Eights countries in 52 days on the Trans-Amazonian Challenge

Join us on a once in a lifetime adventure:

If you had 52 days to blaze your way through a bucket list motorcycle adventure tour across a single continent (in the true spirit of overland travel), which would you choose? 

In our minds, there’s no question. South America has it all. 

There is simply nowhere with the sheer volume of natural and historical world wonders, the mind-blowing diversity of landscapes, the amazing cities, fascinating cultures and crazily changeable riding conditions any other place can throw at you. All in the space of six weeks (we ride 42 out of the 52 days on this tour). 

On this tour you’ll climb 5,000m high mountain passes though before plummeting down to surf-splattered coasts and flat desert plain. 

Then of course, you’ll come face to face with the Amazon herself – the sacred rainforest whose breath sustains all life on earth. 

While this ride is named the Trans-Amazonian Challenge, it is really an exploration loop of the Northern Andes and the Amazon Basin, a 6,300,000 km area with eight countries flowing over its borders: 

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela. 

Yes, you will visit all these countries on this, the most exhilarating, challenging and mind-opening tour Motolombia has ever devised – all 8,000 miles (12,875km) of it.  

 Why Now is THE time to Get on a Bike and Experience Trans-Amazonian Challenge

With our matchless years of experience leading tour groups across some of the most gnarly terrain on god’s earth, Motolombia have successfully run the Trans-Amazonian Challenge in the past

The reason we’ve been able to run this huge undertaking is the unparalleled level of planning, safety and expert guidance we bring to what is logistically, physically and mentally an extremely demanding trip. 

But like every other tour company worldwide, the events of early 2020 have meant we’ve literally shut up shop for months, cancelled a string of tours and sadly had many customers pull the plug on their commitments. 

Our last Trans-Amazonian trip was scheduled for August 2020 but with things they way they were, we had to postpone the trip. While most of our riders booked on the 2020 have shifted to the 2021 departure, we still have spots up from grabs. 

So for those of you who’ve had your world motorcycle touring dreams crushed by the border closures and general terribleness of 2020, why not celebrate your freedom (when it finally arrives!)  in true, come-at-me, “I live for adventure” style? Put 9,000 miles between those months of bikeless boredom the pandemic has thrust up on you. After 52 insane, arduous and ridiculously fun days in the wilds of South America, you’ll won’t just have made up for “wasted time”. You’ll have had the time of your absolute life.  

Need Another Reason to Ride the Trans-Amazonian Now? 

Her Name is Amazonas

Not so subtly-sprinkled in among the all the Coronavirus news we’ve heard this year have been facts, rumours and opinions about the current Brazilian government’s plans to ramp up development in the Amazon region and basically not doing much (and probably the exact opposite) in the fight against illegal mining and logging operations. 

While this trip is called the “Trans-Amazonian”, the actual Trans-Amazonian Highway (or at least the most exciting stretch of it) is only one section of the entire route, there will be many other amazing section on the route like the almost entirely unvisited and most intact rainforests in the world, the Guiana Shield.  

What Exactly is the Trans-Amazonian Highway?

The part of the original early 1970s Trans-Amazonian Highway we ride on this tour was the road that effectively “opened up” the Amazon Rainforest to the rest of Brazil and the world at large. 

The Rodovia Transamazonica would be one of Brazil’s grandest infrastructure projects. As one of the world’s longest sealed highways, it would connect important port towns on the Atlantic to Brazil’s isolated inland villages and on to the untouched land, resources and riches that sure awaited in the Amazon itself. The highway would bring with it, mass migration, agriculture, development and opportunity, along with the unavoidable blight of large-scale environmental destruction.  

By 1972, the budget had been decimated. The Trans-Amazonian was opened prematurely, before the final 1,000km stretch to the Peruvian border had even started. Less than half of the highway had been paved as promised.  

Decades later, baring a few populated regions, the highway sees amazingly little use. The plots of land the government used to attract thousands of resettlers to be of incredibly poor quality. That, and the torrential monsoonal weather combined with predominantly sandy, red, rainforest soil, have made massive parts of the highway still impassable for a good chunk of the year. 

The Trans-Amazonian: Where we Ride 

We ride the TA in the dry season, and it is still one pig of a dusty, pot-holed, physically punishing and mental exhausting road (this is a “challenge” after all!)

Dirt hogs will relish the eventual conquest, but the surroundings of cleared forest and dilapidated farmland in some areas are eye opening. 

However we will get to ride the Trans-Amazonian’s longest stretch of untouched rainforest, which winds its way through deep, dark, dense, beautiful jungle within the Amazonia National Park, a sanctuary that has thus far been protected fiercely by the indigenous Kayapo community (who incidentally, are also exceptionally welcoming to eco-tourism).

With the battle for the Amazon truly reignited, the Trans-Amazonian Highway has once again become pivotal to the story.

