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)

Our Guide to Buying and Selling a Used Motorbike in Colombia

If you’re planning a long-haul motorcycle journey through South America, you’re inevitably going to want a set of wheels of your own. Provided you’re not hell bent on bringing your own wheels from home, buying a used motorcycle on arrival is generally the most cost- effective way to country-hopping through the continent.

If your first question was; “can I, as a foreign tourist, legally purchase a motorcycle in South America” we’ve already given you the answer: 

YES YOU CAN!

However, buying a vehicle in a South American country is a little more complicated than just answering a Craigslist ad and handing over a stack of cash.

Furthermore, legalities around non-citizens buying, registering and selling vehicles vary greatly from country to country.

So, for the purposes of this blog, we’re going to focus mainly on what we know best – buying and selling pre-owned bikes in Colombia. Fortunately, Colombia is a great place to kick off a South American adventure from a geographical standpoint, it’s also one of the easiest places to buy your own bike as a foreigner.

Things to Consider Beforehand

Whether you decide to buy a new or a used bike in Colombia or another South American country, you’ll need to do some research up-front.

Some of the most important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Can I register a bike in my own name as a foreigner, without a permanent local address?
  • Do I need any kind of special insurance?
  • What additional paperwork will I need to allow me to legally cross international borders?
  • Will I be able to sell the motorcycle relatively easily afterwards?

And, if you’re buying a used motorcycle:

  • How do I make sure I’m buying a bike that’s not a complete hunk of caca?

Often it’s that last point is that turns out to be the most frustrating. As a general rule, finding pre-owned bikes in good condition can be difficult and time-consuming without the right connections. And even if you buy direct from a dealership, service standards aren’t always as stringent as what you might be used to.

Seriously. Make sure your bike is up to the task. If there’s anything troubling you, get a second opinion from a reputable mechanic even after you’ve made your purchase. A remote mountain pass in the Andes or a muddy trail in the Amazon is just about the last place on earth you want your “new” set of wheels to give out on you.

Can I Bring My Foreign Registered Bike to Colombia? Can I Sell It There Too?

Since opening Motolombia, we’ve received countless questions on importing, buying and selling motorcycles in Colombia.
Being at that halfway point between the US and the rest of South America, Colombia is sort of a chokepoint for travellers. Some are at the end of their journey and desperate to sell their US and EU registered bikes before returning home.

There’s just one problem with that:

Selling a foreign registered bike in Colombia is illegal!

Now, plenty of people do bring foreign-registered bikes to Colombia, but this is only legal if the purpose of your visit is “tourism”. If you are indeed a tourist, Customs will issue you with a TTIP (Temporary Tourism Import Permit).

As a tourist, you are allowed to operate a foreign-registered vehicle in Colombia for three months. The TTIP also lets you leave Colombia with your bike and get a renewed three month stay upon returning.

Occasionally, we do hear of the odd tourist in Colombia selling their foreign-registered bike to another foreigner. The problem with this is the original vehicle title cannot be legally transferred to a new owner.

This makes it;

  • Impossible to obtain mandatory drivers’ insurance
  • Extremely awkward when the new owner tries to take the bike out of Colombia (or gets checked out by police or customs at any random control point). The owner will be asked to hand over the vehicle registration card, which will of course be invalid and will usually result in the offending vehicle being immediately confiscated.
  • Extremely risky and costly should you be involved in an accident with injuries occurring as you will have no 3rd party coverage, nor be covered yourself and will likely result in you taking the full blame no matter the fault and in severe cases end with jail time.

Purchasing a Pre-Owned Motorcycle in Colombia

Before You Buy 

As a foreigner, you can legally purchase a Colombian registered bike, and have the vehicle title transferred into your name and acquire mandatory insurance without requiring a permanent address in Colombia.

Before you start negotiations, make sure the seller has all the motorcycle’s papers in order.

The documents required to sell a vehicle in Colombia are:

  • Registration Card

     

  • Technico Mechanica – a document from an authorised test center (valid for 12 months) verifying that the vehicle is currently roadworthy
  • SOAT – Basic, third-party insurance. Compulsory for all vehicles while in Colombian territory. While the insurance is about $150 USD/year for smaller vehicles the “SOAT” is valid only in Colombia. You will have to purchase a new SOAT each time you enter a new country in South America. They can usually be purchased for one month at a time.

