South America

The plan

My longest journey so far. I took six months off work to ride from Quito, Ecuador to Ushuaia, Argentina, sticking mainly to routes in the Andes. I had wanted to ride a true ‘continental’ tour for some time so when the opportunity eventually arose, I was glad to take it. The only question – which continent?

You really can cross a continent on a bicycle, you just have to get up every morning and ride.

I toyed with the idea of Asia for some time, particularly the Himalayas but was eventually put off by security and access concerns in Tibet, Nepal and Kashmir (it can be done regardless, dodging Chinese military checkpoints at dawn – that sort of thing…). Not wanting to ride for a month and then to be sent back the way I came by a rifle-toting communist, I looked for another option and came up with what proved an excellent plan: to go with the weather.

Riding and camping is much more fun in the sunshine, so, given I knew when I had off, why not look for a route that put me in each area during the best season? It turned out that riding south from Quito would involve winter in the tropics and then spring, turning to summer as I went south. I packed my bags for a South American adventure.

The outcome

I rode with my friend Andrew for the first 10 weeks, cycling through Ecuador and Peru, his brother Will, accompanied us for 3 weeks before leaving in Lima. Andrew left in La Paz. I then rode with some English cyclists for a further two weeks in Bolivia, crossing the 4000m high altiplano and the world’s largest salt lake before descending into northern Argentina.

I rode alone through the Argentinian desert to reach the vineyards of Mendoza and crossed the Andes once more to Santiago, Chile. Malin joined me in Southern Chile where we got engaged, and then spent three weeks together in the Lake District and on the classic touring route of the Carretera Austral. I then continued alone to Tierra del Fuego, the mythical land of fire at the end of the world.

Attempting to ride a whole continent was a fabulous experience. I had imagined it would make me realize how big the world is. In fact it does the opposite. The distance gets broken down into segments, each joined to the last. You really can cross a continent on a bicycle, you just have to get up every morning and ride.

Click the links for country specific pages, my un-edited diary, blog and a day by day spreadsheet of distances and elevations.

Sunset near Zhud Ecuador - The sense of awe isn't really possible to put into words: you'll just have to go and see for yourself...
Near Hualhua Peru - Almost everyone who visits Peru travels straight to the south. We'd be taking rather longer...
Salar de Uyuni Camp Bolivia - Simply getting pegs into the salt was a challenge. What a place to wake up though...
Ruta 40 Argentina - The change at the border was marked, dusty, bumpy road became beautiful smooth tarmac...
Vocan Villarrica Chile - The Chilean side was equally impressive and had the considerable benefit of being downhill...
Tierra del Fuego Tierra del Fuego - A final pass and then I came around a corner; the sign welcoming me Ushuaia took me by surprise...
Cycling across the Salar de Uyuni How to cycle across the Salar de Uyuni - Ignore the map once you get to Santiago de Huari - it lies...

Total cycled: 8500 km

Total by other means: 2600 km

Elevation gain: 70,000 m