Having been cycle-touring for a while now, I realise that although I find every day a challenge in one way or another, it barely scratches the surface in comparison to the feats of other cyclists.

For example: the couple who completed the 2500 mile Great Divide Mountain Bike route in the US on a unicycle; the family who left home for a true Latin American adventure together; the Spaniard who has been riding his bike around the world for the last seven and a half years; the Australian who always, always finds the back road alternative no matter how hard; the French couple who do it by tandem, or the Canary Islanders who gave up backpacking, built their own touring bikes out of recycled parts, adopted a puppy, strapped her to the front of the bike and set off for the mountains.

We have met all of the above cyclists on our trip (except for the unicyclists who I would just love to share a beer with) and more, who continue to inspire us, challenge us and show us that there are so many different facets to bicycle touring.

For my part, after two years I simply continue to enjoy the ride, to be amazed at new landscapes, continue to love meeting new people – cyclists and locals. If we can follow just some of the tyre tracks of those who inspire us, and absorb some of that incredible energy, we’ll have enough steam to get us to Patagonia.

The latest leg of our trip was not lacking in inspirational landscapes or people and as the road brought us nearer to the mythical Cordillera Blanca, the thrill of the ride never waned.


Ladies in the square at Namora, Peru

Leaving Cajamarca, our morning stop in the square at Namora has us admiring an array of hats.

Condor statues in Condormarca, Peru

By lunchtime, we are admiring the condor statues at Condormarca – unfortunately none of the real birds make an appearance.

People gathered in the main square at Cajabamba, Peru

The pattern repeats: more hats, this time with the ubiquitous pot of Peruvian jelly…

Statue of Virgin Mary at Cajabamba, Peru

…and more statues; an enormous Virgin Mary marks the entrance to Cajabamba.

Man making tiles outside Cajabama, Peru

Into the rural fields outside of Cajabama and James gets a whirlwind intro to tile making; moulded out of earth, sand and water…

Tiles drying in the sun outside Cajabama, Peru

…left to dry in the sun…

Traditional tiled house near Cajabamba, Peru

…they eventually make a picturesque roof. 

Maize drying in front of a painted wall near Huamachucho, Peru

A classic Latin American view as we pass through the regrettably named Shitabamba: maize kernels drying on sheets in the sun and political campaigning painted directly onto the walls of houses.

Sarah cycling up to the ruins at Marcahuamachuco, Peru

We unload the bikes at Huamachuco and make the 10km rocky climb up to the pre-Inca ruins at Marcahuamachuco…

Funeral building ruins at Marcahuamachuco, Peru

…where we find they buried their ancestors in funeral towers with incredible views.

Mototaxis in Huamachuco, Peru

Back down in Huamachuco, we weave through hundreds of mototaxis…

Lady at the market in Huamachuco, Peru

…to get to the market for supplies – before all the vendors nod off for their afternoon siesta.

Sarah trying to decide which track to ride near Huamachuco, Peru

More than once on this section we are scratching our heads about which of the identical unsigned tracks to take…

Sarah asking for directions near Cachicadán, Peru

…and when there’s someone on hand to ask it’s always a relief.

Sarah's old and new tyres.

After 21,000km another rocky descent is one too many for my front tyre. Not bad for two years of rough riding. So we swap a Marathon Extreme (now discontinued) for a Marathon Mondial – initial impressions are that it doesn’t seem to offer as much grip, but we’ll see how it goes.

Man next to burning stacks of hay near Cachicadán, Peru

Afternoon riding through pastoral scenes…

Marlene and friend at the dairy near near Cachicadán, Peru

…brings us to the dairy at La Victoria near Cachicadán. A beautiful camp spot and chatting with lively local dairyherder Marléne (on the right) is the perfect way to end the day. 

La Victoria dairy near Cachicadán, Peru

The following morning, we can’t leave without buying some of the produce; the kids wave us on our way…

Manjar spread on fresh bread, near Cachicadán, Peru

…but it’s not long before I insist on stopping to sample some of our purchases: manjar, spreadable fudge, on fresh crusty bread. Yum.

