Carretera Central to Huancavelica – Peru’s Great Divide

This is a scenically spectacular, but tough, route through the mountains in central Peru. Leaving the hectic traffic on the Carretera Central, the route sticks to extremely quiet roads all the way to the charming departmental capital of Huancavelica. As with most mountain routes in Peru, water is not a problem to find, and there are villages every now and then, so you don’t need to carry too many supplies.

There’s a 7km section between Tanta and Vilca that is on singletrack, not a motorable road, and plenty of this section is unrideable – so if you don’t like the idea of pushing/ferrying your stuff on this part, find an alternative route.

As with all routes in the Peruvian Andes, we can’t stress highly enough how important it is to go light – there are many steep high passes to cross and many thousands of metres to climb. Here is a list of kit we took – around 15kg each.

Check out our blog post on our Pikes on Bikes site for this route, and here are some of Cass’ photos of the ride.

Total Km Altitude (m) Description
0 3700 Chicla, village on the Carretera Central. Shops, accommodation above town on main road, restaurants. Horribly busy road. Go downhill.
4.5 3550 Turn off Carretera Central to Yuracmayo in Rio Blanco, just after 2 short tunnels.
6.1 3580 Caruya. Small village with 2 fish farms.
11.2 3940 Chocna. Village with basic shop.
18.7 4200 Straight.
24.6 4300 Yuracmayo. Village. Saw no facilities.
32.2 4670 L.
39.3 4930 Punta Ushuayca.
53.7 4130 L to Tanta (straight goes to Carhuapampa).
62.5 4700 Abra Suijo.
67.7 4530 Huachipampa. Small settlement, no facilities.
79.7 4270 Tanta. Shops, possible accommodation, restaurants.
90.4 4210 Baño del Inca aguas termales (ruin?).
95 4100 Go R at 1st hairpin, signed ‘Vilca 14km’. In 2013 the road was only half complete, so there is plenty of pushing and lots of rideable singletrack. If you don’t want to take this unmotorable shortcut, it’s a ~50km detour over 2 high passes, (via Cochas) to Vilca.
102.7 4000 Road ends. We were able to ride about 5km of the 7.2km singletrack to come.
109.9 3910 Hit track at far end of Laguna Papacocha. Go through gate.
111.3 3820 Vilca. Shops, restaurants, probable accommodation. Impressive colonial bridge – Puente Centenario.
113.5 3830 R. (The long road route over the 2 high passes rejoins from the L.)
117 3820 R. L goes to Canchayllo, Pachacayo.
121.5 4000 High point. Pass Laguna Huallhua.
128.6 3710 Huancaya. Touristy village. Accommodation, restaurants, shops.
131.7 3620 Vitis. Accommodation, shops, restaurants.
144.7 3090 Tinco, small settlement. Paving strarts. Shops, restaurants. Go R for Laraos.
151 2930 Turn off L to Laraos, just after Llapay (shops, accommodation, restaurants). Still paved.
159.9 3460 Laraos. Shops, internet, accommodation, restaurants. End of paving.
166.1 3830 R, to Lag Pumacocha.
175.5 4300 L to Lag Pumacocha, UEA Don Mario (R goes to Heraldos Negros).
177.6 4370 Straight/R. L goes to Tomas (via mine) and Pinturas Rupestres Quillcasca.
178.2 4430 Straight.
179.7 4500 L. Short descent.
180.5 4440 Low point.
182.8 4560 Last water.
186.9 4990 Punta Pumacocha.
198.9 4490 Small estancia.
208.9 4390 Abandoned Don Mario mine entrance. Pass through broken barrier.
209 4410 R.
209.2 4430 Exit mine at barrier.
209.5 4450 L.
215 4630 L. R is to Langayco.
219.5 4760 Paso Don Mario.
223.2 4640 Turn R on ‘main rd’, signed Heraldos Negros, Acobambilla, Bethania, San Valentin.
240 4480 L (in the few houses of Turpo). Signed Acobambilla. R goes to Corihuarmi.
248.7 4800 Abra Turpo. Lots of high points and small climbs afterwards.
269.3 4600 R.
278.7 3830 Acobambilla. Large village with shops, restaurants.
291.7 4550 Abra Viñas.
293.6 4420 R.
302.8 3790 R, in Viñas.
303.3 3790 Viñas Plaza de Armas. Shops.
306.7 3720 Jerusalen. Village with accommodation, shops.
309.5 3710 L. R to Anccapa.
314 3950 L in San Miguel (small village).
320.6 4390 Uqcurumi. A few houses, no facilities.
327.4 4700 Abra Llamaorgo.
343.5 3810 L to Huancavelica. Go R for direct route to Abra Chonta.
351.2 3700 Huancavelica, Plaza de Armas.

