Favorite routes come into existence only after the fact. We set out to cover a set distance between an arbitrary point A and point B, usually not knowing too much about what we are getting into, and only after the journey is complete do we look back and say to ourselves, “that kicked ass”!
The main criteria for being deemed a ‘favorite’ is a mixture of unique and/or beautiful scenery, isolation and remoteness of region traveled, difficulty of terrain and/or exhilarating road condition. Sometimes a favorite route can be born from scenery alone but this stand-alone condition is rare and it is usually a combination of criteria that make a truly favorite route.
Listed by chronological order visited, not by favorites.
Mexico: Bahuichivo to Urique in Copper Canyon (approx. 23 mi/37 km)
The ride from Bahuichivo goes through Cerocahui to Urique at the bottom of Valley Barranca. The ride into Urique Canyon was a challenging dirt track that descended 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) in under 15 mi (25km). It was one of the steepest descents we have made on the motorcycles. The narrow dirt road was comprised of tight switchbacks, dust, and fatal cliffs edging the road. In places it was difficult to make a complete stop on the bike and, even with both front and rear brakes locked, gravity wanted the bike to slide. The late-afternoon light in this amazing canyon created a dreamscape straight out of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. The combination of scenery, challenging road conditions, and remoteness made Urique Canyon a highlight of Mexico for us.
The short video captures our descent into the valley.
Mexico: Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo) Mexican Federal Highway 40 (approx. 205 mi/ 330 km from Durango to Mazatlan)
The Devil’s Backbone is a paved mountain road from Durango through the Sierra Madres Occidental mountain range to the Pacific Ocean at Mazatlan. Upon leaving Durango, a series of mountain passes and high evergreen forest finally give way to a long and twisty decent through Sinaloa State until you finally reach the Pacific coast. The temperature in a single day on this route can go from frost in the morning to sweltering tropical heat outside of Mazatlan. There is both a free road (libra Mexican Federal highway 40) and a toll road (Mexican Federal highway 40D) to choose from. We drove the free road and it was in decent shape and had little traffic. Some folks ride both roads, one there and the other on return. If you have time this round trip would be fun as the toll road is a feat of engineering including 115 bridges and 63 tunnels. The largest bridge is Baluarte Bridge at 1.1 km long and 400 meters high and it is the highest suspension bridge in the world.
Nicaragua: Road to Pearl Lagoon (highway 7 from Rama to Laguna de Perlas approx. 50 mi/81 km)
Tourists arriving to the tiny Caribbean village of Pearl Lagoon by vehicle are very rare and the customary route is to arrive by boat from Bluefields. We knew there were agricultural access roads serving the palm oil plantations in this remote part of Nicaragua and we also learned that the road to Pearl Lagoon was mostly flat and driven routinely by semi-trucks hauling palm oil. The road was mostly rock/gravel with mud in the dips and low spots and is quite bumpy but a decent dirt track with a lot of crushed rock laid on the road surface. It is only slippery/slick in the last 9 miles before Pearl Lagoon that was quite challenging in the rain. This route made the top ten because the trip was a proper adventure well off the beaten track.
The following is a short video of our ride out to Pearl Lagoon.
Colombia: Into and out of Jardin
Following highway 25 from Santa Fe de Antioquia along the Cauca River before cutting onto highway 60 for a short bit before turning towards Hispania and the Hispania-Andes road that takes you into Jardin. The route is approximately 87 mi/140 km. The town was a real gem and we stayed for a week before leaving by way of the alternate Jardin-Riosucio dirt road that leads into the jungle-clad mountains. The road between Jardin and Riosucio is approximately 32 mi/51 km. The riding was spectacular both arriving and leaving Jardin and this region of Colombia is a must-do.
Peru: Chachapoyas – Leimebamba – Celendin
The mountains and scenery of northern Peru are spectacular and awe inspiring. These roads don’t get much traffic and it is a good way to wind your way through small villages and see Peruvian rural life unfold. The riding was challenging and the roads narrow, twisty, and steep. We spent more than a week enjoying the back mountain roads of Northern Peru; definitely not as fast as the Pan American highway but a 100 times more satisfying and that is the point, right?
Chachapoyas to Leimebamba is about 52mi/84km and is a wonderful road winding along Utcubamba River. The road continues from Leimebamba about 90 mi/144 km to Celendin through a windy mountain pass and through the Maranon River valley.
Peru: Cordillera Blancas: Carhuaz-Yanama-Yungay (approx. 130 mi/208 km)
This mountain range is the stuff of legends. We rode this route through the Parque National Huascaran north starting from the town of Carhuaz. We took Ruta AN-107 over Punta Olimpica (4,890 meters/16,043 feet) which is a paved, tight switched-back road taking you way up as the mountains and glaciers get close enough to touch. After the town of Chacas the road becomes a single lane dirt track and winds its way along a river valley before finally climbing high into the mountains. Road splits from 107 to a no name from Acochaca then west onto 106 at Yanama. We stayed in the tiny hamlet of Yanama. The next morning continuing on the dirt road as we clawed up tighter and tighter switchbacks until we reached the summit at Paso Portachuelo (elevation 4,767 meters/15,639 feet). It is here that you drive through a notch blasted through the rock and pop over the pass with the glacier-clad Cordillera Blanca Mountains all around you. The road down from this pass was another crazy descent of thousands of meters in a relatively short distance.
Peru: Nasca to Cusco via National Route 3-South (approx. 404 mi/650 km)
The road was our first foray into extremely high elevations of the Andean Altiplano. This route is well travelled by tourist busses going to Cusco but don’t let that deter you, it is still one of the best rides in Peru. The road winds through small mountain villages where we stayed the night enjoying surprised looks from the friendly townsfolk, tourists usually blast through these towns without stopping. Many people do this drive in one day but we took three. The landscape is varied with oddly colored lakes and lots of llamas and alpacas.
Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni
There isn’t a specific route for the Salar de Uyuni as you can ride out onto the flats just outside the town of Uyuni and make your way across the desolation to small islands that dot the endless flat salt-scape. Riding on the Salar is so unfamiliar the senses can’t really grasp it. It is empty and vast and the horizon stretches on forever. Riding and camping on the Salar was one of the highlights of South America and a true wilderness experience.
See our short video of the Salar de Uyuni.
Argentina: Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Road) (approx. 67 mi/107 km)
Leaving the somewhat desolate pampas we finally got to mountains and evergreen forests. This route is all about the fantastic scenery and magnificence of the Andes Mountains, the riding is easy and very, very satisfying.
The Ruta de los Siete Lagos is officially called National Route 40 (old-provincial route 234) that starts in San Martin de los Andes in the north and Villa La Angostura in the south. It crosses through the Lanin and Nahuel Huapi national parks.
Chile: Carretera Austral, Chile
The Carretera Austral reminded us of our home in Washington State with snow-capped mountains, cold rivers, clear lakes, glaciers, and stunning scenery at every turn.
The Carretera Austral (Ruta-7) begins in Puerto Montt and runs approximately 745 mi/1,200 km to Villa O’Higgins. Along the beginning of the route there are a series of three ferry crossings (no roads at all). The Carretera Austral is about half paved with most of that occurring between Puerto Montt and Villa Cerro Castillo.