The Top 10 Paved Roads in Colombia

One of the things we love most about riding in Colombia is there’s barely a road in the country – be it a major highway or a hidden back road – that isn’t either insanely fun to ride, incredibly scenic, or both.

While many adventure riders come to Colombia for the challenge of pitting man and machine against miles of untamed dirt, for riders who want nothing more than to glide over smooth, sweeping, sealed tarmac for hours on end, this post is for you.  

For Mike Thomsen, el jefe at Motolombia, naming his 10 favourite paved roads in Colombia took a lot of deliberation. So many of Colombia’s best long-distance rides are on well-maintained, sealed roads, meaning you can easily extend your twisty fix for days without ever running out of pavement.

To pick out the best paved routes for world class, knee-scraping motorcycle riding in Colombia, we’ve narrowed our selections down to routes between roughly 100 and 200km. Depending on how you travel, they might make up just a part of your day’s touring, but they’re certain to stand out as high points in your memory.  

 

1. MARIQUITA TO CHINCHINA VIA ALTO DE LETRAS

 

140km

 

Starting in the town of Mariquita in the State of Tolima, this ridiculously steep route takes you through a mountain pass known as Alto de Letras. Alto de Letras is notorious among cyclists as reputedly the longest climb in the cycling world, boasting a punishing elevation gain of 3,800m in 80km!

For those tackling the endless ups-and-downs of the route with the benefit of an engine between their legs, the almost sheer vertical climbs and dizzying descents will produce nothing but pure elation. Mariquita sits at 492m altitude, and the first part of the ride is through lush, tropical vegetation. Alto de Letras itself crosses the northern slopes of Colombia’s fifth highest peak, the permanently snow-capped Nevado del Ruiz (5,311m). There’s a sense of otherworldly beauty to the landscape here as you ride through and above the clouds, and with luck you’ll be treated to glimpses of the mighty summit.

Most of the cyclists you’ll see on the way up to the pass will eventually peel off to recharge in Manizales for the night, but the good stuff continues on to Chinchina, with another 60km of tight hairpins and swooping round-the-mountain curves on a highway in near-pristine condition.

2. CAMBAO TO FACATATIVA

 

100km

 

Cambao to Facatativa forms part of a popular route among riders between Manizales and Bogota, avoiding the busier Highway 50 via Honda to the north. Starting from Cambao on the banks of Colombia’s longest river, the Magdalena, this 100km stretch takes you from the fertile river valleys up to the altiplano (high plain), with about 50km of constant, winding, back-and-forth uphill and some truly gorgeous viewpoints of the rural surroundings. Right before you hit the altiplano, things get very twisty indeed, but the beautifully paved road is an action-packed joy to ride all the way until it rejoins Highway 50 50 for the final, relatively flat spurt to Facativa.

 

3. AGUACHITA TO SARDINATA VIA LOS ESTORAQUES

 

100km

 

This rarely visited route makes a great detour if you’re heading north out of Bucamaranga. It skirts past the Los Estoraques Unique National Area, known for its semi-desert landscape that includes a long, rugged spine of brownstone columns and pedestals, jutting dramatically out of a dry, dusty valley in the Catumbo River basin. After Los Estoraques, the road gets all kinds of loopy, and with little traffic to contend with, there’s plenty of opportunity for expert level, footpeg-scraping entertainment.  Including a visit in the national park, this route is likely to take you all day. The charming little village of Sardinata is a good place for a night’s stopover.

 

4. SAN GIL TO BUCARAMANGA VIA CHICAMOCHA CANYON

 

100km

 

San Gil has a reputation as Colombia’s adventure sports capital, but perhaps the best adventure it has to offer is the 100km Route 45A to Bucaramanga. The route starts with a 30km uphill climb on its way to the township of Aratoca (1,702m) before beginning its stunning descent into the Chicamocha Canyon. The road weaves and dips its way down to the bottom, and from almost any vantage point, the views are extraordinary, with steep canyon walls rising to meet you at each turn and the Chicacomocha River appearing and disappearing beneath you. To ascend from the canyon requires looping your way around a series of switchbacks, then a bridge crossing over the rapids of the Umpala River. After that there’s a mix of relatively relaxing straights and fast corners – watch out for traffic on the approach to Bucaramanga.

5. PASTO TO LA UNION TO MOJARRAS

 

135km

 

The 30,000km route that makes up the Pan-American Highway is made up of too many epic rides to count, but within Colombia’s borders, we nominate the 135km stretch between Pasto and Mojarras, which takes Highway 25 east out of Pasto and passes through La Union. The Pan-American has some of the most impeccably maintained surfaces in Colombia (with remarkably little traffic to boot) allowing for fast, sweeping turns through a seemingly endless series of delicious curves, interspersed with exhilarating blasts through tunnels carved into steep mountainside as the road drops towards the bottom of an arid canyon. The stark contrast in scenery between the volcano-encircled Pasto (altitude 2,527m) and the dry, desert landscape around Mojarras is an extraordinary testament to the diversity of Colombia’s environment.

