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National roads 3N and 3S – the essence of the Peruvian adventure

The alpine lands of the Inca descendants, winding, picturesque roads that reach over 4,000 meters high and breathtaking views. Colorful gorges, silver cords of waterfalls falling from Andean peaks and endless curves. Sounds like a dream of every motorcyclist? It is Peru, especially the national roads that lead up the mountains: PE-3N running from the north of this country and PE-3S coming from the south.

And although the road is fabulous it also carries a risk, because it leads through very dangerous sections. The Bolivian Death Road next to them is a piece of cake. In Peru, in addition to the blind corners, narrow road and deadly cliffs, you need to deal also with crazy Peruvian drivers. They apparently have the habit of cutting corners and speeding in their blood and probably nothing will change that. We even saw the police doing it, so you just have to take it together with Peru in one package and be very careful. It is advisable to use a horn at each corner to inform the driver from the opposite direction that you are on the road too. At some places there are even signs to use the horn. Usually they appear on sections with a narrowed road and sharp turns, where you encounter large buses as well. Sometimes you have to cross small streams of water. They were small, when we were there, but after a lot of rain it probably changes. You have to be careful about various animals which walk on roads and behave like holy cows. You can encounter horses standing along the street, sheep, goats, pigs running in front of you, and dogs attacking you from all sides. Even donkeys can be dangerous, when tied on one side and they walk to the other, stretching the rope along the road. And there are many more animal surprises like that!

Peruvian national roads number 3 cross the whole country from north to south, but these are not the main and most popular roads in Peru. Usually travelers would choose the route that runs along the coast, on the PE-1N and PE-1S, the so-called Panamericana. PE-3N and PE-3S are used by the local community inhabiting small towns along these roads. Or they are chosen by travelers who don't want to ride through boring  Panamericana with a lot of crazy drivers and Lima on the way. Because Lima is one of the largest agglomerations in the world, where the population is over 8 million. Traffic is terrible there, it's very hot, and like in large cities in South America, it's less secure.

However, unlike Panamericana, where you can drive through Peru quite fast, but without special attractions along the way, for the roads number 3 you have to have some spared time to cross mountain passes. At many sections there is gravel, puddles and mud, many curves, what made us sometimes travel only 130 km during the day. Frequent roadblocks built by an agitated population may stop you for longer. It happened that because of the protest of Peruvian farmers, who were striking against the low prices of potatoes, we were grounded for two days.

Below we present a collection of PE-3N and PE-3S sections, which made the biggest impression on us.

Road from Cajabamba to Santiago de Chuco

It's a 150 - kilometer section, where in Cajabamba you start your ride at an altitude of 2 654 m and then you reach even over 4 000 m (maximum 4 187 m a.s.l.) and finish in Santiago de Chuco (3 120 m). At the top you can feel the chill but the panorama of the lagoons, including the Laguna de Los Angeles and the El Toro Lagoon, and the view of the winding, well-paved road, warm your body up.

You can make this section of road in a few hours.

Info about the route

Distance 150 km
Start / end Cajabamba / Santiago de Chuco
Surface Good quality asphalt
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, tight, steep curves, riding at altitude above 4 000 m a.s.l.
Traffic Medium
Attractions on the way Laguna de Los Angeles, Laguna El Toro, many curves
Maximum altitude 4 187 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from Cajabamba to Santiago de Chuco: -7.939054, -78.185234

Road from Santiago de Chuco to Mellebamba

You will step into the colorful world of alpine regions inhabited by the descendants of indigenous people of Peru. The straight asphalt road ends there and a spiral of sensations begins. For 70 km you can enjoy the view of beautiful mountains and little villages that emerge at every corner and observe people working in the field or grazing animals. The route is very pleasant, with good quality gravel, although at the exit from Santiago de Chuco we encountered road works and it was stressful on a short stretch of marshy sand. The altitude fluctuates at 3,000 m above sea level, so the air temperature is very good for driving, it is neither too cold nor too hot.

We made this stretch in about 3 hours, taking our time for many stops and taking photos.

Info about the road

Distance 70 km
Start / end Santiago de Chuco / Mollebamba
Surface Good quality gravel
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, tight curves
Traffic Low
Attractions on the way Beautiful hills, many curves
Maximum altitude 3 456  m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from Santiago de Chuco to Mollebamba: -8.120923, -78.044214

Road from Mollepata to Pallasca

This is probably the most twisted section on the entire PE-3N road. It leads through the slopes of two mountains, literally it descends from one mountain, plunges into the canyon of the Tablachaca River at an altitude of 2 100 m a. s. l. and through amazing serpentine it enters the top of the other mountain. The view of the zig-zags carved in the slope is amazing. The route is asphalted, and the highest point of the route rises to a height of 3,153 m a. s. l., so the temperature is perfect for the ride.

It took us about 2 hours to drive this part, and we stopped many times to take photos.

Info about the route

Distance 30 km
Start / end Mollepata / Pallasca
Surface Good quality asphalt
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, very sharp curves and abysses
Traffic Low
Attractions on the way Tablachaca Canyon, beautiful hills, incredible curves
Maximum altitude 3 153 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from Mollepata to Pallasca: -8.208840, -77.950401

Road from Pallasca to Chuquicara

The section from Pallasca to Chuquicara runs partly along route no. 100 by the canyon of the Tablachaca River. A steep, narrow road with blind bends and numerous chasms is considered one of the most dangerous roads in South America. Add to this crazy Peruvian drivers plus large buses that cover the entire width of the road. I must admit that driving there gives a good shot of adrenaline. The canyon views are amazing, and the winding road provides as many as 100 corners for the first 18 km. There are also rock tunnels and wooden bridges. The route starts at an altitude of 3,132 m and ends at 500 m a. s. l., so it gets really hot down there. Initially, we traveled a good gravel road, then asphalt of various quality.

