Dusting Down to Ayacucho

Every season has its charms. In this part of the world there really are only two seasons, wet and dry, characterized for cyclists as mud and dust. Both seasons provide their own individual challenges but I’ve definitely come to view the wetter of the two as more ‘glamorous’. There is something inherently satisfying about ‘beating’ the rain. Pushing a clogged up bicycle through clawing mud, feet slipping and hands freezing, is so much more story worthy than a bit of dust. There is a massive sense of achievement in knowing that you’re wining at something in conditions that mean by rights you shouldn’t even be there. The going may be slow but the rewards are easily drunk down at days-end with a steaming hot-chocolate and pan of much-anticipated pasta. On the other hand, the dust of the dry season is just a pain in the arse. It invades beards, bodily and bicycle crevices, and is a well-known zip killer. I’ll give a medal to any cycle tourist able to put an overwhelmingly positive spin on dust. The only one I can think of is the sunscreen effect it promotes when plastered to every part of your naked skin.

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Dust isn’t the only thing that can slow you down in Central Peru… women herding their animals present frequent roadblocks. here on the climb over to Pampas

When I talk of traffic I do so in context. I’ve become used to roads where five passing vehicles in a day is the norm, so anything over that instantly becomes traffic. Thus when I moan about too many vehicles it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve been riding roads akin to the M25 in rush hour, more just that they’ve been passing relatively regularly, maybe three or four an hour. The thing with riding dusty roads in dry season is that every car throws up an unpleasant cloud of lung busting polvo and as such can’t fail to go unnoticed. The thing with riding dusty roads in the dry season in Peru is that with so much mining and industrial activity around it isn’t just cars that pass, its bloody great lorries too. The dust thrown up by these larger vehicles as they charge past, often at unfathomable speed, is all-consuming. Choking clouds rob a cyclist of their vision for a few seconds and probably their lives of five minutes as the fine grimy particles come to rest at the bottom of gasping lungs. At the end of a days ride in the dust you’ll likely present a ghostly hue, covered head to foot in a clinging white dust. And this stuff kills your gear, the rough little buggers sticking to grease and oil and wearing down anything that moves against it. I had to take a day off in Huancayo just to clean my bike and frame bags, the zips on which I could barely shift for the dust.

Map - Huasahuasi to Ayacucho

Route from Huasahuasi south-east to Ayacucho… click here to view the fully interactive map and elevation profile

Huasahuasi to Ayacucho Route elevation profile

Dust aside, the second part of my 11 day 443 mile (713 km) from Oyon to Ayacucho was a little less dramatic than the first. Although 76% of this 287 mile (462 km) 7 day ride south from Huasahuasi was on unpaved roads, they weren’t the traffic free kind that really set my juices flowing. There were quiet sections, notably the stretches from Ricran to Jauja and from just after Jauja to Huancayo and I passed through some beautiful scenery, but in years to come when I look back on my Peruvuan adventures these miles will almost certainly look utilitarian. That said, they were also an awful lot of fun. There were climbs, but once again, like the first part of the leg, the riding wasn’t particularly challenging. Taking in the mountains of the Tarma province, the high pampas around the Mantaro valley, the city of Huancayo as World Cup fever started to take a grip, the glorious ridge ride south of Pampas and then a stunning descent down into the heat of the Rio Mantaro, the ride was varied and interesting. For interested cyclists I provide route notes at the base of this post, for the rest of you, here is the story of those dusty days down to Ayacucho…

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Life starts easy, leaving Huasahuasi on a rapid descent through a sun filled agricultural valley that briefly channels into a narrow canyon before dramatically opening up again

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After the descent comes the climb… a day and a half of it! After a short stretch of climbing on the ripio I briefly grace the pavement of Highway 20A

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The pavement only lasts a few miles before I find myself in Palca (aka Santo Domingo) and returning to the dirt

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Farmers working their fields remind me of times past as I pump my climbing rhythm…

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… up to lunch in the monument cluttered center of Tapo

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From Tapo the road continues up… past delicious textures and colors…

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… as it crawls towards the pass…

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… which topples me over into a new world

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From the pass to the village of Maco the grade reduces and the clouds disappear.

