Crossing Borders with Motolombia Part 1: A Brief Guide to Motorcycle Touring in Ecuador

Yes, this is a blog about motorcycling in Colombia, and while we’re not about to skip the border for good any time soon, we’re happy to say we have plenty of love for Colombia’s neighbours too. Just like Colombia, Ecuador’s road map is one of zig-zagging mountain highways and scenic country backroutes. Split in half by the Andes Ranges, with the mighty Amazon Rainforest flanking its foothills, Ecuador’s sweeping high altitude highways and rarely-ridden jungle tracks are adventure motorcycle touring heaven.

Sound like your idea of good, fun life-changing travel?  

When they’re not criss-crossing all over Colombia, Motolombia regularly head out on guided multi-country expeditions. Several times a year, kicking off from Cali, the crew lead their leather-clad convoy into wildest South America, in search of some of the awe-inspiring riding routes on earth.

Of course, you’d need months, probably years, to truly say you “rode” this colossal continent, but if you’re short on time, Motolombia runs a 14 day South American Express, focusing on the lands directly beyond Colombia’s southern border.

Despite probably having more EPIC RIDES than any country of a comparable size   Ecuador is still a little under the radar when it comes to touring. So, with this blog’s first foray into foreign territory, we hope to give you a bit of an idea about where to go and what to expect riding in Ecuador.

Colombia-Ecuador makes a great combo trip, sine Ecuador is the only country with an overland crossing on Colombia’s southern border – making it a relatively easy place to access by bike, whether you’re riding independently or joining one of our guided tours.

 

WHAT IS MOTORCYCLE TOURING IN ECUADOR LIKE?

Ecuador is one of the smallest South American countries, but in terms of its geography and ecology, Ecuador’s diversity is almost unrivalled. Ride 20 minutes in any direction and the landscape shifts dramatically, from rugged canyons and snow-capped peaks to mist-shrouded cloud forest, steamy lowland jungle and dry, desert-like coastline.

Despite its extraordinary natural beauty, mass tourism is yet to make major inroads in Ecuador. Once you’re out of the main cities, you’re already very much off the beaten track – wild, remote and relatively traffic-free.

Imagine starting your day blasting up the 4,776m summit of an active volcano, and by sundown, eating barbecued prawns by the sea in a rustic Pacific fishing village. That’s all in a day’s ride in Ecuador.

WHY ECUADOR IS ADVENTURE RIDING PARADISE

1. It’s full of insane mountain roads with “is this real” scenery

Cutting through the country from north to south is the Andean Cordillera, a chain of snow-capped volcanoes and glaciated peaks that form the backbone of Ecuador.  Numerous highways (many of them paved) traverse the slopes and passes of this formidable mountain range, offering continuous days of exhilarating high elevation riding.

One of the loftiest is the highway snaking through Las Cajas National Park, which crests the Mirador Tres Cruces mountain pass at a breathtaking 4,100m altitude.

 

2. You you’ll beneath the shadows of giants at the Avenue of Volcanoes

Ecuador is a land of fire-breathing giants. Over 30 volcanoes, many of them highly active, tower above a valley forming the 200km long Avenue of Volcanoes. One of the most jaw-droppingly dramatic routes on the continent, it winds its way past seven volcanoes over 5,000m high. On a clear day you can see the perfectly conical summit of Cotopaxi, one of the tallest volcanoes in the world at 5,896m.

3. You can get down and dirty on miles of endless backroads

Off-road warriors will find themselves in dust-kicking heaven, with a vast network of unsealed roads winding their way through rural, remote and extremely rugged parts of the country.

It’s possible to hit the dirt within a couple of hours outside the capital of Quito. Just a hundred kilometres north of the city toward the Colonial town of Otavalo, you can find yourself navigating twisty mountain trails, climbing steeply above the clouds, before a dizzying descent into lush green forest and farmland.

A typical day of dirt riding will present plenty of technical and physical challenges – but the extraordinary views and the chance to see a side of Ecuador few tourists witness is well worth enduring the long days.  

4. You can ride from the remotest Andean reaches to the beach in a day

From one of the highest points of the longest mountain range in the world to the edge of the ocean – that’s the sort of mind-blowing variety this compact country can offer in a single day’s ride. Start your morning descending through the freeze and the fog of the western Andes and arrive in a balmy, tropical seaside town just in time to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Ecuador has 2,200km of coastline to explore, from tranquil tropical bays to worthy surf beaches and stretches of empty sand for days.

 

5. It has unique culture, cuisine, heritage and history

Ecuador has a mixed cultural make-up, drawing from various ethnicities and traditions both ancient and modern. The country has 10 spoken languages, with Spanish and the native Quechua tongue being the most common. Ecuador has the highest representations of indigenous cultures in South America, as well as a large Afro-Ecuadorian population with their own traditions, food and music.

Ecuadorian cuisine varies from region to region, from the seafood-heavy dishes of the Pacific (think fresh ceviche and tropical fruit) to warming, filling highland dishes made of pork or cuy (guinea pig) and staples like rice, potatoes and quinoa.  

Ecuador is also littered with incredible archaeological sites and Incan ruins. While none are as impressive as Peru’s Machu Picchu, they’re also almost devoid of crowds and commercialism. Ecuador’s ancient cities remain ghostly, mysterious and almost entirely swallowed by the jungle.

 

6. It’s the gateway to the Galapagos

If there’s one good reason mainland Ecuador doesn’t get enough glory, it’s probably because of that bunch of rock islands around 1,200km off its west coast.

Ecuador, is of course, the administrator of the incomparable Galapagos National Park, an isolated volcanic archipelago renowned as one of greatest wildlife-watching destinations on earth.

You won’t be taking your motorbike to Galapagos, (you’d run out of road pretty quickly anyway), but from mainland Ecuador, there are daily flights from Quito and Guayaquil.

CROSSING THE COLOMBIA-ECUADOR BORDER BY BIKE

 

If you’re entering Ecuador from southern Colombia, you’ll be using the Ipiales-Tulcan crossing on the Pan American Highway. If you’re crossing with an organised tour, all your paperwork will be sorted out at the start of your trip.

If you’re travelling independently, be ready at migracion (immigration) in Ipiales with your passport, vehicle registration and driver’s license. The name on your passport should match the name of the person your bike is registered to.

If you’ve rented a bike from Motolombia, with advanced notice, a special permit can be arranged allowing you to cross into Ecuador (but no other country).   

At Ipiales, you’ll go through the standard paperwork at migracion and then head to aduana (customs) to process the temporary vehicle import permit. Once you’re done, you’ll ride over the Rumichaca Bridge into Tulcan, where your papers will be checked and you’ll be stamped into Ecuador.

 

TIPS AND ADVICE FOR RIDING IN ECUADOR

If you haven’t read our guide to Motorcycle Safety in Colombia, much of the advice regarding urban and rural roads is also applicable to riding in Ecuador.

  • Hazards and Road Conditions: Unpredictable and occasionally reckless drivers, vehicles overtaking on blind corners, unfenced farm animals and extremely variable road surface conditions are major issues when riding in Ecuador, as are long delays caused by landslips, roadworks and broken down trucks and buses.    

