Biking in Peru

Not being a fan of conventional tours, Liz Harper thought that a bike trip through the Sacred Valley sounded perfect. After all, cycling is a leisurely activity... isn't it?

(c) Liz Harper
Mount Veronica dominates the horizon on the 
llama track.

The paperwork clearly stated that the tour was “suitable for all riders from the experienced to the inexperienced so long as they can ride a bike”.  And I could, most definitely ride a bike, as my regular jaunts around the block at home could bear testament to. Why then was I filled with dread when a casual question to my tour partner, South African Calvin,  of “do you do a lot of biking at home” resulted in the answer “yeah a fair bit – although triathalons are my real passion”. Oh god, this was going to be a long and painful day – on my backside and my ego!

I’m not really a bus tour type of girl, so when I saw the Amazonas Explorer Bike Asalt Tour advertised, I signed up straight away. An off the beaten track, self propelled tour of some of the top spots in the sacred valley was right up my street – and once you’ve learnt to ride a bike eh .....

(c) Liz Harper
"Crystal blue waters and agriculture rich valleys... the views were simply stunning."

We drove up into the Andean highlands around Chinchero (3727m), where, having unloaded people and bikes we had the mandatory safety briefing from our guide Dougie, and were then issued with bikes, helmets and gloves for the day.   

I’m not a techy, geeky bike person and so the allure  of a $2,500 double suspension, hydraulic brake Kona mountain bike was completely wasted on me ..... until I got on the thing, and now, boy do I want one of those babies! Once I’d got the hang of the brakes (you really don’t want to confuse front and back .... or pull either very hard for that matter!) it was amazing and probably the closest thing I’ll ever experience to riding a bathroom sponge.  Boulders, rocks, ditches and drainpipes – bring them on, you just don’t feel a thing.  Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

We set off down a dirt road, moving swiftly onto llama track and my attention was torn between trying to get my cycling technique right (something to do with position of feet on the peddles and bum out of the saddle) and just wallowing in the views. Crystal blue waters and agriculture rich valleys, unspoilt traditional Andean communities, the Chicon glacier and snow capped peak of Mount Veronica ...... the views were simply stunning.

(c) Liz Harper
"Boulders, rocks, ditches and drainpipes - bring them on..."

After enquiring about the regular sitings of red bags on wooden sticks outside homes, we learnt that these indicated ready availability of chichi (corn beer ) – a popular if not sophisticated local brew if the number of people we pass carrying plastic bottles full of something resembling  a hospital sample was anything to go by.

Regular photo, water and snack stops allowed us both time to soak up the beauty of our surroundings and an opportunity to exploit the extensive knowledge our guide had of both the area and its history.  

There were times during the day reminiscent of my first ski holiday when I remember being told that you needed to have sufficient speed and momentum to get across ice in one piece: there was no ice at the altitude we were cycling at but I very quickly learnt the benefit of hitting a  boulder at speed versus trying to pussyfoot over it – the former option resulting in sailing over  it with grace and style, the later in a very unladylike and somewhat unorthodox separation of rider and bike!

(c) Liz Harper
The Moray ruins - a pre-Columibian agricultural research centre.

Our lunch stop was at the Moray Ruins. A huge, deep, amphitheatre style circular bowl of concentric terraces, with each level of terrace believed to have its own micro climate. This was agricultural research at its finest, with the Incas using the terraces to understand optimal conditions required for growing different crops.

(c) Liz Harper
The pre-Inca salt mines of Saleras.

Back on the bikes (and bursting to the gunnels after a superb picnic lunch), we rode down into Maras, allegedly famous during Inca times for the quality of its spies before heading out to the pre-Inca Saleras – an incredible collection of salt mines.  These mines have been in production for thousands of years and passed down from generation to generation, with over 3000 pools being managed by a co-operative of over 450 members. Dougie explained about the differing piles of salt which were stacked next to the pools:  the top layer which contained impurities and contamination , the purest white salt found in the middle layers, and the creamy looking salts scraped up from the pool beds.

(c) Liz Harper
The end of the day...

Finally, after some close encounters with sheep herders,  we cycled down to the valley floor, meeting up with the Urubamba River ........ and a well deserved ice cold beer.

And the verdict – there can’t be a more enjoyable, healthy, informative, exciting and fun way to see this part of the sacred valley –a 5/5 experience!

Liz Harper did the bike asalt trip with Amazonas Explorers in Cusco.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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