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All the people I ask before hand assure me there’s someone offering rooms in Maco. When I arrive that someone decides she doesn’t in fact have any rooms at all. Three young lads help me try to organise sleeping in the municipal building but we can’t find the keys. After I decline one of their invitations to stay in their house I return to the road in search of a camping opportunity. To my intense annoyance the lads cycle after me and insist on keeping me company. All I want is my own company and the chance to melt off into the countryside to sleep. After a few miles cold shouldered riding I spot the remnants of a building that will become my home for the night. The lads eventually get the message and go home leaving me to recoup my energy and feel guilty for being so rude

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From camp it’s a glorious morning for the gentle descent up to Abra Cayan

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I pass through Ricran where the school children are out in the plaza and give me a spontaneous round of applause…

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… then back out into the beautiful silence of the countryside…

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… with only farmers and their annoying dogs for company

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The descent from Abra Cayan soon brings the flatlands of the Mantaro Valley into view

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Down I go, through a network of smaller valleys to lunch in Jauja

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From Jauja a short burst of busy and dangerous highway riding delivers me back to the dirt and the start of another climb…

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… up I plod on steep two-track…

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… until an open expanse of high pampa takes over

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By the time I roll into the village of Llacuari Pampa the light is failing so I prepare to start asking around for shelter…

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… this lands me the honorary title of ‘first tourist to stay in Llacuari Pampa’ and a night on the floor of the mayor’s office (complete with obligatory pictures of half-naked Gringas)

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Many might consider it a stroke of luck to land in Llacuari Pampa on the night they celebrate 79 years of the village. With a loud band playing outside my room, drunken revelry and the unwanted position of honorary guest, I consider it a darn nuisance. Thankfully they soon realize I’m no fun, allowing me to slip off to bed

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When morning comes there is little evidence of the previous nights carnage save for the distinct lack of people up and about. I pick up some breakfast supplies and make a quick getaway…

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… past the tree I’d humorously witnessed the villages men hauling into place the night before (they cut it down at the end of the celebrations)…

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… and back out into open country

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Eating my bread and jam by the turning towards Aco I savor the tranquility, aware that I’ll soon be diving down the valley…

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… onto busier roads…

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… and into the bustling city if Huancayo. Unfruitful searches for a new seat-post, the desperate need to clean my gear of zip destroying dust and the first match of the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil keep in Huancayo for a day

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From Huancayo I cruise the pavement until it disappears in Pucara and I start to climb…

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… gladly swapping the hectic streets of Huancayo and Mantaro Valley…

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… for the villages and rural climbs of Huancavelica

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But the tranquility is short-lived as I turn onto Highway 3S for the final 8.5 miles (14 km) of climbing…

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… up to the pass before Pampas. By the time I start the descent down to town the sun has as good as set and I’m left to brave the dust and traffic in the dark

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Arriving in a dark Pampas with just enough time to catch the last 20 minutes of England’s disastrous opening World Cup match I have to wait until morning to explore town

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Showered and primed for action, I’m covered in dust again before I’ve even left Pampas

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The days climbing starts as soon as I leave Pampas…

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…and continues all day…

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…delivering me…

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…back up into the land of mountain views…

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… and cloud covered passes

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As I’m nearing the top of the climb a herd of Llamas cross the road in front of me. Every single one of them flop onto their backs and have a good roll around in the dirt before continuing on to the other side of the road

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A few miles glorious evening ridge riding…

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… and the sun dramatically leaves me to camp

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After some strategic pitching the night before I’m treated to a warming breakfast sun…

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… before getting back onto the road and into the dust

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With fantastic views on both sides, the ridge ride towards Churcampa is an exhilarating spin…

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… up and down over various gentle passes…

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… past proud and curious Llamas…

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… through dilapidated villages…

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… and always in the accompaniment of overhead power lines!

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Eventually I topple off the ridge for the drop down to lunch in Chonta

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From Chonta there is one last small pass…

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… taking me up, over and down…

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…through a couple of small villages…

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… a gorgeous lush and sun-soaked valley…

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… into a broader agricultural vista…

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… and eventual descent into Churcampa

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Beyond Churcampa the evening sun makes romantic work of the canyonesque landscape around the Rio Mantaro below

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After a quiet night in Churcampa…

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… I take a lesson from the birds and get back to work early doors…

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… aware that the descent down to the Rio Mantaro will bring a dramatic increase in temperature

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A newly (and badly) paved road sweeps me down…

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… to cross Rio Mantaro…

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… before a hellish stretch of construction and mosquito infested road delivers me up to Huanta

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After a heavy accompaniment of caffeine with my arroz a la cubana, I fly up the pavement out of Huanta, taking one last look back before toppling over…

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… onto the final stretch of road to Ayacucho

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With its perfect climate…

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… and colonial charms, Ayacucho is the perfect place to relax…

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… and enjoy my 34th birthday. I get a knock on the door the day after arriving in the bike friendly Hotel Crillonesa (165 Calle Nazareno) and find the Hotel family outside singing birthday songs and brandishing a cake! A really lovely surprise for someone who has gotten used to ignoring birthdays and Christmas

Route Tips

Be aware that distances and elevations are taken from my bicycle computer and barometric altimeters, thus they are in some ways an approximation.

