Meet Diana Puerto – CFO, HRM, location scout at Motolombia

There’s a fair chance that if Mike Thomsen and Diana Puerto had not both been smitten during a completely random encounter at a shopping mall in Cali over a decade ago, the Motolombia we know and love today, may have never existed. 

At that time, Mike was completely swept up in his motorcycle-the-world mission, but after meeting Diana, the lone road warrior had soon found a partner, a new home in a new country, and a whole new line of work. 

Mike would settle with his new wife in Cali and open a motorcycle touring company, the first of its kind in Colombia. 

With him from the start (when Mike would’ve struggled to pass a 3rd grade Spanish test, let alone run a business in a Spanish speaking country), was Diana.    

Diana has a university degree in business and economy. She is the backbone of Motolombia, making sure every tour runs smoothly and that guests come back inspired and invigorated by an experience beyond their wildest expectations. 

F.D: Thanks for speaking to us Diana. Where were you born? 

D.P: I was born in Colombia, in the state of Boyacá. I grew up in a city called Duitama, a beautiful town high up in the mountains (about 200km north of Bogota).

F.D: Have motorcycles and motorcycle culture always been a part of your life? 

D.P: Motorcycles… not really.  The love of speed and motors, yes! But not exactly motorcycles. 

F.D: Tell us a little about how you met Mike? (Mike was on a sabbatical moto-touring through South America at the time)

D.P:  I was in Chipichape Mall here in Cali and a Canadian guy came up and started asking me about my Bluetooth [earphones]. He was speaking, but I noticed the other guy next to him, a friend of the Canadian. I noticed he was white, and very tall and he was yes… a very handsome guy! 

F.D: So, what did you you two connect over at the beginning? 

D.P: To be honest… I don’t know if there was much of a connection at first! We didn’t even speak the same language! It was mostly a physical attraction. Mike is a very quiet person, while I like to talk a lot, but I wasn’t able to talk with him as I didn’t speak English and he could speak Spanish. 

F.D: Were you concerned at all about falling in love with a world-travelling adventure addict? Did you do much travelling together back in the day? 

D.P: As I got to know Mikkel, I learned he was travelling on his bike. That was a huge surprise! It was the first time I’d seen such a big bike and I thought it was amazing, travelling the world by bike like him. 

So, at the beginning, the first thing we really did together was travelling. He invited me to go with him to Panama… and then to see the whole world together.

F.D: What were your thoughts when Mike first brought up opening a motorcycle tour company in Colombia? Colombia wasn’t exactly a big tourist destination back then… 

D.P: Yes, at the time there were still serious problems with security in the country. 

I think at the beginning Motolombia was Michael’s hobby since he didn’t have any friends in Colombia. It was Mikkel’s passion

F.D:  Did you join Mike in building up the business from the very beginning? What were you doing as a career before Motolombia came along? 

D.P.: I’ve been helping Mikkel from the beginning, because of my education is in business and of course, I was the local one, so I know the rules, I know about the licences and the regulations and could do all those important things.

Before I was the commercial manager of a very big company exporting coal to China and other countries. Then when I met Mike, I started managing our hostel, Casablanca, our first project as a family.

[For a while we had two businesses] Casablanca Hostel and Motolombia. When we realised there was much more potential in Motolombia [we sold Casablanca] and I focused on managing Motolombia.  

F.D: What do you enjoy most about your work? 

D.P:  What I love most is meeting so many people who come with this desire to see my country. In this job I feel like I can be a sort of ambassador for Colombia. 

Motolombia is a ‘happiness machine’. People come in full of ideas and dreams about travelling through Colombia. I feel super happy that we’re helping them to see the best of my beautiful country. Being able to talk to people from around the world, I can help to change some of the negative thinking about Colombia. 

F.D: How often do you get to join in on the tours and what does your role involve a guide/support on tour? 

D.P: I only go on the tours when we have a new destination. Then I’m the one making the deals and arrangements and checking out the route.

Now of course we have international destinations, so I do visit new destinations to make arrangements, so our guests have an enjoyable experience and I know how everything works in a different country.  

But mainly, my job is to make sure all our tours go as planned. If something extraordinary happens, I am in charge of [organising] Plan B. I try to keep the tours moving so even if plans do change it doesn’t stop the client from having the best experience ever. 