Details
Distance (of which paved) 351km (20km)
Time taken 6 days
Amount climbed 8700m
Traffic Virtually none, except for the busy 5km on the Carretera Central.
Best time to cycle May – September
When we cycled Mid October 2013
Difficulty 4/5
How much we had to push on this route 2.5km (on the singletrack section to Vilca)

[map maptype=satellit gpx=”http://andesbybike.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Carretera Central – Huancavelica.gpx” style=”width:610px; height:610px; border:1px solid gray;”]
Rio Blanco-Huancavelica

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14 Responses to “Carretera Central to Huancavelica – Peru’s Great Divide”

  1. Phil 23/08/2014 at 19:22 # Reply

    Rode part of this route solo in July 2014. Took the bus from Lima to Chicla and stayed in hostal overnight for early start next day. Planned to ride to Huancavelica and return by bus to Lima in 6 or 7 days. Had to cut it short and instead rode back through Canete and along the coast to Lima. I was not well acclimatized or fit (hadn’t really ridden for two months) and did a lot of pushing in the first few days. I carried camping gear so the slow progress wasn’t a problem. Took three days from Chicla to Tanta with two nights camping, frost and snow both nights but good campsites with water. The route is as described, however I missed the turn off for Punta Sujica and reached Carhuapampa and had to return. The weather closed in most afternoons encouraging me to stop early rather than pushing on.

    The ride down the Canete valley is superb but again hard work with a rocky climb and swamps if you try to avoid the climbs.

    I was told that Yuracmayo has a small shop. There is accommodation in Tanta (two basic hotels). Baño del Inca was deserted. There is a new visitor centre in Llapay for the Reserva Nor-Yauyos.

    In all 450kms and 5,500m of ascent in six days riding – Chicla to Lima v Tanta and Canete.

  2. Cherry 25/08/2014 at 21:37 # Reply

    I rode this route in June 2014, an account of which you can read here http://theseplacesinbetween.com/the-great-peru-divide-part-2/ It took me 7 days in total.

    I think the above comment demonstrates the importance of being well acclimatised to the altitude before attempting a route which requires you to cycle high altitude passes daily, starting on this route when previously being at sea level probably is not a good idea. I recently met a couple who attempted this route having just flown in from Lima and had to abandon at Vilcas due not being acclimatised, and they were carrying around 35kg of stuff each.

    The Pike’s packing list detailed on their blog is an invaluable tool if you are attempting this route or any on their site. I sent some of my stuff on with the inexpensive and reliable encomienda service provided by Cruz del Sur which meant that I was carrying about 12kg, going light is essential.

    I would really like to thank the Pikes for blazing this trail and providing me with some of the most memorable riding of my trip I really learnt a lot.

    It is also worth saying that I did this route without an odometer or gps, and just followed the instructions given without any problems.

