Abancay to Cotahuasi

Abancay – Antabamba – Huacullo – Cotahuasi

This is fantastic, but extremely difficult, high altitude route through southern Peru, with a lot of climbing, steep gradients and sections of poor surface. In the middle part of the route the road is above 4,500m for 130kms during which time it crosses five 5,000m passes, before descending into the spectacular Cotahuasi canyon.

Finding water isn’t much of a problem as the road passes streams at least a couple of times each day. Between Antabamba and Chinchayllapa settlements are few and you can only resupply at basic shops in Huacullo and Culipampa. We took 4 days of food from each of Antabamba and Culipampa, just to be safe.

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Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Abancay (2,420m). Large town with all facilities. The Hotel Imperial was good.
72.6km Descend from town on the main, paved road. Low point after about 15kms at 1,770m. Gentle undulating climb upvalley to Sta Rosa. (Don’t turn off the paving after 46kms up a road signposted ‘Antabamba’ – we were told this doesn’t go to the town of Antabamba.)
72.6km Santa Rosa. Village with restaurants and accommodation. Turn L onto unpaved road to Antabamba.
78.5km Upvalley to Antabamba. The only decision to make is about 36.8kms from Santa Rosa where you have to go straight (up) at a junction, just after the village of Huancapampa. Pass through the small village of Matara 7kms before Antabamba.
151.1km Antabamba (3,660m). Shops, restaurants, accommodation, slow internet.
34.0km Pass through town and after 1.1kms go straight (signposted ‘Arequipa’) at a junction where the main road goes R round a hairpin. Climbs and descents to another junction (3,810m) 19.2kms from Antabamba. Stay straight for Huacullo (L goes to village of Chuñohuacho). Descend to another junction (go straight/down) just before a bridge (3,620m, 24.3kms from Antabamba). Mostly climb to village of Curanco.
185.1km Curanco (3,860m). Tiny village, didn’t see any facilities.
29.8km Descend 1.4kms from Curanco to a bridge (3,800m). Climb 13.8kms to high point (4,520m). 6.8kms from this high point reach a stream (the first drinkable water we saw since the bridge). 0.8kms later a track joins from the L, but stay straight on the main road. Climb for 7kms more to Abra Ccotaccasa.
214.9km Abra Ccotaccasa (4,870m – GPS01).
4.8km At the pass a road joins from the L. Stay straight, and descend to a junction (GPS02) 0.7kms from the pass. Go R at the junction (L to ?) towards Ninaccasa. In another 0.9kms go straight at a junction towards Huacullo (L is signposted ‘Los Apus de Ninaccasa’). In a further 0.4kms stay straight/R on the main road at a junction. Shortly after is the low point at about 4,760m, followed by a sometimes steep 4.8km climb to Abra Ninaccasa.
219.7km Abra Ninaccasa (4,880m).
7.0km Descend 1.4kms to Mina Oro Vega which is off to the L. Stay R on main road. 0.8kms further on stay L on main road at a junction on a hairpin. Descend to 4,710m then climb through a tiny settlement and up to a junction by some houses, 2.8kms from Mina Oro Vega. Stay straight and climb 2.8kms to a pass.
226.7km Pass (4,950m – GPS03).
6.3km Descend to a low point (4,770m) 4.9kms from the pass. Soon after there is a stream to wade (the first water we saw since the stream before Abra Ccotaccasa), then climb steeply for 1.4kms to another high point.
233.0km Pass (4,920m).
6.1km Descend steeply for 1.6kms to a junction (4,770m – GPS04). Go R. Start climb to pass 1.8kms later. Road climbs 250m in 2.7kms to the pass.
239.1km Abra Huacullo (5,016m – GPS05).
13.9km Descend 50m past a lake, then climb to another high point (5,000m) 2.5kms from the pass. Descend and 5.1kms from the high point go R at a junction. In a further 4.5kms meet the Huacullo-Azuca road . Go R and descend, arriving in Huacullo after 1.8kms.
253.0km Huacullo (4,690m – GPS06). Small village with basic accommodation, restaurant, shops.
11.9km Go through the village and in 6.8kms get to Culipampa – (4,770m – GPS07) a smaller village with restaurants, accommodation, shops. Turn R (L goes to Mina Arcata) onto the Arcata-Selene road and climb to a pass. Occasional mine traffic.
264.9km Abra Culipampa (5,024m – GPS08).
18.1km Descend 5.5kms on a sandy surface to low point (4,720m) at a stream. All rideable. Climb 3.5kms to a high point (4,910m) on a good surface. Descend 2.5kms on another quite sandy surface to another low point and river (4,750m). Climb 6.6kms to the pass.
283.0km Abra Huarcaya (5,057m – GPS09).
17.7km Descend 50m then a small climb to a high point at 5,040m, 1.8kms from the pass. Descend 9kms to Huarcaya (4,540m), a tiny settlement with no facilities. Follow the valley (crossing 2 bridges) for 6.9kms to a junction. Road surface still ok.
300.7km Junction next to blue hut (GPS10). Go L onto small road. Don’t miss this turn – it would be easy to overlook and continue straight on the main road to the Selene mine.
9.9km Climb gently up valley for a while, then begin climbing steeply to the pass. Coropuna comes into view just before the pass.
310.6km Abra Loncopata (5,119m – GPS11).
7.9km Descend 1.9kms to a junction (GPS12). Go L to Cotahuasi. (R goes to Calacapcha and Mina Cerro Blanco). Descend 6.0kms to a low point, crossing under huge power lines not long before reaching the low point.
318.5km Low point/river (4,700m).
12.5km Climb 4.5kms to high point (4,990m). Descend 4.5kms to junction/low point (4,830m) – stay straight and climb. Climb 3.5kms to a pass.
331.0km Abra Quenco (5,020m – GPS13).
14.6km Gentle, then steep descent. After about 11kms drop below 4,500m for the first time in 130kms.
345.6km Junction by a bridge over river (4,220m – GPS14).
7.5km Don’t cross the bridge. Go R and stay on the same side of the river. Climb 2.6kms to a high point (4,360m) then descend 4.9kms to Chinchayllapa.
353.1km Chinchayllapa (4,010m). Small village with shop.
19.6km Very steep 2.8km descent to river (3,760m). Climb 2.0kms to the small village of Churca (3,860m). 6.0km to Huactapa (small village with shop). Then 8.8km climb on switchbacks to the final pass.
372.7km Abra Huactapa (4,181m – GPS15).
11.9km Descend 6.0kms to the village of Maghuancca (3,770m, shop), then 3.0kms to the small village of Suni (3,580m). Continue descent, then climb 90m to a junction 2.9kms from Suni.
384.6km Junction (GPS16). Go R to Cotahuasi (L to Puyca).
44.0km Bumpy, 10km descent on switchbacks to Rio Cotahuasi. Follow the river downstream for 13kms to Alca (town with accommodation, restaurants, internet, shops). Continue 9.7kms to Tomepampa (pretty town with some tourist facilities including accommodation), then 11.3kms of paved road to Cotahuasi.
428.6km Cotahuasi (2,710m). Town with accommodation, restaurants, shops, internet, a bank that will change USDs, but no ATM.
Time taken – 7 days (this was rushing, best to take 8 or 9) and amount climbed – 9,160m 4 hours: Abancay – Sta Rosa (660m climb).
9 hours: Sta Rosa – Antabamba (2,040m climb).
13 hours: Antabamba – Huacullo (2,870m climb).
5 hours: Huacullo – Huarcaya (940m climb).
8 hours: Huarcaya – Huactapa (1,510m climb).
6 hours: Huactapa – Cotahuasi (1,140m climb).
Traffic Plenty to Antabamba, then not very much. 2 vehicles in 2 days from Antabamba to Huacullo. A few mine vehicles an hour from Huacullo to the junction past Huarcaya. Virtually nothing from there to Chinchayllapa. A couple of vehicles an hour from there to the Cotahuasi valley, then busier.
When we cycled Mid November 2010.
Difficulty 5
How much we had to push on this route 12kms

