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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