 

  • Route Planning: When planning your route, be sure to take into account the shape and curvature of the roads, and the fact that road conditions can change from silky smooth to a pothole-dodging nightmare, even on major highways. Don’t plan your days based on distance alone – plan for strenuous riding and unexpected delays. A 400km ride may be a breeze where you’re from, but in much of Ecuador, it may well be a dawn to dusk endeavour.

 

  • Dealing with Altitude: Motorcycle touring in Ecuador almost invariably involves riding at high altitudes, sometimes well above 3,000m. These elevations can have pronounced effects on both you and your bike. The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatise at a slightly lower altitude first.

 

Plan your stops in towns below 2,500m in altitude before you embark on those high mountain roads. Quito sits at 2,850m – and so is actually a good base for acclimatising (despite being high enough itself to induce altitude sickness in sensitive folk for a day or two). If your route has a quite a rapid elevation gain, take frequent rest stops and most importantly stay hydrated! Dehydration will compound the effects of altitude sickness and can lead to things becoming more serious.

Unless you’re planning on mountain-climbing any 5000m peaks, the altitudes you hit while riding Ecuador generally shouldn’t cause any serious health problems. If you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness coming on (such as headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy and loss of appetite), get yourself to the nearest town or village and rest up. Don’t go any higher until you’ve fully recovered – this often takes a day or two.

 

Modern fuel injected bikes don’t suffer like older carburetted bikes from lack of oxygen at altitude causing an overly rich fuel mix due. However, you can still expect the thin air to be a slight drain on performance – a loss of about 10% power for every 1000m gained.

 

With majestic scenery from jagged mountain chains to deep blue volcanic lakes, lush valleys, arid plains, dense tropical rainforest and miles of deserted coastline, Ecuador is a hidden paradise for adventurous two-wheeled touring – well-off the beaten track and well-worth taking extra time to explore its most remote, dramatic reaches.  

Itching to get that Ecuadorian adventure underway? Check out Motolombia’s South American tours:  

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia
 

Why You Should Visit Popayán – Colombia’s 480 Year Old Colonial ‘White City’

Most people have heard of Cartagena, the colourful Spanish colonial city on the Carribean coast. Regarded as Colombia’s number one tourist destination, the name Cartagena conjures up images of a romantic, sun-kissed city of cobblestone streets, brightly painted mansions and mango coloured churches. And yet, being crowned “the Most Beautiful Colonial City in Latin America” has its drawbacks. With the crowds come the tacky souvenir stores, pointless attractions, scammers, tricksters and “tourist tax” prices. Don’t even get us started on the cruise ship passenger herds, so seem to be cramming into the city in greater numbers every year! Despite all this, Cartagena remains a truly stunning place, completely worthy of its reputation. But while Cartagena hogs the limelight, many travellers remain in the dark about Colombia’s other World Heritage listed colonial city. Nestled in the lush Valle de Pubenza is a far more laidback colonial gem. Popayán is nicknamed la Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for the whitewashed buildings that give its historic centre a stately, distinctive appearance. Still largely undiscovered by foreign visitors, Popayan is an authentic, unsanitised, tourist trap-free colonial city. It’s also nowhere near the ocean, making it safe from the cruise ship invasion for all eternity.

COLOMBIA’S SECOND COLONIAL CITY

 

The Spanish founded Popayan in 1537, one year after Cartagena, establishing it as the capital of southern Colombia before Cali eventually took its place.
Popayan’s historic downtown is a collection of beautifully preserved colonial era buildings. Dozens of striking historic landmarks, some dating back to the 16th century, are clustered around a massive central plaza, the lovely, lively Parque de Caldas.

WHAT TO SEE IN POPAYÁN

As you wander the old streets of Popayan, look out for some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including;

Iglesia de San Francisco: a lavish 18th century cathedral and one of the finest examples of Baroque style architecture in Colombia. Ask to see the ossuary, which was cracked open by an earthquake in 1983, revealing six unidentified mummies

Iglesia Santo Domingo: built in the mid-1700s, this is the city’s most spiritually important church. It’s flooded with pilgrims during Popayan’s famous Holy Week celebrations, held between Good Tuesday and Easter Saturday

Natural History Museum: within the magnificent grounds of the University of Cauca, this excellent museum is dedicated to Colombia’s amazing biodiversity

Puente del Humilladero: – this 240m long, 11-arch stone bridge was built in 1873 to connect the city centre to the northern neighbourhoods

 

POPAYÁN – WORLD HERITAGE CITY OF… GASTRONOMY?

 
 

Earlier, we described Popayan as a World Heritage Listed city. Which is true.
But while Cartagena’s fine colonial buildings brought it UNESCO recognition, Popayan’s architecture, although undeniably pretty, isn’t quite World Heritage league a la Cartagena.

In fact, Popayan received its World Heritage honours for a something else entirely. In 2009, UNESCO’s Creative Cities initiative declared Popayan the first World City of Gastronomy in Latin America.

Popayan is known for its distinctive take on the national cuisine, drawing on pre-Colombian, Spanish, African and European influences. It utilises a vast array of native ingredients, some found only in the mountains, forests and coastal areas of southern Colombia.

Must-try dishes local dishes include:

Empanadas de Pipián: Snack-sized pasties, filled with a mixture of meat, potatoes, garlic, onion and achiote

Helado de Paila: A traditional ice cream of fruit juice and ice, hand-stirred and set in a copper pot

Breva Calada: Commonly enjoyed at Christmas, this dessert is made from figs soaked in panela (brown cane sugar), served on top of white cheese

Champus: This sweet, aromatically spiced dessert drink is a blend of pineapple, sour orange, lulo, cloves and cinnamon
Salpicon Payanes: This delicious fruit cocktail is a blend of the Colombian fruits lulo, papaya, guanabana and mora

WHERE TO EAT IN POPAYÁN

 
 

Hotel Camino Real: This hotel’s owners are key players in the Congreso Nacional Gastronómico. Set in an elegant Colonial mansion, the restaurant showcases skilful cooking across an innovative menu combining French and Colombian elements

La Coescha Parillada: With smartly dressed, bowtie-wearing waiters, this restaurant has a friendly, old-fashioned vibe and specialises in giant cuts of beef cooked on an open grill

La Fresa: It might not be more than a few plastic tables and chairs, but this cheap-eatery is famous for its scrumptious empanadas de Pipián

Aplanchados Doña Chepa: This pastry shop is run by Doña Chepa, a veteran baker who’s been making her legendary aplanchados (shortbread-style flat pastries) for some 70 years

La Semilla Escondida: This French-owned bistro is a cosy spot for delicious sweet and savoury crepes

 

NIGHTLIFE IN POPAYÁN

 
 

On the surface, Popayan may look like an old, relatively unchanging place, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a city buzzing with youthful energy and a creative, independent spirit.
Home to the prestigious educational institutions including the University of Cauca, Popayan attracts thousands of students from across Colombia every year, ensuring a lively, authentically local after-dark scene most nights of the week.
Salsa fans should check out Bar Iguana and New York. For something a little more old-school, El Sotareno is an old-time locals’ favourite, playing classic tango, bolero and ranchera. For a more chilled-out bar experience, check if there’s live music playing at Wipala, a cafe, bar, gallery and performance space in one, or cosy up at Bendito, a labyrinthine student hang-out with a pop and rock soundtrack, craft beers and tea-infused cocktails.

