Final leg – Trans Ecuador 5 – Cuenca to Vilcabamba

Cuenca – Loja – Vilcabamba

With its lower¬†altitudes this may not win the award for being the most dramatic section of the¬†TEMBR¬†but it is still a fun ride and a good way to get down to Peru. Holding some of the notoriously steep Ecuadorian dirt to burn those calf muscles the route passes through pleasant farm valleys and small canyons. I made the mistake of deviating from the main route on the¬†penultimate day onto a rather gnarly horse track. It virtually had me in tears but I look back on it as a highlight. Funny how the toughest moments often end up being the most cherished…

Update: check out the main official report of the TEMBR at for GPXs and a rather more elegant description of the route compiled by Cass. (Also complemented by his exceptional photography).

This is how it panned out…


A couple of hours from Cuenca, these kind people let me sleep on their floor. Although the look on their faces suggests the contrary, these people were delighted to share my company.

After a few pleasant days zig zagging my way south on steep dirt roads out of Cuenca through the Ecuadorian countryside, my route joins a shortish paved stretch.


Climbing up a 800m change in elevation with some rather ominous looking clouds looming ahead.  Not the only ones today.


I somehow manage to avoid each of the storms by a matter of minutes. A touch of snow seen here on this 3000m pass.


After the paved section, the route takes me down this rather pleasant valley towards Loja. A great detour off the main road.



I pause to cook up some noodles



This nice cycle path then leads me into the heart of Loja



It’s very often worth checking out the ‘mercado’ in these South American towns/cities. This just one of many ‘booths’ where you can get some good cheap food.


Fatty pork (chicharrón) with mashed potato etc and a drink ($2.50).  An ideal breakfast for what I have in store.


Looking back on the climb out of Loja.


This alternate to the Panam requires a solid 800 metres of elevation gain but just look at those views.


A roller coaster ridge totally free of traffic, what more could you want?

Tiny blips on my elevation route profile that look like one or two metres turn out to be steep 50 to 100 metre changes in elevation and the road continues to roll up and down. Hundreds of metres below, the Panamerican Highway occasionally pops into view. ¬†How much easier it would have been…but so much less fun.¬† After cresting the final climb I get ready for the descent…


First impressions can be deceiving.

My accidental deviation from the TEMBR starts off quite innocently and semi-rideable… ¬†After twenty minutes my path crosses with a man ascending on a horse. ¬†“El camino es MUY FEO por mucho tiempo, amigo; es mejor regresar”. ¬†In no uncertain terms, “the path is horrific, my friend; turn round!”. Having descended a fair way, pushing my bicycle back up the steep slope is fairly unappealing so I continue down. It turns into what is, essentially, a three hour full body work out descending 800 metres on a very steep challenging horse track. Muddy / rocky channels sometimes up to head high with 6 inch wide gutters that run down the centre. I find banging my pedals all but impossible to avoid and resort to walking, sliding and throwing my bicycle down the hill. About halfway down the sun starts to set but I finally get to the dirt road and am catapulted through the dark into Malacatos where I collapse into a deep sleep at the nearest hospedaje.


One of the few rideable sections


This misleading photo kind of makes it look OK


Experts only need apply.


Finally in Vilcabamba, tucking into enormous plates of Chinese food (on the main highway)


I polish the ride off with three of these frozen yoghurt cones that I can barely stop eating. The owner reassures me that it’s natural yogurt and therefore healthy. I decide to agree with him.¬† (30m from Hostel Margaritas).

Happy to finally arrive in Vilcabamba, I take some much needed rest in Hostel Margaritas and set to work planning my assault on Peru.

Hostel Margaritas: one block south from the plaza on Calle Sucre, $15 with breakfast; a nice clean quiet hostel)

NB: In a bid to catch up on my recent incredibly inconsistent blogging, I have decided to not put a video up for this post. ¬†I’m not really sure how interesting it is to post semi-similar amateur footage of my travelling down dirt roads so I intend to only do videos when it’s significantly different or something of particular interest. ¬†Plus they seem to be immensely time consuming, finding suitable music is half the challenge and it gets muted later¬†for copyright issues which is particularly tedious although perhaps understandable.

5 thoughts on “Final leg – Trans Ecuador 5 – Cuenca to Vilcabamba

  1. Great to follow your recent bike packing experience Nick. You are taking on some real challenges but still going strong after our brief meeting years ago in Alaska, way to go. Charles

  2. So nice to read your adventures on the TEMBR Nick!, Glad you did it and suffered a bit…While I agree that is not for every tourer or bikepacker, is a route that leads to adventure and that is what matters… Yuhuuu!

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