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Abra Ccotaccasa 14.4594 S, 72.6470 W, 4,870m.
GPS02 Junction 14.4606 S, 72.6450 W, 4,830m.
GPS03 4,950m Pass 14.5229 S, 72.6611 W, 4,950m.
GPS04 Junction 14.5607 S, 72.6292 W, 4,770m.
GPS05 Abra Huacullo 14.5879 S, 72.6292 W, 5,016m.
GPS06 Huacullo 14.6552 S, 72.5728 W, 4,690m.
GPS07 Culipampa 14.7064 S, 72.5551 W, 4,770m.
GPS08 Abra Culipampa 14.7137 S, 72.5913 W, 5,024m.
GPS09 Abra Huarcaya 14.7148 S, 72.7011 W, 5,057m.
GPS10 Junction 14.7383 S, 72.7932 W, 4,620m.
GPS11 Abra Loncopata 14.7897 S, 72.8348 W, 5,119m.
GPS12 Junction 14.7970 S, 72.8453 W, 5,020m.
GPS13 Abra Quenco 14.8760 S, 72.7670 W, 5,020m.
GPS14 Junction 14.8925 S, 72.7041 W, 4,220m.
GPS15 Abra Huactapa 15.0063 S, 72.7058 W, 4,181m.
GPS16 Junction 15.0623 S, 72.7026 W, 3,640m.

