Exploring Peru by bike

imageI’m writing this post while flying home from a three week holiday in Peru. Part of the tour my friend and I took was three days of bike riding, as well as a day of rafting and hiking the Inka trail.

During the tour we were well looked after by a number of guides including a guide just for our bike riding section. He was definitely over qualified for the job – Jose-Luis was the national champion of Peru in cross country mountain bike five years ago. He now prefers ride downhill so I dubbed him the loco hombre.

Our first day began at an archaeological site called Tipon near Cusco (where we stayed overnight) which is a Inka site with well preserved terraces high up on a hill that were used for farming. After we’d had a good look around including a short hike up a hill for the view we got ready for our bike debut.

The bikes were entry level hardtail mountain bike. Pretty basic but they did the trick. Our first ride was straight down the big hill which included a couple of switchbacks. We took it pretty easier to get used to the bikes and conditions but in no time we were at the bottom.

At the base of a hill was a small village and we headed off road along a dirt road through mainly farmland and a larger town that is famous for its bread, providing much of the bread requirements of Cusco. Every time I had to ride up hill I found myself very breathless (it’s a very strange feeling when you know you would normally be fine but you find yourself struggling to suck in oxygen at such a high altitude – I live in a city on the coast so spend most of my time riding at quite low altitude – Cusco is located at 3,300 metres so quite a difference), thankfully there weren’t really any inclines to speak of, just a nice undulating road.

After negotiating the dirt road successfully we returned to the bitumen, much more my usual terrain and we were able to tool along the quiet road (well as much as you can on an entry level mountain bike with nobbly tyres) to our lunch destination.

One Day 2 we began in Cusco where we needed to repack our bags and head out of town. En route to our bike riding adventure we visited two markets – We finally got on our bikes at midday and spent an hour or so following the river before stopping for lunch. The ride was off-road but nothing too technical, mostly smoothish dirt roads past villages and farmland. It was lovely to see how Peruvian people live close up, although lovely in the sense that I can return to my own modern existence soon.

I don’t know if anyone has come up with a term that means glamping (glamorous camping) for bike touring but that’s definitely what we’ve been doing. While we are riding with our MTB champion, our driver and tour guide went on ahead and prepared our lunch – they set up a table and chairs complete with table cloth, erected a gazebo for shade and then lay on a nice nutritious lunch that they share with us. Quite five star.

After lunch we headed out again on our bikes and interacted with the locals who all look at us like we are a little out of place, but nonetheless welcome in their country.

On day 3 we convinced our guides to change today in our program to take in a couple of archaeological sites recommended by our new friend Tom who we met in the jungle last week. We were meant to be riding down some huge mountain on the busy roads so it wasn’t difficult to convince Jose-Luis that we should ride somewhere quieter off-road instead.

So again our day was centred on visiting some amazing places with some bike riding thrown in.

So we headed out of Ollantaytambo (our new base) in our van to an amazing salt mine that was built by the Incas on the side of a hill. After the salt mine we drove part of the way to our next stop, a place called Moray, and then rode on dirt roads for the rest. The views on our ride were amazing, glacial mountains in the background, fertile farmland in the foreground. We were up at 3,500 metres the whole time and while most of it was undulating we had to scale two reasonable hills which were extremely difficult. When we reached the top of the two hills we had to stop and take deep breaths. It’s incredible what high altitude does to your lungs. As my friend described it, it’s like someone sitting on your chest.

It was really great to incorporate some cycling into our holiday and it’s always nice to have someone else carry all your stuff from hotel to hotel.

Riding a bike in a foreign land always makes you feel like you are really connecting with a place which is something you don’t ever get from whizzing past in a bus.