Thanks to existing in one of the worst environments in the world for building anything quickly, construction on the road itself continues at a snail’s pace, but once such corridors into the rainforest’s interior do open, they allow for land-clearing on a rapid, industrial scale.

What About What’s on the News Right Now? Is the Amazon Being Destroyed? Will that Ruin my Trip? 

While most of the world only hears about the plight of the Amazon through the media, as a (hopefully curious, open-minded) foreigner on the ground, you will see what is happening with your own eyes. 

As riders, we too benefit from the construction of highways into tracts of previously pristine wilderness. For locals, some of these highways have been literally lifelines.

The balance between survival in the here and now and the future of the wider world is a game that is constantly being played out. If we want to call out those who are breaking the rules, isn’t it better that we understand the game first?  

Being present while it all unfolds, what you see, how you feel, which images and whose stories you bring back home can make far more difference than watching from a distance. 

You might want to hurry and be one of those people who gets to see the Brazilian Amazon “while it’s still there”. We don’t know how much time you’ve got, but we think that’s a valid reason to go travelling. Enough eco-oriented travellers spending at once can even keep that time limit indefinitely extended. 

So, if you’re concerned about some of the manmade ugliness that will undoubtedly be exposed, don’t despair, as there is so much beauty on this trip that remains completely unspoiled – sometimes even partly (or wholly) due to human protection. 

What will 2021 be like?

The Motolombia gang have done this trip before, but we believe 2021 will mark a new era of travel. No one really knows what it will look like yet. It’s possible on our day excursion to Machu Picchu, we’ll be some of the lucky few to see this majestic city enchantingly devoid of tourist crowds. Or (while less likely) the opposite could be true. 

It’s almost certain that less “typical” tourist destinations will still be in recovery. We expect attractions overall to be minimally crowded, even as we visit regions during their usual peak tourism period (other places on our itinerary of course, are never anything less than refreshingly quiet – Spring Break in Suriname anyone?!)

Remember, there are countless people, from shopkeepers to hotel owners to tour guides who live along the route we’ll be travelling, and rely heavily, if not completely on tourist income for survival. 

Writing this in mid-2020, I know that most of the folks you’ll meet on the 2021 Trans-Amazonia Challenge won’t have seen a foreign face for many, many months. We can only imagine outpourings of warmth and gratitude from both sides as we finally get to experience the beauty of international, intercultural interaction once again. 

And if adventure travel to you means gliding high above the clouds and sliding down in the dirt, all on one ridiculous all-terrain, no-terrain, white knuckle, border bunny-hopping ride of a freaking lifetime – don’t miss this chance to be an adventure moto-pioneer!

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

Ride to Eat – A REGIONAL ROADMAP TO COLOMBIAN CUISINE

I love discovering a new country by motorcycle for many reasons. Among them, the fact that the flexible nature of bike touring allows you to duck into that dicey looking highway diner that caught your eye 200 metres back. You know, the one the tour bus just sped right past. A motorcycle provides the ideal vehicle for undertaking a cross-country culinary expedition.

Get hungry on the approach to a random town in rural Colombia, and wherever you pull in, it won’t be an air-conditioned coffee chain, or anywhere with English speaking staff or Israeli salad on the menu.

Whenever we’ve been riding in the heat, dirt and mud for hours, I get a little buzz when the first sign of civilization appearing on the horizon is a hand drawn sign for a rambling, roadside eat shack, where crew-line cooked meals are efficiently dished out to truck drivers, seasonal labourers, lost tourists and day tripping school kids.

WHAT MAKES COLOMBIAN FOOD COLOMBIAN?

Colombian food is difficult to generalise or judge as a whole, thanks to its wildly varying geography. Within its borders almost every ecosystem on earth can be found. From the Caribbean reefs to the Amazon jungle, the Andean cloud forests and the tropical plains, the sheer variety of produce grown in Colombia is mind-boggling.

Add to the mix at least 10,000 years of indigenous inhabitation, the legacy of the Spanish, the Africans and Colombia’s influential Latin American neighbours, and you have a cuisine that’s deeply connected to land, history, culture, access and ancestry.

It’s no surprise then that Colombian food varies massively from region to region. As you ride through Colombia, every time the landscape changes dramatically, you can reasonably assume the food situation has too.

This guide is by no means exhaustive, but it might give you an idea of what to expect as you travel and taste your way through different parts of Colombia.

No idea what to order? Trust in the menu del dia – the road warrior’s bargain-priced mystery meal of choice. No one place makes it the same.colombian fruit

THE CARIBBEAN 

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is blessed with a colourful bounty of tasty things from down in the sea and up in the trees. A visit to a Caribbean produce market is a must – you’re guaranteed to not recognise half of everything in the fruit section, while finding almost all of it delicious.

