South American Epic
This challenging race and expedition offers you the best opportunity to explore the vastness and diversity of South America by bike. In keeping with the Tour d’Afrique vision, it is an epic trans-continental expedition unlike any other. This is the only South American bicycle trip that covers the continent from top to tip, that includes up and coming Colombia, the menacing row of volcanoes in Ecuador, the majestic vistas throughout the Andes, the stunning and surreal landscapes of the Bolivian Salt Flat, the old colonial towns of Northern Argentina, allows you to cycle the entire legendary road – the Carretera Austral and savour the remoteness of Patagonia & the vineyards and lakes of southern Chile.
The intrepid participants will be cycling this amazing continent from top to tip; starting in Cartagena, Columbia on the shores of the Caribbean; up and down the Andes ‘a few times’; covering Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina; exploring the Bolivian Salt Flats, Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu; visiting some of the grand cities like Bogota, Quito, Lima, La Paz, Santiago; cycling through the stunning Patagonia region of southern Chile and Argentina, and finishing in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego on the shores of the Drake Passage. Along the way the cyclists will pass through 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites, a dozen National Parks and numerous other areas of historical and archeological interest.
For many years the beautiful country of Colombia was avoided by travellers as it suffered through civil war. Times have changed for the better and we are excited to start the South American Epic Bicycle Expedition in this magical land. Mountains, jungles, waterfalls, coffee, beaches and thriving cities are just a few of this country’s gifts.
This 14,000km cycling extravaganza begins in the stunning colonial jewel of Cartagena whose old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We bike down the coast, stopping for cervezas in Tolu’s seaside bars. Turning inland, we’ll then cross cattle pastures and rushing rivers before beginning to climb up into the stunning Sierra de San Lucas Mountains. Following little known backroads we emerge at 1500m above sea level in the city of Medellin, where the cyclists will enjoy a well-deserved rest day.
From Medellin, we spin east and spend a night at Guatape, next to a man-made resevoir, before speeding downhill and across the impressive Rio Magdalena, which drains about 1/4 of Colombia’s area. Then it is a challenging climb up into the Cordillera Oriental, including one 2000m ascent over 50kms. For their efforts, the cyclists will be rewarded by Zipaquira, a beautiful historic town featuring the Salt Cathedral, an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine. The next day, a Sunday, the SA Epic riders will have the opportunity to join local Bogota cyclists as they enjoy their weekly Ciclovia, with many of the city’s streets closed to motor traffic, a fitting end to this exciting and rewarding section.
After an enjoyable 2 rest days in Colombia’s capital, exploring its historic centre – La Candelaria – or indulging in a steaming mug of canelazo, our riders will begin a massive descent (almost 5000m in 2 days) into the Magdalena River valley. The next night will be spent gazing at millions of stars from the Desierto de la Tatacoa. Then we will climb up into the Cordillera Central where, after 2 challenging days of elevation gain, we can relax on a rest day in Parque Arquelogico San Augustin. Here riders can enjoy the 500 life-sized statues left by the little known ancient peoples or go whitewater rafting in the nearby Rio Magdalena.
Four more tough but beautiful days of cycling brings us to Ipiales, the border crossing into Ecuador and the home of the Santuario de Las Lajas, a spectacular neo-Gothic church and the destination for pilgrims in search of a miracle. Then it is another ascent to almost 4000m before we drop down into Ibbara for a refreshing Helados de paila, a local hand-made sorbet. Thence we cross the Equator and spin into the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, which marks the end of this section.
Quito, at 2800m, the highest capital city in the world, is the jumping-off point for one of the longest and most dramatic sections on the South American Epic – Volcano Alley. If your section begins here, make sure to arrive a few days early to get used to the altitude and enjoy the local nightlife.
Leaving the city we head east, with views of the Antisana, Surnaco and, if we are lucky, Cotopaxi volcanoes. We nudge past 4000m before dropping 3500m in the next 200kms as we skirt the edge of the Amazon basin, ending up in the southern city of Loja for a rest day and perhaps a glimpse of its famous fiesta of the Virgen del Cisne.
Two days later we cross into Peru, the third country on the South American Epic. Here the riders will spin along the eastern edge of the Desierto de Sechura before spending a rest day on the Pacific coast in the beach town of Pascamayo, one of the continents best surfing spots. From there it is a spectacular climb up into the Cordillera Blanca where the cyclists can enjoy the atmosphere of Huarez and visit Huascarán National Park, a UNESCO World heritage site. Three days later and about 3000m lower, the riders will enter the Peruvian capital of Lima and complete this section.
