Mountain Biking in the Andes: The Turquoise Waters of Lake Paron

“You know, it’s the mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo, and many say it’s the most beautiful peak in South America,” says our Mexican friend, a hardcore road cyclist training in the northern Andes of Peru. Some people debate if it’s actually the mountain in the logo, but there’s no doubt that biking to 4155-metre Mount Artesonraju, a blinding white peak framed by black cliffs, above the turquoise waters of Lake Paron, would leave us breathless.


Lake Paron. Photo by Alberto Cafferata, via Wikimedia Commons.
Lake Paron. Photo by Alberto Cafferata, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Melanie Chambers

We’ve been biking in and around the town of Huaraz, about eight hours from Lima. Located in the northern Andes, it’s the Peruvian adventure capital. But driving through the downtown, it’s a concrete mess, almost entirely rebuilt after a 1970 earthquake. Another hour and we’re driving past Yungay where a giant cross stands on the site where a mudslide, from the same earthquake, swallowed the entire town, killing almost 25,000.

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Huaraz. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Huaraz, looking north to the highest mountains in the Cordillera Blanca, L-R: Nevado Huandoy (6,395 m); Nevado Huascaran (6,768 m); Nevado Chopicalqui (6,354 m). Photo by Uwebart via Wikimedia Commons.


We stop for a stiff cup of insensia for breakfast—concentrated coffee—in the town of Caraz, and then begin the 1,800m climb. Well, sort of. I take a taxi to the 10km mark, while my buddies ride from the bottom—the guilt wore off after only 4km of 22. Stuck in the granny gear, every pedal stroke is slow and methodical; I keep clicking the gears hoping there is something easier. At nearly 4,000m, my lungs feel like a squeezed tube of toothpaste. I’m working at half capacity.

When I lift my head, the view is too much: a thin waterfall coats a rock face and the shiny reflection in the sunlight is almost blinding.




In the final 6km stretch, our Mexican friend passes me: “no switchbacks now, it should be easier.”  Liar. It takes another hour to finish. I could walk faster. But eventually, with one kilometre left, and the tip of the mountain in view, I give the pedals a little more power. So close.


Photo by Melanie Chambers.
Photo by Melanie Chambers.


Dropping the bike to the ground, and standing in front of the Cordillera Blanca’s largest lake, turquoise from the lime deposits, and the famous Paramount logo mountain, it was worth the five-hour excruciatingly slow ride up—if only to hang my butt over the saddle and fly down to town in half the time.

More about mountain biking in Peru here.


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