10 Questions: Cycling On The Andean Puna

The Puna, or Altiplano, is a high altitude region of the Central Andes spanning southern Peru, western Bolivia, north-east Chile and north-west Argentina.

It is one of the most extensive areas of high plateau in the world, and Harriet & Neil Pike explored the Puna extensively by bicycle in 2010 and 2011. They recently took the time to answer 10 Questions about their bike tour through the area.

Chasing llamas to Sajama, Bolivia.
Chasing llamas to Sajama, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

1. Which route did you take in the region?

We spent nine months in 2010 and 2011 on the Puna, first cycling northwards through Argentina, Chile and western Bolivia before taking a circuitous route through southern Peru. Still eager to continue exploring the area, we then did an about turn and cycled south through Chile and Argentina.

2. Why spend so long cycling there?

We were fascinated by the desolate landscape with its sprinkling of salars and colourful lakes, and volcanoes dotting the skyline. We loved the wide open spaces, the big skies, and seeing more camelids than cars. Going hours without encountering another human being made any meeting with a friendly local person, in an area you wouldn’t think it possible to eke out an existence, all the more special. Above all we enjoyed the sense of freedom and the challenge of having to be self-reliant, carrying all we needed – our food, clothes and home – on our bikes.

Cycling on the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia.
Cycling on the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

3. How useful were maps for route planning?

The availability and accuracy of road maps very much depends on the country. Good maps are available in Argentina. Likewise, you can find Chilean maps that are of reasonable quality. There are maps of Peru and Bolivia that show main roads accurately but despite buying a wide selection we didn’t find any that were reliable on minor unpaved roads. Often the smaller roads we took didn’t exist on maps and there were few road signs to follow.

4. How did you navigate in remote areas without maps or road signs?

We spent a lot of time in internet cafes looking for information on cyclists’ blogs and poring over satellite images on Google Earth, searching for small unpaved roads to cycle. We then noted down GPS co-ordinates of landmarks such as rivers, junctions or settlements and used these to help us navigate. Sometimes this was overkill and we could get by on the ground by asking local people, but on many occasions we were grateful to our GPS to know which way to turn at forks in the road.

Local drivers can also be an excellent source of information, though be wary of asking directions from people who don’t travel the roads very frequently – they might provide you with an answer, but it could well be guesswork.

5. What can you expect to encounter weather-wise?

All year round, the region sees warm days and cold nights. We were grateful for our four season sleeping bags as the temperature regularly falls below zero at night, and -20°C isn’t uncommon in June or July. The best time for cycling in the northern Puna is the dry season (April–October) with its blue skies and days without a cloud.

In southern areas of the Puna the summertime from December–March is better as this avoids the often savage winter weather. At any time of the year don’t be surprised if you encounter fierce winds. While it may not have Patagonia’s reputation for strong winds, much of the Puna can give even the windiest parts of Patagonia a run for their money.

Camping on the Puna in southern Peru.
Camping on the Puna in southern Peru. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

6. Is the food anything to look forward to?

Um, in a word, no. Many parts of the Puna, particularly in Chile and Argentina, are very sparsely populated so you’ll usually have to fend for yourself. Carry a few days’ provisions and cook on a camp stove. Small villages in Bolivia and Peru often have a basic restaurant but the difficulty in growing local produce and of importing fresh supplies from afar means that you’ll have to get used to surviving for days at a time on the staples – rice, eggs, potatoes, chuño (freeze dried potatoes) and hearty broths.

In Sajama National Park, Bolivia.
In Sajama National Park, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

7. What are road conditions like?

There aren’t a huge number of paved roads and those that have been tarmacked are usually busy with truck and bus traffic. Heading onto unpaved roads means taking pot-luck with the surface. The Bolivian altiplano has a reputation for having bad roads, but it by no means has a monopoly on them. In all countries of the Puna you can happen upon a good consolidated unpaved surface or find yourself rattling over corrugations or floundering in sand. As a rule it’s best not to expect to travel too quickly!

8. Most of the Puna is above 3,500m. Did you have difficulties with the altitude?

Apart from going very slowly and panting a lot up to the first few passes, we were lucky and didn’t have too much trouble. If you haven’t been at altitude much before it’s a good idea to read up about Acute Mountain Sickness at sites like www.altitude.org beforehand, then take it easy and gain height slowly to begin with.

