‘d just popped in to the local telephone company, to pay my bill. I’d always been in the habit of bringing my bike in with me, to stop it getting stolen. But this time the porter blocked my way. I explained that I couldn’t park it outside as there were no racks and I was concerned for the security of my machine. “I’m sorry, young man,” he replied, “these orders are from above”.
I managed to find a secure parking place, some half a kilometre away, but as I was walking back I decided to abandon my thesis and start to concentrate on the rights of cyclists in Peru. At that time the World Bank had just launched a plan to build a brand new network of cycleways in the northern part of the capital; I worked on this project for three years, before going on to launch Ciclored, which campaigns on cycling and general transport issues here in Peru.
So, that’s my story. But what does my country have to offer visiting cyclists? Well, it depends a lot on where you go. Some of the cities on the Pacific coast can be pretty grim; Lima seems to be copying Los Angeles in the way it’s developing. But if you are in the capital there is a nice ride along the seafront in the Miraflores and Chorillos districts. And on Sundays, the Avenida Arequipa is closed to motor traffic. This takes you for five kilometres through the historic city centre to the sea, and if you’re lucky you’ll encounter a few ‘cultural spectacles’ on the way. We are very aware that the bicycle is more than a means of transport: it also gives a ‘new’ way of relating to our neighbours, on the streets and squares. To the south of Lima lies the Reserva Natural de Paracas, which is absolutely ideal for cycling. A mixture of desert and ocean, all on-road, and with masses of birds of prey and old sea dogs for company.
Huarez is a great place to visit by bike. It’s five hours bus ride from Lima, heading northwest, and is 2600 metres above sea level. The best time to go is between May and October – the rest of the year is rain, rain, rain. If you do make it to Huarez, I recommend that you hire a local cycle guide for a day and take the opportunity to explore the area where the two Andean mountain ranges meet. It’s one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen.
Then there’s Puno, which is right on the Bolivian border, by Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Only thirty kilometres down the road is Juliaca, a trading town with streets so full of bikes and trikes that it could be compared with Holland. On the route between Titiaca and Juliaca lie the ruins of Sillustrani; this is also a good camping spot, next to a beautifully peaceful lake.
In Cusco you will find Machu Pichu, the lost city of the Incas and absolutely unmissable. If you like adventure on a bike, there’s a great trip that runs from the Inca capital deep into the forest, before reaching the Manu National Park. The route involves bus and boat rides, stretches where you have to get off and push your bike, and of course, plenty of arduous cycling. It’s not easy, but it’s something you’ll never forget.
It’s possible to hire mountain bikes, but if you’re planning to spend more than a week in any one place, I recommend you try to bring your own. Hiring gets very expensive, and it’s only possible in certain areas. If you go in a group, or fancy joining up with one, a guide is well worth having. You’ll normally get information about hiring guides from tourist agencies and hotels.
Peru is a welcoming and hospitable country. Give it a try!