Valley near Cachicadán, Peru

Fuelled up on manjar, the morning is spent rolling up and down through pretty villages.

Lunch stop in Peru - cheese, tomatoes, olives, avocadoes, fresh bread.

Lunch feels practically European. Unexpectedly, we have been able to get hold of Swiss-style cheese, meaty olives, juicy tomatoes, creamy avocados and fresh bread. More yum.

James pushing his bike over a bridge near Tulpo, Peru

The afternoon delivers a nasty punch with a challenging river crossing on a bridge that looks about four hundred years old, a scramble over rocky roadworks and then a gruelling climb up to Tulpo.

Roof with detail of builder's signature, Mollepata, Peru

Arriving in Mollepata, small details pop out of the woodwork…

The local church, Mollepata, Peru

…while ladies with brooms keep the main square looking pristine.

Sarah cycling down into the valley near Mollepata, Peru

We make a delicious descent into the hot valley…

The hairpin climb from Mollepata to Pallasca, Peru

…only to be confronted by the afternoon’s challenge. Twenty four hairpin bends and a 20km climb to Pallasca…

James eating a deep fried dough snack in Pallasca, Peru

…where, when we arrive, the most pressing job as always, is to seek out calories. Sometimes we hit the jackpot – this fritter is the perfect quick fix…

Cake stacked up on a cart in Pallasca, Peru

…and sometimes there are bitter failures; what appears to be tasty looking cake is filled with a foul excuse for jam, rendering it nearly inedible.

Sarah displays her sweaty cap, Pallasca, Peru

Proof of the day’s sweaty climbs: my salt-encrusted hat.

Lady selling bread in Pallasca, Peru

We make sure to visit the bread lady before leaving Pallasca not knowing where we’ll end the day – but certain that…

View of the canyon near Pallasca, Peru

…there’s a big downhill in store. 25km of descending into the Rio Chuquicara gorge and then it’s all flat riding or downhill.

Close up of canyon wall near Pallasca, Peru

Textures, tastes and smells are all different at the bottom of the valley.

Sarah on a downhill bend in the canyon near Pallasca, Peru

If you look hard enough you can see a cyclist here…

Sarah cycling into the canyon near Pallasca, Peru

…before she gets swallowed up by the rocks.

Sarah amongst the rocks in the canyon on the way to Chuqicara, Peru

Further along the road, the canyon opens up…

Miners outside Chuqicara Peru

…and we’re into mining country.

In the Rio Santo Canyon on the way to Chuqicara, Peru

The road weaves through gorges and tunnels and we’re not sure how far we are from Chuquicara…

Man painting a distance marker on the road near Chuqicara, Peru

…when magically a roadworker appears, painting the kilometre marker in front of our very eyes.

Sarah stretching her legs in a palapa in Chuqicara, Peru

Sure enough, exactly 10km later we are sheltering from the wind in a palapa at Chuquicara. A morning stretch is needed before we set off towards Caraz through the Cañon del Pato.

Dawn over the canyon at Chuqicara, Peru

Dawn brings more beautiful views.

Three cacti behind a rock near Chuqicara, Peru

We pull over to investigate some pretty rock formations, the catci pop out to greet us…

Sarah relaxing against a boulder in the canyon near Chuqicara, Peru

…and I am caught napping on some perfectly moulded boulders just an hour after we set off.

Roadsign for Mirador, Peru

Passing through Mirador, incongruously named “town of faith and hope”…

Adobe house destroyed by earthquake in Mirador, Peru

…we see the effects of the disastrous 1970 earthquake and subsequent landslide are still evident. 

Sarah sitting next to her bike in the canyon near Chuqicara

Deeper into the gorge with seemingly no one around…

James riding alongside Segundo in canyon near Chuqicara, Peru

…when James is joined by a companion on a bike. Segundo, a local security guard who patrols this stretch of road on his two wheels, tells us there are two other touring cyclists just ahead.