F.D: Is there a particular tour or an experience on tour that stands out most in your memory?  

D.P: It was a corporate tour from Italy, and they had a big group. I got the chance to drive the support truck. It was very interesting and yes, very difficult and challenging too, just because there were so many people to control. 

So, I really got to understand what it means to be on tour when you are in charge. It’s not so easy! So that’s the one I most remember.

F.D: Motorcycle touring is still very much a male-dominated pursuit. Do you get many women renting bikes and joining tours as a rider? Have you seen a growth in the number of female clients at all? 

D.P: Motorcycle tours, from what I’ve seen, it’s still not a typical thing for women. I do think it’s growing among women and becoming more in fashion. Here (at Motolombia) I meet a lot of women who ride with their husbands, or they have families who have something to do with motorcycles and that’s how they get inspired. 

Women are still a very small percentage of our customers. I hope we’ll see more women take part. I really hope it’s growing. 

F.D:  How do we get more women involved in moto touring? What advice do you have for women who are thinking about motorcycle travel for the first time? It can be difficult when they don’t know any other women with the same interests 

D.P: My advice is if it’s something you’re interested in you should absolutely make the decision to try. 

I believe women who ride motorcycles are special and unique and deserve to be noticed! You can see that now at motorcycle shops, with all the colours of the gear – there’s much more for women now. It’s becoming a fashion. There are motorcycle events for women as well where you can meet other women. 

Apart from riding being a great adventure, more women riding means greater equality in society! 

F.D: Finally, according to your bio on the Motolombia website you are “in the process of learning to ride motorcycles again”. How’s that coming along? What bike(s) are you riding and do you have a favourite? 

D.P:  Riding a motorcycle is still a challenge for me.

When I was young, I had a Yamaha Chappy. I had an accident and my father decided to sell the motorcycle. After that, I made a personal goal to buy my own motorcycle. I just thought, I’ll work hard and I’ll be back! But time just kept passing, and it didn’t happen.

And now I’m working for Motolombia! I’ve always kept in my mind that I would ride a motorcycle again. And then here I have such an amazing chance. At the same time, I have three children, the company growing and so many other responsibilities. 

But I have finally found a bike for myself! I got the chance to test ride the Honda NC750S and I believe this bike the best option for me. It’s practical, it’s automatic, it’s strong and it looks beautiful. 

Right now, riding… it’s still challenging. I’m pushing myself to overcome my fears and learning to balance and manage the bike’s weight. I want to do everything right because my dream is to become a good rider, and of course I have the best reference of what a good rider is right here, with Mike! 

I’m working on it. I’m dreaming about it, and I hope I’ll have more time to practice. I don’t know if I’ll be as good as Mikkel, but at least I’m going to do it! 

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Diana, co-founder of Motolombia and (soon to be) bad-ass rider!

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

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Motolombia: Supporting Local Businesses in Colombia

Motolombia began when the Colombian tourism industry was still in its infancy – opening a business relying heavily on overseas tourist dollars was a big gamble. 

We never expected the boom that was to follow years later. It’s wonderful to see the positive change in perception so many foreigners have towards Colombia. Businesses like us really have the natural beauty of the country, the warmth and hospitality of its people and the entrepreneurial spirit of local tourism operators to thank for the fact that we’re still here, over 10 years later. 

Part of Motolombia’s mission is to support local businesses who are going above and beyond to make Colombia a truly world-class destination, whether they’re in the business of luxury boutique hotels, quality digs for the budget traveller, or spicing up the tourist experience with innovative tours, activities and adventure sports that just a few years ago, didn’t even exist in the country.  

On our guided Colombia motorcycle tours, we hand pick the best boutique hotels, resorts and guesthouses in each of our stopover destinations, so our guests can wind down in comfort at the end of a long day of riding. Our chosen accommodation is determined by four main features: safety, cleanliness, a good location and great service. 

While we’re starting to see more international chain hotels popping up in places like Cartagena, we wholeheartedly believe that choosing locally owned accommodation benefits both the local economy, and the guest seeking a more authentically Colombian experience. 

We also have close partnerships with activity providers and adventure sports operators, to ensure our guests make the most out of any included or optional side excursions, like coffee plantation visits, horseback riding in beautiful El Cocuy National Park or dune buggy blasts across the coastal desert sands of La Guajira. 