Cartagena was the most important Spanish trading port for both goods and slaves, so here, indigenous ingredients eventually began to merge with Spanish and African influence. These days, Cartagena has swapped the slave trade for the tourist one, and as a result, it’s home to some of Colombia’s best, and most expensive high-end international restaurants.

Coconut and seafood are common pairing. A simple grilled snapper on coconut rice is hard to beat, but a worthy challenger is cazuela de mariscos, a Creole-style seafood soup, with hearty bits of fish and shellfish swimming in a creamy coconut milk broth. Along buzzing beach strips, palanqueras (fruit sellers, usually older women) balance baskets on their heads, heavy with mango, guava, pineapple and more exotic offerings like pitaya (yellow dragon fruit) and nispero (like a small apricot in appearance, with sweet, tart flesh).

BOYACA

Boyacá Department is in Colombia’s east central Andean region. Many of Colombia’s major rivers originate in the lowlands of Boyacá, which support wide expanses of fertile farmland.

Much of Boyacá’s produce is sold directly to the eight million residents of its capital, Bogota, which is also home to Colombia’s most celebrated chefs and awarded eateries. Chefs who purport to honour Boyacá’s culinary traditions have the task of prettying up rather simple farmhouse fare. Their secret? Using ultra-fresh, high quality local produce, making inventive meals out of hearty, carb-filled, cool climate stodge. Beef, chicken, corn and potato are staples.

The region’s best-known dish, ajiaco is a soup made of three kinds of potatoes with varying textures. Corn and herbs are added, and you’ll usually find a leg or other bits of chicken thrown in. Other fixings are optional, but could include capers, cream, avocado or rice.

Corn is considered acceptable in desserts in Boyacá, particularly when it’s mixed with milk (hot or cold) and panela (whole cane sugar) or honey.

ZONA CAFETERA AND MEDELLIN

Colombia’s verdant central Andean region is where some of the world’s finest coffee is grown, harvested and almost entirely shipped overseas to be enjoyed by millions of non-Colombian cafe aficionados.

I joke. But not really. Colombian coffee culture is surprisingly niche, and one of the few places you can get a guaranteed decent pintado (roughly equivalent to a flat white) is at a coffee finca in the Zona Cafetera. A more popular warm drink is agua de panela, literally brown cane sugar in hot water (sometimes with coffee added). Other crops include avocados, bananas, citrus, pineapple and cocoa.

The region’s lush valleys are criss-crossed with creeks and streams, which is why you’ll see river trout (truta) on almost every menu, prepared in an endless variety of ways – wood-grilled, whole-smoked, topped with herbs, breadcrumbs and cheese or slathered in creamy mushroom sauce.

Antioquia department proudly claims to have invented the bandeja paisa. This overdose on a plate is almost entirely bloat-inducing carbs and glisteningly visible trans fats in the form of chicharron, chorizo, ground beef, fried eggs, plantains, avocado and arepa. Finish a whole one at your peril.bandeja paisa

PACIFIC COAST AND CALI

Here’s a hot foodie tip for you: the place where they make the best food in Colombia is not the one with all the swanky interior architecture and the fancy foreign-trained chefs.

There are no Michelin-starred restaurants on the country’s surf-battered western coast, and there are none in the major city of Cali, just 30 minutes inland.

If there’s one thing most Colombian food lacks, it’s chilli and spice. Not hot enough? Come to this steamy slice of the country and eat your words with a side of sizzling habanero salsa. The Pacifico has Colombia’s largest African-descendent population, and their culinary traditions, mixed with the maritime bounty of the Pacific Ocean, have created a foodscape unlike anywhere else in Colombia.

The people here love rich, spicy flavours, using liberal amounts of garlic, onion, and cilantro. Turmeric gives many local dishes their signature yellow hue. Pacifico fresh chilli salsas are often properly hot, and pair deliciously with ceviche. Some of the coconut milk fish soups (like sanchoco de pescado) and meat stews are almost curry-like in their complexity. Paella Pacificos is the ultimate seafood feast, heaped with fish, prawns, calamari, clams and langostinos.

LLANOS REGION

Los Llanos, “the plains” are the massive swathes of grassland and wetlands in Colombia’s east, bordering Venezuela. This is cowboy country, where the best beef in Colombia is bred, butchered and barbecued, often on long metal skewers over a wood fire pit. Llaneros don’t just eat beef however. Sometimes they eat pork.

Boiled yuca (cassava) and potato are your typical sides, and to spice things up, add generous splashings of aji (a salsa of fresh tomatoes, lime, garlic and chilli) on everything.

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

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A Brief History of Colombia

Simon-bolivar

Colombia’s history is as rich, surprising, startling and complex as its geography. It’s this history that has led to a blending of people and cultures unique in all of Latin America. 

When you look at the country’s tumultuous, often brutal history, it’s almost miraculous that Colombia has survived at all – let alone functioning successfully enough to now be attracting record foreign investment and a growing number of tourists year-on-year. 