Cicla the puppy in the front box of Kalima's bike near Chuqicara, Peru

They are Spaniards Kalima and Charco, riding up into the mountains on handbuilt bikes from the coast, with their new puppy “Cicla” (rescued from a rubbish dump in Trujillo) stowed away in a box on the handlebars.

Camping above Rio Santa near Yuracmarca, Peru

We camp together that evening…

Kalima and Charco preparing smoothies near Yuracmarca, Peru

…before they teach us a thing or two about taking roadside breaks the next day. Charco has a blender attachment on his bike and they soon knock up four papaya smoothies…

James, Kalima and Charco drinking smoothies near Yuracmarca, Peru

…even Cicla gets a taste.

James cycling into the Cañon del Pato, Peru

The final stretch to Caraz is through the famed Cañon del Pato, a series of thirty six tunnels cut into the rock where the passage between two mountain ranges is more than a tight squeeze…

One of the tunnels of the Cañon del Pato, Peru

…and we’re in and out of tunnels all day…

Sarah cycling through the dark in a tunnel of the Cañon del Pato, Peru

…eyes adjusting to the changing light…

Sarah looking over the edge of the Cañon del Pato, Peru

…it’s a long way down to the bottom.

James entering a tunnel in the Cañon del Pato, Peru

Breathing in for the cars and buses which come screeching through is not an option; stopping is mandatory.

View of the peak of Alpamayo from the plaza in Caraz, Peru

Last stop on this leg: Caraz and the gateway to the Cordillera Blanca. From the town square the stunning peak of Alpamayo is cutely juxtaposed with swaying palms. Snowy mountain adventures await us…



It felt like this ride had been a long time coming. Ever since we decided to sit still in Colombia and wait out the worst of the Andean rainy season back in September last year, we’ve had half an eye on Peru – and in particular on giving ourselves the best chance of riding amongst these snow-capped peaks in all their glory.

For mountain lovers, I can’t imagine it really gets much better than the Cordillera Blanca. Outside of the Himalayas, this is the highest mountain range in the world, with 22 peaks over 6,000m squeezed into an area just 21km wide and 180km long. This makes for mountains that are incredibly accessible, yet still surprisingly unspoiled by the crowds; just a few hours walking or pedalling from the valley, and you can be standing at the foot of a glacier or beside a turquoise Alpine lake – probably with no more than a stray llama or mule for company.

As always, the most difficult part was deciding how to squeeze as much as possible out of our limited time here – the age old bike touring conundrum of must-see sights vs progress vs budget vs I’m knackered, let’s just sit around, drink coffee and eat cake. Consoling ourselves with the rapid realisation that this was likely to be the first of many visits here, we opted for a five day loop by bike which we hoped would give us just a taste of what these mountains had to offer.

And so, with the help of some wise words from our cycling godfather Salva (who we’d first met in Panama, near-missed through Ecuador and finally seen again in Caraz), we plotted a route which would take us from Huaraz across to the eastern side of the Cordillera and back. On the way, we would take in two of the four passes which cross the range at an altitude of just under 5,000m: Punta Olímpica and Portachuelo de Llanganuco. It would, we figured, be a fun test of legs, lungs and sleeping bags – with some glaciers and lakes along the way just to distract us from the lactic acid and hyperventilation.

So after an overnight warm-up ride to Laguna Parón from Caraz, we were ready. All that was missing now was that clear blue sky we’d spent the last 10 months waiting for…


Hostal La Merced in Carhuaz, Peru

A false start: we make it along the valley to Carhuaz before the clouds roll in and the peaks disappear. We cut our losses and find a hostel. The next day is even worse – we load calories and try to curb our natural impatience. Finally, on the third day, we wake to clear skies…

Bikes loaded to cycle the Cordillera Blanca

The bikes: with excess baggage stashed in Huaraz, for us this is “fast and light” mode. Or, more realistically with full camping kit and lots of warm clothes: “still slow but not quite so ridiculously heavy” mode.

