Adventures in white-knuckle Andean bus rides.

Over the weekend, we took an epic 10-hour bus ride from the northern highland city of Cajamarca, to the Utcubamba Valley town of Leimebamba. (See a map here.) The most dramatic portion of the trip is the journey across the Río Marañón Valley. The fun begins when you come up over a high mountain pass and plunge into the valley, which is vertiginously steep — with mountains that rise almost 10,000 feet.

For the bus, it’s switchbacks all the way down. And then switchbacks all the way back up. Over the course of the ride, the climate changes repeatedly, from cutting highland chill to tropical heat to cooler but steamier cloud forest. The best part: It’s one-lane all the way, even though the road has two-way traffic. At times, the road is so narrow, it looks like a mirage. And naturally, there’s nothing in the way of barriers between the edge of the barreling bus and the precipice below. It is all kinds of freaky-gorgeous.

More pix and video after the jump.

Interested in doing this? Best to start in either Cajamarca or Chachapoyas. Both Movil Tours and Virgen del Carmen buses have daily departures. Also, a word of advice: the buses don’t come with bathrooms, so limit the liquid intake, because, for much of the trip, there is nowhere to pull over. (Note: This trip may be more complicated during the rainy season, when roads sometimes wash out.)


  1. peet

    nice! reminds me of a similar road i was on in Nepal… insanity! At one point we came across a group of guys squatting around a cable that was run across the road and peering over the edge… about 500 feet down was a truck that had gone over… daaaaaaamn…

  2. c-mon

    whoa! i did see the frame of a car wedged into a farmer’s field at one point. was hoping that it was purely decorative and not the result of flying off the cliff…