Sure, the country has a long way to go in many aspects. But for the international traveller, the Colombian experience will hopefully leave you full of positivity and hope. 

If you want to try and “understand” Colombia, the best place to start is learning about its history.

Interested in seeing some of Colombia’s most important historical sites for yourself? Check out our Motolombia tour recommendations at the bottom of this post.

COLOMBIA’S FIRST PEOPLE

Colombia has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. Unlike the empire-building Inca and Maya, Colombia’s first people, such as the Musica and the Tairona, developed small hunter-gatherer societies. 

We still know relatively little about the lives of Colombia’s original people. What we do know about pre-Colombian society comes from three main archaeological sites in particular – San Agustin, Tierradentro and Ciudad Perdida (“The Lost City”).

THE SPANISH INVASION

While Colombia took its name from Christopher Columbus, the Spanish explorer never set foot on Colombian soil. It was a companion of Columbus’, Alonso de Ojeda who became the first European to land on Colombia’s Atlantic coast in 1499.

During his exploration of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, Ojeda was astounded by the wealth of the natives. The local Tairona were skilled metal workers, fashioning exquisite ornaments from the rich gold deposits at the foothills of the mountains. What they saw gave birth to the legend of El Dorado – a mysterious city of gold, deep in the jungle and overflowing with untold treasures.

On an obsessive quest to discover this mythical city, the Spanish built their first permanent settlement in Santa Marta, with Cartagena following shortly thereafter. Indigenous tribes who resisted were easily overcome by the superior weaponry of the conquistadors.

By 1549, the region was declared a Spanish Colony, with Bogota as its capital. Back then, Colombia included modern-day Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. 

The Spanish never did find their El Dorado, but they struck serious gold nonetheless. An estimated $639,000,000 worth of gold was mined from Colombia from the conquest until 1886.

The Spanish went about spending their newfound wealth on gilded cathedrals and lavish mansions, relying on their indigenous “subjects” for labour. However, outbreaks of European diseases swept through indigenous communities, significantly reducing the labour force. 

The Spanish sorted out the worker shortage by sending for ships full of slaves from Africa, setting up Cartagena as the Caribbean’s most important slave-trading port. 

The Caribbean and Pacific regions, where the Spanish originally docked their slave ships, remain home to Colombia’s largest Afro-Caribbean populations. 

Over time, the three racial groups –  Europeans, Africans and indigenous Colombians began to mix. Today, many Colombians are mestizos (of European-African ancestry) and mulatos (of European-African ancestry). However, class divisions cut deep, and the Spaniards kept a tight fist around their political power and wealth.

Colombian tribe

INDEPENDENCE UNLOCKED

After almost 300 years of Spanish subjugation, the native populace decided to make an organised stand. 

Enter “The Liberator”, Simon Bolivar, hero of the independence movement. Bolivar had already spent a decade fighting the Spanish in his native Venezuela when his ragtag army of 2,500 men trudged across the flood-swept plains of Los Llanos and the frozen mountain pass of the Paramo de Pisba on their way to stop Spanish reinforcements from reaching Bogota. 

On 7 August 1819, Bolivar’s men successfully intercepted the Spanish troops. The legendary Battle of Boyacá ended with the royalists surrendering after two hours, and Bolivar marched into Bogota without resistance. Although the fighting continued for several more years, the day is recognised as the definitive moment Colombia gained independence.

1819 marked the formation of a new, independent republic, known as “Gran Colombia”, made up of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. Bolivar was elected President, and Francisco de Paula Santander became Vice President. 

Gran Colombia was to be a short-lived dream. Bitter rivalry between the two leaders and simmering regional tensions soon saw Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America swiftly disintegrating. In 1828, in attempt to hold on to power, the “Liberator” appointed himself dictator, but resigned in 1830, by which time Venezuela and Ecuador had seceded from Gran Colombia. 

The debacle left Colombia in a deeply unstable state. No less than seven civil wars broke out between 1851 and 1891, with much of the conflict due to antagonism between the country’s two political parties – the Conservatives (supported by the landowners and the Catholic Church) and the workers’ party, the Liberals.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

These warring factions sowed the seeds for another century of political violence. 

Although the early 20th century saw a brief period of peace as the coffee industry brought newfound prosperity to the nation, Colombia remained staunchly divided into two opposing camps. 

In 1899, a full-blown civil war, the War of a Thousand Days killed, tens of thousands on both sides. In 1903, a seriously freaked out Panama bowed out of its union with Colombia and became independent. 

The struggle between the Conservatives and the Liberals erupted again in1948, with one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in modern history. 

La Violencia, took place between the paramilitary forces of the Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party, consisting mainly of armed self-defence groups and military units. The war cost up to 300,000 lives and neither side was victorious. A military coup toppled the Conservative government in power. Military rule remained in place until 1957, when both parties agreed to overthrow the junta.

