Peru Great Divide
997 Mi.(1,605 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
As the name suggests, the Peru Great Divide straddles the mountainous boundary that forms the watershed between the Pacific, to the west, and the jungly sprawl of the Amazon and the Atlantic, to the east.
To do so, the Peru Great Divide connects a rich network of active and abandoned mining roads that crisscross the Peruvian Andes – for better or for worse, given both the heartbreakingly beautiful mountain scenery they reveal, and the undeniable harm such activity wreaks on the area, its communities, and its groundwater.
Mines aside, it’s a journey that’s shared with few – for the most part, mountain companions are more likely to be herds of wiry llamas and fluffy alpacas, and the occasional intrepid and dilapidated bus, bouncing by with a serenade of its horn. Aside from a few more sizeable towns, settlements are small and sporadic – often, they’re little more than the most minuscule of pueblecitos, home to a collection of stone houses, a well-kept plaza, and a small church. The women here wear fresh garlands of flowers in their sombreros – procured from the warmer lowlands – offset with quintessential, technicoloured bundles of produce. These remote and high elevation villages are linked by the merest scraps of road and footpaths, painstakingly chiselled into the sheerest and most stark of mountainsides.
The Peru Divide runs for some 1600km (1000 miles) in length – this includes beginning the route in the climbing and hiking hub of Huaraz, to the north, and finishing up in Abancay, to the south – an overnight bus ride back to Lima (or a few days ride from Cuzco). It’s hard to convey the sheer density of ruggedly beautiful, mineral-streaked scenery that lies in between. But as recommended as it is, it’s certainly not a journey to be undertaken lightly. Expect 1500m + of high elevation climbing per day and a rapid onslaught of often challenging, mixed terrain passes that teeter at 4800m – and beyond – in elevation. Although rideable on almost any kind of touring bike, road conditions vary from compacted gravel to rough, rock-strewn jeep tracks – with gloopy mud probable after heavy rainfall – so choosing a reliable steed and appropriate gearing is key.
Rest assured though. The inevitable toils involved in scaling one Andean pass after another are never less than worth it. Acclimatise before you leave, pack light, harden your belly for mountain fodder, and prepare yourself for the vagaries of Peru’s mountain weather… because you’re in for one of South America’s most magical, dirt road touring treats!
See the Trail Notes tab for route alternatives and ways of linking the Peru Great Divide with other dirt road rides in the region.
The now-classic Peru Great Divide was devised by Neil and Harriet Pike in 2013. In the ensuing years, it’s become a deserved favourite amongst those travelling the length of the Americas.
The legendary Pikes have also established many other fabulous routes in the Andes – see Andes by Bike and Pikes on Bikes for more on their riding, hiking, and South American explorations. This intrepid couple from the UK has also authored the excellent Trailblazer publication, Peru’s Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash – a Hiking and Biking guide, a must for anyone wishing to spend more time in the area both on foot and on two wheels.
Help us update the RWGPS track with up to date info! If you’ve ridden the route recently, let us know your favourite spots along the way – and if there are any changes we can make to the gpx file.
The Peru Great Divide is part of the greater Andes Traverse, an ongoing project to build a long distance bikepacking route that runs along the spine of the Andes, between Colombia and Chile. In addition, the Peru Great Divide is also a part of the Peru Divide, a route being designed to take in the best of the country from North to South.
Downloadable GPX file with POIs coming shortly...
- Rugged Andean scenery, including a vivid palette of mineral deposits in the mountainscapes.
- Fabulously grand roller coaster climbs and descents! There is no ‘flat’ in the Peruvian mountains…
- The ride along the Cañete valley – above a long series of blue lakes linked by small waterfalls – is particularly spectacular.
- Camping heaven! The Peru Great Divide offers a string of idyllic, high elevation camping spots.
- Largely traffic-free riding. It’s common, however, to encounter alpaca and llama traffic jams!
- Best bike: this route can be ridden on any touring bike but large volume tyres (2.4in or more) will certainly make it a more comfortable experience. More importantly, run a low gearing and pack as light as you can, as a slimline setup will pay dividends given the amount of high elevation climbing.
- As with most routes in the Peruvian Cordillera, much of it is at high altitude and there is a lot of climbing, so it’s much easier with a good level of fitness and acclimatization.
- There are upwards of 50 4,000m+ passes, so bring your mountain legs!