 

DAY TRIPS FROM POPAYÁN

 
 

Popayan is a compact city and the major sites can be seen in a day. However, it’s worth extending your stay to explore the magnificent natural landscapes of the surrounding region.

Some of the best day trips from Popayan include:

Purace National Park: A vast, rugged park protecting a swathe of Andean paramo (high altitude alpine grassland), dotted with waterfalls and thermal springs and home to a small population of endangered Andean condors. Within the park is Volcan Purace, one of the most active volcanoes in Colombia. Tour companies from Popayan offer gruelling full-day trekking trips to the top of the volcano at 4,750m.

For motorcycle riders, the two highways that cut through Purace offer hours of fun dirt and gravel mountain roads through the prehistoric-looking paramo. Silvia Tuesday Market: Silvia is a tranquil little mountain town, 60km northeast of Popayan. Every Tuesday, Silvia comes alive thanks to the weekly market, when Guambiano villagers in colourful traditional dress come to town to trade local wares.

While this authentic trading post is mainly dedicated to fresh produce and wool, the Guambiano set up stalls selling handicrafts, bead necklaces and ponchos to the few tourists who visit. Remember, this is a real market and not a tourist attraction, so please respect the local people, who are generally shy of cameras.
We highly recommend a few days absorbing the charms and natural beauty of Popayan. Two and half hours from Cali down a fast, straight highway, it’s a worthy stop for those planning to ride southern Colombia and its roads less travelled.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

8 Must-See Places in Colombia with Amazing Natural Scenery

As one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, Colombia is made up of an incredible patchwork of wildly differing landscapes and extraordinary natural beauty. From awe-inspiring mountain ranges to mysterious cloud forest, scorching desert and rugged, surf-spattered coast, here are eight of Colombia’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders.

1. Caño Cristales

Cano cristales

Deep in the dense forests of the Sierra de la Macarena National Park lies a river with a beauty so strange and unearthly it has been called “the river that ran away from paradise”. More co mmonly, it’s referred to as “el rio de los cinco colores” (the river of five colours), since for several months each year (usually between mid-May and early December), the pools and cascades of the Caño Cristales become liquid rainbows. Bursting with vibrant reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and greens, the phenomenon is caused by the blooms of the aquatic flower, macarenia clavigera.
In an isolated range, the Sierra de la Macarena is a vast, wild tract of mixed forest, tropical jungle, shrubland and savannah. Until the mid-2000s, it was a known guerrilla hideout and completely closed to tourists.
These days, tourists can hop on a direct flight from Bogota to the small town of La Macarena, and from there enjoy a half-day hike, boat and truck trip to Caño Cristales and the surrounding swimming holes and waterfalls. Guides are mandatory inside the park and are easily hired in town.
Hardcore dirt riders can visit Caño Cristales on a guided 9 day tour with Motolombia, but heed the warning: this one’s for expert off-roaders only!

2. The Cocora Valley

Cocora valley

Beautiful scenery is everywhere in Colombia’s coffee region. Jade green mountain ranges, forested hills and verdant meadows abound. But one place in the Coffee Triangle stands out, not because it’s unlike anywhere else in the region, but because it’s unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Just east of Salento, the Cocora Valley sits in the lower reaches of the Los Nevados National Park, a broad, perennially lush valley framed by sharp peaks. What makes this valley, also known as el Bosque de Palmas (Forest of the Palms) is that sprouting out of the ground in every direction are the gigantic palma de cera (giant wax palms), the largest palms in the world and Colombia’s national tree.
Some of these strange, spindly giants (their smooth, cylindrical trunks are naked, bearing just a crown of leafy fronds at the top) tower an incredible 60m high. Seeing hundreds of these majestic trees scattered across this resplendent valley is a sight to behold. Measuring yourself up at the base of one of these behemoths and you’ll appreciate how truly tiny you appear in their presence. This is a rain-soaked region, and some days a thick, swirling mist descends on the valley. Some say the foggy weather makes Cocora even more beautiful, shrouding the valley with a mysterious, almost prehistoric air.

3. Chicamocha National Park and Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha canyon

54 km south of Bucaramanga, Chicamocha is a bit of a sidestep from the typical Gringo Trail, but it’s a region experienced Colombian adventure riders know and love. The park is bounded by the spines of the mountainous chain surrounding the Chicamocha Canyon.
227 km long and around 2 km deep, Chicamocha is a lush and fertile canyon, with undulating slopes carpeted in emerald green vegetation. The Chicamocha River races along the bottom in a series of rapids, which have recently gained the attention of whitewater rafters. Being not so far from San Gil, Colombia’s ‘adventure capital’ a small adventure sports industry around paragliding, climbing and camping started offering activities within the park.
There are some great day hikes and multi-day treks within the park, but for motorcyclists, it’s the 50km, 45A Route from Piedecustra to Aratoca that makes this natural wonder well worth a detour. The road winds its way along the high ridges before descending almost to the canyon floor. For a remote rural Colombia road, its surface is almost unbelievably perfect. The curves seem to go on forever, and the views are something else altogether.

4. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona national park

At its southern edges, the forests of Tayrona creep up the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. At its northern boundaries, it meets the wide bays and picturesque coves of a rugged, undeveloped slice of the Caribbean coast. To many, Tayrona is the very definition of paradise. For a beach destination with sparkling clear water and idyllic, palm-fringed stretches of white sand, Tayrona has no equals in mainland Colombia.
If you’re an avid wildlife spotter or birdwatcher, a few days exploring Tayrona’s hiking trails is a must. It’s home to a tiny primate called the cotton-topped tamarin, as well as howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas and poison dart frogs.
However, beauty has a downside. Tayrona can suffer from overcrowding, especially in the peak December-January tourist season. A sacred site to the indigenous Kogi people, Tayrona needs protection. To help the local environment recover, the park often closes for weeks directly after the peak season.

5. Tatacoa Desert

Tatacoa desert

Between Bogota and San Agustin is one of Colombia’s most surreal natural wonders. Desierto de la Tatacoa is a rugged, scorching badland. Its dry, rocky canyons form a labyrinth of eroded red cliffs and gullies. Bizarre, towering rock formations punctuate the arid landscape, which appears hauntingly void of life apart from the occasional giant cactus.
Once the hot desert sun has set, Tatacoa becomes an amazing stargazing destination. In this part of the country, there is little to no light pollution, so on clear nights, an astonishing number of stars are made dazzlingly visible. Home to an astronomical observatory, at 6:30 pm each night, you’ll have the opportunity to see the stars through a high powered telescope, with the local astronomer on hand to point out the constellations.

