By Ali Burke
North, Central and South America combine to make one huge mass of land. It took my partner and me almost two years to cycle the length of the Americas. I can’t quite say what possessed us to undertake such an epic ride, but part of it was “the chase” of those perfect riding days. You know what I’m talking about — that delicious combination of scenery, weather, terrain, challenge, and satisfaction. As it turned out, most days were far from perfect, but we did stumble upon some incredible stretches, and in my opinion the following rides were the cream of the crop.
This 720 km stretch of highway will take you through one of the most rugged parts of the world. You will be treated to snowcapped mountains, wonderfully hilly terrain, and crystal clear lakes and rivers. But, this is not a ride for the faint of heart. There is only one grocery store and two hotels en route — so pack your camping gear and plan your food rations well. Don’t let the lack of services scare you off, this ride is truly unforgettable.
Start: Beaver Post, Yukon
End: Kitwanga, BC
● If you fly to Whitehorse, Yukon, you can take a bus with your bicycle to Beaver Post. Or, if you are up for a longer ride you can start in Whitehorse.
● There is bus service from Kitwanga, and the nearby towns of Smithers and Terrace have airports.
Distance: 720 km
Time: 10-15 days
When to go: May-October
This ride is a true classic. The cycling infrastructure is fantastic, and you are sure to meet many fellow riders along the way. Traditionally, this route takes you 2,800 km from Vancouver, Canada to the border of Mexico. From incredible ocean views, to cool cities, to riding along roads lined with giant towering trees — this ride has it all. It also suits just about any type of rider. If you’re on a budget, you can camp at State Parks for $5-15 a night. Or, if you have more cash to spare there is no shortage of hotels along the way. Whatever your riding style, you are sure to enjoy this one!
Start: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
End: San Diego, California
Distance: 2,800 km
Time: 4-6 weeks
When to go: Possible all year round, however winds will be most favorable (north to south) June-September.
You would be forgiven if you assumed that a ride from the mountains to the coast would be all downhill. Yes, there are some wonderful long decents, but also some big uphill slogs — this ride takes you over four mountain ranges! But, it’s not all just mountain climbing, you’ll pass through lovely small villages, ancient ruins, and magnificent cities. For this ride it is best to come prepared with basic camping gear or a hammock — just in case, but there are enough small towns along the way that you shouldn’t need to travel more than 60 km before finding basic accommodation and food. One thing’s for sure, you’ll be met with kindness and amazement by locals every step of the way.
Start: Tehuacan, Puebla
End: Puerto Angel or Salina Cruz
● If you fly to Mexico City, you can take a bus to Tehuacan
● Be sure to take the ‘old’ road from Tehuacan to Oaxaca End: Puerto Angel or Salina Cruz
● From the city of Oaxaca there are two options for heading to the coast, both are great.
Distance: ~ 600 km
Time: Allow 10-15 days
When to go: All year round
Honduras surprised us with incredible cycling and very friendly people, particularly in the mountains. This route, through the pine tree covered mountains of Honduras begins in the town of Copan where there is a large site of Mayan ruins. You will then twist and curve your way from one charming mountain town to another. Roads are not guaranteed to be paved, so it may be best to take a mountain bike. Among the many treats along the way are: excellent coffee and hot springs!
Start: Copan, Honduras
● From Tegucigalpa you can take a bus with your bicycle
● You may want to avoid riding into this large city and finish your trip in Zambrano, and then enter the city by bus.
Distance: ~ 450 km
Time: Allow 7-10 days, roads can be rough and steeply graded
When to go: All year round
This little known ride along the Ecuador’s Amazon highway is one of the best in the country. Starting in the small tourist town of Banos, you can prepare your muscles for the long ride by soaking them in natural thermal waters. This lovely highway will take you along the edge of the rainforest and will have you oscillating between 400 and 1500 meters. Being the rainforest, you can expect some rain, but the 500 km route is now more than 95% paved, so you won’t get too muddy. You’ll see all sorts of birds, snakes and flowers, and be treated to some climbs that will leave your legs burning. There are enough small towns along the way that you’ll be able to find basic accommodation along the way — or, if you are on a budget, ask at the fire stations, they have a tradition of taking in cyclists for the night!
Start: Banos, Ecuador
End: Zamora, Ecuador
Distance: ~ 500 km
Time: 7-12 days
When to go: All year round
This ride embodies the diversity and beauty of Peru. It takes you from the desert-like, but culturally rich city of Trujillo, up through the breathtaking Canon del Pato, to the mind-blowing Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range that boasts twelve peaks over 6000 meters high. It’s become a cult classic among touring cyclists in South America.
You’ll travel through over 30 man-made stone tunnels, negotiate some very rocky terrain, and pedal alongside one of the deepest canyons in the world — all this before riding alongside the enormous snow-covered mountains. Basic accommodation is available along the way, but given the difficult conditions, it’s best to come prepared with camping gear. Also, bring your mountain bike! If you are up for a fantastic adventure, this is the ride for you!
Start: Trujillo, Northern Peru
End: Huaraz, Northern Peru
Distance: ~ 400 km
Time: Allow 7 days
When to go: May-September
(This is winter and the dry season, making the riding cooler along the coast and warmer in the mountains.)
This ride is epic. If you’re keen to ride one of the biggest rollercoasters in the world, this is the ride for you. The ride reaches a maximum elevation of 4,550 meters, and cumulatively climbs about 12,500 meters. Beginning in Nazca, the home of mysterious lines in the Peruvian desert, you’ll climb up to the Altiplano and ride alongside vicunas, alpacas, and flamingo filled lagoons. You’ll drop into lush river valleys and climb up mountain after mountain. The ride ends in the ancient city of Cusco. And, if you still haven’t had enough you can ride another 150 km to Machu Picchu! You’ll need to pack your camping gear for this ride!
Start: Nazca, Southern Peru
End: Cusco, Southern Peru
Distance: ~ 800 km
Time: 12-18 days
When to go: May-October
This rare gem of a ride is delightful. Beginning in the vibrant city of Valparaiso you will twist and turn your way along small country roads through Chile’s coastal mountains. The mountains are not particularly high, but the roads are steep! You’ll be met with unparalleled hospitality as you travel through small villages. The scenery alternates between lush farmland and rugged coastline. You won’t need to worry about finding accommodation along this stretch, as most towns have a hotel or bed and breakfast, and if you go in the summer-time the food will be fresh and delicious!
Start: Valaparaiso, Chile
End: Temuco, Chile
Distance: ~ 1000 km
Time: 14-18 days
When to go: December-March
Ali is an adventure cyclist and a social worker. In March 2014, she and her partner completed a two year cycling expedition from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. These days, Ali can be found pedalling around the country roads of the Guelph, Ontario area. You can read more about Ali’s panamerican cycling trip at: www.cyclingtheamericas.com.
If you have any questions about the rides in this article feel free to contact Ali at: [email protected]
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