- Short on time? A number of roads from the coast to the largest mountain cities bisect the route, so it’s possible to join it at different points. The highlight of the ride is probably from Huaraz to Huancavelica. See Trail Notes for more ideas.
- Bikepackers tend to ride the route north to south, but both directions work well. Either way, expect some big climbs!
- Be sure to acclimatise beforehand for several days at least – Huaraz and its abundance of riding, hiking, and fine dining make a good base for this.
- Similarly, bring appropriate, mountain-worthy gear. Depending on the season, waterproof trousers are recommended too. Local woollen hats can be picked up in Huaraz or en route!
- ATMs aren’t to be relied on en route, except in Huancavalica. Best bet is to take cash with you, in small denominations. Fortunately touring in the Peruvian high country is very affordable – there’s very little to spend your money on but food!
- Best time ride: this ride is best undertaken from April/May to September, when rainfall is less likely and weather patterns are most stable. Avoid the rainy season a(October/November to March) as it brings with it intense afternoon storms that will likely have you hunkering down off the bike. The shoulder seasons can be hit or miss.
- A sleeping bag rated to -5c will tide you through and allow camping at high elevation (the best spots!). Temperatures can be frigid before sunrise and after sunset.
- Best not to rely on much cell service – even with a local SIM card – though there’s a slowly increasing amount of patchy wifi along the way.
- Cruz del Sur is a safe, reliable bus company that runs from Lima to Huaraz as an overnight service. Likewise, you can take the same company back to Lima from Abancay. There is a small fee for a bike, based on weight. Bikes can be boxed or you can just remove the wheels, though some Cruz del Sur offices may ask you to wrap the bike, which can generally be done at the bus station. Tickets can be booked online.
- Most settlements will have a basic hospedaje of sorts – even if it’s as simple as a dorm bed if the weather is looking stormy.
- Larger towns offer a greater selection of accommodation with sporadic Wifi. Huancavelica is the best place to rest up en route.
- Beautiful, high elevation, wild-camping spots abound across the length of this route. They are definitely a highlight of riding the Peru Great Divide, so savour them!
- Basic resupplies are fairly regular but still, it’s best to plan on carrying 2-3 days of food at a time. Snacks – chocolates and biscuits – can often be picked up along the way
- Options can be limited in smaller settlements, so eat to your fill well whenever you hit a town! Fresh trout makes a welcome change from fried eggs and rice, or chicken claw soup, classic Peruvian mountain staples.
- There is mining activity in the area, so take in choosing the water source you purify from.
- Huancavelica, two-thirds of the way through the route, makes a great spot to rest up for a day, if only because of the quality of its cakes!
This route can be ridden comfortably over 30 riding days or so, assuming you are acclimatised. Or, it can be slimmed down to its highlight, Huaraz to Huancavelica, which can be covered in around 18 riding days. Given the amount of high elevation climbing, these timeframes are based on 50km of riding per day. Note you’ll likely want to add the odd rest day in and mileages will vary depending on the season… and how much you like to linger in so many stunning campsites!
If you have time at the beginning of end, it’s well worth spending some days exploring the Cordillera Blanca, whether by bike or by foot. See the Pikes’ Trailblazer guidebook for ideas (the book includes some singletrack day rides, too), or one of their other routes on the site.
There are many variations on joining and exiting the Peru Great Divide, too. For instance, consider working in a traverse to Pastoruri from Huaraz to marvel at its Puya Raymondis (see map location), followed by a more testing crossing of the Huayhuash (route details in the pipeline). This challenging alternate meets the Peru Great Divide near Oyon – a good resupply point. Given the number of hike-a-bikes, it’s better suited to a more minimal setup than the rest of the ride.
Aside from being a wonderful standalone route, the Peru Great Divide can also be tackled as part of a longer South American journey. It plugs in neatly to Cones and Canyons and the Camino del Puma (via Arequipa) or riders can head to the Incan capital of Cuzco (see here for a RWGPS suggestion) and then connect with the Ruta de las Las Tres Cordilleras on their way to Bolivia. Possibilities abound!
We’ve already featured a number of Peru Great Divide content here on the site. See these links for more inspiration:
- El Silencio – the film, the ride, and the bikes.
- In the Footsteps of The Chaskis – the Peru Great Divide on gravel bikes, in 18 days, starting in Cuzco. You can find the route and connector here.
- Admissions of an Amateur Bikepacker – a first solo adventure!
- For the Pikes’ original route post that hones in on 343km of the route – and their photos – see here.
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