Any time you’re traveling somewhere new, there is always a bit of nervousness before the trip. There are a lot of uncertainties when traveling. No matter how much research you do, you can never be sure about the true characteristics of your destination. Will the locals be friendly? Will the area be safe? Will my bike make it? And quite possibly the most important question of all; Will the trails be good? This trip to Peru was our first time traveling to a country where we had to expect a language barrier, a different culture, and to be out of our element. Our expectations of Peru were blown away. During our time exploring and riding in Cusco and the Sacred Valley we found the area had an amazing history, culture, and trails.
We arrived in Peru at an exciting time. When landing at the airport in Lima, thousands of locals were awaiting the arrival of their beloved football team. At this year's World Cup, Peru qualified for the first time in 30 years. Proud of their team, thousands of locals were awaiting the return of the players coincidentally as we were landing. As if airports weren’t disorienting enough for newbie travelers, the additional roar of fans and vuvuzelas and massive crowds being contained by guards armed with assault rifles didn't help.
We landed in Cusco early in the next morning after sleeping on the floor in the Lima airport during a lengthy layover. For us Northern Californians coming straight from summer, the cold winter morning was quite a shock. Once we stepped outside the airport we were greeted by the intense smell of diesel fumes and ice cold air. Before we got our bikes out of their bags we spent a few days exploring the city.
Google the population of Cusco and it will say ~400,000. Locals say it's closer to 1 million
The historic district of Cusco is a beautiful combination of Inca and Spanish architecture. The Incas were masters at building from stone. The stones in their buildings and structures fit nearly perfectly together without the use of mortar while also outlasting the newer Spanish buildings.
The month of June is Cusco Month. We arrived near the end of the festivities but were able to see several parades, dances, and celebrations.
The San Pedro market was a great way to kill a few hours while also filling our bellies with an inexpensive, yet delicious meal. It is an open air market where pretty much anything you want can be found.
With so many sights, sounds, and smells the market can be overwhelming. Aggressive salespeople push their products on you, feral dogs weave their way between legs in the crowds. Smells of spices, meat, and delicious food waft through the air. Vibrant colors of fruits, clothing, decorations, and trinkets are dizzying.
Finally, it was time to ride. We were being guided by Inkas Adventures, a local guide company we were connected to by Sacred Rides. For the next 7 days we shuttled around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. We would ride some mountain bike specific trails in Cusco, however, most of the trails were over a thousand years old. Left behind from the Incas and older civilizations that established the trails as connections between towns, farms, and mines. Now, locals use old maps and satellite imagery to revive these trails. For comparison, the oldest trails we had ridden before this trip wouldn't be much older than 150 years old, left behind from the California Gold Rush.
The first Inca trail of the trip started just outside of Cusco in the town of Chinchero. We rode an Inca trail down to the town of Urquillos in the Sacred Valley.
Chicon mountain standing at 18,140 feet. Being surrounded by peaks this tall, it's easy to feel small in the Sacred Valley.
Many of the trails had long staircase sections, built by the Incas. After years of weathering, they are now a unique kind of rock garden
Maras was one of the few bike specific trails we rode was built by one of our guides, Russo, above his hometown of Maras. Inspired by a 4X track, it featured big berms, jumps, and a majestic view of the snowcapped Andes.
Maras is famous for the nearby Salt pools. They were used by the Incas and are still in use today.
The Inkavalance race course was by far the best descent of the trip as far as levels on the fun meter go. 6000 feet of descending, ripping through ribbons of high alpine dirt with epic views, natural, narrow, steep, technical sections, and a few jumps and drops. Everything we love to ride.
For some people, 4 days of riding above 10,000 feet might be tiring. However, we had flown half way across the world to ride. With no intentions of writing off a whole day, we found a taxi to take us from Urubamba to Maras to check out the Moray Inca site, and ride another trail we found on Strava. We stuffed our bikes in the back of a taxi and for 30 soles (~$10 US) we were shuttled up to Maras.
It was also election season while we were in Peru. Instead of using signs or posters to advertise the candidates, space on buildings is sold for the party emblem and candidate to be painted.
It's worth pointing out that while on the surface, some places may appear to be run down. However, the interior of any business or restaurant is spotless. For the most part, Peruvians in Cusco and the Sacred Valley enjoyed a similar standard of living that we are fortunate to have in the United States. By no means is it a third world country, nonetheless, I still am asked about that a lot.
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Lunch on this trip was typically at a restaurant in one of the Sacred Valleys many towns. However, on this day we were treated with a full spread at the top of the Lamay trail at about 14,000 feet.
I am partial to riding trails of the natural and technical variety, however the trails of the Sacred Valley had a very different character than the natural or hiking trails I had ridden before. The Inca trails were quite unpredictable and commanded a high amount of concentration and skill. The incredible views made focusing on the trail difficult at times. However, their challenging nature made them a blast to ride.
After filling up on the best avocados I've ever had, we dropped in on the trail and made our way to the town of Lamay 4000 feet below.
One of the most scenic trails on the trip. By no means were the trails here pure DH. Downhill sections were punctuated by pedaly sections. Sometimes short, sometimes long. Lamay was a bit physical but made up for it in epic views.
At 15,000 feet, Lares Pass was the highest we've ever ridden our bikes. After a long shuttle to the top of the pass, we hiked up to the top of a nearby scree slope for some freeriding.
A quick jaunt uphill.
Shred back down.
The Lares trail descended through high alpine to river canyons before finishing on some urban DH in the town of Calca.
Just outside of Cusco is a trail that depending on who you ask is called "El Brujo" (the witch) named after a unique rock formation seen from the trail. Or Milky Way because of the unique sparkle of the salt in the dirt. Either way, it was an awesome end to the tour.
Although our guided trip had ended, we still had a few more days in Peru. Wayo Stein, the owner of Inkas Adventures, was kind enough to host us for a few days and show us a few of his favorite trails in the Sacred Valley that the tour doesnt go on.
Above the town of Maras, Wayo took us to a trail he had recently found which he calls The Otherside.
We almost did a local downhill race on our last day of the trip, but instead we went to some jumps for a photo session.
Peru treated us very well, and we could definitely see ourselves going back. We rode some truly awesome trails and got a taste of a unique culture and riding scene.
Stay speedy my friends.
Thanks to everyone who made this experience possible!
Wilderness Trail Bikes, Jenson USA, Inkas Adventures, Bell Bike Helmets, Hand Up Gloves, Full Flow Suspension, Sacred Rides