Travelling by motorcycle gives us the unique opportunity to take tour groups to some remote and still rarely visited locations, bringing much-needed business and awareness to tourism operators all over Colombia. Our small group tours see up to 10 riders (plus any pillion and support vehicle passengers) overnighting with local accommodation providers, who we also recommend to independent riders, whether they’ve rented a bike through us are journeying through Colombia on their own bikes. 

In short, we’re pretty passionate about promoting local businesses that we think are doing something special. 

This year, we’ve developed an “Excellent Service” certification that recognises the accommodation and activity providers we use on our tours and the quality service they provide. 

For 2019, we’ve selected the following hotels to receive our Motolombia Excellent Service award, located in some of the most beautiful, fun and fascinating corners of the country. 

 

HOTEL DIEZ CATEGORIA COLOMBIA

A concept hotel inspired by the various cultures of Colombia, Hotel Diez Categoria showcases world-class service and a stylish designer ambience, perfectly suited to its setting in the heart of Medellin’s upscale El Poblado district. 

 

*

MEDELLIN

TERRAZAS DE SAN AGUSTÍN

One of the finest accommodation offerings in this historic rural village, featuring a spa, fitness facilities and fantastic views from the rooftop terrace, Terrazas de San Agustin is located in the centre of town, minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage listed San Agustin Archaeological Park.

 

*

SAN AGUSTIN

POSADA LAS TRAMPAS

Set in a beautiful colonial-style house (built c1870) with an outdoor pool, this luxury guesthouse promises personalised service and restful accommodation, with 14 individually decorated rooms capturing picturesque balcony views over the Magdalena River. 

 

*

HONDA

HOTEL VILLA PARAISO VIEJA

A welcoming oasis at the edge of the Tatacoa Desert, this boutique hotel features a refreshing outdoor pool and comfortable air-conditioned rooms, situated in the centre of the charming colonial town of Villa Vieja on the banks of the Magdalena River. 

 

*

VILLA VIEJA

HOTEL BRISAS LA GAVIOTA

On a sprawling property complete with six fish-stocked lakes, tranquil gardens, a swimming pool and sportsgrounds, this relaxing tourist complex, hotel and restaurant is located amid the beautiful rural landscapes just outside of Mariquita, a historic Spanish silver settlement with an authentic Colombian village feel.

 

*

MARIQUITA

HOTEL MARRIOTT

This 5-star hotel in Granada, Cali’s upmarket dining and entertainment district, features luxuriously appointed rooms and on-site facilities including a pool, spa, Finnish sauna and several on-site restaurants. Market Restaurant has a show kitchen and serves build-your-own salads, burgers, carpaccio and pizzas. The poolside Tanoshii Lounge offers open-air drinks, sushi and live music.

 

*

CALI

HOTEL SALENTO REAL

An eco-friendly, colonial-style hotel in the heart of coffee country, the centrally located Salento Real welcomes guests with traditional Colombian hospitality, well-furnished rooms and a daily breakfast served on the rooftop terrace with gorgeous views over Salento and the forests and mountains beyond. 

 

*

SALENTO

MOVICH CASA ALFEREZ REAL

Blending timeless colonial-inspired charm with contemporary elegance, this Movich Hotel (a Colombian owned boutique hotel brand) is one of the most beautiful accommodation offerings in Cali’s upscale Granada district. The excellent restaurant outdoor terrace bar and hotel rooms and suites showcase high-end modern décor, complemented by exceptional service. 

 

*

CALI

HOTEL CAMPESTRE CAFE CAFÉ

Set on acres of stunningly landscaped gardens, with a massive outdoor swimming pool, vibrant Colonial-style architecture and brightly furnished rooms, this calming, colourful retreat is surrounded by enchanting coffee plantations, 3.9km from Quindío’s National Coffee Park.

 

*

MONTENEGRO

HOTEL B3

In the exclusive Chico area of Bogota, this smart modern hotel features a stylish selection rooms and a relaxing terrace and cocktail bar with a tapas menu, chilled-out evening DJs and international service standards. 

