Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

Cordillera Blanca Loop

by Bicycle Junkies
11 comments 7500 views

I love the mountains and I curse them. They make me happy and then again they suck the energy right out of me. But, there’s something inside me that wants to concur them. Something inside me that tells me to go for it, to cross passes above 4500 meter altitude. I am the happiest person in the world once I’ve reached the top; yes, it’s all worth it.

Punta Olimpica
After Carhuaz we turn right, straight for the Cordillera Blanca and Punta Olimpica, more than 2000 meter higher. The passed few days we have been admiring the white peaks from the sideline, now it’s time to cycle amidst them. In a slow climb we leave society and the valley behind us and soon we smell the pine trees, my favorite. After the first group of hairpins, we find a great camp site in a small pine forrest at 3600 meter. The many midgies apparently also like this spot!
With a little more than 1100 altimeters to go, the next morning we continue to cycle towards the second group of hairpins, which look very frightening from a distance!

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

I’m not a real climber. And I’m afraid I’ll never be. But, I continue. Above 4000 meter it even gets harder, but there’s no stopping me. One leg at a time. Despite the dark clouds and the rain showers, the pass is lurking and there’s nothing more that I want than reaching the summit. I smell the fresh mountain air, it just feels so good to be here! Surrounded by glaciers and the peaceful sound of raindrops on my jacket. When I breath, a tiny cloud forms in front of me. The higher we climb, the colder and the sun is not here at the moment to warm us. The last curve, a last glance at the impressive glaciers and then we dive into the dark (and highest) tunnel on a smoothly paved road. We glide down, one hairpin after the other, the cold air in my face, wind through my hair. This is my price for all the hard work. We stop various times to take photos. We’ve crossed Punta Olimpica and another amazing pass lies ahead, I can’t wait!

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

On our way to Punta Olimpica

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

Perfect timing!

Paso Puerto Chelo
After a (forced) day of doing nothing in Yanama (rain, rain and more rain), the – for now – last high mountain pass is lying ahead of us. This time it’s not a smooth ride, but rather a very bumpy, muddy and rocky one. Paul en Jan told us about a very beautiful camp spot at 4400 meter, our goal for today.
Like always the blue sky makes way for dark clouds and thunder and lightning, but this time it’s no later than 1 o’clock! In an amazing speed a haze of hail comes towards us and we quickly put on our rain gear. Within seconds the sandy track turns into a muddy one and hail is hitting us in our faces. There’s still 200 altimeters to go before we reach the spot, we keep going an in the early afternoon we reach one of the most beautiful camp spots ever. We just have to camp here!

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

One of the most amazing camp spots ever!

And while we are listening to hail hitting our tent, we enjoy a hot cup of coffee. Slowly the clouds move away and Chopicalqui (6354 meter) shows its white peak, bathing in the last rays of sun and mirrored in the lake in front of us. Do I need to say more? This is the life…

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

What an amazing sunset

The next morning we climb the remaining 300 meters to the 4700 meter high Paso Puerto Chelo. Once on the other side, we have the view of a lifetime: majestic Huascaran, with 6768 meter Perus highest mountain. But there’s more! The so called most beautiful mountain in the world (1966) Alpamayo seems like a small one with its 5947 meter. A dozen or more hairpins are guiding us down into the valley. Bye, bye high mountains. Bye, bye unknown altitudes. No, I’m not made for the mountains and yes, I’ll keep cycling them. Why? The reward is always so much greater than the fight to reach it.

Cycling the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

Route: Huaraz – Punta Olimpica – Chacas – Yanama – Yungay

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11 comments

Jamie March 24, 2016 - 14:48

Good morning from Canada,

I’m a solo cyclist who will be planning a tour in Peru this upcoming July/August and would like to know how much time I should budget for say Lima to Huaraz (including the Cordillera Blanca Loop)? Would you recommend another route instead? I have about 4-6 weeks beginning in July and will be riding solo.