Cycling through Shilla to Punta Olimpica, Peru

From Carhuaz, we climb up the valley towards Shilla, a small village in the foothills of the Cordillera…

Village square in Shilla, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

…where the immaculate square is occupied by the usual contingent of two snoozing old men and one sweeping lady…

Pigs in Shilla, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

…and the roadside is lined by the local pig population. Forget the dogs –  a small pig would be my pet of choice for this trip. It’s a pragmatic choice: entertainment, waste disposal and – when it gets too big for the bar bag -bacon…mmm, bacon…

Cycling to Punta Olimpica, Peru

Ahead the Cordillera gets closer – here the mighty peak of Huascarán Sur, the highest in Peru at 6,768m…

Cordillera Negra, Peru

…while the less dramatic peaks of the Cordillera Negra retreat behind.

Quebrada Ulta, cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru

We reach the flat pampa of Quebrada Ulta as the sun dips and the shadows climb the canyon walls…

Camping Punta Olimpica, Peru

…a perfect spot to pitch for the night, with just a few inquisitive cows and the cracking noises of the glaciers high above us for company.

Frost on tent, cycling Punta Olimpica

A cold night leaves a dusting of frost…

Sunrise, Punta Olimpica, Peru

…and us shivering as we cradle our breakfast porridge and coffee. Finally, the sunlight begins to touch the surrounding peaks.

Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru

From the pampa, the switchbacks begin, and we work our way up. Salva, starting half a day behind, catches us…

Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru

…”The best pass in the world!” he shouts triumphantly – and after seven and a half years cycling around the globe, he should know.

Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru

We pass the new tunnel, swapping perfect asphalt for a final few kilometres of dirt towards the pass. Breathing turns into panting…

Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru

…as we reach the snowline and the glaciers close in around us…

Building a snowman, Punta Olimpica, Peru

…and then we’re there! Punta Olímpica – the high point of our trip so far at 4,890m. And what would any self respecting, serious cycle tourist do to celebrate – build a snowman, of course…

Lake descending from Punta Olimpica, Peru

A quick stop for a bread and boiled egg lunch beside a beautiful lake…

Salva Rodriguez cycling Punta Olimpica

…and we pile on the layers for the descent. A thumbs up from Salva, and down we go…

Plaza de Armas, Chacas, Peru

…perfect pavement all the way to Chacas. It’s a picturesque, time-stood-still Andean village with an unusual grass square – perfect for defrosting and drying still-frozen tents, and for mid-afternoon siestas.

Staying with Don Bosco, Chacas, Peru

Chacas is also home to a renowned community of Italian Salesian missionaries, the Don Bosco. They work with locals to produce beautiful woodwork, and have also built a hospital which serves the whole valley. We ask to camp – and instead are treated to a bunk bed and three delicious meals – including the best pizza we’ve eaten in the last two years. Grazie mile amici!

Nastiflu, Peru

Coming from the stubborn school of sickness denial, I had hoped that some mountain air might rid me of a lingering cough and cold. Sadly not – the next day I can’t even stay upright long enough to ride around the square.  And so we wave goodbye to Salva, stock up on Nastiflu…

Alojamiento in Chacas, Peru

…and find ourselves a nearby hospedaje, where I retreat to bed. It’s our favourite kind of place to stay – miraculously held together by rickety pieces of wood, run by a friendly old lady who fusses around us…

Sombrero in alojamiento in Chacas, Peru

…and full of family details like her husband’s beaten old sombrero…

Kitten in Chacas, Peru

…and a resident playmate for Sarah, with an in-built homing device for a warm sleeping bag.

Drying Maiz, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

The next day I’m feeling stronger, and so we head off along the Eastern side of the Cordillera, where drying maize is hung from every roof and balcony like Christmas decorations.

Cycling with schoolchildren out of Sapchaa, Peru

We coincide with afternoon rush hour leaving Sapchaa, and pick up an escort of schoolkids on their way home. They insist on running alongside and pushing my bike up the hills for the next 5km back to their village – if only they were on hand every day…

Cycling towards Yanama, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Soon we leave the dry and hot valley behind, and head back towards the snow caps once again. A late afternoon pass has us puffing…

Cycling to Yanama, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

…and then it’s downhill into Yanama, where we find a restaurant camp spot with a sunset view of the serrated ridges of the Cordillera.