 

*

BOGOTA

HOTEL BOUTIQUE VILLA ROMA

A gorgeous colonial-inspired hotel, walking distance to the central plaza, Villa Roma features whitewashed walls and contrasting wooden furniture, a garden courtyard, an outdoor pool and spacious, elegantly furnished rooms and suites.

 

*

VILLA DE LEYVA

HOLIDAY INN BUCARAMANGA

Consistently one of the most highly rated hotels in Bucaramanga, the Holiday Inn is a chic, contemporary hotel and restaurant in a fantastic location, promising superb comfort, high quality international cuisine and breathtaking views over the tropical mountain city from the rooftop pool and Skybar.

 

*

BUCARAMANGA

LA CASA AMARILLA 

Nestled beside the Magdalena River and Santander Forest Park, just a short stroll from the magnificent colonial centre of Mompox, La Casa Amarilla is a homely and inviting family-run retreat with quiet, comfortable rooms and delicious breakfasts served every morning at an airy communal dining table overlooking lush floral gardens.

 

*

MOMPOX

HOTEL FRUTAS DEL LAGO

In a quiet yet convenient location just outside the urban centre of Caucasia, Frutas del Lago offers some of the best boutique accommodation in the area, with simple yet spacious and comfortably furnished rooms, an excellent on-site restaurant and a reputation for true Paisa hospitality. 

 

*

CAUCASIA

HOTEL FERNANDO PLAZA

Providing cosy and elegant accommodation in the heart of Pasto’s business district, a short walk from the central Plaza Nariño, this hotel features ultra-spacious, lushly furnished rooms, a restaurant serving regional Andean cuisine and a bar with a variety of wines and cocktails on offer.

 

*

PASTO

HOTEL DANN MONASTERIO

In a renovated Franciscan convent built in 1570, Hotel Dann Monasterio showcases some of the finest traditional architecture in the ‘White City’ of Popayan, one of Colombia’s most beautifully preserved colonial cities. Forty-seven rooms are arranged around a majestic central courtyard. The hotel boasts an outdoor pool and the Campanario Restaurant which services regional and international cuisine with overlooking the manicured gardens.  

 

*

POPAYAN

HOTEL ECOSTAR 

A stylish hotel in the Milla de Oro shopping and dining district of Ibague, the Ecostar is a smart, business-style hotel with friendly service, air conditioned rooms with smart modern décor, a daily breakfast buffet and a lobby bar.

 

*

IBAGUE

HOTEL VARUNA MANIZALES

Located in the lively Zona Rosa district in vibrant Manizales, gateway city to the Zona Cafetera, this sophisticated hotel features huge, heated rooms with luxurious modern décor and an indoor spa and wellness centre (perfect for those cool Andean nights).  The on-site Tabil Restaurant enjoys fabulous city and mountain panoramas, especially at sunset. 

 

*

MANIZALES

HOTEL HOLIDAY INN YOPAL 

Yopal lies at the doorstep of the magnificent Los Llanos, the sprawling plains of north-eastern Colombia and a nature lover’s paradise. This centrally positioned hotel is highly regarded for its large, superbly appointed rooms, on-site restaurant and gym. The top-floor pool terrace is captures sweeping views of the city and the wilderness of the plains beyond.  

 

*

YOPAL

HOTEL ALMIRANTE CARTAGENA

The 5-star Hotel Almirante boasts an unbeatable location, right opposite the beachfront in the always-lively Bocagrande neighbourhood. The hotel has a vibrant tropical vibe and spectacular beach and Caribbean Sea panoramas from its deluxe Ocean View rooms. You’ll find a pool and fitness centre on-site as well as countless seaside restaurants and nightlife options only a short walk away. 

 

*

CARTAGENA

HOTEL EMERAWA 

Not far the the centre of the coastal Caribbean city of Riohacha, the gateway to the desert dunes and unspoiled beaches of La Guajira, Hotel Emerawa provides guests with a relaxed country atmosphere. It features a sparkling pool surrounded by tropical gardens, a thatched-roof cabana lounge and spotless, simply furnished rooms as well as more luxurious spa suites.

 

*

RIOHACHA 

 

This list should give you a taste of the type of accommodation you can expect on a Motolombia tour. We can wholeheartedly recommend these hotels to anyone visiting Colombia seeking genuine Colombian hospitality and a true local flavour.