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)

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

7 of South America’s most legendary motorcycling routes

When it comes to motorcycle travel, this enigmatic and hugely varied continent has it all. Riding the continent for weeks on end, it’s rare that any two days seem like “more of the same”. This is why South America is quite possibly the cream of the continental crop when it comes to bringing joy and exhilaration to a rider’s heart and wide grin beneath their helmet, day, after day, after day.

South America is virtually unmatched in its geological diversity, beginning in the Caribbean north of the equator and stretching all the way to the Antarctic Ocean.

A land of record-breaking extremes, it contains:

  • The mighty peaks of the Andes, the world’s longest continental mountain range
  • The Amazon jungle, the world’s largest tropical rainforest
  • The Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet
  • 12 unique countries and hundreds of different ethnicities, languages and cultures

A network of epic highways and rural backroads traverse these magnificent landscapes.

Here are seven of the best of them.

ARGENTINA: Ruta 40

The 5,224km long National Route 40 is one of the world’s longest and most spectacular highways.

In the north, Ruta 40 begins at La Quiaca on the dusty, arid high plains of the Bolivian border. From there, the highway runs parallel with the spine of the Andean range to cross 11 provinces, 20 reserves and National Parks, 126 bridges and 26 mountain passes, reaching a maximum altitude of 5,061m. The highway stops where the land ends, at the southernmost continental tip of Cape Virgenes.

Heading south, things get twistier by the secon ads the route enters Patagonia through Bariloche and the picturesque alpine lake district.

Forging deeper into the Patagonian wilderness, the scenery grows more dramatic with every winding sweep of road, skirting past the jagged peaks of Monte Fitz Roy, the icebergs of Laguna de Los Tres and one of the stars of Patagonia, the Perito Moreno glacier, a groaning and creaking tower of brilliant white and cobalt blue where the Andes meets the Southern Ocean.

Ruta 40 is only partially paved, so don’t be surprised whenever that pristine tarmac suddenly turns into a pot-holed mess of grit and gravel.

We ride it on our: End of the World Expedition

CHILE: Carretera Austral – National Route CH-7

The silky smooth asphalt of the Chilean Route 5 of the Pan-American Highway a little tame for your tastes? Take the road less travelled and ride the north-south length of Chilean Patagonia on the sublime Carretera Austral (Route CH-7).

Most of its 1,240km length sees little traffic, as the highway passes through the most sparsely populated regions in the country.

A series of swooping curves, tricky up and downhill bends and serpentine mountainside paths, the mind-blowing Patagonian scenery transforms every other day, from beautiful beech forest to glacial lakes locked in by snow-tipped mountain chains, rugged steppe and river rapids gushing between steep-sided canyons and verdant alpine valleys.

To date, only around 40% of the highway is paved, mainly in the north.  The remaining portion is mainly gravel – gentle in some parts and thoroughly bone-shaking in others.

We ride it on our: End of the World Expedition

BOLIVIA: North Yungas Road (aka “Death Road”) – National Route 3

Cut into the side of the Cordillera Oriental Range is a zig-zagging gravel goat track linking the Andean capital of La Paz with the Yungas region in the Bolivian Amazon.

The single lane North Yungas Road has earned international infamy as “the most dangerous road on earth”. Its 60km length includes 29 hairpin bends and a heart-stopping 3,500m of descent, and the rain and fog is almost ever-present. A mere 3.2 wide road lies straddles the sides of the mountain and its sheer precipices, plunging a kilometre below into a graveyard of scattered wreckage.

Before a paved, dual lane alternative opened in 2006, landslides and collisions often claimed hundreds of lives every year. These days, the old route is one of Bolivia’s best-known attractions, with downhill mountain biking attracting thousands of daredevil tourists to what’s now an otherwise rarely used road.

If you’re attempting the Death Road on a motorcycle, you’ll need solid off-roading skills to manage the precariously slippery surfaces, drenched in parts by cliffside waterfalls that tumble directly on to the road below.

The climb from the steamy foothills of Yolosa to the stark, windswept La Cumbre Pass (4,650m) is thrillingly beautiful. Now and then, the mist periodically lifts to reveal breathtaking views over the altiplano and the vast expanse of the Amazon Rainforest.

