Canon del Pato
There are two ways to get to the Cordillera Blanca – the easy way and the fun way. Well the easy way is pavement all the way and that’s no fun. The fun way follows the Rio Santa up through a canyon known as Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon). The actual Canon is the final section of the total canyon that stretches for around 80km or so of dirt road much of it very narrow.
The total route involves over 40 tunnels, most of which are one lane and rough cut through the mountainside. The road rises from 500m to over 2000m as it is the route to the other side of the Cordillera Negra and the access to the Callejon de Huaylas which provide access to the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.
We left Huanchaco first thing in the morning and by lunchtime we were approaching the start of the dirt road. However we decided to stop at the side of the road for a bite to eat. A few minutes after we stopped a police car pulled up alongside and started whupping its siren to get our attention. I went outside to see what they wanted. The police told me that we were stopped in dangerous place and that there were armed robbers around ! It didn’t take long to finish lunch and get going !
After driving down a fairly narrow paved road for another 50km or so we arrived at a police checkpoint. I think we woke the policeman up but he rushed out and lifted the barrier for us and we hit the dirt. The dirt roads in Peru are in generally in good shape and this was no exception with a reasonably smooth surface.
Shortly after hitting the dirt we bumped into Cas Gilbert , an adventure cyclist who is riding the length of the Americas by dirt roads. We’d met him a month ago in Ecuador. It was getting late and we arranged with him to camp at a place 10km up the road where there was room for us to get off the road and him to put his tent up – both without risk of rocks on our heads, pretty rare on this road. We invited him in for dinner and had a really nice evening chatting to a fellow Brit.
The next day we continued on our way and the road got narrower and narrower with a succession of one lane tunnels. These were handcut out of the mountain and some of them were very narrow, needing a steady hand on the wheel to negotiate. Fortunately we only met a couple of vehicles coming the other way and none in the tunnels themselves – there are passing places outside each tunnel.
There were a couple of hairy, narrow bits on the road but really nothing like the road we’d done from Chacapoyas to Celendin.
When you exit the canyon at the top you get your first glimpses of snow capped mountains, you hit paved road and its an easy cruise into the town of Caraz.