Heading south of Lima with the Pacific Ocean as their companion, the South American Epic cyclists will spin into Paracas where they may get to see the local sea lions and seals, indulge in ceviche or take a dune buggy ride. A couple days later the riders will roll into Nazca for a rest day spent flying over the incredible Nazca Lines.
Hopefully Nazca will invigorate the riders whose endurance will now be tested as they pedal upwards for 7 straight days, climbing over 12,000m in total into the towering Andes mountains and spending about 200kms at over 4000m. The nights will be cool so be sure to purchase an alpaca sweater and hat if you have not brought enough warm clothes. Finally, the welcoming lights of Cusco will appear in the distance where the riders will have 3 rest days to enjoy the city’s charms and, of course, the world-famous icon of Inca civilization, Machu Picchu.
After 3 days exploring Machu Picchu and the other sights in and around historical Cusco, the cyclists will set off for 3 beautiful days cycling the Andean altiplano en route to Puno, where a rest day and the chance to explore Lake Titicaca and its renowned floating islands await. After a few more days riding along the world’s highest navigable lake, we will cross into Bolivia and arrive in its high altitude capital of La Paz, which marks the end of the tour’s shortest section.
As with Quito, Ecuador, La Paz, Bolivia is situated at a very high altitude – some parts of the city are at over 4100m above sea level – so if your section begins here, please arrive a few days before your section begins in order to acclimatize.
A few days after pedalling out of La Paz, our intredip riders will have the unique opportunity of cycling and camping on the other-worldy, Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Keep an eye out for pink flamingos!
A rest day in Uyuni will give the cyclists further opportunity to explore the Salar if they wish or the unique train cemetery, before turning their wheels south for a 6 day trek into Northern Argentina and the end of the section at Salta, a sophisticated town blessed with some of the country’s best preserved colonial architecture.
The riders will certainly enjoy the 2 day ride from Salta to the next rest day in Cafayate along historic route #68 through the Valles Calchaquies. They will also relish the fact that the area around Cafayate is renown for its wine, especially the delicious Argentinian cultivar – Torrontes.
From there we’ll continue to follow Ruta 40 before switching to Ruta 76 as we head south through Talampaya National Park, a UNESCO heritage site, which contains the most complete continental fossil record known from the Triassic Period. Onward, the riders will pedal their way south across north western Argentina heading for another rest day in San Juan before turning to the west. Through little-visited areas the riders will have some shorter climbs to help prepare them for the mountains they will face in a few days. After a rest day in Uspollata riders will test out their climbing legs as we head up over the Andes, following Ruta 7 and the Rio Mendoza, and into Chile, the next country on this epic adventure.
The climb up to the border will take the groups up to around 4000m before descending onto Ruta 60, which winds its way down the mountain via a series of switchbacks. After a night in Los Andes the riders are now a mere day’s ride from arriving in the metropolis of Santiago where they can explore its 19th century neo-classical architecture and winding side streets, dotted with art deco, neo-gothic and other styles.
Heading south from Chile’s capital Santiago, the riders will encounter some of the country’s finest vineyards and enjoy a night at the surfing mecca of Pichilemu. Pedaling through the rural countryside, the cyclists will eventually come to Salto del Laja, the site of the next rest day. The rolling hills now get rougher and tougher as we enter the beautiful Lake District of Southern Chile – an area featuring dozens of lakes, rushing rivers, volcanoes, forests and snow-capped peaks. This stretch to Puerto Montt, which marks the end of this section, includes a night camping at Nahuelbuta National Park with its rare Monkey Puzzle trees and a visit to the university town of Valdivia.
Puerto Montt is the starting point for the last section – cycling legendary Patagonia along the mythic Carretera Austral. The cyclists will complete one of the world’s ultimate road trips by taking 5 ferries, spinning past icy cold rivers, enormous glaciers, impenetrable forests, isolated farms and ocean waves. On the way they will enjoy rest days in the towns of Coyhaique, Villa O’Higgins & Puerto Natales, the latter being the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. From there it is just 7 days and a final border crossing into Argentina before the cyclists reach their ultimate goal, the world’s most southernmost city, Ushuaia, perched on the tip of South America and overlooking the Beagle Canal.
Here we will look back on this incredible journey and all its trials and tribulations with wonder and awe as we celebrate its completion together knowing that in a few short days it will be back to the reality of our more mundane, but now much enriched, lives.