That year, the leaders of the two parties signed a power-sharing pact known as the National Front. This would mean that, for the next 16 years, the two parties would alternate in the presidency every four years. Sound reasons able? Well, they also banned all other parties from participating in national politics.

THE RISE OF FARC

Resentment soon began to brew, as the Conservative-Liberal cooperation did little to address the vast inequalities that plagued Colombia, thanks to a Colonial legacy of unjust land distribution and an impoverished mestizo and indigenous underclass.  

Colombia was ripe for an armed communist insurgency. Among the outlawed political groups that formed during the 1960s were the Russian-backed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known to the world as FARC.

A guerrilla movement who claimed to be fighting for Colombia’s poor, FARC waged a terrorist-style war against the government for 55 years, until the 2016 peace treaty signalled the end of the world’s longest continuous civil conflict. 

As communism began to crumble, FARC lost the support of Moscow and turned to kidnapping, extortion and the drug trade to finance its struggles. As FARC territory encompassed vast swathes of prime coca-growing countryside, they became entangled with the drug cartels who were growing in power thanks to the rise of the cocaine trade, creating both allies, enemies and yet more violence.

La Farc

THE ‘NARCOS’ PART

The cocaine boom of the 80s saw cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar begin amassing incredible wealth, and even political aspirations.

Backed by the US, the Colombian government launched an offensive against the cartels. The cartels asserted their dominance by bombing banks, government buildings, newspaper offices and even a passenger plane. 

After a decade long manhunt, Escobar was finally tracked down and killed in Medellin in 1993. 

Escobar’s death had little effect on the drug supply. However, his death, along with several other high-profile arrests, lead to the eventual dismantling of highly organised crime syndicates. Numerous smaller enterprises and gangs took their place, often cooperating with the increasingly influential Mexican cartels. 

From the late 80s until the mid-2000s, Colombia was as dangerous for the average civilian as ever, with gang warfare on the streets and FARC continuing their campaign of bombings and kidnappings in the countryside.

Colombia elected Alvaro Uribe as president in 2002, pinning their hopes on his anti-gang, anti-drugs and anti-guerrilla campaign. 

Uribe immediately stepped up military action against the guerrillas, successfully liberating many regions from FARC control and restoring a stability Colombians hadn’t experienced in years. 

Still, Uribe’s aggressively pro-military stance was criticised as failing to address abuses committed by the armed forces themselves (a primary reason ordinary people took up arms with FARC in the first place).

Pablo Escobar

PEACE… AT LAST?

In 2010, Juan Manuel Santos was elected president. Although his campaign was supported by Uribe, Santos surprised the world by instigating peace talks with FARC. A treaty was conceived, to be ratified by referendum, but narrowly missed majority support. 

A revised Peace Accord was approved in November 2016. The historic deal finally put an end to Colombia’s two-party system, allowing former FARC members to create their own political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. The accord also decreed that perpetrators of human rights abuses on both sides on the conflict must be held accountable and restricted from political participation. 

Most FARC members have disarmed willingly, but whether the negotiations will end the violence entirely remains to be seen. So far, progress has been met with numerous hurdles. Still, the vast majority of ex-FARC remain in support of peace. Like the rest of Colombia’s 49 million inhabitants, they are tired of conflict. 

Their hope is that the next generation of Colombians only knowledge of war and violence will be relegated to the history books.

peace treaty colombia

MOTORCYCLING IN COLOMBIA NOT EXCITING ENOUGH? HOW ABOUT A BIT OF HISTORY ON THE SIDE?

There’s much more to Motolombia’s tours than riding around dominating the roads like a modern day, motor-powered conquistador. 

We want you to fall in love with the country. That means getting to know the people and culture and how history has influenced their identity.   

Ancient history buffs should look into tours with visits to important historical landmarks.  

If you’re fascinated by American pre-history, the aptly-named Tomb Raider visits the mystical stone sculptures of San Agustin and the underground burial chambers of Tierradentro. 

Our Desert Guajira Challenge takes us to the least developed corner of Colombia. The local Kogi and Wiwa people are direct descendants of the Tairona, and still hold on to some of their millennia-old traditions. This tour starts in Cartagena, the most beautiful of all Colombia’s colonial cities.

No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be stopping off in picturesque Spanish-era villages from the gold rush days and interacting with the many diverse cultures of Colombia – a country striving for success against the odds and smiling all the while.

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

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.