    Cherry

  3. Alberto and Lucy 16/09/2014 at 22:57 # Reply

    Here´s our comments for this part of the Great Divide, which we rode in early September 2014

    – 101.3 km at Vilca, at the moment the bridge that the route uses is down and a new one is being built, so there is no pass. You need to cross the Puente Centenario out of town, then go R at the T junction when you reach it. This adds about 2 km and a bit of climbing to the distance. Best to ask locals in Vilca before attempting the crossing of the old bridge.
    – 278.7 km Acobambilla does not really have restaurants but a shop near the municipality will prepare food if asked in advance (S/.3 for a segundo plus drink)
    – 314 km San Miguel if you go slightly off route, crossing the bridge, there´s a small shop with basic stuff should you need it

    As an alternative to the Paso Punta Pumacocha and Paso Don Mario, we saved about 20 km by ignoring the instruction to turn L at 175.5 km 4300 m. It may be a good alternative if you are pressed for time like us, or if you want to be able to divert to the town of Atcas and carry less food. We don´t think you save that much climbing though (the first pass is slightly lower, also very steep, and the second a bit higher than the Pikes´ route). Here are our route notes if you do decide to take this alternative, from Pikes 175.5 km:

    – Turn right instead of left signposted Mina San Valentín
    – 4.4 km 4590 m go R signposted Heraldos Negros
    – 9.7 km 4850 m High Point
    – 17.3 km 4400 m Low Point, Cross bridge
    – 18.6 km 4400 m go L/straight (R is for Atcas, a few km away slightly downhill and with at least a shop)
    – 24.6 km 4820 m High Point
    – 38.4 km 4620 m go L (signposted Puente Melliza). R would also return to the Pikes route via the main road, but will take longer and carries more traffic
    – 40.3 km 4600 m sharp R, easy to miss
    – 45.2 km 4460 m go R at the few houses rejoins Pikes´ route. There´s a water tap available.
    – 46 km equals Pikes´ route 240 km

    Enjoy

    Alberto and Lucy

    ps Some other junctions not in route sheet above (dists approx):
    – 25.9km 4350m go R
    – 61.7km 4630m go R
    – 125km 3790m go L

  4. Elmar & Ellen van Drunen 09/10/2014 at 15:07 # Reply

    Hi, we cycled this route in the beginning of october in 2014. Yep, the rainy season! And yes, we definitely had a lot of rain, it sometimes started as early as 1 or 2 pm, so we were forced to stop early.
    It’s for sure an amazing route and we probably would never have cycled it if it wasn’t for you guys, thanks!
    We are on a long-term cycling journey, we had way too much gear to cary, but still.. even with the walking.. it was a once in a lifetime experience!
    We will have to come back to ride the other parts, maybe some day.. 😉
    We’ll soon put a photo story of this trip on our website!
    Oh, and for the geocachers among the cyclists, we’ll try to put a geocache online somewhere on this route. See you on the road!

    Thanks Neil and Harriet!

  5. Alvaro, the biciclown 23/10/2014 at 01:40 # Reply

    Hello guys.
    No, this is really not an easy rout, but besides that this is an impossible route if you are alone and with 60 kgs bike. When Pikes on bikes say you have to push they are not really accurate. In the section between Tanta and Vilca, the 7 kms bike and hike you will have to lift your bike. Not just push. The last climb is impossible without removign panniers from the bike. All of them. I will not suggest this route to anybody that has not experience in circus. If you have front panniers they must be high, otherwise you will hit the terrain and get block.
    And yes, you must cross puente centenario to go out of Vilca.
    I am sorry to say this is a route only if you are a bit crazy and you travel with someone and light.
    In this video you will get an idea why this route is not for you. Thanks alvaro the biciclown
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkj76zs-gmE&feature=youtu.be

    • Neil 27/10/2014 at 09:09 # Reply

      Hi Alvaro,
      Yep, not a route to do with 60kg, like we say in the intro! We meant it when we said we strongly recommend you attempt it with a light bike… I’ve just made it clearer that there’s a hike-a-bike section though.
      cheers
      Neil

      • Alvaro, the biciclown 27/10/2014 at 17:10 # Reply

        Not complains at all, just wants to be clear enough to avoid people get into troubles.
        I have not seeing when I have read the intro the words pushing/ferrying ( well done if you have edit it)
        This is the story of my journey to that area http://www.biciclown.com/index.php?mmod=diari&file=details&iN=491
        All the best and keep insipiring people, alvaro the biciclown (10 years on the road, non stop)

        • Cherry 11/11/2014 at 01:40 # Reply

          Hi there Alvaro, I dont want to interject but when I did this route I made sure I prepared. I did this by reading the Pikes account on http://www.pikesonbikes.com and their kit list, also if you take the time to read peoples comments above you can see that people talk about encomienda and how little they carried. For me this will always be remembered as a fun and beautiful ride. Not going light would obviously change your perspective a lot.