We ride it on our: End of the World Expedition

COLOMBIA: Alto de Letras – National Route 50

Between the small towns of Mariquita and Chinchina in Colombia’s verdant coffee triangle is a sealed stretch of highway with a rather interesting reputation. The almost impossibly steep route, which crosses the Alto de Letras mountain pass, is notorious among cycling community as reputedly the longest climb in the cycling world, boasting a punishing elevation gain of 3,800m in just 80km!

If you’re attempting this route on a bicycle, you might be in too much agony to really appreciate the scenery, which would be a shame – it is absolutely beautiful. With the benefit of an engine, the almost sheer vertical ascents and stomach-surging drops provide blasts of pure riding euphoria.

The 140km route begins just 485m above sea level, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.  Soon you’ll begin ascending above the clouds and with luck, on approaching the mist might part to reveal tantalising glimpses of the permanently ice-capped peak of Nevado del Ruiz, the fifth highest in Colombia at 5,311m.

We ride it on the these: 6 Colombian tours.

BRAZIL: Trans-Amazonian Highway – National Route BR-230

Before the early 1970s, only the tiniest fraction of the great Amazon Jungle rainforest was accessible to outsiders. All that changed when the Trans-Amazonian Highway effectively sliced the interior of the then-pristine rainforest in half. The legacy of the 4,000km long Trans-Amazonian isn’t exactly a proud one, having essentially marked the beginning of the Amazon’s deforestation crisis.

Grand visions of a paved highway from the Atlantic Coast to the Peruvian border never came to fruition, thanks to lack of funding, the annual October-March monsoon and the unstable nature of the rainforest’s red soil. Lately, plans to revive the route to Peru seem to be slowly coming together, but the road remains largely unsealed to this day.

Less than half of the highway actually lies within the Amazon jungle itself. The eastern portion traverses through the mostly dry, uninspiring north-eastern interior.

The western half is far more preferable. You’ll quickly come up against properly remote, properly challenging, dirt, mud and river-forging adventure riding. The longest stretch of wilderness slithers through the Amazonia National Park, home to iconic Amazon critters like macaws and spider monkeys.

We ride it on our: Trans-Amazonian Challenge

PERU: Desert Coast to Central Andes – Route of the Liberators (Route 28A)

Peru is packed with so many ridiculously scenic road trips, particularly among the soaring mountain passes of the Andes. For our money though, some of South America’s most unique and varied scenery can be covered in a single day. Just take virtually routes east from the rugged Pacific coast south of Lima, through the dunes of the coastal deserts and then up, up, up into the high grasslands of the Central Andes.

It’s hard to beat the 340km ride that starts in the sublime desert oasis of Huachachina, then cuts west to the port town of Pisco. From Pisco, begin your ascent from sea level up National Highway 28A, also known as Via de los Liberatores, as it was this brutal route followed by Simon Bolivar’s volunteer army during Peru’s liberation from Spain. Crosss a soaring 4,750m pass before descending into the colonial city of Ayacucho (2750m).

We ride it on our: Motopichu Best of Peru Tour

ECUADOR: Cotopaxi Volcan Road – Pan-American Highway (National Route 35)

Just south of Quito, this section of the Pan-American Highway is only 40km long but it’s a pothole-riddled pig of a road, all rutted gravel and sandy grit. Road maintenance isn’t  a high priority in Ecuador, so it’s no surprise that the route to Cotopaxi National Park is one of the gnarliest on the Pan-American. Streams flowing directly over the road and have a tendency to flash-flood, making the route even more challenging

That said, the narrow passage alongside Ecuador’s Valley of Volcanoes is visually stunning – an ever-changing outlook switching between dense forest, lunar-like altiplano landscapes and high tundra bursting with multi-coloured wildflowers. As the road skirts the western edge of the park, jaw-dropping panoramas of the open grassland and Mount Cotopaxi come into view. A classically conical volcano with a permanently snow-crowned summit, it’s Ecuador’s second highest peak at 5,879m.

We ride it on both our: South American Express and Galapagos Evolution Tour

GROUP TOURS IN SOUTH AMERICA

No one knows the great riding routes of South America like the team at Motolombia. A guided group tour is one of the most enjoyable, safe and seamless ways to visit some of the most remote regions in the content.

