Mountain Biking “The Road of Death” in Bolivia and Luxury Lodge Trekking in Peru
Discover the glorious heights of Inca culture and the grandeur of the Andes.
If you are looking for a unique vacation that mixes adventure with mountain biking in Bolivia and or trekking through spectacular Andean Mountain ranges in Peru, staying in luxury mountain lodges, then this vacation in South America may be for you. This adventure isn’t for the average Inca Trail camper who shares the trail with crowds of other trekkers, regimented to tent camping and sleeping on the ground. This vacation adventure is intended for the hiker who wants to mingle with maximum of 12 hikers and who wants to enjoy the majestic mountain scenery and relax in luxury lodges that provide hot showers, comfortable beds and gourmet Peruvian cuisine.
My husband and I recently completed this adventure and I can say it was one of the best trips we have taken. We are an active couple in our mid 50’s who live in Colorado occasionally hike, bike and spend weekends outdoors.
Our trip started with flying into Lima Peru where we stayed the first night in Miraflores a 45 minute taxi ride to the Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel. We choose not to stay at the hotel located at the Lima airport because the room rates are high and Miraflores gave us an option to explore the quaint town nice cafes and boutique shops.
The next morning we continued our journey with a flight from Lima to La Paz, Bolivia where we were picked up by the tour company we made arrangements with for the next 4 days. The capital city of La Paz is at an elevation of around 12,000 feet and surrounded by the high plateau plains and majestic mountains that exceed 20,000 feet.
The city of La Paz is located in a crater like valley with buildings and adobe houses built up and down the steep canyon sides. The streets are busy with traffic, pedestrians and cabs all in a hurry to get somewhere quick. Cabs are easy to find and very reasonable in price. Like many large cities in South America, travelers always need to be cautious about being approached by strangers and aware of their surrounding and activity. Bolivian “boliviano” is the accepted currency and it is recommended to exchange USD either with the hotel or at the airport. Our exchange rate was 1-USD = 6.8 Bolivian dollars. There are many restaurants, shops and cafes located along the main Prada Avenue in La Paz. There are also a variety of accommodations from backpacker hostiles to very nice 4-star hotels. Our hotel for the next 2-nights was the Ritz Apart Hotel located in the downtown area of La Paz. Rooms at this hotel are large and spacious, some with kitchens for a longer stay. The hotel has a nice restaurant on the main level with wonderful food and service at a reasonable price.
The next day, we set out to bike down the” Most Dangerous Road in the World “or “El Camino de la Muerte”, Road of Death. Our main reasons to travel and visit La Paz, Bolivia was to ride the Death Road and find out if it’s really “The Real Deal”. My husband and I both like to Mountain bike and we have experienced mountain biking in and around Colorado and Utah on moderate to difficult trails.
The local biking company we choose to work with was recommending by the trade organizations I belong to. It became very apparent this particular bike excursion appeals to the 20 and 30 something age group even though we were the oldest in the group. We meet our group at the specified meeting location and loaded into the van with bikes on top. We headed to the La Cumbre Pass where we were dropped off at 15,260 ft. Our guides passed out the necessary gear: bike helmet, bike gloves and rain gear and goggles if we wanted them. Our sunglasses were perfect to block the wind and protect the eyes, since it was a nice sunny day. From the top of La Cumbre Pass, the bikes were unloaded and instructions from the guide were given regarding what to expect for the next 60km. The ride starts out on paved road for a fairly long section before you arrive at the cut in the road that marks the beginning of the Death Road (El Camino de la Muerte). Our biking company was very attentive and strict about safety, stopping every 20 – 30 minutes to inform the group about the pending section we were about to ride. During the ride we were able to make stops and take pictures of the different climate zone we experienced, from sub alpine tundra to humid subtropical climate at 3,900 feet. We saw amazing foliage, birds and scenery the entire ride.
This ride is not to be taken lightly, there are some very extreme drop offs of at least 1,830 feet on curves. The dirt gravely road is only a little bit wider than a single-lane and occasional on coming commercial buses and trucks to watch out for during the ride. In many of the sections, it is very steep and you use your back brake to curb your speed, especially around the hair-pin corners and curves. There are very few guard rails (we did see a couple, posts wrapped in black and yellow tape, would not keep you from going off the edge. We believe it was to warn you the road was a bit unsafe in that spot, usually a spot that represented falling edge). The road terrain is a dirt rocky road with loose gravel that has been kicked up from years of car/truck tires, spinning wheels.
The scenery is amazing and well worth the ride. Our weather was mostly clear with fantastic views of the valley and mountains surrounding the area. Our ride ended up with a small animal sanctuary where we had lunch and a cold beer. After our lunch and brief visit with several tame monkey’s, beautiful Macaws, turtles and Coati a member of the raccoon family. We loaded the van and headed back up the death road to return to La Paz. It was our turn to watch out for bikers and other cars coming down.
Our travel continued the next day with a transfer to Chua, a small town at the edge of Lake Titicaca where we boarded a new enclosed Catamaran for a day trip across Lake Titicaca to Sun Island and Copacabana, the border town between Bolivia and Peru. After our day excursion we boarded a nice motor coach which took us into the city of Puno, Peru. Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world at over 12,300 feet is one of Peru’s major tourist destinations to visit, it is a beautiful lake with surrounded by villages and small islands. Lake Titicaca is also known as the sacred lake of the Incas. Sun Island is the most important island to visit because it’s considered the cradle of the Inca Empire.