6. Colombia’s Pacific Coast

Pacific Colombia

Beach vacations in Colombia are synonymous with the Carribean, but Colombia (the only South American country with both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean coastline) has an entire, separate and largely-forgotten coast lapping at its western shores. The Pacific Coast of Colombia extends for 1,392 km, with the Chocó department claiming the longest stretch of seafront.
This is one of the least developed regions in Colombia, the complete opposite of the manicured attractiveness and tame beaches of the Carribean resorts. In Chocó, where the sand ends, the jungle begins. Deep inside the rainforest, waterfalls stream over mossy ledges to crash into wild rivers below. Thermal pools, hidden sanctuaries in the jungle, wait to be discovered by only the most intrepid and foot-sure adventurers. Most settlements on the Chocó coast, tiny fishing villages are isolated and poor. A lack of infrastructure makes travel here a fairly challenging prospect.
Still, modest steps are being made towards lifting-up the region’s economy through eco-tourism. The wild waves of the rugged Chocó coast harbour epic secret surf breaks. The region too, is rich in wildlife – most notably dolphins, turtles and the humpback whales who hug the Colombian coastline on their yearly migration. Whales can often be spotted from shore, but for an up close encounter, head out on a boat tour during the June to October whale watching season.

7. The Sand Dunes of La Guajira

Guajira desert

There is no place remotely like La Guajira, a tiny coastal region on the northernmost tip of Colombia, where the desert touches the Caribbean Sea. The arid landscapes of La Guajira have a desolate, almost alien beauty – cracked yellow earth, straggly clumps of cactus and tiny settlements of tin and thatched roof houses.
And then, the parched, hard earth of the plains gives way to a vast expanse of windswept sand, whose edges plummet precipitously into the crashing waves of the Atlantic below. Standing atop one of these towering dunes, you’ll find yourself gazing in wonder over the blue waters of the Caribbean and the red cliffs of the Guajira desert. This the land of the nomadic Wayuu people. The Spanish never succeeded in conquering this harsh environment and to this day, the Wayuu have managed to maintain a large part of their traditional lifestyle and culture.

8. Chicaque Natural Park

Chicaque Natural Park

The cloud forests of Chicaque remains an untouched wilderness, despite being just 30 minutes south of the crowded capital of Bogota. Well and truly in the clouds, at around 2,700m above sea level, the protected private reserve boasts some of the most magical forest scenery anywhere in Colombia. Some 300 bird species call Chicaque home, as do a dozen different mammals, including the two-toed sloth and spectacled bear.
An amazing ecotourism destination, Chicaque features miles of magnificent hiking trails, varied accommodation and numerous activities. Inside the park are nine well-marked ecological trails. It also offers a canopy walk at the top of a 200 year old oak tree, ziplines, horseback riding and guided birdwatching tours.

Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

Safety in Colombia: The Motorcycle Touring Edition

Is Colombia safe? This is the single most frequently asked question about travel to Colombia. Bring up your plans to travel to Colombian in conversation and the response may well be “are you crazy?”

Mention planning to travel Colombia on a motorcycle? You’re now considered certifiably insane.

Here’s where a dose of reality comes in handy.

Colombia of course has an incredibly bleak history of violence. But with the collapse of the major crime syndicates over a decade ago, and now, the ongoing peace process between FARC and the Colombian government, the country has been undergoing a massive transformation, resulting in an incomparably safer environment for all.  

Beginning in the early 2000s, Colombia’s government substantially boosted law enforcement. Military agencies succeeded in drastically improving the overall security situation, clearing out thousands of armed rebels occupying swathes of rural Colombia. Dozens of incredible tourist sites once sealed off in remote parts of the country have been reclaimed.  

The cities are also faring better. A case in point – at the time of Pablo Escobar’s death in 1993, Medellin had one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. By the mid-2000s, this ugly statistic had fallen by 86%.

As a visitor, it’s probably best to look at it this way. More tourists than ever are visiting Colombia. The vast majority of them come back alive. Lonely Planet ranked Colombia 2nd in their 2017 “Best in Travel” list. Hardly the kind of accolade you would bestow on a war zone.

Certainly, poverty and violence are still issues for many people living in Colombia. However, there’s nothing uniquely or worryingly dangerous about today’s Colombia from a tourist’s perspective. Visitors can travel around the country freely, by any means they wish. Motorcycles included.

GENERAL SAFETY IN COLOMBIA

 

Only a handful of the millions of tourists who visit Colombia every year fall victim to crime, and most are non-violent street crimes. On rare occasions, tourists have been targeted by armed robbers, but being pickpocketed is a far more likely scenario, particularly in crowded public places.
We won’t go into how to be street wise and avoid crime in Colombia, as there’s plenty of advice out there already – mostly basic, common-sense rules that should apply when exploring any unfamiliar city.
The best advice is to heed the popular Colombian saying, ‘no dar papaya’ (literally, don’t give papaya). In a nutshell, it means don’t make yourself an easy target, and it’s the best advice on being street wise anyone can give.

 
 

MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL SAFETY IN COLOMBIA

 

Twenty years ago, touring Colombia by motorcycle was definitely not recommended.
These days, with the massively improved security situation, riding Colombia’s highways and backroads is nothing like the risky game of ‘try not to get kidnapped’ it once was. While it’s wrong to say roadside incidents have been eliminated altogether, they are extremely rare, and tourists are not the targets of these organised plots.
Despite the threat to tourists being vastly downgraded, some governments still have travel warnings in place for parts of rural Colombia. In our view, the official travel advice issued by many governments doesn’t always apply the latest data and often exaggerates the dangers, if only to cover their own backsides in the event that you do run into trouble. Take note of their advice, but do your own research.
You should however check with your insurer to make sure you are covered in places with travel warnings against them.

PLANNING A SAFE ROUTE

 

Road conditions, and your experience level are the main limiting factors when it comes to planning routes and ride destinations in Colombia. If you don’t have much off-road experience, stick to the many beautiful sealed roads the country has to offer. The challenge of learning to handle a bike on dirt, combined with oblivious drivers, crazy truckers and all sorts of hazards you might not be used to at home can result in an unpleasant, if not downright dangerous experience.

Many rural parts of the country have poorly developed infrastructure. Even a place with some semblance of a ‘road’ can be difficult or impossible to reach by bike at certain times of the year. Heavy rain, combined with damage from trucks can turn dirt roads into impassable muddy tracks. Help can be hard to find if you end up stuck on a particularly remote stretch of road.

If you’re not sure about a particular route, ask around for advice before setting off, The knowledgeable folk at Motolombia, as well as adventure riding forums like advrider are excellent sources of first-hand information pre-trip.

