain, today’s hobby stage is suddenly not an option. So we opt for the easy asphalt road through the valley. This road is rather boring, with the only highlights being the high mountains that rise above us after San Marcos and an oncoming cyclist from Spain.

In the lively town of Huari we stroll all afternoon. On the sidewalk in front of our hotel, on the square El Parque, music is coming from a big loudspeaker. Encouraged by their teacher in a North Korean way, children practice a march in honor of the national holiday that will be celebrated in two days’ time. It promises to be a beautiful spectacle. By the way, it strikes me that youngsters here dress quite modern – sometimes even hip. Are these children from higher educated parents who work here in the police, court or bank? In any case, they stand out from the older ‘mountain people’ who are still traditionally dressed.

Day 22: Huari > San Luis (61 km, by bus)

Today we take the bus to San Luis. Climbing 1,300 meters by bike on more than 60 kilometers of unpaved road is not something to look forward because of the pain I still feel. Furthermore, we’ve read that wild camping wouldn’t be safe on this route. However, taking a bus is not as easy as we’d imagined:

– The poster of the bus company lists a departure time of 1 pm. We report ourselves at the departure point half an hour before. They refer us to a van, so we wait there. The candy and soda selling ladies standing there are making fun of us, and gesture that we need to fasten the bicycles on the roof in advance.

– At a certain moment the driver shows up: we can indeed load the stuff onto the van. So Rudi climbs on the roof and fixes the bicycles and bags. Now we’re ready to go! However, the driver mumbles something about leaving later and almuerzo (lunch) and disappears.

– By now it is 2 pm. Other passengers come and drop their stuff in the bus. Still other passengers with a baby arrive. Someone is talking about leaving at 3 pm. Passengers report and walk away again. Someone else drops an envelope. A girl puts a box of squeaky chickens in the bus.

– At 4 pm we finally leave… but stop for another 20 minutes a little bit further. Then the driver goes all over the city, and picks up a few more ladies loaded with stuff. Then we finally drive out of town. However, after just two kilometers we stop for fifteen minutes, until finally someone else arrives.

– We finally leave Huari at 4.30 pm. We’re sitting in the van, with the driver, fifteen adults, a couple of babies and a lot of boxes and bags. The two traditionally-dressed chicken-eating local ladies are continuously laughing at us gringos.

– The road to San Luis over the pass height (4,300 m) is long, bad, and in terms of landscape not very interesting. Houses along the road are brown due to all the sand. It was the right decision not to cycle here.

We are glad when we finally arrive in San Luis at 7.30 pm, find a hotel and have a quick meal somewhere.

Day 23: San Luis > Chacas (22 km)

Today we ride an ultra-short stage to Chacas. After a few kilometers we finally say goodbye to the bad road surface; from here on we will be cycling on asphalt only! In Chacas (3,380 m) we take up residence in Hostal Pilar: an old house with a beautiful old roof, large wooden beams, a courtyard and nicely decorated rooms. In the afternoon we visit the small archaeological museum under the church. Guided by survey maps and objects we see how the Recuay, Wari and Inca civilizations have developed up to the time of the Spanish conquests.

Day 24: Chacas > Carhuaz (80 km)

Today the climb of the Punta Olimpica is on the program. The road rises very gradually, at about 6%. We see more and more snow-covered mountains, and after a couple of hours of cycling we bump into an enormous mountain wall with high mountains around the Contrahierbas (6,036 m). We go in a series of hairpin bends a few hundred meters up to the tunnel (4,740 m). Here we have a beautiful 360 degree view on five- and six-thousanders. There are a lot of vacationers from Peru here: it’s the first national holiday of the season, and people are heading for the mountains.

We don’t go through the tunnel, but instead take the old pass road, which goes 200 meters higher. The tunnel was opened in 2013, but the old pass road is already in bad shape. In quite a few places there are big stones on the road and we have to walk; I wouldn’t be surprised if passing it by bike will be impossible in a few years’ time. On top of the pass (4,890 m) we go through a kind of ‘gate’ between the high peaks. On the other side we enjoy a magnificent panorama, with right in front of us the Chopicalqui (6,354 m) and Huascaran (6,768 m), and further north many other high peaks.