 

6. BOGOTA TO VILLAVICENCIO

 

125km

 

Once you escape the grinding traffic of Bogota, there are awesome mountain roads sprouting from every direction. We particularly love the all-sealed route to Villavicencio, which makes a super high gradient climb through the mountains south of Bogota before transforming into a slithery canyon road with lots of dizzying downhill drops on its way to Villavicencio. Villavicencio sits at the foot of a mountain as is known ‘La Puerta la Lano’ or ‘Gateway to the Plains’. Pass Villavo and there’s nothing but flatlands for days straight, as you cross the spectacular Llanos Plains to the Venezuelan border.  

 

7. LA VIRGINIA TO SUPIA

 

125km

 

This ride through lush mountain scenery makes a great day’s exploration if you’re staying in coffee country, as La Virginia is reasonably short spurt from Pereira or Salento. This fun, curvy but not too crazy route takes you through some of the Zona Cafetera’s finest beauty spots, riding next to hillsides verdant with coffee plantations and lush sub-tropical forest. The end point, Supia, is a cute coffee town in the foothills and the perfect place to recharge with a cup of the local brew.

8. MARINILLA TO DORADAL

 

125km

 

This ride starts 50km east of Medellin just past the International Airport. At Marinilla, the traffic peters out and a serpentine highway spreads out before you, delivering over 100km of twisty tarmac, with the occasional bunched-up hairpin section, all set against an incredibly lush, steamy mountain backdrop, dotted with tiny villages that truly reflect life in rural Antioquia. Finally, there’s a relatively straight dash into Doradal, who’s main claim to fame is its proximity to Hacienda Napoles, Pablo Escobar’s former ranch.

 

9. VALDIVIA TO EL HATILLO

 

135km

 

Heading south towards Medellin on Route 25, you’ll meet this beautiful stretch of sealed rural road, high up in the Antioquian mountains. Although the road is narrow, with lots of dark, tree-lined passageways, its countless curves are mostly expansive and sweeping, providing plenty of opportunities to get low down and dirty. Pretty much all above 2,000m altitude, the route takes you through some picturesque, rarely visited towns, where any adventure rider is sure to be a curiosity

 

10. CALDAS TO FREDONIA TO JERICO

 

100km

 

Our final pick is the delightfully convoluted route between Caldas, a lovely rural township 21km from Medellin, to Jerico in southern Antioquia. From Caldas, the highway is relatively fast and straight – the fun begins when the route starts to zig-zag up and down the mountains, with a super-tight, wriggly section to navigate right before Fredonia. From there, the road worms its way south to a bridge crossing over a majestic stretch of the Cauca River. This route encompasses some of the most wild and spectacular backcountry in all of Antioquia.

A Motorcyclist’s Travel Guide to the Zona Cafetera (Colombia’s Coffee Region)

The vast, fertile tract of countryside at the foothills of the Cordillera de los Andes is known as Colombia’s Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone). Also referred to as the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis), and the Coffee Triangle, the area is Colombia’s most important coffee growing region.
Covering the departments of Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda, this once remote backwater has earned a reputation for producing the finest coffee arabica beans in the world.
Mecca for worshippers of the coffee religion, the Eje Cafetero has plenty to offer the unconverted too – lush, mountain landscapes, tiny townships with cute Colonial architecture and some of Colombia’s most magnificent national parks.
For motorcyclists, the Eje Cafetero promises world-class road riding. Take on countless twisties on traffic-free backroads, explore rarely-visited rural villages and visit waterfalls and hot springs, all without leaving the comfort of the tarmac.

GETTING TO COLOMBIA’S COFFEE TRIANGLE

 

With your own set of wheels, getting almost anywhere within the Coffee Triangle is a breeze. Coffee exports have made the Eje Cafetero the most developed region in rural Colombia, and the vast majority of roads here are sealed – no off-road experience necessary!
The regional capital, Armenia is 280km from Bogota, and is an easy, straightforward 2 hours, or roughly 180km from Cali.
Manizales is the closest major city from Medellin. While it’s only 200km south, roadworks, landslides and heavy vehicle traffic mean the journey can sometimes be slow-going. 

WHEN TO VISIT AND WEATHER CONDITIONS

 

Mild temperatures and decent rainfall define the climate year-round, so there’s really no good or bad time to tour the Zona Cafetera.
A typical day will flip flop between warm sunshine and showery patches, plus the occasional heavy downpour. Early in the morning and after rain, beware of low-hanging mist obstructing visibility.
Yes, it does get a little wet here, but the scenery wouldn’t be nearly as vibrant and the coffee not nearly as tasty otherwise.