Huasahuasi to Huancayo
2.5 days, 99 miles (159 km), 9,442 ft. (2,878 m) of climbing

This route represents a great alternative to the busier roads that can take you south from Junin to Jauja (3SA via Tarma and 3S via La Oroya) and from Jauja to Huancayo (3B and 3S). The climb up through Tapo over to Maco requires a bit of effort and there is a short steep climb up to the high pampas from Jauja, but otherwise the route is not difficult. If you’re intelligent there are frequent enough settlements to make water and food easy to come and therefore little need to carry much of either. Traffic comes and goes but is never heavy or particularly bothersome.

  • Distances cumulative from Huasahuasi
  • 8.9 miles (14.3 km) turn right onto paved 20A – A few shops and restaurants mark the junction and line the highway
  • 14.2 miles (23 km) turn left in the town of Santo Domingo (aka Palca) onto the gravel road signposted ‘Tapo – Maco’ – There is a hospedaje on the corner of the turn and a good restaurant/tienda
  • 14.9 miles (24 km) turn right towards Tapo
  • 19.1 miles (30.7 km) Tapo central plaza –  Tapo houses two hospedaje’s, restaurants and tiendas
  • 24.9 miles (40 km) top of first pass (roughly 12,160 ft, 3,700 m elevation)
  • 27.25 miles (44 km) carry on straight (not left)
  • 33.4 miles (53.8 km) turn left
  • 34 mile (54.7 km) roofless building – good camp spot
  • On my day out of Huasahuasi I rode 34 miles (55 km) and climbed 5,059 ft (1,542 m)
  • 36.8 miles (59.2 km) Ricran central plaza
  • 46.2 miles (74.4 km) top of pass (Abra Cayan) 13,440 ft (4,097 m)
  • 55.4 miles(89.2 km) Yauli central plaza
  • 58.3 miles (93.8 km) Panca central plaza
  • 59.7 miles (96 km) start of pavement
  • 60.1 miles (96.7 km) Jauja central plaza. From here find your way onto the 3S toward La Oroya
  • 65.6 miles (105.6 km) turn left off the highway onto the gravel road that leaves the highway before the bridge. The left after the bridge (signposted to Paccha) will bring you around to the same place, this road isn’t as steep but has much more traffic than the alternative (on which I experienced no traffic at all)
  • 67 miles (107.8 km) turn right uphill towards Casablanca
  • 68.3 miles (109.9 km) turn left onto the bigger ‘Paccha’ road
  • 69.8 miles (112.3 km) straight (not left)
  • 70 miles (112.7 km) top of the climb and start of the pampa
  • 71.2 miles (114.6 km) stay straight (not right)
  • 73.9 miles (119 km) Llacuari Pampa central plaza
  • On my day to Llacuari Pampa I rode 39.9 miles (64 km) and climbed 3,491 ft (1,064 m)
  • 78.4 miles (126.2 km) Aramachay central plaza
  • 79.1 miles (127.3 km) take right fork
  • 79.5 miles (127.9 km) take a left at the ‘Desvio Aco’ sign
  • 81.3 miles (130.8 km) straight (not left)
  • 82.6 miles (133 km) turn right onto asphalt road
  • 83 miles (133.6 km) turn left towards Aco center
  • 83.2 miles (133.9 km) Aco massive central plaza
  • Turn right off the south-east corner of Aco central plaza on the gravel roads towards Sicaya
  • 90.5 miles (145.6 km) asphalt restarts
  • At some point take a left and go though Sicaya
  • 91.6 miles (147.4 km) turn right onto main highway 3B
  • 97.5 miles (157 km) Constitution Park, central Huancayo
  • On my half day to Huancayo I rode 25.4 miles (41 km) and climbed 892 ft (272 m)
  • Huancayo is a big city with all services, the bike shops can all be found on Calle Huanuco

Huancayo to Ayacucho
4 days, 188 miles (303 km), 16,883 ft. ( 5,146 m) of climbing

Worth doing for the day of ridge riding (day 3) and the incredible view down towards Rio Mantaro from Churcampa. Although not technically on back roads this route does sometimes gives the feel as if you are. At other points however you’ll feel lost in huge clouds of dust thrown up by the large lorries omnipresent on the route from the moment you join the 3S before Pampas all the way to Ayacucho. In the two days from Pampas to Churcampa there isn’t that much in the way of supply stops and water but it’s no problem with a bit of thought. A possible alternative to this route exists as one that reaches Ayacucho via Hauncavelica and Abra Chonta.

