My heart was pounding as more rocks fell from the cliff above us and we entered yet another pitch black tunnel. Is the driver in the car we hear in the distance going to see us? Is there enough space for it to safely pass in the one-lane tunnel? Without a doubt, it’s an adrenaline ride. This is Cañon del Pato, one of the most dangerous roads in the world, and we decided to ride through on our bikes.
We’ve been hiking and trekking in Peruvian Andes for a few weeks and craved biking whenever we saw mountain bikers in Huaraz. The city of Huaraz is a true outdoor adventure heaven and we would love to come back again one day.
Snow peaked mountains rising 6000 meters above sea level suddenly change into a desert-like deep rocky canyon. There can be a difference of 20°C between the upper and bottom part of the canyon.
Cordillera Blanca mountain range is on one side and the Cordillera Negra on the other. A place where these ranges meet is Canyon del Pato (means Duck canyon in English). River Santa cut its way through these mountain ranges and created the steep canyon.
Little town of Caraz, the start of the ride
We rent our bikes in Huaraz trying to navigate through the city to the bus station for Caraz. The minivan is departing shortly after we came. The driver doesn’t have any problem taking our bikes in. He just removed four chairs and we paid the fare for 6 people = 2 bikes and 2 people.
After 1,5h on the winding roads squeezing with Peruvians in a full minivan, we gladly switched to a different form of transportation. We came in late January, in the middle of the rainy season, but the sky was bright blue and the sun was strong.
Happy to be on the bikes, we were enjoying the ride through Caraz towards the town of Huallanca. The roads and fields were dry with cactuses lining the road. A huge change of landscape from the one we were used to in Huaraz.
Biking Cañon del Pato
After descending to the valley from Caraz, our smiles started to disappear. The canyon looked scary.
The road passes through 35 one-lane and pitch black tunnels. It was cut through the solid stone in endless tall walls. Canyon walls on the west side are 1,000m high and eastern walls are 3,000m high at some places. At least the road is paved so we could bike through quickly.
It was going to be a ride to remember.
Scary bike ride through the tunnels
My hands were sweating, squeezing the handle bars of my mountain bike. There is a 500m rock cliff above me and deep canyon on the other side with raging river Santa on the bottom. And we were biking somewhere in the middle of it through endless tunnels. Never mind the occasional rock falling on the road from the cliff.
We focused on biking in the middle of the road not forgetting to turn on the headlamps on when entering yet another dark tunnel. Cars were honking when entering the tunnel so the upcoming traffic could hear them.
But what about us with no horns on the bikes? As we entered the tunnel we pointed our headlamps straight in front of us so we can see the road and cars entering the tunnel could see us. We didn’t have any tail lights so we had to rely on cautious drivers.
The good news is the road is either flat of going slightly downhill. So we were “only” sweating from the heat and stress, not from climbing uphill. I think the stress took so much energy that we wouldn’t be able to climb uphill.
In one of those 35 narrow one-lane tunnels, we heard a car approaching us from behind but not slowing down. He either didn’t see us or just didn’t care.
Honking in the tunnel makes the sound 100x stronger and it scared the shit out of me. I slowed down, leaned on the tunnel wall and let him pass. I yelled at Michal who managed to get off the bike and leaned towards the wall as well. The tunnel was wide enough for one car only to pass by.
Just another adrenaline episode from the day.
Relief in Huallanca
40 km and several downhill switchbacks later, we arrived at the little town of Huallanca. The only people living here work either at the nearby power plant or in the few hostels and restaurants.
Only a few of the restaurants were open. The menu for the day was chicken with rice. Together with a cold beer and our stomachs full, we felt an instant relief from the bike ride.
We stocked up on snacks calculating how long it would take us to go back by bike. This was the first time that neither of us wanted to pedal uphill. It meant going through the canyon very slowly and we only had a few hours of daylight left. We wondered if there is any transport going from this little town back to Caraz.
We saw only 2 kids playing on the street and only one car passed through the restaurant. The lady working at the restaurant said that most of the cars passing by would be able to take us back to Caraz.
Just as we were finishing our beers, a minivan pulled over asking if we needed a ride. Hell yeah! We hopped in, still refueling with chocolate bars. It took only half an hour by car to get back. Peruvians living in the mountains are used to the speed on winding roads. But we actually felt safer on our bikes.
Next time we’re in Huaraz, we’ll definitely bike the canyon again, out and back. It was one of the best bike trips ever!
More information and our tips
- Check the bike and brakes in Huaraz very well and ride it around the block before your rent it
- We paid 30 soles (9USD) per bike per day, but we got what we paid for. Better to rent higher quality bikes (50 soles) from a shop on Parque del Periodista, it was closed when we wanted to rent so we had to go with cheaper bikes.
- Don’t forget to bring a headlamp, it’s stronger and more reliable than a bike light
- Bike rental shop provide not only helmet but also a repair kit, make sure everything is working, there probably won’t be any other cyclists to help you with puncture (or ask for a spare bike tube)
- from Huaraz to Caraz is 36 soles (11USD) for 2 people and 2 bikes, 6 seats together (depends on the minivan and the driver, you pay 1 or 2 seats for 1 bike)
- from Huallanca to Caraz is 20 soles (6USD) for 2 people and 2 bikes
- there is a little traffic on this road but when there is, it’s fast
- move to the side and let the cars pass, you really don’t want them to pass you on the road
- there are beautiful views along the road and biking through the canyon is a unique experience, one you shouldn’t miss when you visit Huaraz
- get the Cordillera Blanca guide for more tips where to bike around Huaraz
Would you bike down this canyon?
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