WHERE TO STAY

MANIZALES

 
 

The capital of Caldas Department, Manizales is one of the three main cities in the Coffee Region, alongside Pereira and Armenia. Overlooked by most tourists who head straight to the villages closest to the plantations, for a taste of ‘big city’ life in coffee country, Manizales is easily the most pleasant of the coffee capitals. Home to around 400,000 residents, Manizales nevertheless enjoys a relaxed and friendly small city vibe and has a handful of handsome Spanish-style Colonial buildings. A university town, Manizales lays claim to the best nightlife in the region.

SALENTO

 
salento-colombia
 

Firmly entrenched on the ‘Gringo Trail’, once sleepy Salento absorbs the majority of tourists visiting the Coffee Triangle, due, in part to its location, 30 minutes from one of the biggest drawcards in the region, the giant wax palms of the Valle de Cocora.
Still, Salento has more than enough charm to hold its own. With looming mountains in the near-distance and coffee plantations stretching all the way to the edge of town, Salento’s streets are lined with white-walled colonial houses, their doors, window frames and balconies painted in whimsical combinations of rainbow-bright colour.
While tourists can sometimes seem to outnumber locals, Salento is hardly Disneyfied. The businesses are locally owned, the natives friendly and the vendors undemanding.
Meeting other travellers and arranging tours is no problem in Salento. Accommodation is plentiful, with many guesthouses able to accommodate gated parking for your moto.

 

FILANDIA

 
 

20km from Salento. Filandia has almost twice the (permanent) population of the aforesaid town yet feels far quieter, slower, and more like itself – unconcerned by the trappings of the backpacker economy. The cheerily painted facades of Filandia’s residences are vivid and varied as the most colourful Salento street. The tourist crowds of Salento can sometimes feel a world away, and visitors will find quickly find themselves easing into Filandia’s languorous pace of life.
Once you’ve done a coffee plantation tour or two, there’s not much to do in Filandia itself other than wander lazily from café to café, and exchange banter with the friendly locals, which is exactly what gives Filandia its irresistible charm.

 

SALAMINA

 
 

While Filandia has its fair share of fans, Salamina’s status as a ‘secret gem’ remains safe for now. An isolated pueblo of some 19,000 souls, Salamina is almost 4 hours from Salento and a 70km journey along a scenic secondary road south from Manizales. Salamina shares the same distinctive heritage architecture as other coffee towns – white walls and rainbow-hued timberwork. Its leafy plaza sits overlooked by an all-white church with a looming ivory tower.
Why go out of your way to see yet another Colonial coffee town?
Salamina may well be the single most beautiful village in the entire region, and is recognised as one of the 17 pueblo patrimonios (heritage towns) by Colombia’s official tourism department.
Secret Tip: 25km east of town, giant wax palms (the very same type that make the Valle de Cocora Salento’s most famous attraction) grow prolifically in an undulating valley near the village of San Felix. While it’s not quite as dramatic as Cocora, you have a good chance of having the company of the trees entirely to yourself.

FINCA AND HACIENDA STAYS

 
 

Coffee fincas (farms) are blanketed across huge swathes of the Eje Cafetero, and for those who want to get a bit closer to the source of their morning espresso, many fincas provide lodging in hacienda style accommodation. Some haciendas are incredibly luxurious, befitting the tastes of the wealthiest of plantation owners, while others are more humble, homestay-like affairs. Some fincas offer free food and lodging in return for volunteer work.

 

MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA’S COFFEE TRIANGLE

 
coffee-stay

Conveniently located, extraordinarily scenic and packed with things to do (from leisurely coffee tastings to intense multi-day hiking excursions) the Zona Cafetera is a great addition to any two-wheeled touring itinerary. the mountain scenery is spectacularly lush and evergreen and no matter where you point your tires, the Andean roads deliver curves till the cows come home.
If you’re inexperienced or not a fan of riding off-road, the Zona Cafetera is perfect. You can easily plan a route sticking exclusively to sealed roads without missing any of the major sights and attractions.
A great introduction to motorcycle touring in Colombia, Motolombia run a 3 Day, all-tarmac Coffee Taster Ride from Cali, stopping in at Salento, Filandia Valle de Cocora, a working coffee finca, hot springs, waterfalls and more.

STILL READING? CHECK OUT THIS TOP SECRET BONUS ROAD WARRIOR’S COFFEE COUNTRY DAY TRIP

 
coffee-road-colombia

While nearly every road in coffee country is as curvaceous as it is scenic, we highly recommend putting a half day aside to take the road less travelled and experience one of the absolute best rides in the region. Between La Virginia (60km north of Salento) and Supía is a smooth and winding blast north along a quiet stretch of Highway 25.
Featured in our Top 10 Paved Roads of Colombia list, this 100km one way trip is tonnes of fun without being overly demanding, with lots of swooping curves and some truly stellar scenery.

 

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