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Nearby routes: Quiñota to AbancayCotahuasi to AplaoCaylloma to Quiñota

5 Responses to “Abancay to Cotahuasi”

  1. Steve 09/07/2012 at 14:20 # Reply

    This is another spectacular route from Andes By Bike. Its now maybe my 9th from the site and I remain un-lost thanks to all the accurate information provided. I cycled this route in June 2012. Here are a few updates –

    -Potential source of confusion at Abra Ccotaccasa. A road does join from the left as stated but one also now joins from the right. The main road goes left around a hairpin, so the road from the right could be construed as going ‘straight’. Instead you should stay on the main road, which goes left around the bend and drops to the junction.
    -After the pass at 226.7 km you descend, however there is no longer a stream to wade, there was a very small stream off to the left, the water tasted a bit earthy but probably safe. I drank it and was fine. But after the next pass and before Abra Huacullo there are two streams to wade not previously mentioned. I think the water has moved a bit with the seasons! (I cycled this route at a different time of year)
    -Huarcaya has sprouted facilities, probably due to the expansion of the nearby mine. I was given a free meal in the mine campamento, there are at least 2 shops and someone menioned nearby thermal pools but I didnt investigate.
    -On the climb up to Abra Quenco the surface is now poor, pushing required.

    -Cotahuasi – dont expect too much, the tourism industry is still very small here. Still no ATM. For the 2 days I was here I was the only gringo in town. A good excusion is the Sipia waterfall, about 15 km from the town down the canyon, if you have the energy left.
    -I usually take the time stated on the site for the ABB routes but this one took me an extra day, 8 instead of 7.
    -One final word of warning – if you are doing this route in reverse and are cycling south with little or no Andean riding experience, then think very carefully. You must be fully acclimatised before trying this one, the gradients are steep, the roads often bad, you climb to over 5000 metres several times and it could be a long time until you can reach help or can descend.

  2. Salva Rodríguez 01/09/2013 at 14:20 # Reply

    I do not know how to thank you guys for all this information provided, it is just great. Thanks a lot.

    Indeed, this is an extreme route, I would put it in my top-5 after almost 8 years cycling the world. Really tough.
    I agree with Steve update about the conditions of the roads, and since I cycled it a year later (August 2013), I would say that they are even worse. After Antabamba, I never was on a ‘surface ok’ road, they are stony, or rocky, or sandy, or everything put together. Here, there are some points:

    – I do not think that Cotacassa pass is confusing, yes, there are a road joining the pass, but in my opinion all the way until Loncopata pass is very easy to follow, just follow the main road.

    – The junction after Loncopata road is tricky now. Not sure how many trucks pass this way every month, but there is only a very light track on the sand. This mountain is all the way sandy until down the river, and there is a confusing junction a kilometer later. Take left. Once you are in the river, the next mountain is solid, so the road becomes clear, but as Steve remarked this pass, and next, Quenco, road is really terrible, lots of pushing.

    – Huacuyo, Culipampa, are villages where supplies relay on the trucks from Espinar. If you arrived just on time, there is everything you need, even yogurt. But if you are unlucky, you may not find even pasta. Restaurants were closed when I was there.

    – Water river after Ninacasa pass is contaminated by gold mine. You have to get water in the lake before the pass, or after the next pass, where there is a small river. Besides this, water was not a problem, plenty of streams and small rivers, but it was in August and 2013 has been a raining winter here.

    – As I said, roads are really bad now, all of them, difficult to cycle beyond 12 km/h even down hill, but there are some stretches where conditions are even worse:
    1. Cotacasa pass (thousands of stones on the road)
    2. Culipampa and Loncopata passes (very sandy)
    3. All the way from the river to Quenco pass (destroyed and rocky road)
    4. All the way from Chynchayllapa to Alca (stony and rocky in an incredible limit). Most is down hill, like a bed river, but the climb to Huactapa is hell on earth. The switchbacks down the river are dangerous in places, very very stony.