Leaving Yanama, cycling Portachuelo de Llanganuco

Our luck with the weather continues as the next morning dawns clear. We make an early start from Yanama…

Quenua trees, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

…a twisting 35km dirt climb up through the Quebrada Morococha, past stands of quenual trees with their burnt orange, flaky bark…

Blue flowers, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

…and the delicate purples of Andean lupins.

Lakes, Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

The road becomes rockier and steeper – or maybe the altitude just begins to kick in – and we pass a series of beautiful lakes…

Condor, cycling Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

…then, in a flurry: a pair of foxes appear at the side of the road; our first Andean condor drifts effortlessly over our heads…

Cycling Portachuelo de Llanganuco, Peru

…a rock tunnel opens up before us and we crest the pass: Portachuelo de Llanganuco, 4,737m.

cycling Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

We take a breather…

View from Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

…and take in the stunning panorama spread before us.

Cycling down from Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

Down through the rocky hairpins we go…

Cycling Portachuela Llanganuco, Peru

…past Chacraraju (6,108m), commanding the valley like an impenetrable, icy fortress…

Cycling towards Lagunas Llanganuco, Peru

..until the Lagunas de Llanganuco lie in front of us .

Eating spaghetti, cycling Peru

We pick a stream-side camping spot for a spaghetti-fest and an early night.

Lagunas de Llanganuco in the morning light

The next morning the shadows slowly fall…

Turquoise blue of Lagunas Llanganuco, Peru

…and the sun casts its turquoise spell on Llanganuco.

Climbers memorial at Lagunas Llanganuco, Peru

A sobering moment as we pause at the monument to the hundreds of climbers who have been killed in the Cordillera Blanca…

Football match under Huascaran, Peru

All that remains is a jarring descent towards Yungay in the Callejón de Huaylas, toes and fingers defrosting as we pass Sunday league football in the shadow of Huascarán.

View of Cordillera Blanca from Santiago's House, Peru

From Yungay, it’s a quick shuttle back to our comfy home-from-home in Huaraz, Santiago’s House. A hot shower and hot food awaits, along with the hypnotic view back along the Cordillera from the rooftop terrace. We’ve said “We’ll be back” about many places in this trip, but this time I think we really mean it. With some more time, a rucksack, tent, and a mountain bike, the possibilities really would be almost endless…



Rocks; very big rocks

July 31st, 2013

Whether it’s the towering peaks alongside the Pastoruri Pass outside of Huaraz or the mysterious standing stones of the Bosque de Piedras (Forest of Stones) near Cerro de Pasco, Central Peru has some impressive shows of rock.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a geology buff, but as we make we our way south through Peru, it has been impossible to ignore the swirls, textures, formations and sheer size of the Andes.


Sarah and James cycling towards Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Leaving the road after Huaraz to begin the climb to Pastoruri, the snowline is immediately visible.

A boulder in the fields near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Enormous boulders lay strewn in the surrounding fields.

A bag of bread, near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

We are about to take another pass over the Cordillera Blanca and ride through remote sections for three days, so we take on-board the emergency “bread blanket”…you can never have too much bread.

James looking at the map near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Only on the dirt road for a matter of minutes before we stop for lunch and James is found in his favourite resting pose: map gazing.

Sun going down near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Progress halts for the day just 2km along the road – we can’t resist a sun drenched camp spot…

Sun setting over Pastoruri, central Peru.

…especially when the sunset develops into something really special.

Tilo & Sonja, cycle tourers from Germany near Pastoruri pass, Peru

We share our camping with German cycle tourers Tilo and Sonja.

Cycling towards the mountains near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Day two and time for more ascending, past ominous grey rock faces…

Sarah cycling past a group of Puya Raymondii, near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…towards a field of Puya Raymondii. 