The descent is phenomenal. From the tunnel height we descend 50 kilometers over smooth asphalt. Near Carhuaz I want to take a picture of sheep against the background of the Huascaran, when a local woman steps towards me grinning strangely. “Pagan, pagan!”, she shouts, followed by something in Quecha. She wants to take my gloves, grabs my pannier and pulls on my helmet. I’m confused: I understand that I can’t just take pictures of people, but do I really have to pay for a picture with sheep?! Zucht… Still somewhat stunned we find a hotel room in the most lively street of Carhuaz.

Day 25: Carhuaz > Huaraz (34 km)

Today we cycle the last short stage to Huaraz. The busy traffic confirms that the Peruvians are on holiday and go out en masse. It doesn’t make cycling more fun, but fortunately we don’t have to pedal far. When we arrive in Huaraz many hotels appear to be booked completely full. Eventually we find a beautiful spot in Hotel Jacal, close to the city center. The cycling holiday is over!

After: Hike (Refugio Ishinca) > Bus > Flight

We have a few days left before we fly back. We decide to go for a walk to Refugio Ishinca and stay there for a few days. We have arranged backpacks, and got some provisions. We take a collectivo on the main road from Huaraz to Paltay. Near that village a taxi drives us on a dirt road to the start of the hike which is 500 meters higher.

The footpath is well laid out, and goes up along a stream more than 1,000 meters. The Refugio Ishinca (4,380 m) and the camping field only come into sight at the very last moment. The refugio is quite luxurious, with a bar, dining room, accommodation for 40 people, neat sanitary facilities, and a nice terrace. The mountain hut, together with some other refugios in the Cordillera Blanca, is owned by Don Bosco Andes 6000, an Italian foundation dedicated to the economic development of the region.

The next day we walk to the Refugio Vivaque, which is situated near the Laguna Ishinca (4,965 m). The path is good, and offers nice views of the big valley. At the refugio we have a view to the east of not too steep, snowy five-thousanders, and behind the Laguna Ishinca the imposing Ranrapalca (6,162 m) rises high. After coffee and sandwiches in the Refugio Ishinca Rudi climbs to the glacial lakes situated on top of a moraine hill.

On the third hiking day on our way back just after Pashpa, we get a lift to Huaraz. Lucky us!

Afterwards we pack our bikes and take the excellent night bus from Cruz del Sur to Lima. There, after a long day at the airport, we take the plane to the Netherlands.


DayStageDistance (km)Elevation gain (m)Unpaved
1Huaraz > Caraz704460%
2Caraz > Santa Rosa6076515%
3Santa Rosa > Tarica431,72630%
4Tarica > Andaymayo521,05745%
5Andaymayo > Pomabamba58972100%
6Pomabamba > Llumpa45958100%
7Llumpa > Yanama321,03895%
8Yanama > Orkoncocha491,429100%
9Orkoncocha > Caraz446470%
10Caraz > Chicarhuapunta > Caraz802,1040%
11aCaraz > Pueblo Paron (taxi)181,22595%
11bPueblo Paron > Laguna Paron14887100%
12Laguna Paron > Carhuaz6867525%
13Carhuaz > Catac701,2030%
14Catac > Chiquian789680%
15Chiquian > Pocpa32935100%
16Pocpa > Quartelhuain13709100%
17Quartelhain > Hualanca37547100%
18Hualanca > Carpa671,64760%
19Carpa > Chavin891,04630%
20Chavin (rest day)
21Chavin > Huari386410%
22Huari > San Luis (taxi)611,426100%
23San Luis > Chacas2262515%
24Chacas > Carhuaz801,6350%
25Carhuaz > Huaraz345960%
TotalExcluding taxi1,17522,67338%
Including taxi1,25425,32444%