Duning In Peru With MotoAdventures

MotoAdventures now gives a choice of countries with its new Peru tour.

Miles of uninhabited Peruvian desert with dunes a few miles east of Paracas.
Adventure awaits! Miles and miles of uninhabited Peruvian desert with monster ranges of dunes lie ahead a few miles east of Paracas and are ready to be enjoyed on a MotoAdventures ride.Mark Kariya

It's great to have choices, and in the off-road tour market, MotoAdventures (MA) now offers its trail tours in two countries: Costa Rica, where it's been operating since 1991, and now Peru!

The two are completely different terrain-wise. Where Costa Rica thrusts you deep into tropical jungles on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Central America, South America’s Peru offers a vast, arid desert playground that provides seemingly endless sand dunes until it butts up to the Andes mountain range.

Riders embark on ride in Peruvian desert.
Upon arrival the first afternoon, clients embark on a familiarization ride to get used to their bikes and the terrain, though you don’t get into the big dunes. There’ll be plenty of those the next two days.Mark Kariya

Little-known fact: MotoAdventures owner Larry Larrabure is Peruvian, though he and his family now call the Seattle area home. And after he felt the Costa Rica tours were well established, he tried in 2001 to add rides in Peru. However, that was just before 9/11 and, predictably, the Peru tours never took off as anticipated. So why reintroduce rides there?

Since 2001 leisure travel has bounced back, of course. Perhaps more important, though, Peru has gained more name recognition due to South America hosting the Dakar Rally since 2009. In the 10 years since that move from Africa, Peru has often been an integral part of the rally’s global reach, especially this year when it became the first country to host the event entirely within its borders.

Thus, we jumped at the chance to ride with Larrabure on a shakedown run of the four-day Peruvian tours based out of the southern tourist town of Paracas, which is about a three-hour drive south of Lima and also on the shores of the Pacific.

Bones in desert.
Other than a few large agricultural operations and chicken ranches (reportedly located remotely to preclude the chance of contracting diseases), we ran into no signs of life on our ride. No idea how these bones got here as it’s a long way from any water source or human settlement.Mark Kariya

Guide Jackie Barron lives in Paracas, just a few blocks from the DoubleTree hotel which is where MA clients stay. A multi-time Dakar racer, he’s intimately familiar with Peru’s desert and has done many training rides back and forth between his home and Ica, about 37 miles away, sometimes at night! He’s also done an ultra-marathon running race from Ica to Paracas that started at 5:30 p.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day, competitors carrying food and water to augment what they consumed at aid stations. Personable, an excellent rider, and fluent in English, he’s an excellent guide.

MotoAdventures ride in Costa Rica through river.
Now contrast that with the MotoAdventures ride in Costa Rica where water is plentiful, you’re generally not far from a farm or village, and the trails are tighter. Which is better? The answer depends on what kind of riding you want to do; both have high fun factors and both provide fantastic scenery—they’re just different from each other.Mark Kariya

Our group arrived after lunch in plenty of time to get in a few hours on the Euro-spec 2019 Husqvarna and KTM 450s in the MA fleet. Even if you’re a seasoned desert rider, this is eye-opening; we didn’t get into the big dunes, but there were plenty of monster climbs, quick two-track, and spectacular scenery that we enjoyed until after the sun went down.

Dirt rider on dune in Ica desert.
There aren’t many playgrounds for dirt riders that are bigger or less frequented than the Ica desert. We rode for three days before seeing anyone else in the dunes, and that was on a Saturday.Mark Kariya

The meat of the tour, however, is the second and third days. It’s a bit like a rally in that you send your overnight bag with the provided driver where it’ll wait for you at that night’s hotel. From the time you start riding until later that afternoon when you’re reunited with it, you’ll need to carry water, snacks, and whatever else you deem necessary for an unsupported ride. In the approximately 115 miles we did from Paracas to Ica on the second day, the only time we saw civilization was when taking a detour into Santiago to top off the tanks and get more snacks at a tiny store. We took a different but more direct route back to Paracas the next day.

Rain causes flooding in Costa Rica.
Unlike in Costa Rica, you won’t see this on a MotoAdventures ride in Peru where rain is a rarity. The Peruvian desert apparently gets most of its water needs from heavy fog every morning, fog that makes it a little easier to ride the sand until the sun burns through, though that fog also makes some type of roll-off system or Rain-X on goggle lenses imperative.Mark Kariya

On both days, we hit the heart of dune country, crossing Dakar routes several times. It’s hard to imagine trying to ride fast through such tricky terrain while referencing your roadbook (and remembering that the big trucks have to conquer much of it as well!). And, yes, it’s tricky, especially during the middle of the day when the light is flat and makes it difficult to see drop-offs and even simple ripples in the sand. (A tip: Clear goggle lenses are not ideal.)

There are some areas with more hard-packed dirt—a good option for those who aren’t comfortable in nearly constant soft sand—but for the most part, we negotiated dunes and grew more familiar with that type of riding.

Still, no matter how good you are, you don’t want to risk getting hurt. During those first three days, we saw no others until getting to town. That means you’re hours away from medical help, unlike Dakar and other rallies, so it’s wise to keep it on cruise and enjoy the scenery; challenge yourself on the many ascents and descents on multi-story dunes.

Dirt rider on dune in desert.
It’s a thrill to put the first tracks down in the sand, knowing it may have been weeks since someone else was or will be there.Mark Kariya

The fourth day of the tour is an optional ride day; you can do a larger loop out of Paracas similar to the first afternoon or you can simply chill and take advantage of the many touristy things in town. It was a Saturday and the only time we saw others (a large group of four-wheel-drive vehicles) also playing in the desert.

One difference from riding in Costa Rica that struck us was that riding mostly in the dunes wasn’t very physical (unless you got stuck and had to wrestle your bike out of a hole or something in the sand). However, trying to concentrate on seeing terrain variations—especially during the middle of the day—fatigued you mentally despite the relatively slow speeds.

That made it quite a bit different than the Costa Rica tours where the trails can be more technical and very physical—the heat and humidity conspiring to sap your energy, especially if you’re stuck on a slippery, wet clay hill and have to push.

Dirt riders explore the the Yumaqui beach in the Paracas desert.
Rather than do the typical Paracas tourist thing like windsurfing or fishing, we spent our fourth day on two wheels exploring more desert and finished the day by visiting the Yumaqui beach in background, which is part of a nature preserve.Mark Kariya

So which should you choose?

The answer depends on what type of adventure you’re looking for. The four-day Peru ride is more expensive at $3,299 (price excludes airfare as well as lunch and dinner; it includes hotels in Lima before and after the ride). The three-day MotoAdventures Costa Rica ride is $1,950 (also excluding airfare, dinners, plus lodging in San Jose).

As noted above, the riding is completely different on each tour. If you’re looking for a taste of Dakar, the Peru option is definitely the way to go. If you favor more technical trails with a decidedly tropical flavor, Costa Rica is the way to go.

If money is no object, of course, the ultimate decision would be to do both! (In that case, we'd recommend starting with the Peru tour and hitting Costa Rica after that because you won't be as tired and your riding gear will definitely be cleaner.) For more information, visit motoadventuring.com.