In a field of Puya Raymondii, near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

These incredible, enormous plants – also known as Queen of the Andes – only grow here and in Bolivia, between 3200 and 4800m.

Close up of a Puya Raymondii, near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Each plant can take can take up to forty years to flower and once done, it sadly withers and dies.

Looking down the valley near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

We climb, leaving the stunning valley behind…

Sarah cycling through snow near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…and keep climbing, where the craggy faces get craggier and the serious weather happens – it is snowing here.

Sun setting over the peaks near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

When the weather clears, we have another pretty sunset…

Sunny field at the top of the pass, near Pastoruri, central Peru

…and another campsite where the curves of the ground are bathed in the last of the day’s golden sunlight. 

Camping near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

It’s always a battle between enjoyment and endurance for me at this altitude: camping alongside jaw dropping landscapes is incredible…

Ice on the water bag inside the tent when camped near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…but you have to cope with seriously cold temperatures at nearly 5000m. The ice on our water bags freezes overnight inside in our tent…

Riding over Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…and it’s good to get moving again in the morning; on to more stunning backdrops.

Plant life near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Vibrant, spongy plant life contrasts beautifully with craggy harsh peaks.

James, Tilo and Sonja stop cycling to admire the view of the cordillera, near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

Every turn brings a new view, a new snow-capped peak. We stop to absorb…

View of the cordillera near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…shapes and colours…

Black and white view of the cordillera near Pastoruri pass, central Peru

…textures and light.

Bundles of corn hanging from the rafters near Chavinillo, central Peru

We’ve been wondering what the hanging corn from the rafters of a shop is used for…

Bowl of toasted corn and two mandarins in central Peru

…and, when we happen to ask, as always up in the mountains the hospitality is free flowing. We meet Lydia who quickly presents us with a bowl of the finished product: delicious cancha (toasted, salted corn) and two sweet mandarins to give us energy to finish the climb towards Huánuco.

Village sign for Llicllatambo, central Peru

On the way, I practice my Spanish/Quechua tongue-twisters trying to pronounce local village names – although this one looks Welsh to me.

Selection of food eaten whilst cycling in Peru

In Huánuco we stock up on supplies again – so happy to find broccoli! 

Sarah cycling up the valley towards Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

Our back-road ride from Huánuco to Cerro de Pasco via Pallanchacra had its moments. Some very pretty…

Llama with colourful cords through its ears, near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…like stopping to admire llama’s pom poms (each farmer identifies their flock with different ear finery – tassels, pom poms, ribbons and bows)…

Group of children near Cerro de Pasco with a bowl of potatoes, central Peru

…and spontaneously being fed hot potatoes by a group of kids.

View of Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

Others were downright nasty. At 4380m, Cerro de Pasco lays claim to being the “highest city in the world” and with a whacking great mine in the middle of it, it can also claim to be “one of the ugliest”…

Choclate cake and two cups of hot chocolate in a bakery in Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…and “one of the coldest”. The only sensible way to warm up here: hot chocolate and a big slab of chocolate cake. James fulfills a long held desire in Cerro de Pasco: to buy an entire cake and eat it all. Mission accomplished.

Sarah cycling towards Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

We’re happy to leave Cerro de Pasco behind and explore the Bosque de Piedras at the nearby Santuario Nacional de Huayllay.

A view of the Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

A group of over 4000 standing stones taking many different formations…

The elephant rock at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru¬

…an elephant…

The cobra rock at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…a cobra…

A rock in the sape of a kissing couple at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…a kissing couple…

Close up view of rock at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…with beautiful textures when you get up close…

Horses in front of the rocks at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…colours of all shades…

Rock formation at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

…and of course the most fun is identifying obvious formations that never quite made it into the official tour brochure.

James meditating in the magentic circle at Bosque de Piedras near Cerro de Pasco, central Peru

At the end of our walk, in the mysterious “magnetic” stone circle, James puts into practice some of the meditation techniques taught at Rhiannon; although I could have sworn he was thinking about that chocolate cake again…