 
 

RIDER SAFETY TIPS ON COLOMBIAN ROADS

 
  • Many Colombian drivers consider following road rules optional, so be ready for anything, anywhere, anytime. Trucks and buses careening around blind corners, animals wandering freely on highways and sections of road that drop away suddenly by 20cm or more. Your hazard perception skills will be tested.
  • The state of secondary roads can vary from one kilometre to the next, so using distance alone (or Google Maps) isn’t an accurate way of calculating travel times. 50km on a windy, gravelly stretch of mountain road could take 3 hours. More if you have to wait for roadworks or a landslip to be cleared. Always factor in extra time to reach your intended destination.
 
ride safety
  • Colombian roads are notorious for excessive speed bumps. They’re especially prevalent at the entrance and exists of towns along the highways. The whereabouts of these evil harbingers of discomfort is not always signposted, and if hit at speed, can cause damage to bike and rider. The same holds true for potholes, so on poorly maintained roads, slow down, and if it’s safe to do so, manoeuvre around them to avoid potentially destroying a rim.
  • Signage varies from excellent to non-existent. Beware of painted road markings that become slippery when wet
  • Watch for smaller bikes while waiting to pass vehicles. You might be trailing a truck waiting for a clear view before overtaking, when a 125cc appears on your tail, ready to pass on a blind corner. Colombian riders in general are not particularly risk averse and so not great examples to follow!
  • Don’t leave without basic equipment including a tool kit, puncture repair kit, first aid supplies and wet weather gear. Particularly in the mountains, the weather can change in an instant. A satellite GPS messenger like the Spot personal tracker is an excellent idea in case of emergency.
  • There are speed cameras, particularly at major intersections in town, and in tunnels. If do get done, expect to receive a bill of around $150US in the post about a month later.
  • Between 6PM and 6AM, riders are required to wear a fluorescent vest with reflectors and your license plate number displayed. If you rent a bike from Motolombia, this vest will be supplied. It’s not a bad idea to wear it at all times for a bit of added safety.
  • There are three types of police who can stop passers-by – military, National Police and el Transito, although big bikes are rarely stopped. If you do get waved over, you’ll usually experience nothing more than a brief, polite exchange. Nearly everyone is friendly and considerate of foreign guests, all part of why motorcycle travel in Colombia is so rewarding.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

The 10 Most Beautiful Villages in Colombia

Planning a motorcycle tour in Colombia?

There really is no better way to escape the chaos of the cities than saddling up and hitting the highway, forging onward as the traffic dwindles and then finally disappears, and empty roads open up before you, inviting a world of endless possible adventures. Of course, not all of us can afford to ride without plan or purpose. You’ll most likely want to map out the majority of your route, including picking out your stopovers, many of which will end up being small towns. In truth, many of Colombia’s small towns have little to offer besides a cheap feed and a bed for the night. On the other hand, there are some truly delightful rural pueblos and small towns which make worthy destinations in their own right.

The 10 villages on this list were picked for their aesthetic appeal and inviting, small town atmosphere. So, start planning your dream ride and be sure to visit at least a few of Colombia’s 10 Most Beautiful Small Towns.

1. BARICHARA, SANTANDER

Barichara (population 7,063) was an obvious choice for the top spot. Immensely atmospheric and visually stunning, the laidback charms of Barichara are apparent the second you set foot on its cobblestone streets. A compact colonial hillside town, Barichara sits atop a plateau overlooking the Suarez River canyon. The steep, narrow streets are lined with whitewashed, terracotta-roofed homes, and the further up you climb, the more the views of the surrounding valley intensify. Although Barichara has its share of fancy boutique hotels, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. Life moves at a leisurely pace, the locals are genuinely welcoming, and once the day-trippers are gone, evenings in the plaza are serene and romantic.

Barichara is 20km from the adventure tourist mecca of San Gil and 118km from the state capital, Bucaramanga.

 

2. JARDÍN, ANTIOQUIA

 

A lovely, unassuming gem couched in the emerald green hills of Antioquia, Jardin (population 14,777) is among the most visually alluring townships in the Zona Cafetera, or Coffee Triangle. With brightly painted buildings, a lively plaza perfect for people watching and plenty to see and do in the surrounding countryside, Jardin is slowly attracting a trickle of visitors straying from the gringo trail. The cable car ride to the Alto de las Flores mountain peak culminates in fantastic views Jardin’s verdant countryside.

133km south of Medellin, Jardin has enough to tempt you into several days’ stay, with excursions to nearby coffee farms, waterfalls and prime birdwatching habitats.

 

 
 

3. JERICÓ, ANTIOQUIA

 

Another overlooked town in the Zona Cafetera, Jericó (population 12,100) is mainly visited by domestic pilgrims journeying to the hometown of Colombia’s first saint, Mother Laura Montoya. Religious significance aside, Jerico is quite possibly the most picture-perfect pueblo in Antioquia (and maybe even all of Colombia), its storybook-like appearance materialising out of the misty mountains, a village-scape of elaborate old churches and immaculate streets lined with Crayola-coloured houses and flower-draped balconies.

Don’t leave without hiking up Cerro Las Nubes for a soul-stirring view of the southern Antioquian mountain ranges.

4. GUATAPÉ, ANTIOQUIA

 

Guatapé (population 5,600) is hardly a hidden secret, but as a contender for the most colourful town in Colombia, this curious little village on the shores of a massive man-made lake was bound for backpacker fame.

It’s almost impossible to pinpoint Guatape’s architecture to any particular time period. There’s a fantasy-like, Legoland quality to the block-shaped houses in meticulous, symmetrical rows, all hand-painted in bold colours and embellished with ornate frescoes (called ‘zocalos) depicting everything from family professions to forest creatures to favourite pop culture icons. Guatape’s primary attraction is the hike to the top of the nearby La Piedra Peñol, a 2,135m high monolith. 650 stairs criss-cross the bizarre-looking rock like a gigantic zipper. Reach the top and you’ll be rewarded with a rather stupendous view of the Guatape Reservoir’s meandering waterways and islands.

Guatapé is an easy two hour, 83km day trip from Medellin.

 

 
 

5. PIJAO, QUINDIO

 

Coffee tourism has swept through to the Colombian countryside in a big way, but has so far passed right over Pijao (population 10,250), an impossibly pretty little town where life feels simpler, and visitors are sure to share a few cups of arabica brew with the irrepressibly welcoming locals.

Despite being relatively unknown to the outside world, Pijao was the first South American town to join the ‘Cittaslow’ or ‘slow city’ movement, a community-based movement focusing on sustainability and preserving cultural heritage. Pijao is well worth a detour for serious coffee enthusiasts, with some of the best plantation tours and finca homestays found in nearby countryside.

 

6. VILLA DE LEYVA, BOYACÁ

 

Largely intact colonial towns are somewhat of a rarity in Colombia, which makes Villa de Leyva (population 16,984) all the more enchanting. Founded in 1572, the entire town was declared a national monument in 1954 and has remained perfectly preserved ever since, with no modern architecture detracting from its beautifully whitewashed Spanish buildings.

The focal point of the town is the Plaza Mayor. 14,000 square metres wide and completely covered in cobblestone, the largest square in Colombia is a stunning sight, framed by immaculate 16th century mansions.

Curiously, one of Villa de Leyva’s most visited attractions is not from the colonial period at all. The vaguely Gaudi-inspired Casa Terracotta just outside town is a whimsical, wonky construction made entirely from clay.

160km from Bogota, Villa de Leyva is a popular weekend escape from the city.

7. SALAMINA, CALDAS

 

Salamina (population 18,740) is a quaint coffee country town. For now, it remains unconcerned with catering to the whims of tourists and is just happy to be itself – a sleepy, deeply traditional town which just happens to boast some of the most beautiful heritage architecture of any Colombian pueblo. Coffee growers who struck wealth in the early days decorated their homes with elaborate woodwork, embellishing the doorways, balconies and window frames that give Salamina its distinctive aesthetic.