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Cartagena – Colombia’s Most Romantic City

Lay eyes on Cartagena and prepare to be lovestruck.
A major trading port in the days of the Empire, Cartagena is Colombia’s most picturesque,
well-preserved colonial city.
Its historic centre is enclosed by 11km of fortified stone walls, built to guard against
marauding pirates. Beyond the walls is an enchanting city of cobblestone streets, brightly
coloured mansions and elaborate cathedrals overlooking parks and plazas.
Literature buffs will know the setting for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s romantic epic Love in the
Time of Cholera was almost certainly based on Cartagena, inspired by its state of decaying
charm in the late 19 th century.
Today, Old Cartagena is no longer the crumbling sailor’s outpost of Garcia Marquez’s
imagination. As Colombia’s premier tourist destination, the city has undergone an extensive
makeover. Grand homes and historic landmarks have been authentically restored. Cafes,
museums and artisan craft stores have proliferated. Even the old horse-drawn carriages
have returned, if only for the entertainment of sightseeing tourists.
Sure, Cartagena is touristy and the Old City somewhat sanitised, but romance is part of the
city’s DNA. There’s fiery passion in the Caribbean style salsa danced in the clubs and on the
streets. Couples sit hand in hand atop the city walls watching the evening sun glow red over
the Caribbean Sea. This is a city whose beauty has inspired countless poets, painters,
musicians and lovers.
So, visit Cartagena and follow your heart – and our guide on what to do in Colombia’s most
romantic city!

WANDER IN THE WALLED CITY

A contender for the most photogenic city in South America, Old Cartagena’s narrow streets are a living architectural museum. Around every corner is a piece of history – a humble stone church, a lavish cathedral, or a gothic-style bell tower. Buildings sport vibrant Colonial pastel façades and baroque wooden doors. Consider a walking tour with a guide who can fill you in on the fascinating events and personalities that shaped Cartagena’s identity.

 

CHILL OUT IN GETSEMANI

Just outside the city walls, Getsemani was a fairly notorious neighbourhood that’s experienced a recent renaissance. The scruffy backpacker hostels and shady bars are still there, but the barrio has embraced a hip, artistic vibe in contrast to Old Cartagena’s meticulous aesthetics. Neglected buildings have been revamped, street art is ubiquitous and boutique hotels and funky bars are popping up everywhere.

Getsemani is changing fast, but for now, it still manages to balance ramshackle quirkiness and cosmopolitan cool. Check it out before the rest of the world gets wind of it!

SINK COCKTAILS AT SUNSET

The western ramparts of Old Town face the Carribean Sea, creating a great sunset vantage point. A string of bars along the promenade (including the famous, and perpetually packed Café del Mar) provide the perfect opportunity to sip tropical fruit cocktails as the sun sinks below the ocean.

And what nightlife loving city would be complete without a rooftop bar or six? A newer addition is the slick Townhouse Rooftop, which provides a unique sunset perspective overlooking Cartagena’s rooftops and cathedral domes.

 

LOSE YOURSELF IN MUSIC

Yes, Cartagena has plenty of nightclubs, from traditional salsa joints to techno pumping party palaces. But there’s more to Cartagena’s nightlife than clubbing – it’s a paradise for music lovers of all persuasions.

The region has its own distinct musical stylings, blending Latin and Afro-Caribbean influences, and these can be heard in the city’s wealth of live music venues. Most play local genres like champeta and cumbia, while others cater to rock and jazz devotees. For live salsa, Café Havana is a well-loved classic, but often the best live music you’ll encounter is performed on the streets. Wherever you go in this soulful city, music is in the air.

 

ESCAPE TO A SECLUDED ISLAND

Cartagena doesn’t have mainland Colombia’s best beaches – you’ll have to go to Tayrona or the Pacific Coast for that. But Cartagena is still inextricably linked to the coast, and an island hopping cruise is high on most visitor’s agendas.

The Rosario Islands are 27 pretty coral islets scattered off Cartagena’s coast. Most day trips follow a standard itinerary, anchoring at the islands’ most famous (ie. crowded) beaches, combined with some rather unimpressive snorkelling. To get a better feel of Colombian island life, consider staying overnight. Isla Grande has several accommodation options along its idyllic white sand beaches. One of the few inhabited settlements in the Rosarios, a local indigenous population live in rustic villages, carved out of the island’s jungle interior. For a more luxurious (if less authentic) stay, the exclusive Hotel Coralina sits atop tiny, coral reef-fringed Isla Coralina, where guests relax in thatched roof bungalows and feast on top-notch food made with local Caribbean produce.  

 

OVERLOAD YOUR SENSES AT MERCADO BAZURTO

Cartagena isn’t all beauty and romance. Most tourists experience a completely different Cartagena to the one thousands of Costeños (Cartagena locals) live, work and raise their families in. Yet both fancy restaurants and working class Costeños come to the same place to buy fresh ingredients.

Mercado Bazurto is a gigantic, 24 hour indoor/outdoor market 15 minutes outside the walled city. It’s a raw slice of real life in Cartagena’s not-so-glamorous side. This is no tourist attraction. Bazurto is a gritty, grimy assault on the senses, pungent with the smells of recently slaughtered animals, their body parts dangling from iron hooks. Produce vendors sell a mind-boggling variety of fruits and flowers, while counterfeit dealers ply knock-off watches and underwear. It’s a confusing, chaotic warren of narrow passageways, prowling pickpockets, stifling heat and sweaty bodies.