  6. Leah Manning 07/11/2014 at 18:12 # Reply

    I rode this route mid October solo and only with the directions on this site which are spot on. The hike & bike was one of my favorite sections although I was light (18kg) and used the reliable Cruz del Sur encomienda. I would not have been able to complete the route with a heavier load. I took twice as long due to the season and ran low on food as many shops were closed but ate fresh trout and always found some sort of roof to sleep under. An truly amazing route, grateful to The Pikes for starting this fire. http://cyclesouthchica.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/perus-great-divide-rider-on-the-stor/

  7. Lukas Manke 13/08/2015 at 00:33 # Reply

    Three weeks ago, I cycled the GD as mentioned in the route description. It took me seven days on a rather light MTB without panniers. Thank you guys very much for pointing out this route and for the description. I used the gpx file and it turned out to be perfectly accurate! Same for the description. Some small updates I noticed:
    If you want to skip tanta as I did, OSM offers two streets going north from the lake. I chose to take the one in the south, leading close to the lake. As the lake meanwhile expanded because of the dam on its eastern end, the street is now flooded and you have to push your bike for about two km. so if you want to skip tanta you might want to try the route a little bit more in the north.
    2. The singletrail to vilca still exists and I doubt that this will change in the near future. I agree that about 5km of it are rideable, I actually enjoyed it quite much.
    3. In acobambilla you can get accommodation in the municipality. They offer you the basement as well as a freezing cold shower. Later on, one asked me why I didn’t take a bath in the river, as it is warmer…
    4. The banos thermales aren’t a ruin, but the consierge has got the key for it. So if you really are in need of a whirlpool, you can try your luck in tanta. Same for the hotel which is standing right next to it.
    5. Keep your eyes open for condors at the punta pumacocha. Saw three fully grown around 2pm just a few meters above me.
    That’s basically it, thanks again for this beast of a route! I can highly recommend it! Enjoy!

  8. Julia 02/10/2015 at 15:52 # Reply

    took us 10.5 days incl. 1.5 days of break and its defintily way tougher than the 1st part

    to Tanta: super easy to miss crossign at km 53.7 , rqaod to Tanta almost parralels the road your coming down.
    they “improved” the uphill so now there lots of loose gravel and big rocks, I almost pushed uf of the uphill )Hannes cycled most)

    at km 175 we took the Alvaro and Lucy route. First pass had steep sections but didnt seem as bad as 2km on 24 percent as the pomachocha one has. there electricity lines in the valley, so not so scenic but the 2nd pass was veru beautiful.

    from 248km to acobambilla there wasnt really any water, theres a lake way below the orad an maybe a ditch if your really in need but no creek

    going up to abra vinas was easy, very good surface but from vinas to huancavelica supersteepsections

  9. Danny and Tamara 09/10/2015 at 17:52 # Reply

    Another incredible route! Some notes:

    – Tanta, km 80, has a few options for accommodation.

    – Vilca, km 111, also has options for accommodation. As in the next few villages, the whole place was basically empty around midday, so it might be difficult to find a room before around 6 pm when people return from the campo.

    – The original bridge described out of Vilca, km 113, (not Puente Centenario) was passable and involved lifting our bikes and pushing them over thin wood planks. The workers will demand a large soft drink (colaboracion, they say) before allowing you to pass. Sounds ridiculous, but it´s the truth.

    – At the lakes after Punta Pumacocha, kms 190-200, keep your eyes open for the rare Andean Flamingo!

