Peru: Following the Dakar Rally

Text: Toby Richardson • Photography: Toby Richardson

Few things in my life can compare to the almost monthlong trip I took around Peru to follow the Dakar Rally on a Kawasaki KLR650. It sounds melodramatic, but it was really that good.

Starting on January 1, 2019, and ending just before February, my Dad and I experienced all the ups and downs of the trip of a lifetime. Traveling across the Atacama Desert, over the Andes Mountains, and right into the bustling cities, we saw landscapes that I had never even imagined. We witnessed the sheer brutality of the trucks in the rally, the cars, the bikes, media helicopters buzzing all around, and the total utter chaos of the local fans. These are the highlights of my trip across Peru to follow the 2019 Dakar Rally, which as it turns out, was the last one that will be held in South America (the rally moved to Saudia Arabia this year).

Camping Paranoia

Our first night of camping was after a whirlwind trip of many days in transit, finally making it to the city of Arequipa, in southern Peru, to collect the bikes. In the afternoon of what should have been our first full day of riding, we were determined to get started. We hit the road in the setting sun to leave Arequipa along one of South America’s busiest highways, the Pan-American.

We looked for places to camp that were well away from the road and not visible to anyone, which made us feel safer in this country that was brand-new to us. We followed quite a few dead ends, got stopped by the police when trying to ride across some land that may or may not have been public, and eventually settled for riding across the flat sand until we found an old creek bed, just low enough to hide the bikes and tents.

The sound of vehicles on the Pan-American Highway traveled incredibly well across the Atacama sands, and each car and truck sounded like it was headed straight for us. This irrational paranoia combined with jet lag from being in the opposite time zone to home led to one of the worst sleeps I’d ever had.

As we would learn over the following weeks, camping in Peru is quite easy, and the Peruvians are an incredibly friendly people. While it’s true that you shouldn’t go out of your way to show off expensive possessions, and you should at least be out of sight when camping, we learned not to worry very much at all.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2020 back issue.