Near Laguna Negro Francisco, northern Chile.
Near Laguna Negro Francisco, northern Chile. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

9. As well as cycling, you also hiked on this journey. What’s the Puna like for hiking?

Hiking up mountains was almost as important a part of our trip as the cycling, and we spent many happy days cycling to mountains on the Puna, dumping the bikes and then heading off on foot with backpacks. Most of the highest mountains in the Andes lie on the Puna, and with few exceptions they are non-technical ascents. If, like us, you love the wild, barren landscapes and don’t mind going a while without seeing a tree, there are plenty of opportunities for exploring the Puna on foot.

10. Any advice do you have for other cyclists heading to the area?

Choose your tent carefully, and then look after it well! It needs to be good in strong winds so geodesic tents are better than tunnel tents and will give you a quieter night’s sleep. Try not to leave it up for too long in the sun. The fabric will soon degrade due to the high intensity UV. Be warned that in the dry Puna regions tents shrink, so unless you can vary the length of the tent sleeves it can be difficult or impossible to get poles in.

Also, treat all zips with care as they become fragile and regularly break in the dry atmosphere. On leaving the Puna we were left with few working zips despite having become very adept at fixing them with candle wax and pliers!

More importantly, research your route before heading out to the remote areas – on many roads you can go hours or days without coming across water, supplies or a village. There is plenty of information on routes we took on our Andes By Bike website.

Thanks to Harriet & Neil Pike for answering the questions and providing the photos. Check out their Andes By Bike website for more information. If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.

Comments

  1. cheap curry shoes
    20th July 2022 at 2:51 pm #

    I wanted to write you a tiny remark to finally give thanks once again with your exceptional basics you have featured on this site. It was extremely generous with you to make openly all a few people would’ve advertised as an e book to help with making some money on their own, principally considering the fact that you might well have done it if you desired. Those advice as well acted to be the good way to recognize that other people online have the same zeal just like my own to realize significantly more concerning this matter. I am certain there are many more pleasurable moments up front for people who check out your website.

  2. supreme
    20th July 2022 at 2:51 pm #

    I would like to show my admiration for your kind-heartedness for those people that have the need for guidance on this idea. Your personal dedication to getting the message across became extremely practical and has continuously allowed guys like me to achieve their goals. Your personal insightful hints and tips denotes a lot a person like me and further more to my mates. Thank you; from all of us.

  3. cheap curry 8
    23rd July 2022 at 11:03 am #

    I must voice my respect for your kind-heartedness for visitors who should have help with this idea. Your special commitment to passing the solution all around had become exceptionally practical and has always allowed ladies like me to arrive at their pursuits. Your important guide means much to me and additionally to my peers. Thank you; from each one of us.

  4. supreme
    26th July 2022 at 6:39 am #

    I want to show my passion for your kind-heartedness in support of all those that absolutely need help with this important niche. Your real commitment to passing the message throughout came to be especially useful and have without exception encouraged regular people much like me to arrive at their dreams. The informative hints and tips indicates a lot a person like me and further more to my colleagues. Many thanks; from everyone of us.

  5. curry 6
    14th August 2022 at 2:42 am #

    I simply wished to thank you so much once more. I do not know what I might have taken care of in the absence of the entire points shown by you on such theme. It had become a very fearsome issue in my view, but noticing your professional style you solved that took me to weep with fulfillment. Now i am thankful for the work and in addition have high hopes you find out what a powerful job that you’re putting in training the mediocre ones all through a site. I am certain you haven’t got to know any of us.

  6. cheap giannis shoes
    14th August 2022 at 2:43 am #

    I must show my appreciation to the writer for rescuing me from this particular situation. Just after exploring throughout the online world and meeting tips that were not powerful, I believed my entire life was well over. Being alive without the answers to the difficulties you’ve sorted out by way of your main short post is a critical case, as well as the kind that could have in a negative way damaged my career if I had not come across your blog. Your own skills and kindness in dealing with all things was crucial. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not discovered such a step like this. I’m able to at this point relish my future. Thanks so much for the high quality and amazing guide. I will not think twice to recommend the sites to anybody who desires guidance on this subject.

