Santarem-Cuiaba Road

Santarem to Cuiaba (See Map)

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Santarem-Cuiba Road  

Other cyclist considering travelling the road from Santarem to Cuiaba may find the following notes helpful:

  • The road is relatively easy to travel when dry although slow going.

  • When wet it can be impossible to even push a bike.

  • When dry there are short stretches of sand and dust levels are high.

  • There are fairly regular places for food, water and sleeping.

  • The Trans-Amazonica section is the hilliest part.

  • The road is officially closed between Aruri Grande and Morais Almeida from December to May.

  • The worst section we encountered is shown on the map below.

  • Other drivers were always keen to help us.

  • There are regular public satellite phones along the road

  • The total amount of unpaved is about 1000km and the last unpaved section ends at Nova Santa Helena.

  • It becomes increasing flat as you travel south.

General Thoughts

Our decision to take this road was essentially based on the fact that buses run along the road - so how bad can it be!  The thing we learned of most importance is that rain is the determining factor in respect of whether the road is possible to cycle.  The truth is - if it rains heavily, as it did for us, then the road turns to a sticky clay - much like potters clay.  This is very heavy and quickly clogs every part of the bike making it impossible even to push the bike (see our Photos).  Fortunately, it only takes a day for the mud to dry out and the stickiness reduces greatly with only a few hours of sun.  However, rain seemed to fall in the afternoon leaving the ground sticky for the remainder of the day and night.  We became completely stuck in the mud on at least three occasions and many sections were heavy going because we had to push our bikes.  It seems the more weight on the bike the more clogged it gets and thus pushing can help avoid over clogging.  The mud itself is extremely heavy.

If the weather is dry then the road is easy to cycle but quite slow in many sections.  The only down side when the road is really dry is the dust churned up by vehicles and the patches of sand which are in places near impossible to ride through.  It seems that in general the last rains fall in mid June and then the road remains dry for about 6 months.  We were informed that it is not permitted to pass along the section between Aruri Grande and Moraes de Almeida between December and May (highlighted on map extract below).  Our experience indicates that it is unlikely that it would be possible to cycle the road in these months.  Although, if you were determined enough, had the time and ability to carry your bike and gear for some distance then you might take a chance on the weather.

We travelled the road in the first two weeks of June.  One of the benefits of travelling this road at the very start of the dry season is that the volume of traffic is very low due, presumably, to the lingering difficulties.  Drivers on the road were very friendly - often keen to learn how bad the road ahead is.  We spent some time with one group of trucks camping in one of their empty trucks.  There seems to be an almost party atmosphere on the road as if everyone has resigned themselves to the fact that the journey will take days and days so why not have some fun.  However, trucks are no better than bikes at getting through mud however they don't get clogged in the same way.  We took a couple of lifts with trucks where the road surface had become too sticky for bikes.  The trucks however suffer more from muddy inclines and flooded sections which it is often possible to push bikes through.  The truck drivers will try almost anything to avoid paying the tractors to tow them which can be most amusing - lots of wheel spinning, sliding and multiple trucks pulling each other.  The truck we took a ride in first destroyed his differential in his attempts to pass through one part.  A problem that he seemed to think would add a couple of weeks to his trucks journey!


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