As the South American countries are starting to open up for travelers again, planning your ride now can save a lot of hassle later. I’ve traveled to Peru extensively over several years on different bikes, and I can’t wait to ride there again as soon as I can. In the meantime, here’s a sample travel itinerary for Peru if you don’t know where to begin:
Start Point: Lima
Whether you’re renting, buying a bike locally, or riding your own, let’s take Lima as a starting point. That’s because if you’re renting, you’ll probably fly to Lima first, and if you’re riding your own, you’ll end up in the capital for bike maintenance anyway. Lima is a great place to rest for a few days, explore the historic center, sample the ceviche, ride the San Bartolo dunes (40mins away from Lima) if you’re into Dakar-style riding, and chill out on the beaches in Miraflores. It’s also good for bike parts and maintenance – you’ll find most motorcycle brand dealerships here – and recharge before you head inland.
Huaraz and Canyon del Pato
400 kilometers North-East of Lima lies Huaraz, an old colonial town nestled in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. From here, take the Caraz loop riding into the Huascaran National Park, one of the most breathtaking (and rideable) parks in the entire country. Still mostly visited by mountaineers and climbers only and not overcrowded by gawking tourists or partying backpackers, Huascaran is ideal for some decent off-road riding, incredible scenery, and exploring places well off the beaten path. On the other side of the Park a little further North you’ll find the famous Canyon del Pato, a gorge so narrow in places it feels like you can almost touch the other side; the road running along the rim of the canyon is a twisty mountain trail with over fifty crudely hewn tunnels and spectacular scenery the whole way.
Plan to spend at least 4 days around Huaraz and Canyon del Pato to see the best of Huascaran.
Cuzco and Machu Picchu
From Huaraz, follow 3N North towards Cerro de Pasco and 3S to Huancayo. This is a 630-kilometer ride best done over two or three days as the mountain roads here are narrow, twisty, and unpredictable – but the scenery is more than worth it. From Huancayo, ride to Cusco via Ayacucho and Abancay; this 800-kilometer stretch is among the most scenic in the entire country, and it’s worth spending several days to allow for plenty of photo stops and breaks.
In Cuzco, rest up and try some local food. The historic center can be explored in just one day, but Cuzco makes for a great basecamp if you want to see Machu Picchu. Instead of taking the overpriced train, ride your bike to Ollantaytambo, then take the road to Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica: it’s a graded dirt road hugging the side of a mountain and descending into a canyon offering spectacular views and some great riding. At Hidroelectrica, leave your bike with the locals and hike to Aguas Calientes on foot (about a 4-mile hike). From there, you can either hike to Machu Picchu or take a bus; the hike is spectacular but the ascent is steep, so you need to be in shape to do the climb.
From Cuzco, you can either head back to Lima via Nazca or into Bolivia via Puno and Lake Titicaca if you’re pressed for time. If you still have a couple of weeks left, however, make sure to visit Colca Valley, a stunning Andean region of high altitudes, condors, and incredible views. Chivay, a small town near the Colca Canyon, is a great place for a base camp if you’re planning to explore the area riding the countless off-road trails; the ruins of Uyo Uyo are just an hour’s ride away, and if you’d like to hike down the Colca Canyon, leave your bike in Cabanaconde overnight.
From Chivay, ride across the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve, a remote yet breathtaking Andean plateau where the only forms of life are the wild llamas. Aim for Arequipa, the White City, via Cotahuasi for the best views of the Andes and the Chachani volcano. It’s worth spending a couple of days in Arequipa exploring the city, and if you’re up for some gnarly off-road trails, local enduro riders will happily show you their favorite riverbeds and canyons to ride.
The Chilean border is just a day’s ride south from Arequipa if you’re planning to continue your journey across South America. If you need to get back to Lima from here, follow the Pacific Coast on the Pan American highway or dip inland again and ride the Andes one more time.
Peru is a massive country, the distances are big, and the Andes are a mountain range to be reckoned with, but if you have at least a month, you can use this travel itinerary for Peru to see most of the highlights and ride some of the best roads and off road trails.
What would you add to this itinerary? Let me know in the comments below.