Check out the following tours which feature many of the world-class riding routes described above:

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

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

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

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)

RENT A MOTORCYCLE IN COLOMBIA:

Rent Motorcycle Colombia

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. 

 

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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The Final Frontier: Trans Amazonian Challenge

52 Days, 8,000 Miles, Eight Fascinating Countries

South America’s reputation as a motorcycle touring paradise is legendary. This single continent encompasses all the ingredients of the motorcycle journey of a lifetime. And we’re not just talking about the roads themselves, as intoxicatingly thrilling and enchanting as they are.

What makes a long-distance journey through this continent of extremes a truly unforgettable experience is every part of the adventure combined. In a few days riding, you’ll discover an incredible richness and diversity of cultures, a friendly and welcoming local people, and landscapes that are both instantly dramatic and thrillingly changeable from day to day – from the world’s longest mountain range to dry desert canyons, wind-swept coastline and lush rainforests, teeming with wildlife

Introducing Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge

Every year, around the beginning of summer, an intrepid crew of riders take part in Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge. This expertly guided and fully supported tour takes in eight countries in 52 Days, from the coffee-covered hills of Colombia’s evergreen Andean lowlands to the towering snow peaks of Peru and Ecuador to the mysterious ‘Three Guianas’ on the northern Atlantic Coast to the pink dolphin-inhabited Amazonian waterways of Brazil and the towering tropical falls of Venezuela.

Forty-two of these days will involve riding, almost entirely on some of the most epic motorcycling roads on the planet.

We understand that for most people, a ride like this is a truly once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

We know what you’re thinking. If you’re undertaking a 12,875km (8,000 mile) journey from the northern Andean mountains of Colombia to the Amazon Basin and beyond, you had damn well better be having the time of your life!

It’s not all that often that you get 52 days in a single year to just go out and ride into the wilderness, so we’ve planned a route that packs more diverse and spectacular scenery into 52 days than seems geographically possible.

No two days are ever the same, and we can almost guarantee that every day be full of sights, scenes and moments where one can scarcely believe their own eyes.

Who is Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge For?

First and foremost, we schemed up the Trans Amazonian Challenge with the serious adventure motorcycle rider in mind.

Because this tour is about showing you the absolute very best of the enormously diverse northern region of South America, we regularly leave the comfort of the tarmac and venture on to remote backroads and rarely used mountain trails. As any off-road rider knows, take that turn off and you never know what sort of conditions lie ahead until their staring you in the face.

You’ll reach altitudes of over 5,000m climbing (with two wheels and an engine thankfully!) the freezing cold Andean passes.

When we hit the rainforest (although it is technically the dry season) – it’s a safe bet you’re gonna get rain – so expect all kinds of mud-related mayhem, with high humidity and sweltering summer temperatures thrown into the mix.

If all this sounds like great fun, the Trans Amazonian might just be for you. In order to join this tour, it’s s essential that you are a highly skilled, continuously practiced long-distance rider. Some days can get extremely physical, so it’s important that you’re fit, healthy condition, with plenty of off-road experience under your belt.

This type of ride requires both individual stamina and social and teamwork qualities conducive to teamwork. Only with each other’s support can we make sure any obstacles are navigated around safely and each individual rider is given the help they need.

Do I Need My Own Bike?

Because of the duration of this expedition and the at times highly demanding terrain, many riders prefer to bring their own bikes, either shipping them out to Colombia or riding them from elsewhere in the Americas.

If you wish to bring your own bike, we welcome you as well, as taking on this type of tour with a machine you’re comfortable and familiar with will help you get set up and acclimated to the conditions and riding styles far more easily.

Of course, not everyone can bring their own motorcycle halfway across the road with relative ease, so a variety of late-model hire bikes, fresh out of the Motolombia garages are available to rent.

Can Non-Riders Still Come Along for the Journey?

Pillions: Riders, you can take a pillion, provided they’ll put up with nearly two months of some seriously bone-rattling off-road riding, and a considerable amount of dust, mud and general filth.

As a self-proclaimed “professional pillion rider”, my advice to anyone thinking of accompanying their soul mate or best motorcycle-riding buddy on this trip is to make sure you’re super comfortable first with long days of riding pillion on rough and often extremely windy roads. And be prepared to give massages to aching necks, backs and arms at the end of the day.