Our overnight accommodations were at the Casa Andian Private Collection Hotel, located a short distance from Puno. The property sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca with great views of the city across the bay. It’s a quiet and peaceful hotel, with the ambience from the Peruvian architecture. Rooms are spacious and a nice, the restaurant had delicious food, great service and reasonable prices.
After a good night’s sleep and wonderful breakfast we boarded a motor coach for our 9 ½ hour ride to Cusco. Sounds dreadful, but it was a lot of fun. The tour company that offers this excursion caters to the American, European and world traveler. Clean comfortable modern European buses with comfortable seats, tour guide along with a hostess serving soft drinks, coffee and water. Our bus fare also included lunch and various stops at interesting ruins and a Peruvian textile stop along with way. On arrival into Cusco we took a local cab to our overnight accommodation: Inkaterra La Casona Hotel, a quaint luxury hotel. La Casona is centrally located in the serene Plaza Las Nazarenas. With only eleven suites each surround by a delightful courtyard, where the patina of time is tastefully preserved. This small boutique hotel’s service and accommodations are the reasons why you treat yourself to this wonderful romantic experience.
The following morning our trekking company picked us up early and we headed to the trail head. We are about to began our 6-day trek, hiking from lodge-to-lodge over the various mountain passes to reach the town of Aguas Calienetes , which was our final destination located at the base of Machu Picchu. Each of our days started with a full breakfast prepared by the lodge staff before we headed out with our water bottles filled with purified water, snacks in our packs and our guides leading the way on moderate to some semi- difficult hiking days. Evening and morning briefings were a daily routine by our guides to provide us, history and information of the area and what to expect for the next day hiking terrain. Hiking mileage varied each day from 7 to 12 miles depending on the distance between the lodges. The Andean Mountains, which tower over 21,000 feet were the back drop to our hikes every day. As the week progressed, our elevation slowly decreased from 12,500 ft from our first lodge to around 7,000 ft at the last lodge. Every afternoon we were welcomed by the lodge staff with warm towels and hot tea and beautiful Peruvian smiles.
During our first 2-days of the trek, we spent 2-nights at the first lodge to get acclimated to the 12,500 ft altitude. The second day at this lodge we hiked to a Glacier fed lake as a warm up to help acclimate to our surrounds and prepare us for the altitude gain we were about hike. There was only one day that the hike was challenging with an elevation gain of approximately 2,500 ft which encompassed a pass of over at 15,000 ft. Our guide was very attentive to our group making sure everyone was hiking at the pace that was comfortable for them. Plenty of water was available to hydrate during the hike and snacks were always available. (we loved the little Sublime chocolates, pecans, peanuts and treats we’d pack in our snack bag each morning from the lodges)
These lodges are exceptionally nice, the rooms and lounge spaces are very accommodating, warm and inviting. With the majestic views and rugged snow capped mountains off in the distance, the Peruvian design and style of the lodges blended in with the native surroundings. Natural stone and dark woods were used to create an ambience that was characteristic of Peru. Guest rooms were spacious, beautiful bedding, down comforters along with hot showers, flush toilets and internet service. Three meals a day were included along with a nice selection of wine and beer available for purchase.
All supplies between the lodges were transported by donkey and horse train on a daily basis by the lodge wranglers. These donkeys and horses carried everything including our duffle bags, water, fuel, food and other supplies that were needed at each of the lodges for the guests. Each lodge had its unique features and ambiance, but all provided a warm clean friendly inviting atmosphere. Guests could relax in the lounge area and enjoy the hospitality and happy hour before dinner or soak in the hot tube after a long day of hiking. There are no roads to these lodges and all the construction of the lodges was done by years of donkey trains carrying all the materials to build these wonderful unique lodges.
Our trek ended with our arrival into Aguas Calientes the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. Here we spent the evening at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, another fine boutique hotel with exceptional service and ambience. After an enjoyable evening walking around the small town exploring, the culture and people we returned to our hotel. In the morning and took a short ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu where our guide provided us with a private personal tour of the Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and this year they are celebrating their 100th year anniversary of the rediscovery by the American explorer, Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 7,970 feet above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Machu Picchu is often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas.
After spending all day exploring Machu Picchu we left late afternoon we rode the train back to Cusco where we spent the last evening of our trip at the Hotel Monasterio, a former monastery and national monument dating from 1592. This delightful and elegant Orient-Express hotel combines its centuries-old charm and ambience with luxury hotel service, inspired restaurants and boutique rooms. This is another hotel that if you are going to splurge, this a wonderful hotel to splurge on, you won’t regret it, you will remember it forever.
I would highly recommend you challenge yourself as you trek through the many different biozones of the Peruvian Mountains, changing altitude and varied terrain. You will marvel at the exquisite beauty of Salkantay Peak, Salkantay Glacier and Humantay Glacier Lake. You will share in the culture and customs of local Andean families who maintain age-old traditions while being pampered in the comfort of enchanting mountain Inns, the innovative local cuisine and the warmth of the Peruvian people. You will be inspired and impressed by the majestic mountains of the surroundings and the knowledge and feeling that you are following in the footsteps of the Incas.