  • Distances cumulative from Huancayo
  • Get onto Calle Real and follow it out of town towards Sapallanga
  • Take a left through Pucara central plaza
  • 9.3 miles (15 km) just through Pucara the pavement ends and the main climb starts
  • 14.9 miles (24 km) village of Marcavalle (12,770 ft, 3,893 m)
  • 16.7 miles (26.9 km) keep straight (not left) at the top of Abra Marcavalle pass (12,850 ft, 3,917 m)
  • 18.8 miles (30.3 km) Pazos central plaza – shops and restaurants (12,400 ft, 3,780 m)
  • 23.7 miles (38.1 km) Mullaca central plaza
  • 26 miles (41.8 km) turn left onto the main road (13,320 ft, 4,060 m)
  • 34.5 miles (55.5 km) high point and pass (13,980 ft, 4,261 m)
  • 45.3 miles (73 km) Pampas central plaza (10,750 ft, 3,276 m)
  • On my day to Pampas I rode 46.4 miles (74.7 km) and climbed 4,698 ft (1,432 m)
  • Distances cumulative from Pampas
  • Get on the main road out of town towards Colcabamba
  • 18.8 miles (30.3 km) take the right fork (left goes to Colcabamba, an alternative lower route option) – there is a tienda at the junction (with gas pump outside)
  • 25.6 miles (41.2 km) top of the climb from Pampas, 14,300 ft (4,359 m) elevation – this is about 3,960 ft (1,207 m) of climbing from Pampas
  • 27.5 miles (44.3 km) WATER – running water sources are rare so fill up here for camp
  • 31.25 miles (50 km) this is where I camped
  • On my day out of Pampas I rode 31.25 miles (50 km) and climbed 4,239 ft (1,292 m)
  • 39 miles (62.8 km) top of mini-pass, 14,185 ft (4,324 m)
  • 44.5 miles (71.6 km) village of Lechuguillas with tiendas, 13,670 ft (4,167 m)
  • 46.7 miles (75 km) top of mini-pass, 14,070 ft (4,289 m)
  • 53.3 miles (85.8 km) top of mini-pass, 13,990 ft (4,264 m)
  • 59.3 miles (95.4 km) La Chonta with tiendas, restaurants and hospedaje, 13,220 ft (4,029 m)
  • 60 miles (96.6 km) take the right turn signposted towards Churcampa
  • 63.3 miles (102 km) top of the final pass and start of the descent to Chrucampa and Rio Mantaro, 14,090 ft (4,295m)
  • 78.4 miles (126.2 km) Churcampa central plaza with hotel and plentiful restaurants and shops
  • On my day over the ridge to Churcampa I rode 47.1 miles (76 km) and climbed 3,412 ft (1,040 m)
  • Distances cumulative from Churcampa
  • Quickly descend about 13 miles (21 km) on newly paved road to Mayocc (shops, restaurants, hospedaje)
  • Cross the Rio Mantaro and hit the unpaved road to Huanta – watch our for mosquitoes!
  • There was intensive roadworks underway on the road to Huanta when I went through which suggests that it’ll soon be paved
  • 32.5 miles (52.3 km) central plaza Huanta – big city with all services, 2,178 ft (664 m) of climbing from Mayocc
  • The road from Huanta to Ayacucho is entirely paved and quick
  • Continue to climb from Huanta up to the high-point of 10,100 ft (3,078 m) at 40.6 miles (65.3 km)
  • 62 miles (99.8 km) Ayacucho central plaza
  • On my day to Ayacucho I rode 63 miles (101.4 km) and climbed 4,534 ft (1,382 m)
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3 responses to “Dusting Down to Ayacucho

  1. Pingback: Oyon to Huasahuasi… How to find a Quality Compromise | Velo Freedom - Cycling South·

  2. I like the picture of the clouds. I also liked that one building that you slept in that looked pretty rocky. It’s really neat that you shared all those photos. – Forrestk

  3. The morning started with a simple question from Forrest that brought the globe out, then some Nathan talk…and a full geography lesson…then a where is he now transition, followed by a full reading of this blog during which Forrest was absolutely enthralled. Thouroghly enjoyed it myself! Thanks! We miss you!!!!

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