    – I would recommend to stay last night in Luchio hot springs (2 soles only), 15 k before Cotahuasi, a real heaven after the journey. People were very friendly and they invited me to camp in their garden.

    – In case of need, there are mining traffic all the way, but NOT from Loncopata pass to Quenco pass and to the river bridge. And from there to Alca, trucks are not daily, but you can stay in the villages and wait.

    – As Steve said, I would not recommend this route in opposite direction. The climb of canyon after Alca would be absolutely impossible to cycle, maybe it can be 3 days pushing to reach the top and start to cycle.
    Also I want to warn, even I may sound stupid and vain: do not come here if you do not have previous experience in tough and remote roads. This is not just an unpaved route.

  3. Nathan 13/08/2014 at 20:11 # Reply

    Cherry and I (Nathan), cycled this route in the last week of July, 2014. It is undoubtedly a gem for which Neil and Harriet deserve a lot of credit. We had snow, rain, wind and sun during an incredible 7 days (34.5 riding hours) between Antabamba and Cotahuasi. It maybe took longer than expected as snowstorms cut a couple of days short. But we believe one of the reasons we enjoyed ourselves so much and didn’t find the route so extremely challenging was our relaxed approach.

    Things to take note of:

    ⦁ If approaching the northern start of the route from the west it is not necessary to ride via Santa Rosa. We took a couple of days in Chalhuanca before riding the road up and over through Yanaca to join the Pikes route to Antabamba. We chose this route believing it would have less traffic than the more southerly Caraibamba, Mollebamba to Antabmaba alternative. In view of the traffic we did experience and the tedium of riding up the valley to Antabamba I’d recommend giving the Mollebamba route a try (although I have never ridden it).
    ⦁ Even riding in the dry season we found water to pretty much always be readily available. I was never riding with more than a litre on the bike the whole route. Don’t rely on the Pikes notes on streams as the water systems have evolved.
    ⦁ Mining activity has seemed to increase around the northern half of the route. We experienced more traffic than expected all the way up to Abra Loncopata (mainly large articulated lorries), after which it completely disappeared.
    ⦁ We enjoyed a comfortable (if cold) night in the hospedaje in Huacullo. It’s 15 soles each a night but doesn’t have either electricity or water (but we were able to recharge camera batteries in a nearby community building/bakery). If you have the time I’d recommend riding the extra 6.8 km to Culipampa. Although not aware of the standard of the hospedajes there we found the shop to be very well stocked and the people of the village to be extremely welcoming.
    ⦁ Huarcaya does indeed now have decently stocked tiendas and if you’re lucky you might be able to bag an evening meal and warm comfortable bunk in the medical centre there.
    ⦁ At 300.7km (GPS10) what was a left onto a small road is now a left onto a bigger road, the junction being umissable due to excessive signing. Work has obviously been done on this road with some of the steeper sections up to Abra Loncopata having been ironed out in the process.
    ⦁ IMPORTANT NOTE: The junction at GPS12, 1.9km after Abra Loncopata is no longer anything resembling a junction. Look for a set of tire tracks rather than a connecting road. There are the remnants of a dry stone shelter on the right opposite the turn. If you find yourself ascending then you’ve gone too far. The road after the junction will curve down and around to the left. At the point where it crosses under the power lines there is a small collection of shepherds huts (one of which offered us invaluable salvation from a snowstorm).
    ⦁ The road surface from the junction at GPS12, 1.9km after Abra Loncopata, is universally bad up until the river at 345.6km (GPS 14). It switches quickly between swampy sand and bucking rocks. All rideable though. Note that after crossing under the power lines you’ll be following them up until the before mentioned river.
    ⦁ Huactapa has a community hospedaje on the main square. It’s free and has beds (although I’d take the floor every time).
    ⦁ The road surface on the climb up to Abra Huactapa is now bad enough to render the climb anything but ‘gentle’. With 566m of vertical gain and consistently bad road conditions, taken over it’s full length this climb is now one of the tougher ones.
    ⦁ The village of Suni has a shop
    ⦁ There’s no Internet or ATM in Cotahuasi and despite an impressive collection of ferreterias bencina blanca is not available.