It may look intimidating, but Bazurto is a cheerful place, a sort of social hub for locals. People take their families, snack on fresh food, drink cheap beer, and in true Costeño fashion, break out into the occasional impromptu jam session. What the rest of Cartagena lacks in romance, it makes up for in passion.   

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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.

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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.

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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.

Introducing Cali, Colombia – Vibrant Salsa Capital of the World and Adventure Motorcycle Riding Heaven

Santiago de Cali (‘Cali’ for short), is the largest city in southwest Colombia, nestled against forested mountains in an eternally warm valley between the Pacific coast and Colombia’s western Andean region.

Not exactly on the ‘Gringo Trail’, the foreign visitors who do make it to Cali are usually doing so for one of three reasons:

➤ They’re stopping over while travelling overland through South America via Ecuador
➤ They’re taking advantage of the city’s reputation as a medical tourism hub (a curious subject, but one best saved for another kind of blog), or most likely;
➤ They’ve come to Cali to DANCE

Cali is known throughout Colombia and by lovers of Latin dance the universe over as the world’s unofficial salsa capital. The passion for salsa is completely ingrained in the city’s identity, culminating in the Feria de Cali, a marathon six-day festival of dance held every December. But come to Cali at any time of year, and the sounds of salsa are inescapable. Its tropical rhythms run in every Caleño’s blood.

A Medellin native once told me, “in Medellin, they dance salsa to try and impress partners. In Cali, they dance salsa for the love of salsa.”

Lured by world-renowned dance schools, and an endless array of salsa dedicated nightclubs and bars, salsa fans flock to Cali to immerse themselves in the distinctively athletic Cali style.

But I suck at dancing! Why else should I visit Cali?

 

If you’re not so sure salsa’s your thing, a visit to Cali might just change your mind, given the infectious exuberance and overwhelmingly welcoming attitude of the Cali scene.

But, if you prefer your hips straddling the saddle of a motorcycle rather than grinding against a dance partner, Cali should definitely be on your travel radar.

 

Cali is the best city in Colombia for adventure motorcycle riding

 

It’s no coincidence that Colombia’s best-known motorcycle touring company have based themselves in Cali. Cali’s location is precisely what makes it the perfect springboard to adventure riding heaven.

Consider this.
Cali is one of the few places in the world where you can hit the Pacific Coast within two
hours and then, circling back a little, make your way through the Andes, touch the edge of
the Amazon rainforest and ride right back to your starting point – all in a single week*.

 

This part of Colombia is literally one of the most diverse motorcycling destinations in
Latin America.

 

But it’s not just the rough and tumble rural roads that make southwestern Colombia ideal for two-wheeled escapades. Cali is the closest major city to the Zona Cafetera, the country’s most famous coffee producing region. Three hours north of Cali, this evergreen dominion promises spectacular paved mountain roads, coffee plantation tours and the chance to stay in luxurious haciendas.

Head straight south from Cali and in two hours you’ll reach Popayan, considered one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Colombia. From Popayan, a 136km ride to the World Heritage listed San Agustin Archaeological Park takes you through a scenic stretch of winding gravel through the volcanic landscapes of Purace National Park.

If you’re drawn to remote, off-road adventure riding, departing from Cali, smooth, bitumen highways can quickly become a distant memory. In a few days you can cross the mighty Magdalena River and traverse the majestic Tatacoa Desert. You can even join Motolombia’s guided, all-terrain expedition to the legendary Caño Cristales (the ‘River of the Gods’), the only overland tour of its kind.

From volcanoes and canyons to jungles, deserts, coffee farms and colonial cities, the regions surrounding Cali have it all.

And, being a fairly compact city, it rarely takes long to get out of the traffic and straight to the good bits. Compare this to Bogota, where congestion regularly stretches for hours outside the city. Or Cartagena, whose numblingly straight highways are a far cry from those famously twisty Andean dream roads.

So, if you’re planning on motorcycle touring in Colombia and are keen to ride the best roads the country has to offer, consider beginning your adventure in Cali. Bring your dancing shoes along with your riding boots and you might even end up a hip swivelling salsa convert on the side!

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Colombia – One of the Most Biodiverse Countries on Earth

There’s no doubt about it, Colombia has arrived on the global tourism stage in a big way. It’s not just an improved international perspective on safety that’s led to Colombia’s rise as one of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations. Back in 2008, the Colombian tourism board ran a series of ads touting the country’s cultural, historical and natural wonders.

While many travellers are familiar with Colombia’s cities – the charmingly colonial Cartagena, the stately metropolis of Bogota and the buzzing urban playground of Medellin, it’s Colombia’s still largely undiscovered natural wonders that are perhaps its most valuable tourism assets.

