The Carretera Central is Peru’s primary road that crosses the Andes from Lima, heading east to the Amazon, and with spurs off to various centres north and south. As such it is horribly busy and a miserable experience for the cyclist, best avoided. I suspect not many folk are aware however that there is a “Carretera Central Antiguo”.. as it says, the old Carretera Central. I imagine it has largely disappeared or been paved over to make the new route however there is a stretch that begins near Llocllapampa, a few km from Jauja, which is little more than an unused grassy track these days. Extremely quiet and scenic.. this was my exit from town.
By the way, if you’re reading this and looking for a good way to join the Peru Divide from somewhere not too far from Lima then I highly recommend Jauja as a place to acclimatise (stay at the Hostel Berlin, just a short distance from the Cruz del Sur bus stop), chill out, and enjoy.
My planned route allowed for an easy, scenic day of steady climbing to 4000m, followed by a stiff, but not particularly difficult climb to 4600m or so before the descent into the valley to meet the divide between Vilca and Huancaya. There is plenty of scope for camping and water is everywhere; a couple of litres on board should be more than enough. I’ve included a GPS track at the end of this post.
Good to go
I was delayed slightly leaving town, my host Water, as I was getting ready to leave, asked that I wait ten minutes while he dashed out. He returned with a lovely handwritten note wishing me safe travels and a small souvenir of Jauja to remind me of the place. Not sure how many extra calories the souvenir will cost me over the coming months but come with me it must. I didn’t leave straight away either, a coffee in the plaza and a few goodbyes to those whose acquaintance I’d been lucky enough to make over the days I was there.
It is an easy trundle of 20km on asphalt to the start of the Carretera Antiguo. Traffic was light with just a few buses, none of the heavy mining traffic that blights Peru’s highways in general. Llocllapampa turned out to be a friendly little village, while lunching in the plaza I met Walter, a local chap, who invited me into his home to look at his collection of fossils from the surrounding area. A true enthusiast of his local area he is in the process of converting part of his home into a homestay for visitors. Should you wish to spend some time hiking in the surrounding mountains or just looking for a short day out of Jauja he would be worth seeking out. Super chap. Llocllapampa also has it’s own slightly, and naturally, carbonated mineral water, it is sweet stuff.
The Carretera Central Antiguo… a quiet grassy track. A bridge is out not too far from this point but it is easy to cross the river on foot and then hop across the railway line to continue.
Day 1 was a stunningly scenic ride, the gradients were never harsh, just gently gaining altitude all day, climbing alongside the Rio Pachacayo.
The road ahead… I rode until about 4pm…
..at which point, around 55km from Jauja, at an altitude of just under 4000m (13,123ft) the perfect camp spot with just enough time to enjoy a brew before the sun disappeared behind the mountains.
There is a very tiny, remote community at the point at which the track forks, the left fork is the one, heading up towards the Reserva Ecologica del Nor Yauyos…
Gratuitous bike pic
I enjoyed the climb, the gradient was never steeper than about 10% and generally only around 8%. The surface was very loose and rubbley in spots but it’s all rideable. This section was extremely quiet, I met just one motorcycle all day.
The views are very fine indeed.
At the pass at 4584m (15,039ft). I have no idea if the pass has a name. The descent was fast….
Eventually the track descends into a steep valley..
..with vast cliff faces..
..above which condors can be seen soaring. I always get goosebumps when I see condors, it goes all the way back to watching Flight of the Condor on the telly as a child. Magnificent, evocative sight. I sat and watched for 20 minutes, the last time I got to enjoy the sight was 8 years ago, all the way down south on Tierra del Fuego.
I thoroughly enjoyed this whole stretch.
There were a number of river crossings, some of them deep enough to have fish swimming in front of my wheels. Hurrah for Goretex-lined boots…
The track joins the Peru Divide about 30km from Huancaya.
The surface is good but still plenty of climbing to hurt tired legs.
The ride down the valley to Huancaya is spectacular, a series of deep pools and cascades hundreds of feet below the road. I did not take many pictures, a thunderstorm was brewing and big, fat drops of rain were threatening to turn the dusty track into a quagmire…
Huancaya the following morning. A final steep descent through a forest made intensely fragrant by the rain, and I arrived, trundling down narrow, rain-slicked cobbled streets in search of sustenance and rest. I found it in the form of a litre of local yogurt and a rickety old chair under the eaves of a small shop on the plaza from which to watch the rain cascading off the tin roofs.
The situation is stunning.
Huancaya. Most trout on the menu in Peru is often little more than a scrap of skin and bone. Huancaya however has fabulous, big, fat trout pulled out of the river as it flows through town.
Hauncaya… village life, old and new… It takes me a while to adapt to this sort of riding again so I needed a day off here.
From Huancaya the descent continues in spectacular form..
..to Laguna Piquecocha..
..before some serious switchbackage, on asphalt (!), up to the village of Laraos.. which is where I am now. I needed another rest day to help me adjust to the rigours of the road again. The terracing on the mountains around here is thought to be pre-Inca.
Laraos sits perched on a spur at an altitude of 3460m.
It is steep place without roads as such, just thousands of steps.
Laraos… corn drying.
Laraos. Super friendly little village, everyone has way more than simply the time of day.
Here’s that route from Jauja.