    Bicycle touring is a subjective pursuit; one mans dream is another’s nightmare. Accordingly what Neil and Harriet describe as ‘tough’ you may find ‘gentle’ and vice versa. So here are our individual views on the route:

    Nathan (www.velofreedom.bike):
    This route was nowhere near as challenging but every bit as beautiful as expected. It’s a genuine treat to spend so much time up in the highlands. With so many high-points and passes to topple the vistas are constantly evolving and the landscape exciting. Road conditions are at times challenging but rideable. I was able to ride the entire route without any pushing. Often remote but seldom isolated I’d recommend this route to anyone with a modicum of winter camping experience. However, if you are not fully acclimatised to the altitude there is a strong chance you may spend the entire time quite miserable. And take heed of Neil and Harriets advice concerning load weight, keep it down and you’ll have considerably more fun (if you’re riding heavyweight, bus company Cruz Del Sur will safely, cheaply and reliably encomienda any excess gear between major Peruvian hubs). Obviously at such high attitudes it’s important to be prepared for any weather, it comes in fast. Riding in the last week of July, 2014, the dry season, our movement was halted twice by snowstorms. With enough warm clothing, food and a sizeable bag of coca leaves this route has every chance of becoming your favourite.

    The tougher parts for me were: the steep 1.4km climb at 231.6km (did just before lunch), the climbs from the river at 318.5km to Abra Quenco (poor road conditions and snowy ground) and the climb up to Abra Huactapa (poor road conditions and tired legs).

    Cherry (theseplacesinbetween.com):
    As Nathan states any route can be ridden, even at the same time but with different perspectives. This for me was the toughest, highest and coldest route that I have ever ridden (prior to this I rode the Pikes Great Divide route south), however, with this came it’s just rewards, and I can not say I ever felt truly uncomfortable. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this route was it’s length – during our final day of altitude breathing became more difficult and I was beginning to feel weaker. Thank you Pikes for blazing the trail – which allowed us to have one of the most memorable rides ever.

  4. Daniel 11/09/2016 at 21:10 # Reply

    What drew me to this route was the words ‘This is fantastic…’ and it did not disappoint. I cycled this route in August 2016 but only rode half of it, the other half I connected with the other Pikes route Caylloma to Quinota, and ended up in Caylloma then onto Chivay…First things first:
    I started from Andahuaylas and took a shortcut over the mountains on a nice quiet dirt road via Tintay.
    151.1km Antabamba – 2 hostals, internet only open a few days a week (just not whenI was there)
    214.9km Abra Ccotaccasa – Maybe some confusion here as its a four-way junction and if you went straight as the Pikes route suggests you would not follow the rest of the parts of the Pikes route. However, this straight road does reconnect to the road further on but I dont know how rideable this road is. I found that when you get to the top of the pass ignore the first left and take the second left.
    Between Antabamba and Huacullo there are no shops
    Fantastic scenery, literally up on a high for a week or more. Many thanks Pikes for this great route, yet again another gem.

  5. Eileen and Andy 02/09/2017 at 18:01 # Reply

    Spectacular ride and range of scenery, and we only rode part of it from Culipampa to Cotahuasi!
    We were reasonably light on 29 x 2.5″ tyres and the surfaces didn’t give us too much trouble. Though they’re rough and/or sandy at times, I think a bunch of roads have had work done on them. We had great weather in mid-August and temperatures ranged from -10 (nights around 4500m) and +32 (days in the canyon).
    Culipampa – lumpy beds can be found at the 2 storey building on the plaza. Great food at the restaurant on Sth-east corner of plaza, white building.
    No luck at the medical centre or otherwise for accommodation in Huarcaya, but we found a great spot to camp about 6 km further – look for an old road parallel to you, next to the river below. Flat, out of sight and water.
    Culipampa to the top of Loncopata we found the surfaces pretty good. They deteriorate after that, but with the right setup it’s fun riding. Abra Quenco on both sides of the pass is roughest with a little pushing needed on the steepest parts, and while Huactapa is a slog in the heat, it’s all rideable. After km 384.6 the drop to the river is no longer rocky, great descent.
    Bonus: From Cotahuasi it’s now possible to descend as far as Quechualla, another 35km down the canyon. It’s a really stunning and fun ride. The tiny, friendly village has a couple of accommodation options, a restaurant and a very basic shop. Worth bringing a little backup food in case the señora is out of town and both the shop and restaurant are closed as happened to us one night. There’s a daily bus in the morning that can take you and your bike back to a Cotahuasi for 15soles if you don’t fancy the sweltering return trip. Fantastic route, thanks, we loved it!

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