One Nation – Dozens of Unique Ecosystems

 

Biodiversity refers to the variety of and variability of plants, animals and other lifeforms in a given region.

If you were to guess which country claims the title of ‘Most Biodiverse’, and immediately thought of Brazil (the country whose borders contain the majority of the Amazon Rainforest), well, you’d be right.

What far fewer people realise is the country coming in a close second for biodiversity lies right across the Brazilian border. Neighbouring Colombia is home to a confirmed 1,845 species of bird – more than anywhere else on the planet. Colombia is second in variety of plant species, amphibians, butterflies and freshwater fish, third in reptiles and fourth globally in biodiversity of mammals. One in every 10 species of living flora and fauna on record can be found in Colombia.

So how is a country around seven times smaller than Brazil almost comparable in terms of biodiversity? A quick glance at a map yields a compelling explanation.

 

Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with an inland border cutting through the Amazon Rainforest, Colombia is carved into several distinct regions by the Andean mountain ranges. Within the country are 53 million hectares of forest and 22 million hectares of savannas, arid zones, wetlands and snow-capped mountain peaks. Its coasts are home to tropical coral reefs, lagoons, mangroves and jungle-flanked beaches. Fourteen per cent of the country is comprised of protected national parks, natural parks and sanctuaries.

 

Why Biodiversity is the Key to Colombia’s Tourism Future

 

Many of Colombia’s least developed areas – the Amazon regions, the Pacific Choco region, and the eastern plains – are also among its most biodiverse. Unfortunately, the biodiversity of these regions is under pressure from industry (particularly mining and deforestation), causing the destruction of wild habitats and disrupting the natural balance of sensitive ecosystems.

There’s little doubt the most remote communities in Colombia are in need of infrastructure, funding and employment opportunities. Now, environmental groups in Colombia are pushing for these regions to embrace their biodiversity and support ecotourism initiatives that help protect diversity rather than industries which contribute to its destruction. With ecotourism among the fastest growing tourism sectors in the world, Colombia is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the boom and conserve its precious environmental resources at the same time.

 

Four of Colombia’s Best Ecotourism Adventures

 

Caño Cristales, Serranía de la Macarena National Park

Possibly the most iconic natural wonder in Colombia, Caño Cristales (known as ‘the River of Five Colours’) is the name given to the Guayabero River tributary, which due to a unique phenomenon caused by the brightly coloured blooms of an aquatic plant called macarenia clavigera, becomes a shimmering rainbow of vibrant colours between June and December each year. While bright pink is the most common colour, the river’s shallow, crystalline waters run with a variety of hues including blue, green, yellow and orange. Outside the season, the park is closed to visitors to allow the surrounding environment to recuperate, and eco protection rules are strictly enforced including mandatory guides, a cap of 200 visitors per day, a ban on sun screen and insect repellent when visiting the water and limited areas where swimming is permitted.

Motolombia visits Caño Cristales once a year on the epic River of the Gods guided off-road expedition, giving you an entirely unique perspective of the park’s ruggedness and isolation beyond the standard tourist trail.

Chingaza National Park

Less than half a day’s ride from Bogota, this enormous National Park makes for both an accessible and challenging expedition through a range of unique Andean ecosystems. Ranging in altitude from 800m to 4,000m, the park encompasses vast swathes of silent paramo wetlands, alpine woodlands and snow-capped mountain ranges. Guided multi-day hikes provide you with the chance to observe rare wildlife such as the jaguar, puma, woolly monkey, mountain tapir and spectacled bear.  

El Cocuy National Park

300km north of Bogota, El Cocuy is perhaps the most visually striking national park in the Colombian Andes. Home to Colombia’s largest glacial land mass, Cocuy’s dramatic landscape is alternately lush and desolate, consisting of wind-swept valleys, glacier-gouged lakes, frozen tundra and mist-shrouded forest. The park offers several trails ranging from day-hikes to endurance-testing weeklong expeditions. Experienced climbers can tackle the permanently icy summits of El Concavo (5,200m) and Pan de Azúcar (5,120 m).

Wildlife Expeditions in Los Llanos

Well off the beaten path, Los Llanos is an area of vast tropical grassland spanning north western Colombia and southern Venezuela. For wildlife enthusiasts, Llanos is perhaps the most productive region in the country for up-close encounters with animal inhabitants including anteaters, anacondas, jaguars, capybaras, caiman, armadillos, capuchins, howler monkeys and ocelots. It’s a veritable birder’s paradise, supporting thriving populations of waterfowl, macaws and birds of prey. The immense size and relative inaccessibility of Los Llanos mean guided excursions are the best way to explore this environmentally and cultural unique Colombian region. Just a few eco-conscious operators organise wildlife and birdwatching focused trips out of the regional capital of Yopal, a 40-minute flight from Bogota.

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

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