Ryan Wilson’s 8 Favorite Bike Touring Routes Around the World

Looking for a touring route in South America? Ryan Wilson‘s your guy. How about Central Asia? Yep, he’s been there too. If you’re stewing on a trip, or just looking for a little visual inspiration, check out this greatest hits round up from Ryan’s travels featuring his eight favorite bike touring routes around the world.

“I have three weeks of vacation. Where should I go?!” As someone who has been lucky enough to ride in various countries over the last seven years, I’m used to hearing these kind of route suggestion solicitations. To make my bike touring experiences most helpful to other curious travelers, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite routes, suitable for trips that span anywhere from one week to a month, ranging from South America to Asia.

A few need-to-knows before we dive in: dirt roads, of varying quality, are the predominant riding surface all of the routes seen here. I chose to approach touring them with 27.5 x 2.6” or 3.0” tires, though any durable tire in standard MTB territory should be sufficient. Of course, each the route can be expanded if you have the time and/or desire. Be aware that I have included some route notes in the GPS files though, as some of this info is approaching six or seven years years old, some things may have changed. As always, do research in advance, and ask locals for the most up-to-date info while you’re out there, in particular with regards to water sources and food resupply points.

Peru: Cactus y Cañones

Peru is host to an endless number of amazing routes that I could recommend, but one that particularly stands out for me is the Cactus y Cañones route, which starts from my favorite city in that country: Arequipa. This area sees a drier climate as compared to the central cordilleras of Peru, therefore this route can be ridden in a wider range of seasons than most, from about about April to November.

Visual highlights include the majestic Volcán Misti looming large behind the city, the salty expanse at Laguna de Salinas, views from all sides of Volcán Ubinas, and the plunge deep into the Río Tambo canyon. As always, the Peruvian hospitality is very warm and welcoming.

You’ll want to pack extra water capacity (5+ liters minimum) as the first half of the route can be quite dry. I’d advise 2.35” (and up) due some sandy sections (a little pushing will be involved). The altitude of the first pass can be tricky to deal with, so try to stay some days in Arequipa to acclimatize beforehand. Expect chilly nights while camping at altitude (around 25-35°F)!

If you’ve got extra time, connect it to Mark and Hana‘s Camino del Puma route from the village of Sijuaya.

Starts/Ends: Arequipa, Peru
Best Season: April-November

Check out my reportage from this route here.

Bolivia: La Paz Loop

The riding around the city of La Paz is some of the most diverse in the world. Within a day or two of riding you can easily reach snow-capped peaks, desert rock formations, or even the edge of the Bolivian jungle via the infamous Death Road. This route ties together all of this diversity into one package and is not to be missed in my humble opinion. It is a tweaked version of Cass Gilbert‘s La Gira de Sur Yungas route.

Bolivia is another place where acclimatization is fundamental. At 11,893′, La Paz already sits rather high, so you’ll want to spend a few days moving around the city before tackling those first high passes. Expect chilly nights while camping at altitude (around 20-35°F), but a lot of heat in the Yungas region that sits at lower elevations.

If you’ve got more time to spare, take a bus (or ride!) down to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and be sure to spend a night camping out in the middle of it!

Starts/Ends: La Paz, Bolivia
Best Season: April to October

Check out my reportage from this route here and here.

Chile: The Araucanía

The Araucanía region is often overlooked by tourists bee-lining to Patagonia, but the string of snow-capped volcanoes, lakes, quiet dirt roads, small towns, and dense forests filled with Monkey Puzzle trees make this route a favorite of mine in Chile. In the thick of summer (December-February in the southern hemisphere), it can get pretty busy with local tourists, but in the fall (March-April) it is about as good as gets in terms of bike touring.

This route can be expanded or shortened easily, depending on how much time you’ve got. Portions of this route are borrowed from Skyler Des Roches‘ Monkey Puzzle route.

Starts: Curacautín, Chile (Easily accessed via bus from Santiago)
Ends: Villarrica, Chile
Best Season: November to April (March and early April are ideal for fall colors and fewer tourists)

Check out my reportage from this area here.

Colombia: Nevado Ruiz Loop

This route starts with the classic climb up the dirt road toward the famed Letras pass, a ride along the edge of Nevados del Ruiz, down into the humidity of the Magdalena valley, and up the nicest climb I’ve found in all of Colombia, through the magical Wax Palms above Toche and the tourist hub of Valley de Cocora. From dense jungles to paramos drenched in clouds and countless coffee bean farms in between, this route gives a perfect slice of the riding in Colombia.