Then, there’s one more vital step:

RUNT (Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito) is a national database for all drivers and owners of vehicles in Colombia. Registering with RUNT is free, and essential. Valid passport and a finger for fingerprint registration required.

Transferring the Registration
Finally, it’s time for you and the seller to head to the Transport Office where the vehicle is currently registered. Bring your driver’s license and passport.
There’s quite a lot of paperwork to be filled out during this process, and it’s important you understand everything you sign.

If you purchase your bike from a dealership rather than a private party, the dealer should ensure that all procedures are followed correctly. Remember though, there aren’t too many second-hand moto dealers in Colombia used to dealing with tourists.

With Motolombia, helping tourists get on the road is all we do, so buy a bike with us and we’ll help take care of everything.

Buying a Pre-Owned Motorcycle with Motolombia

If you want to ride independently through South America, our rentals are fine should you only plan to spend a couple of weeks, up to maybe about a month or two on the road.

However, if your South American adventure is a long-term kinda thing, that per-day rental fee eventually becomes cost prohibitive and a pre-owned purchase ends up as the most sensible/affordable option.

Also, motorcycles rented in Colombia are prohibited from traversing any border, other than the Ipiales/Tulcan crossing into Ecuador.
At Motolombia, we have a small but highly maintained fleet of pre-owned motos available for sale here.

If you’re looking for something dirt cheap (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that – provided your ‘bush mechanic’ skills are rock solid), you’ll need to search elsewhere, as we only deal in relatively late model, mid-to-high end machines.

We know you just want to start riding as fast as possible, instead of getting bogged down in paperwork. Part of our service is making sure you and your new bike are 100% road legal. Once the bike is under your name, you have the freedom to cross international borders and explore South America as you please.

Altogether, from choosing your bike, having us set it up to your liking, sorting the paperwork and wheeling the bike out of the shop and into the world, the entire process takes between two and five days.

And, at the end of it all, we can even buy your bike back! Yes, we can make the massively annoying headache of selling a used bike in a foreign country completely disappear, instead of hanging around to ruin the end of your holiday of a lifetime!

How Does Motolombia’s Buy-Back Scheme Work?

Riding from the Caribbean to Tierra del Fuego and back is awesome. What’s not awesome is your trip ending and you realising the motorcycle that brought you so much joy now needs getting rid of, and pronto.

After hearing from so many riders who ended up with issues selling their bikes before going home, we introduced the Motolombia Buy-Back Guarantee, the only motorcycle buy-back scheme of its kind in South America. We guarantee to buy the bike back from you up to six months after the initial purchase, for a pre-arranged value. There’s no obligation to return it to us in the end, however, should your bike find another buyer, or perhaps even another purpose.

Of course, there are terms and conditions:

  • The buyer must return the vehicle to Motolombia in the same condition it was received in, accepting normal wear and tear
  • A full before and after workshop report is issued to bring to light any damage or unauthorised modifications
  • If we do discover any issues, they will be itemised and deducted from the return payment. Alternatively, the buyer has the option to fix the issues elsewhere before returning the vehicle
  • The buyer is responsible for maintaining the bike in roadworthy condition and following the maintenance plan issued by the manufacturer
    Sounds Pretty Solid!

What if Want to Buy a Bike Elsewhere in South America?

Anything outside of Colombia is beyond our expertise. The rules in Colombia change often enough – we simply can’t keep up with them and all the other countries!

Motorcycle travellers – Colombia is an excellent place to buy a motorcycle in South America, not just because of its strategic position, but because tourists can legally register vehicles in their own name.

In several other South American countries, the process is far more complicated, with all kinds of additional hoops to jump through, such as requiring sponsorship or acquiring a special permit.

In the case of Argentina (considered the worst country to buy a vehicle in as a foreigner in South America), any vehicle that has Argentinian papers but is registered to a foreign driver is prohibited from leaving the country at all!

If you’ve dreamt of exploring South America by motorcycle, we urge you to get out there and do it.

There are a million ways to make it happen, and the services offered at Motolombia are just a few of them. We just try to give people a bit of inspiration and a practical head start.

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

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