4X4 Passengers: On this tour, our motorcycle convoy will be escorted from the rear by a 4×4 support vehicle. Pillion riders can join our expert driver over the same roads and trails our riders will be using if they need a rest from the bike.

Introducing Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge

Every year, around the beginning of summer, an intrepid crew of riders take part in Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge. This expertly guided and fully supported tour takes in eight countries in 52 Days, from the coffee-covered hills of Colombia’s evergreen Andean lowlands to the towering snow peaks of Peru and Ecuador to the mysterious ‘Three Guianas’ on the northern Atlantic Coast to the pink dolphin-inhabited Amazonian waterways of Brazil and the towering tropical falls of Venezuela.

Forty-two of these days will involve riding, almost entirely on some of the most epic motorcycling roads on the planet.

We understand that for most people, a ride like this is a truly once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

We know what you’re thinking. If you’re undertaking a 12,875km (8,000 mile) journey from the northern Andean mountains of Colombia to the Amazon Basin and beyond, you had damn well better be having the time of your life!

It’s not all that often that you get 52 days in a single year to just go out and ride into the wilderness, so we’ve planned a route that packs more diverse and spectacular scenery into 52 days than seems geographically possible.

No two days are ever the same, and we can almost guarantee that every day be full of sights, scenes and moments where one can scarcely believe their own eyes.

Who is Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge For?

First and foremost, we schemed up the Trans Amazonian Challenge with the serious adventure motorcycle rider in mind.

Because this tour is about showing you the absolute very best of the enormously diverse northern region of South America, we regularly leave the comfort of the tarmac and venture on to remote backroads and rarely used mountain trails. As any off-road rider knows, take that turn off and you never know what sort of conditions lie ahead until their staring you in the face.

You’ll reach altitudes of over 5,000m climbing (with two wheels and an engine thankfully!) the freezing cold Andean passes.

When we hit the rainforest (although it is technically the dry season) – it’s a safe bet you’re gonna get rain – so expect all kinds of mud-related mayhem, with high humidity and sweltering summer temperatures thrown into the mix.

If all this sounds like great fun, the Trans Amazonian might just be for you. In order to join this tour, it’s s essential that you are a highly skilled, continuously practiced long-distance rider. Some days can get extremely physical, so it’s important that you’re fit, healthy condition, with plenty of off-road experience under your belt.

This type of ride requires both individual stamina and social and teamwork qualities conducive to teamwork. Only with each other’s support can we make sure any obstacles are navigated around safely and each individual rider is given the help they need.

Do I Need My Own Bike?

Because of the duration of this expedition and the at times highly demanding terrain, many riders prefer to bring their own bikes, either shipping them out to Colombia or riding them from elsewhere in the Americas.

If you wish to bring your own bike, we welcome you as well, as taking on this type of tour with a machine you’re comfortable and familiar with will help you get set up and acclimated to the conditions and riding styles far more easily.

Of course, not everyone can bring their own motorcycle halfway across the road with relative ease, so a variety of late-model hire bikes, fresh out of the Motolombia garages are available to rent.

Can Non-Riders Still Come Along for the Journey?

Pillions: Riders, you can take a pillion, provided they’ll put up with nearly two months of some seriously bone-rattling off-road riding, and a considerable amount of dust, mud and general filth.

As a self-proclaimed “professional pillion rider”, my advice to anyone thinking of accompanying their soul mate or best motorcycle-riding buddy on this trip is to make sure you’re super comfortable first with long days of riding pillion on rough and often extremely windy roads. And be prepared to give massages to aching necks, backs and arms at the end of the day.

4X4 Passengers: On this tour, our motorcycle convoy will be escorted from the rear by a 4×4 support vehicle. Pillion riders can join our expert driver over the same roads and trails our riders will be using if they need a rest from the bike.

What Should I Most Look Forward To?

The reason we’ve chosen this part of South America for our 52-day circuit (starting and ending in our homebase of Cali, Colombia) is because it has absolutely everything.

If you want a run-down of the famous attractions, World Heritage archaeological sites, colourful cities and stunning natural landmarks you’ll witness on this expedition, head to our Trans Amazonian Challenge tour page. for a reasonably comprehensive list of “goalposts”.