This is a great route if you prefer packing light and staying in hotels over pitching the tent constantly (which most of the other routes listed here lean toward), though be sure to pack plenty of rain gear and waterproof bags, as this area gets rather soggy all year! If you’re overly worried about rain, try the Ruta de Santander, which tends to have more sunny days. You can extend it by heading north into the Caldas and Antioquia regions toward Medellín.

Starts/Ends: Manizales, Colombia
Best season: Mid-December to February or July to August for your best shot at less-wet conditions.

Check out my reportage from this route here.

Kyrgyzstan: The Tian Shan and the Border Zone

This is a classic route that is a modified version of an existing route in the area and this section is often a part of the Silk Road Mountain Race. With its rich nomadic culture, Kyrgyzstan is one of the most wild camping-friendly countries in the world. From rugged mountain peaks to countless grassy valleys (and camels!), endless dirt tracks, and fascinating culture, Kyrgyzstan is among the most idyllic bike touring destinations.

The route can be expanded in virtually any direction as most roads in Kyrgyzstan are stunning!

Note: A portion of this route requires a border zone permit, which must be arranged with an agency in Bishkek (or Naryn/Karakol) before arriving near the border area.

Starts: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Ends: Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
Best Season: June to October

Check out my reportage from this area herehere, and here.

Tajikistan: The Bartang Valley

Quite possibly my favorite road in the world. This route is tricky to access given the lack of major cities nearby, but I couldn’t make an article about my favorite routes without including the Bartang Valley. This is truly bike touring at its finest featuring a rough road cut through an arid plateau, hundreds of kilometers alongside a roaring river, and snow-capped peaks all around. In short, the scenery is stunning the entire way.

If the landscape isn’t enough to sway you, the people that live in the small villages throughout the Bartang are amongst the most hospitable I’ve encountered anywhere the world over. You can easily wild camp in your tent, or have a memorable night in a homestay along the way for about $15 with dinner and breakfast to get a feel for the warm Tajik culture. Finish with a ride along a river that splits Tajikistan and Afghanistan before arriving in the Pamir capital city of Khorog.

Big tires (2.35”+) are ideal and be aware that the Bartang river often floods the road during peak snow-melt season (June/July). This can sometimes mean you’ll have to wait for early morning (when the river is at its lowest) to pass certain sections. Your best bet is to ask local people about conditions in advance.

This one is best done as a big loop via the Wakhan valley or from Osh, Kyrgyzstan as a part of a tour on the Pamir Highway (this border has been closed in recent years). Transport can be arranged from Dushanbe to Khorog and there are a few good options to make a loop toward the Bartang Valley from there via Murghab.

Starts: Karakul, Tajikistan
Ends: Khorog, Tajikistan
Best Season: June to September

Check out my reportage from this route here.

Turkey: The Aladağlar Traverse

Without a doubt one of the biggest surprises I’ve stumbled on was this ride around the Aladağlar range in southern Turkey. Warm up (no joke, it’s an inferno in the summer) with a climb up from Mersin into the hills, before ascending above the treeline for some spectacular Taurus mountain scenery on a road that is barely used. Then descend into the depths of Belemedik canyon on an amazing road cut into the mountain.

Head around the southern side of Aladağlar before connecting with a very faint track that heads up to 3,250m until it descends into an amazing valley that is only visited by some local shepherds. Small towns and “yaylas” along the way give a slice of Turkish culture and cuisine. A few spectacular side trips to nice camping areas are included in the route, and definitely shouldn’t be missed if you have the time.

You can make a loop back to Mersin from Ereğli or transport via bus is also easy throughout Turkey.

Starts: Mersin, Turkey
Ends: Ereğli, Turkey
Best Season: June to October (May and November are doable often, but depends on how the snow season goes).

Check out my reportage from this route here, and here.

Mongolia: The Altai

There are many amazing parts of Mongolia, but the western Altai mountains might be my favorite. From rugged canyons with glacial rivers flowing through, to tiny Mongolian (and Kazakh) villages, camels, yurt camps, and snow-capped peaks. Mongolia is a riding and camping paradise. In the mid-to-late summer, the temperatures are quite mild, though they tend to plummet around mid-September.

This is another route that can be tricky to access. Flights can be had from Ulaanbaatar to Ölgii, though they will be quite pricy for tourists. Other than riding there (the best option!), one can take a ~28-hour bus ride from the capital to the town of Khovd, and pick up the route from there. If you’re traveling with a larger group, you’d be best off booking an entire van since many of the buses have very small cargo capacity.

I’d recommend tubeless tires for all of these routes, but since the southern portion of this is littered with goat head thorns, I’d especially recommend them here! Careful consideration of water and supplies is important here.

Starts/Ends: Ölgii, Mongolia
Best Season: June to early September