Welcome to ‘Andes by Bike’. We’re two Brits, Harriet and Neil, whose first foray into the world of cycle touring was a trip across Europe in 2008. We followed this up with 19 months of cycling and hiking in South America from September 2009 to March 2011. Our favourite journeys are on traffic-free routes in the mountains.
Please take a look at our Pikes on Bikes blog for journal entries from all our trips, including our current journey in the Indian and Nepal Himalaya.
About ‘Andes by Bike’
After cycling in South America for a few months we realized that despite the many excellent cyclist blogs about the Andes, it was often difficult to find practical information about specific unpaved routes. Where we’d encounter water and be able to buy supplies, which way to turn at unsigned junctions, distances – these were the things we thought would be useful to know, but were failing to find. So for the final year of our trip we took notes on routes we cycled and have published these on this website. We hope cyclists find the information useful for planning tours in the Andes.
Most of the routes described are quiet, unpaved roads in remote areas, so while ‘Andes by Bike’ won’t tell you anything about the main road from Cusco to La Paz, or from Salta to La Quiaca, it will let you know what to expect if you cross the Paso Sico, take the tracks from the Salar de Uyuni to Sajama, or pedal some high altitude routes between Arequipa and Abancay.
In order to keep the information on this site as up to date and comprehensive as possible we’re keen to get updates from cyclists who are currently in the Andes. It would be really helpful if anyone who cycles one of the routes/passes already on the site could add a route update on the relevant page to let others know of any changes, additional information or errors made in the original description. If the original description is still fine please add a comment to this effect, with the date you cycled the route.
Contributing New Route and Pass Information
We also welcome new route and pass contributions. If you cycle a remote route in one of the countries covered on the site and found it difficult to get information about it beforehand, please consider taking some notes on it and contacting us so that we can create a new route page. If at all possible we’d like to keep the breadth of information on each route page as consistent as possible – however the most important things are details of water availability, where supplies can be bought, distances and what to do at junctions in poorly mapped regions. GPS tracks, coordinates, altitudes etc are an additional bonus, but we’ll certainly put up useful information about a route without GPS information.
If contributors have blogs or websites we’ll of course be happy to put a link to this on the route page they’ve contributed.
(NB. This applies to all routes cycled by us. On pages contributed by other people we have given details about how they obtained distance/altitude information.)
All distances given were measured using a Sigma odometer. We decided we couldn’t measure the circumference of our wheels with sufficient accuracy to be meaningful, so just went with the standard figures in the charts given by Sigma. We never adjusted these for changes in tyre pressure or weight of kit carried, which varied hugely between routes. While distances should be sufficiently accurate to be useful, and are consistent, we suspect they are often overstated by a few percent.
All altitudes given are GPS altitude readings from a Garmin eTrex Summit. Garmin tell us these are accurate to 30m, and this agrees with what we found in practice. Above about 4,800m we think the GPS gave readings which are consistently overstated by 10-20m.
Vertical height gains given are taken from a VDO MC1.0 cycle computer.
All timings given refer to actual time we spent in the saddle and do not include breaks. As far as we know, our cycling speeds are reasonably average – we met faster cyclists, we met slower ones. The length of each route in days refers to how many cycle days we took to complete the route. It does not include rest days.
Being Prepared in the Andes
Many of these routes are in high altitude areas of the Andes on quiet roads where help will be a while coming if you get into difficulties. Weather and road conditions can change quickly so we’d recommend gathering as much up to date information as you can before setting out on any of the remoter routes.
The weather in the Andes can be extreme – during our trip the lowest temperature we experienced was -20°C, and on a number of occasions we encountered hurricane force winds.
Don’t underestimate the risks of Acute Mountain Sickness at high altitudes. Information about altitude sickness can be found at Altitude.org.
While we’ve made every effort to make the information in the route descriptions and maps as accurate as possible at the date we cycled, please let us know at of any errors by emailing us: pikesonbikes (followed by at, gmail, then dot com).
Some of the questions we’re most frequently asked about cycling in South America are ‘weren’t you scared?’ or ‘was it safe?’ This normally refers to worries about getting attacked or robbed. Like almost anywhere in the world there is a small risk of this, and also like anywhere the risks are mostly in cities, tourist sites, bus stations, etc. Pay attention in these places and take the standard precautions when wild camping (e.g. hiding from the road, avoiding camping on someone’s land without asking permission) and you’ll give yourself a good chance of being among the large majority of cycle tourists who have no problems at all.
By far the biggest danger on any cycle tour in South America comes from traffic on busy, narrow highways. After a few unpleasant experiences on roads plied by trucks and coaches we began avoiding these paved routes and sought out the smaller ripio roads which are described on this website.