It takes about 2 hours to cover the distance.

Info about the road

Distance 78 km
Start / end Pallasca / Chuquicara
Surface Gravel and different quality asphalt
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, tight, steep curves, buses
Traffic Medium
Attractions on the way Beautiful hills, Tablachaca river Canyon
Maximum altitude 3 153 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from Pallasca to Chuquicara: -8.296160, -78.091850

Canyon del Pato

Another section of the road classified among the most dangerous roads in the world. The route winds along the Rio Santa River, where the two mountain ranges meet: Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra, which are situated parallel along the road creating an amazing gorge. The dangers include a narrow road with precipices for several hundred meters and dozens of tight tunnels in which you pray not to meet Peruvian drivers. In addition, there are sometimes rocky landslides. Today the road is asphalt, but a few years ago it was gravel and much more dangerous. The maximum altitude is 2,284 m a. s. l. and it does not fall below 1,200 m throughout the entire stretch.

Driving 51 km of this route with photo-stops takes about 1.5 hour.

Info about the route

Distance 51 km
Start / end Yuracmarca / Caraz
Surface Different quality asphalt
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, tight, steep curves, buses, abysses
Traffic Low
Attractions on the way  Rio Santa River, water dam
Maximum altitude 2 284 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The road through Canyon del Pato: -8.862970, -77.830200

From Caraz it is close to the Huascarán National Park, where you can drive two passes: Portachuelo Llanganuco and Punta Olimpica. Both beautiful, located at an altitude of over 4,700 m a. s. l. in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca range, considered some of the most beautiful routes in South America. Stoping for a while in Caraz town itself is also recommended. It is much nicer than the larger city of Huaraz. Ideally located as a starting point for the above-mentioned passes and the famous trekking to Laguna 69.

Road from Huaraz to La Union

It is a 190-kilometer section, which captivated us with views of the snow-capped peaks of Cordillera Blanca and silver waterfalls falling from the majestic mountains. From Huaraz, located at an altitude of 3 052 m a. s. l. the route rises to 4,684 m on the Yanashallash pass.

The whole route is paved and it takes about 3 hours to drive it.

Info about the road

Distance 190 km
Start / end Huaraz / La Union
Surface Different quality asphalt
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, tight, steep curves, buses, riding at altitude above 4 000 m a.s.l.
Traffic Medium
Attractions on the way Snow-capped peaks of Cordillera Blanca
Maximum altitude 4 684 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from Huaraz to La Union: -10.079336, -77.211914

Road from La Union to Huanuco

It's a very interesting part of the PE-3N route, which leads along green, mountain slopes, and hence, with muchas curvas, that is a lot of corners. A large difference in height results in numerous, winding ramps and descents. Small, Indian villages with local products on the way add charm to the ride. You can eat, for example, a delicious potato stuffed with meat for as little as 30 cents (yes, we do understand now the striking farmers who get pennies for their harvest). The road is partially paved with gravel sections, and here and there with a lot of holes, which are difficult to omit even by motorbike.

It's about 4 hours to cover this part of the route.

Info about the road

Distance 136 km
Start / end La Union / Huanuco
Surface Asphalt and gravel
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, sharp curves
Traffic Low
Attractions on the way Small mountain villages
Maximum altitude 3 991 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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The route from La Union to Huanusco: -9.761438, -76.659851

Road PE-3S

The national road PE-3N in Peru connects with the road PE-3S, which runs to Cusco and further south to the border with Bolivia. The southern sister seemed to be less wild and with bigger traffic, although some parts made our hair stand. Certainly the Canyon del Rio Mantaro running along the river was unforgettable. Dangerous and demanding, because we had to cross the deepest river in our journey. Crosses placed along the road remind everyone that from time to time death collects its harvest there. Taking into account the driving style of Peruvian drivers, this sad truth is not surprising. Excessive speed on the route like this, where the road is narrow and winding, and the chasms are deep to several hundred meters, ends tragically for some.

It takes about 3 hours to cover the route.

Info about the road

Distance 145 km
Start / end Izcuchaca / Huanta
Surface Asphalt and gravel
Accessibility Open all year round
Hazards Peruvian drivers, animals on the road, tight curves, abysses
Traffic Low
Attractions on the way Rio Mantaro Canyon
Maximum altitude 2 912 m a.s.l.

Map of the route

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Canyon del Rio Mantaro: -12.463455, -74.794493

Accommodation and petrol on the way

Tips on travel - LifeWeLove.com A good dinner costs between SOL 6 and 15 (USD 2 - 4) and it consists of soup and main course.
There's no problem with getting petrol on the way: gas station are located every 100 - 150 km.
Sleeping in travel In every little town and village we were able to find a hotel or private room to rent (of course we are talking about Peruvian standards here, nothing with stars in the name). For 2 people we paid SOL 30 to 50 (USD 9 - 15). There was always some secure place to park our motorbike available. If not in the garage, we were allowed to park inside the building. Most of the stays we planned with the use of iOverlander application.

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