The main landmark is the all-white church, an ivory tower looming large over Salamina’s pastel-hued homes and colourful plaza.

Hot travel tip – the giant wax palms of the Valle del Cocora, Salento’s most famous tourist attraction, also grow prolifically in a valley near the village of San Felix. About 30km outside of Salamina, here you have a good chance of having the company of the trees entirely to yourself.  

 

 
 

8. MOMPOX, BOLÍVAR

 

Once a thriving port town, plonked on an island in the middle of the mighty Rio Magdalena, when the trading boom came to an end in the 19th century, Mompox seemed to simply become trapped in time, forgotten by the outside world for generations. Much of Mompox has changed little since the colonial days. It was granted World Heritage protection in 1995.

Today, Mompox is experiencing a second wave of prosperity, as tourists from Cartagena (136km to the south east) flock to stroll the nostalgia-laden stone streets of a town that resembles a Hollywood period film set, or Gabriel García Márquez’ magical, make-believe settlement of Macondo. A few of the riverside merchant mansions have been converted into bars and boutique hotels, while the silversmith workshops along Calle Real del Medio are an atmospheric highlight.

 
 

10. MONGUÍ, BOYACÁ

 

Sitting at a breathtaking 2,900m above sea level, Monguí (population 5,000) is an idyllic highland pueblo. Built on the side of a mountain, practically every corner of the town has panoramic views of the valley below. A 17th century Franciscan monastery dominates the plaza, where local farmers in their ruanas (traditional woollen ponchos) congregate to sell fresh produce. The 17th century Calicanto Bridge is watercolour-painting-picturesque, constructed from a concoction of clay, lime and bull’s blood.

The 20km road from Sogamoso is a ascends steeply through truly beautiful mountain scenery. Mongui is also a great base for exploring the surrounding paramo (Andean tundra landscape).

 

9. LA PLAYA DE BELEN, NORTE DE SANTANDER

 

La Playa de Belen (population 8,546) is a squeaky clean village with just a few streets leading to a miniature plaza dominated by the two white towers and golden domes of the San Jose church. Everything in the village – the houses, streets, sidewalks and even the potted wall plants decorating the sides of buildings – have been perfectly planned and pristinely maintained. What makes Playa truly remarkable is its otherworldly setting in a valley surrounded by undulating, weathered rock formations.

Just a few minutes outside of town is the incredible Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area, a geological wonder made up of rugged rows of erosion-worn brownstone pedestals and columns.

The 269km route from Mompox to La Playa through dry canyons and lush river valleys is one of the most spectacular rides in northern Colombia.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Colombia moto tours

 
 

A Motorcycle Mecca of Seven Million Motorbikes

WHY MOTO-TOURISTS SHOULD EMBRACE COLOMBIA’S TWO WHEELED PASSION

 

My first port of call in Colombia was Medellin. I was immediately struck by the sheer number of motorcycles plying the city’s busy streets.
Before Colombia, the last place I’d embarked on a long-distance motorcycle journey was another Latin American country, Mexico. But unlike Mexico, where cars are definitely king, in Colombia, road-goers harbour a unique passion for travelling on two wheels. We all know Colombians are renowned as some of the world’s keenest cyclists, but motorcycles too, are an integral part of life on Colombia’s highways.
Exploring Medellin on foot, I constantly found myself dodging scooters and 200c Chinese-made bikes whilst trying to navigate the city’s chaotic traffic. I also strolled past gleaming dealerships showcasing the latest Ducatis and Aprilias, and even a Royal Enfield specialist. Medellin is a city with a thriving motorcycle culture, and that’s true of Colombia in general. In many urban areas, motorbikes outnumber cars by a significant margin.

Later in Cali, we rode past an impressive of cavalcade of hundreds of sports bikes, tourers and cruisers on one of their regular Sunday rides to the nearby countryside.
Several locals explained to me how ingrained the motorcycle is in Colombian culture. Rich or poor, male or female, so many Colombians ride. And why not?
The popularity of motorcycles in Colombia goes beyond the fact that they’re an affordable mode of transport in both cities and rural areas. Ninety-five per cent of Colombians live in mountainous regions, where steep, narrow, rough and winding roads are a fact of life. Riding a moto here isn’t just practical, it’s fun.
Crazy, crazy fun.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise then to know over 7 million motorcycles (out of 13 million vehicles in total) were registered in Colombia in 2017.
For Colombians, the motorcycle represents not just freedom and discovery, but kinship with your fellow riders.
For visitors, la moto is a ticket to unlocking the Colombia beyond the major highways and well-trodden tourist trails. Travelling by bike, you’re a participant, not just a passive observer. With no barriers between you and the outside world, motorcycle travel fosters an intimate connection with the landscape, the environment and the people.
This is true of motorcycle travel everywhere of course, but for experienced riders, Colombia has something extra special.
The majestic Andean ranges dominate the western half of Colombia, carving up the land into a series of mountains and valleys that make the country a rider’s paradise, blessed with endless twisties and astonishing scenery at every turn.
Fabulous roads aside, two-wheeled touring in Colombia has other advantages thanks to the country’s strong motorcycle culture.

 
 
  • Exploring the country by motorcycle, you’re sure to meet other bikers riding for leisure or adventure – not just foreigners but locals too. Meeting fellow riders always makes for interesting conversations, and the opportunity to share advice, travel tips and recommendations
  • Since so many Colombians haven an interest in motos, the presence of a bike often captures people’s attentions and encourages them to strike up a conversation. Travelling by motorbike makes it easy to meet friendly locals from all around the country
  • Tyre and basic motorcycle repair shops are literally everywhere. Even on some of the more remote stretches of highway, you’re rarely too far from a side-of-the road shack ready to patch up that pesky puncture.
  • Dealerships for many of the major brands and quality bike mechanics carrying spare parts are present in almost all large Colombian cities
  • Foreigners have several options available for either renting or buying a motorcycle for a self-guided expedition. Don’t want to go it alone? The same rental companies also offer organised, fully guided group tours. Thanks in part to Colombia’s moto-friendly attitude, motorcycle tour operators in Colombia tend to be professionally run organisations with a wide selection of new, well-maintained machines on offer
  • Some main roads in major cities have dedicated motorcycle lanes so riders are able to breeze through traffic much faster
  • Toll roads are free for motorcycles. Hooray! When you approach a toll gate, just slip in to the designated bike lane on the far right and off you go, leaving a trail of grumbling car drivers in your wake

Whether you have four days or four months to go riding, there’s a special part of Colombia that only a passion for two wheels and a spirit of adventure can reveal.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

Six Reasons to Fall in Love with Medellin, Colombia

Six Reasons to Fall in Love with Medellin, Colombia

 
 

Hailed as one of Latin America’s most progressive cities, Medellin’s inspiring approach to planning and urban renewal projects have transformed this city of almost 2.5 million from a notorious hotbed of crime and constant danger to a safe, vibrant and fast-developing metropolis.

Medellin has become a favourite destination for many a traveller. Don’t be surprised to bump into tourists who’d planned to stay in Medellin for just a few days and ended up extending their stay for weeks.