  7. goyard
    15th August 2022 at 12:39 pm #

    I actually wanted to develop a quick comment in order to say thanks to you for all of the marvelous information you are sharing here. My particularly long internet search has at the end been rewarded with reputable concept to share with my relatives. I ‘d say that many of us readers are unquestionably endowed to live in a great site with so many special individuals with very helpful tips and hints. I feel very grateful to have encountered your entire weblog and look forward to plenty of more brilliant times reading here. Thanks a lot once more for all the details.

  8. chrome hearts
    19th August 2022 at 2:32 pm #

    I want to express some appreciation to you for bailing me out of this dilemma. After scouting through the the net and coming across basics that were not pleasant, I thought my life was over. Being alive without the approaches to the difficulties you have sorted out as a result of your main short post is a critical case, as well as the kind which might have in a negative way damaged my entire career if I had not discovered your blog. Your natural talent and kindness in touching a lot of stuff was invaluable. I am not sure what I would’ve done if I had not come upon such a solution like this. I am able to at this point relish my future. Thanks a lot so much for your professional and result oriented help. I won’t think twice to suggest your site to anyone who needs and wants guide on this issue.

  9. cheap russell westbrook shoes
    19th August 2022 at 2:33 pm #

    I want to get across my love for your generosity giving support to those individuals that really want assistance with this particular situation. Your very own dedication to getting the message all through came to be incredibly effective and has always permitted associates much like me to arrive at their dreams. This interesting guidelines signifies a great deal to me and even further to my office colleagues. Regards; from each one of us.

  10. kyrie 5 shoes
    22nd August 2022 at 4:18 pm #

    I wanted to compose you the tiny observation to say thanks a lot the moment again about the stunning knowledge you have featured above. This has been simply shockingly generous of you to provide freely all a few individuals could possibly have sold for an electronic book to get some bucks for themselves, even more so since you could have done it if you wanted. The pointers as well served like a great way to be certain that most people have a similar fervor similar to my very own to figure out lots more regarding this issue. I know there are thousands of more enjoyable occasions up front for individuals that read through your site.

  11. Geoffrey Clouatre
    23rd September 2022 at 4:55 pm #

    I like this site very much so much excellent information.

  12. loja de brinquedos infantil
    29th September 2022 at 7:30 am #

    Absolutely composed content, thanks for entropy. “The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly.” by Corra Harris.

  13. Kkslot777
    7th October 2022 at 7:23 pm #

    Its wonderful as your other posts : D, appreciate it for putting up.

  14. jio kbc head office number mumbai
    13th October 2022 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks for helping out, excellent info. “If at first you don’t succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.” by Bill Lyon.

  15. iphone hackers for hire
    14th October 2022 at 11:26 am #

    Utterly written subject material, Really enjoyed reading.

  16. poker idn 88
    15th October 2022 at 5:45 pm #

    Dead composed articles, Really enjoyed looking at.

  17. digital art business
    18th October 2022 at 10:50 pm #

    Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was looking for!

  18. solar panels
    21st October 2022 at 6:58 pm #

    This really answered my drawback, thank you!

  19. ratu slot
    4th November 2022 at 12:17 am #

    You are a very bright person!

  20. what is a soc 2 type 2 audit
    4th November 2022 at 2:12 am #

    In this grand pattern of things you actually get an A+ for hard work. Where you confused me was first in the details. You know, it is said, the devil is in the details… And that could not be more true here. Having said that, permit me inform you just what exactly did give good results. The authoring can be incredibly persuasive and that is most likely why I am making an effort to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. Second, while I can see the leaps in reason you come up with, I am definitely not sure of how you appear to connect your points which in turn produce the final result. For the moment I shall subscribe to your position however hope in the near future you link your dots much better.

  21. henki hariadi
    10th November 2022 at 10:57 am #

    Magnificent items from you, man. I’ve be aware your stuff prior to and you’re just too great. I really like what you’ve bought right here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which in which you are saying it. You’re making it entertaining and you continue to take care of to keep it smart. I cant wait to read much more from you. That is really a great website.

  22. indices investment
    1st December 2022 at 11:24 am #

    Hgpeex – ivermectin coronavirus Uslegx btjxec

  23. Mo quan cafe
    1st December 2022 at 5:05 pm #

    Looking forward to reading more. Great blog. Keep writing.

  24. trade shares online
    1st December 2022 at 8:41 pm #

    It may well fight normal water for about 984 foot as well as Three hundred meters.

Leave a comment