    – The only water going up Paso Don Mario is from stagnant ponds. There is water from bigger lakes in the wide valley after Punta Pumacocha, and there are plenty of streams and rivers on the descent from Don Mario, after about km 224.

    Our experience is here: http://bikesandbackpacks.blogspot.com/2015/10/spine-of-andes-part-2-september-28.html

    Many thanks,
    Danny and Tam

  10. Campbell 15/09/2016 at 02:05 # Reply

    Having done Part 1, I had to head down to Lima for a couple of weeks. I got a taxi back up to Chosica (from near Plaza Bolognesi), a bus from Chosica to San Mateo and then another taxi the last short bit to Chicla (having descended all the way to Chosica previously, I was adamant that I didn’t want to ride on that godforsaken road for a minute longer than necessary). I stayed the night at the Hotel above Chicla (El Imperador?), which was pretty crap for S/.40 (and no Wi-Fi as previously reported). Despite having spent much of the previous 3 months at altitude, coming up from Lima to 3800m so quickly definitely hit me hard (mainly dizziness and a minor headache). I would suggest anybody doing the same stay no higher than San Mateo (3200m) or preferably a little lower (e.g. Matucana, 2400m) for at least a night on the way up. The next day I cycled the short distance to Chocna, where I camped at the school (Pedro, the schoolteacher is very friendly if any of you want to do the same and he left the school open for access to the bathrooms). It’s potentially a good option for those not wanting to hang around in Chicla after Part 1. An afternoon lazying around in Chocna went a long way towards helping re-acclimatise.

    Bad news (or good, if it’s not your thing) – they’ve started to bulldoze the singletrack section to Vilcas! As of early Sept 2016, they had done about a kilometre of the Northern end. A chap I spoke to said it would take them another 2 months to finish. Having ridden it and seen what they’ve got ahead, I would expect longer. Either way, I would guess that by 2017, it’ll be ripio all the way! For anybody doing it soon, it was very do-able, even with a fairly heavy load (in good weather) – I only had to ferry my panniers to lighten the load at two short spots towards the end and much of the pushing is on fairly flat sections, negotiating rocks or swampiness! It’s a really beautiful and peaceful section, so it’s a shame that they’re opening it up. Hey ho, all in the name of progress.

    The other thing I’ll mention is that I was really unsure as to whether to do this route in the first place – I’m riding a Surly Ogre weighing in (with luggage) at a total of about 43-45kg. I wasn’t in a position to encomienda any of my stuff but was wary of the repeated warnings about going light and the increased physicality of this route. I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it, and I’m delighted that I did!

    Whilst I’ll admit some of the passes were hard work towards the top (probably the same for most, given the altitude), I took my time and it was very do-able. I have good gearing (Rohloff 36/16T), 2″ tyres and, for the most part, had excellent dry conditions (beginning of September). I just wanted to mention this for people who might be in the same boat – by all means, do everything you can to lighten your load but you don’t have to avoid it altogether if you can’t! I probably wouldn’t be saying that if it was muddy though, so be warned!

    The view shortly after Punta Ushuayca is fairly spectacular, the panorama from Abra Suijo is nothing short of breathtaking and, well, Punta Pumacocha…

    My account is here: https://www.randomrouleur.com/2016/09/14/put-to-the-test/

    Thanks Pikes!

  11. Tara 11/08/2017 at 18:09 # Reply

    No news is good news. We completed the route a week or so ago. Everything was passable. The section before Vilca has shrunk to maybe 2-3k of singletrack. Couple steep pushes will connect the new, bulldozed section with the trail that leads into Vilca. For better or worse, progress there. The road is completely closed to traffic though so we found it pretty pleasant. Another note is that the folks at Don Mario mine are just about the most friendly people…and they have a potable water tap! Perhaps this is shut off when no one is working, but it was a welcome alternative to the stagnant ponds. A TOUGH, memorable route! We were fully loaded and loved it nonetheless.

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