Regards,

Jamie

Reply
Bicycle Junkies April 1, 2016 - 11:13

Hi Jamie!
I think that 6 weeks should be enough, especially since you are riding solo (quicker). Keep in mind that you have to adjust to the altitude and you might get sick. You might want to ride to Ayacucho and start riding Peru’s Great Divide, because that route is amazing. Otherwise ride to Chicla and pick up the route there.
I’m not really a fan of big cities, so we avoided Lima. It took us about 5 weeks to ride from Cuzco to Trujillo (including the Cordillera Blanca loop and Peru’s Great Divide), but we were acclimitized. If you know you can handle altitudes, why not fly to Cuzco, get acclimitized, visit Machu Picchu and then ride to Huaraz. 😉 It was so beautiful over there! Too hard to make choices.. 😉

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Jamie April 28, 2016 - 19:25

Thank you so much for sending me your feedback. I was wondering about that exact choice (Cuzco or Lima) I figured it would be ambitious of me to land in Cuzco and start from there. Do you feel as though going solo is a risky venture? How isolated were you from other travellers / vehicles when on the divide and the loop?

Your pictures are wonderful, I am awestruck by its beauty… And while I have your attention, and although this may seem like an unfair question, knowing what you know now, would you pick Peru (Divide and loop) over Bolivia’s Southwest (laguna routes + salt flat).

Regards,

Jamie

Reply
Bicycle Junkies May 5, 2016 - 12:12

Hi Jamie,
It is a pretty isolated loop, but people were very friendly. Since it’s not a route on the Gringo trail, I believe it’s safer. Chances of getting robbed are much higher on famous backpacking routes/bus rides.

Thank you so much for the compliments!

Wow, that’s a tough question! And so very personal, since “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”. And both routes were amazing and beautiful in it’s own way. The Laguna route is not something to be done in the beginning of your cycling adventure; it’s a tough one. Very windy, cold and all above 4000-4500 meters. The salt flats are amazing, and so are the colors of the lagunas and the moonscape.

Peru was THE highlight for us; the mountains are so incredibly beautiful, riding Peru’s Great Divide was an amazing adventure. I would love to do that again, anytime! A tough ride too, we took our time here and enjoyed every minute of it. More variety here I think and further off the beaten track.

Both are great places to ride! 😉

Good luck making a decision and let us know how it went.
Elmar & Ellen

Reply
Greg Andre-Barrett March 20, 2019 - 22:42

Hi. Love your trips, blogs and photos. Do you have a gpx file for your Cordillera Blanca Circuit (CBC) that you could email me?
This April 2019 I’m bikepacking from Huancavelica to Cordillera Blanca. I have gpx files for everything except the Cordillera Blanca Circuit (CBC). Thanks!
My site https://gregbikingwithoutborders.blog/ isn’t ready/launched yet.
May just use https://fb.me/GregBikingWithoutBorders even though non facebook users can’t see it.

Reply
Bicycle Junkies April 15, 2019 - 09:11

Hi Greg, thanks!
Unfortunately we didn’t keep the GPX files of that trip.
You’ll love it over there! We probably will be riding there again this november!

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Felipe May 18, 2019 - 03:26

Hi! How many days did you spent on this route?

Reply
Bicycle Junkies May 28, 2019 - 18:38

Hi Felipe, it took us 5 cycling days to complete the Cordillera Blanca Loop.

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Andres October 27, 2019 - 23:45

Hi, great blog and trip reports!
I will spend two weeks in Peru on late December. I want to do one or two short bikepacking trips during that time. Since I don’t have much time, I want to travel light in order to cover a longer distance. So, I would prefer to avoid camping in order to carry less gear. Is it possible to do the Cordillera Blanca loop without camping? if not, what about Huayhash or Sacred Valley? I may consider also doing a trip from the Andes to the Amazonian zone.
Thanks!

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Bicycle Junkies November 4, 2019 - 16:32

Hi, i don’t think it’s possible, unless you want to make really long days.
And that would be a shame. Plus, if something happens and you won’t be able to keep riding, what are you gonna do.
There are lightweight camping gear options, I think you should consider. Like a very light tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag. Leave your stove at home and eat simple wraps with tuna or something.
Good luck planning your trip! We will be there in november-december as well 😉

Reply
Andres November 12, 2019 - 00:06

Thanks a lot! Enjoy your trip!

Reply

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