Interestingly, Medellin isn’t a city overflowing with ‘attractions’ in the traditional sense. We see it more of a place to soak up and experience rather than race around from one ‘must-see’ sight to the next.

For many, this unconventionally tourist-friendly atmosphere is part of Medellin’s charm.

Here are the top six reasons we think you too will fall in love with Medellin!

1. THE PEOPLE

By far, it’s the people who make Medellin such a welcoming destination for outsiders. It’s impossible not to admire the ‘Paisas’ (people from Medellin and the surrounding Andean region) for their extraordinary resilience. Despite (and perhaps, partially because of) harbouring still-fresh memories of the horrific violence of the past decades, Medellin locals are among the most positive, energetic and warm-hearted folk you’re likely to meet in Colombia – and given just how ridiculously friendly Colombians are in general, that’s saying something.

Take the time to get to know a Paisa, whether it’s through friends, a cultural exchange program like Couchsurfing, or even or a guide on one of your tours, and they are sure to have a story to share – one that’s frequently filled with sadness, but most of all with hope and inspiration.

 

2. THE LANDSCAPE

You may have seen photos of Medellin, a sprawling metropolis surrounded on all sides by mountains, with its dozens of distinct barrios crawling their way up impossibly steep hillsides – but seeing it in person is another thing altogether. It is a bizarre, beautiful and almost impossible city, built seemingly against the laws of nature and physics.

Nestled in the fertile Aburrá Valley, Medellin’s surroundings are eternally lush and evergreen.

The best way to check out Medellin’s visually striking cityscape? From above, riding one of the gondolas on the Medellin Metrocable, perhaps the world’s most spectacular urban transit system. Make sure to take the staggeringly steep Line L to the vast natural preserve of Arvi Park to appreciate the Andean landscape in all its glory.  

 

3. THE NIGHTLIFE

Colombians are party people, and Medellin is arguably Colombia’s nightlife capital. With a scene that grows more sophisticated and cosmopolitan by the second, Medellin after dark offers something for everyone.

You can dine on a different cuisine and party with a different flavour every night of the week in the El Poblado district. Poblado’s Parque Lleras, although undeniably tacky and almost exclusively catering to gringos these days, is still worth checking out for its unrelenting, party-hardy atmosphere alone. Poblado locals tend to relax in the quieter bars and upscale eateries around the barrios of Manila and La Florida.

This is Colombia, so naturally, going out for a night of dancing is a must! In Poblado head to Kukaramakara for full-on clubbing action and live music, or El Establon for more a more intimate salsa experience. The slightly more serious Son Havana in Laureles is considered Medellin’s premier salsa spot. For something completely different, check out Dulce Jesus Mio, apparently designed to resemble a traditional Colombian pueblo, only seemingly seen through an acid-tinted lens inhabited by warped visions of American pop culture.

 

4. THE WEATHER

Known as the ‘city of eternal spring’, Medellin’s climate is almost always pleasant, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the mid ‘20s basically all year round. The temperature is so stable that Medellin almost never gets too hot, or too cold.  March through to May, as well as September through to November are Medellin’s official rainy seasons, and while this time of year brings cloudy periods and the occasional heavy downpour, it’s still usually warm and dry during the day, and rarely rains for hours on end.

5. ART AND CULTURE

Art and culture thrive in Medellin. It’s home to arguably Colombia’s best museum, the Museo de Antioquia, dedicated not only to pre-colonial culture and religious art, but a huge exhibit of the country’s most famous sculptor, Fernando Botero. Botero’s instantly recognisable statues, known for their disproportionately chubby features, are also scattered all though the Plaza Botero in Medellin’s Centro.

Public art has been essential to Medellin’s urban renewal, starting at the grassroots level with graffiti and murals in some of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, such as Santo Domingo and San Javier (Comuna 13). Giving a voice and a united spirit to once feared and ignored communities, these public art projects allow local youths to tell their story, while bringing colour, life and creativity to the streets.    

 

6. THE VIBE

There’s no shortage of activities to enjoy in and around Medellin, from urban paragliding (!) to day trips the multi-coloured, Legoland-brought-to-life village of Guatape. But the biggest reason so many travellers fall in love with Medellin is harder to describe. Hanging out in Medellin just feels good.

Medellin is a city with a tragic past and a promising future. It still has its prickly edges to be sure, but overall, Medellin is a place of positivity and hope. Whether you’re sitting in the Metrocable, gawping and the scenery while locals simply go about their business, or dancing the night away with newfound friends in a uniquely Paisa-style club, Medellin has a vibe like no other place on earth.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

Colombia – Home of the World’s Happiest People

Ask a random person what the Colombian people are most famous for, and the answer may well depend on whether they’ve met many Colombians in their time.

Someone well acquainted with a Colombiano or two might tell you that Colombians are some of the most irrepressibly friendly folk you’re ever likely to meet. They might describe your stereotypical Colombian as energetically social, outgoing and a little boisterous at times. This ‘typical’ Colombian is passionate when speaking their mind yet almost invariably warm and polite, deeply affectionate among friends and kind to strangers. The Colombian loves to party, venerates and adores their family, and is so enthusiastic about life in general their non-Colombian friends can occasionally find them exhausting.

In other words, Colombians, as a whole, are a pretty damn happy bunch of humans.

But don’t just take our word for it.

There’s hard, scientific evidence that proves Colombians are some of the happiest people on earth.

 

COLOMBIA: HAPPINESS WORLD CHAMPIONS

 

The annual Gallup International poll attempts to rank the overall happiness of a country’s population by asking questions like: As far as you are concerned, do you personally feel happy, unhappy or neither happy nor unhappy about your life?” Whether this question is really an accurate way to measure human happiness on a collective scale is up for debate, but it seems to work well for the Colombians.

Colombia has topped the rankings for the World’s Happiest Country several times in the last few years. Most recently, they were declared the planet’s most contented citizens in 2016. In the last survey conducted in 2017, Colombia narrowly missed out on first place to the Fijians, who we’ll readily admit are worthy competitors in the World Happiness stakes.

BUT WHY ARE COLOMBIANS SO HAPPY?

 

If you’ve been to Colombia, you’ll have quickly discovered just how outwardly cheerful, positive, welcoming, and at times downright exuberant the vibe is in much of the country. Even in a big, seemingly stressful city like Medellin, you can walk the streets and expect to be greeted with genuine smiles, polite curiosity and affable conversation wherever you go.

In Medellin, I poised the question to a local Paisa. “Why are you Colombians so damn happy all the time?”

TINY TRIUMPHS IN TRYING TIMES

 

Not so long ago, life wasn’t so easy for my Paisa friend. In fact, growing up as a young man in 90s Medellin wasn’t just tough, it was downright dangerous. Even before the drug war broke out, Colombia was already weighed down by decades of conflict and political unrest. For generations of Colombians, poverty, powerlessness and the ever-present threat of violence were part of everyday life.

My Paisa friend explained that trauma and grief are an inextricable part of the Colombian collective psyche. But both despite this, and because of it, so are resilience and the determination to seek out and treasure every precious moment of enjoyment, humour and love amid times of tragedy. How else, he asked, would we Colombians have survived? “We focus on the good things in life, no matter how small.”  

FIVE MORE REASONS WHY COLOMBIANS ARE SO CHEERFUL

1. NATIONAL PRIDE

 

Colombians are a patriotic bunch and unabashedly vocal when it comes to talking up their country’s natural beauty, it’s magnificent culture and its beautiful people. They’ll tell you all about Colombian coffee (the best in the world), Colombian salsa dancers (the best), Colombian emeralds (also the best in the world) and proudly assure you that Colombian Spanish is the best Spanish spoken in the world.

 
 

2. FOOTBALL

 

Football is more than a game in Colombia, it’s a unifying force. Attend a football match in Colombia and the atmosphere is exhilarating and emotional, as parties erupt across the stadium and fans celebrate with wild abandon. At the 2014 World Cup, Colombia scored their best ever performance, making it to third place. By the way the entire nation carried on, anyone would think the championship was theirs.

 
 

3. HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

 

With around 20 national holidays each calendar year, Colombians spend a considerable amount of time in celebration mode. A plethora of regional holidays held around the country mean even more excuses for unabashed public revelling. Expect outdoor concerts, colourful parades and public streets inundated by surging masses of enraptured dancers. Some of the most famous festivals include the Barranquilla Carnival, Medellin’s Festival de las Flores, Feria de Cali (Cali’s annual salsa fair) and the Carnaval de Negros y Blanco (Pasto’s extraordinary six day long ‘Black and White’ carnival).

 
 

4. MUSIC AND DANCING

 

Music and dance lie at the very heart of Colombian culture. Colombian music is a vibrant melting pot of Spanish, European, Afro and Latin Caribbean influences, all of which can be heard in the country’s defining genre, cumbia, with its tropical rhythms, hip-switching grooves, explosive horns and stirring vocals. Colombians embrace all styles of Latin music – the more danceable, the better! Passionate, sensual, romantic, energetic and spirited, Colombia’s love of Latin rhythms plays an undeniable role in the shared willingness to embrace the joys of life wholeheartedly.

 

5. OPTIMISM

 

An April 2013 edition of Time Magazine featured a photo of then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on the cover and the blurb and headline “the Colombian Comeback. From nearly failed state to global player – in less than a decade”. This, in a nutshell is the story of contemporary Colombia. While things are far from perfect, they’re improving at a rate almost nobody predicted less than two decades ago. Colombia is working hard to build up and maintain a politically stable landscape. As it does so, it opens doors to a new era of economic and social progress, and a more self-empowered, optimistic and hopeful Colombia. Colombians are a people of faith – faith in a better tomorrow.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

 

Want to Tour Colombia by Motorcycle and Wondering About Weather?

Colombia has the Perfect Climate for Riding – 365 Days a Year

 
 

Encountering a gaggle of gringos on touring motorcycles is no longer a strange occurrence in Colombia. Hit the highway and you’re bound to spot the conspicuously bulky bikes of least a few adventure riders from abroad.

The country’s rider-friendly climate is just one of the countless reasons motorcycle touring has become more and more popular in Colombia.

Because its borders encompass the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the Eastern Andes and the Amazon, Colombia is divided into five climatic zones.  

What that means for riders is there’s really no bad time to come to Colombia. While one region might be in the midst of a soggy month of monsoon, other regions will be pleasantly dry and sunny.  

Perfect motorcycle riding weather, year-round

 
 

Given Colombia’s proximity to the equator, the country’s weather is quite stable and consistent, and isn’t really defined by typical summer and winter seasons. In much of Colombia, daily temperatures tend to fluctuate very little throughout the year, and like other equatorial countries, the country doesn’t suffer through harsh winters.

What does vary from season to season is the average amount of rainfall each particular region experiences. However, rainy seasons in most of Colombia tend to be very short, only lasting a few months of the year.

In reality, most of Colombia’s popular motorcycling routes can be ridden all year round without having to worry too much about weather. The only exception might be if you’re planning long stretches of remote, off-road riding. In that case, your best strategy would be to research the climate specifics of each region and plan a route around avoiding the big wet as much as possible.    

All Colombia’s major cities and most tourist destinations have good to excellent sealed roads that are rarely adversely affected by normal, year-round weather conditions. And except for the country’s tropical rainforest regions, all-day rain is a rare occurrence. As a general rule, even in the height of monsoon, downpours last an hour or two and occur a couple of times throughout the day.

Of course, just like anywhere else in the world, the weather is never totally predictable. In Colombia, if a bout of bad weather does strike, it can and does cause havoc on the roads. This is especially true in mountainous, landslide-prone areas.

Like planning for any other long-haul ride, keep an eye on the forecast and your ear to the ground. Watch for news reports on extreme weather events and ask locals and fellow riders if you should be on the look out for any hazards.

 

BELOW WE’VE LISTED SOME OF COLOMBIA’S MOST POPULAR TRAVEL DESTINATIONS AND THE BEST TIMES TO VISIT THEM.

 

Bogota and Surrounds

While more rain hits Bogota in April and May and September through to November, Bogota is often described as having four seasons in one day. Wet weather gear is a good idea no matter what month you visit. Bogota sits at 2,600m elevation and is the gateway to some great high altitudetouring routes, so warm, layered clothing and good gloves and footwear are essential.

Medellin and Surrounds

Medellin and its mountainous surrounds enjoy continuous spring-like weather, with an average temperature of 22°C year-round. Short showers every few days aren’t uncommon, although there are two distinct rainy seasons – March through May, and September through to early December. During the wet seasons, a couple of heavy downpours a day between breaks of clear weather are the norm.

Caribbean Coast

Hot and humid year-round, the Caribbean coast typically has two brief rainy periods, May to June and October to November. The rest of the year remains more or less dry. Like many tropical locations, monsoon rains tend to come down hard and fast in the late afternoon or evening (providing some welcome respite from the heat), while mornings usually offer clear conditions.

Zona Cafetera

The Zona Cafetera ideal is for growing coffee thanks to its mild climate and decent rainfall year-round. You can expect almost every day in the Zona Cafetera to offer up a mix of pleasant sun, short showers and the occasional heavy downpour. Low mist hanging over the roads can cause reduced visibility, although it certainly adds atmosphere to the region’s already lush and scenic green surrounds.

Eastern and Southern Andes Region

Cali is the usual jumping off point for exploring this relatively untouristed region. Around Cali, daytime temperatures hover around 30°C (86°F), with a little more rain falling between March to May and October to November.

The remote Andean routes to the east and south of Cali offer the chance to delve into some extreme off-road adventure riding. This is a vast region of volcanic peaks and deep canyons, where dramatic changes in landscape seem to arise around every corner. These are some the most fertile regions in the Andes and rain falls frequently year-round. The heaviest rains tend to occur in March and April and October to December, when the risk of landslides is greatest. Plan back-up routes and be prepared to back-track in case of extreme weather conditions or closures due to damaged road surfaces.

On the other hand, if you stick mainly to the many excellent paved roads in the Colombian Southern Andes (like the beautiful stretch of the Pan American Highway between Cali and Pasto), riding in this region is easily doable year-round.

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

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.