Remember, this is an anything-can-happen, remote area expedition, and routes and destinations can change on the fly, should weather or road conditions decide to throw a spanner in the works.

Yes, we’ll be visiting the Nazca Lines, Machu Picchu, the Amazon River Basin and Angel Falls and every one of them will absolutely blow your mind.

But you’ll be equally moved by the warmth and friendliness of the South American people, from the villagers allowing a glimpse into their age-old traditions to guests who visit few and far between, to the exhilarating pace and permanently festive atmosphere of the metropolises.

While lots of guests begin their journey most keen on getting to the “bucket list” sites, they end up taking away is much more than a checklist of destinations.

What makes the Trans Amazonian Challenge not just a tour, but a genuine adventure is that this is a rite of passage of sorts. A secret journey shared by a tight-knit band of like-minded travellers, venturing into lands few outsiders have ever looked upon.

It’s the riding itself, the unpredictability the teamwork and the camaraderie that develops over a 52-day journey that’s tough, exciting and full of moments of overwhelming beauty and intensity. It’s sense of both individual accomplishment and shared experiences, that make the Trans Amazonian Challenge what it is.

And what it is, is not just one of the coolest two-wheeled expeditions in all of South America, but the journey of an absolute lifetime.

Other Things to Know

For more practical info – prices, inclusions, accommodation, optional activities, and (maybe soon) a possible start date for 2020 (subject to change according to weather conditions), you’ll find most of what you need over at the Trans Amazonian Challenge tour page.

More information will be added closer to the proposed kick-off date. It’ll be here before you know it, so register your interest ASAP.

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Meet Mike Thomsen An Interview with World Motorcycle Adventure Rider and Owner of Motolombia

Mike Thomsen’s not always the easiest guy to get hold of.

While you might run in to him in the Motolombia office in Cali, busily preparing for the next tour, or proudly inspecting his shiny fleet of two-wheeled tourers, he’s just as likely to be off grinding some gnarly goat track in a remote corner of the Andes.

At the beginning of April 2019, Mike was gracious enough to lend me some time to answer a few questions about some of his epic rides, and his experience leading tourists on two wheels through wildest South America.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to know how a gringo from Denmark ended up running Colombia’s longest running motorcycle tour and rental company, read on!

F.D: Hi Mike! About a month ago you came back from the Dakar Rally. How was it?

M.T: Actually, I’ve just come back from the 14 day International Rally, which follows the route used by the original Dakar Rally. The official Dakar Rally has moved to South America – it’s still on my to do list!

This was my second go at racing in the Sahara Desert. In 2015, I finished in 11th position. This year I had a hard crash on Stage 1. I was struggling with a few injuries, but I pressed on. Later, I found out I had damaged the posterior crossed ligaments in my left knee and had two fractures on my thumb.

When the bike broke down, it took 12 hours to get rescued by the race organisation. I got the clutch fixed the same night and did up making it to Dakar, although outside the ranking system. The rules are you have to finish every stage on your own power, with no outside help.

The whole Dakar experience – the Sahara Desert, the racing history – it’s incredible. Since I didn’t quite make it this time, my only option is to go back!

F.D: You’d travelled halfway around the world by aged 6, touring overland in a 4×4 for a year and half with your parents. What sort of impression did this non-conventional childhood have on you at that age?  

M.T: I cannot imagine a better way to spend childhood.

I learned very early on that people are just people, everywhere. We are all humans just trying to improve our lives and care for our families and friends. Most people don’t care about politics and power. I learnt so much about languages, cultures, food and just life in general. I never feel quite like I fit in back home in Denmark.  

I truly believe the world would be a better place if everyone would leave their little hideouts and see the world. You’ll see there are so many ways to obtain happiness in this life, and that no one knows it all or has the perfect solution. Humanity is a project in development!  

F.D:  Witnessing your first Dakar Rally was the life-changing moment that got you into adventure riding. What was it about Dakar that you were so drawn to?

M.T:  The battle against the elements, the speed, the machine, the danger and the untouched, secluded nature, but most of all the struggle with yourself. This type of race is more about mental strength, endurance and economising your energy, rather than riding skill and having the latest equipment.

You compete with yourself. The other racers are just companions on the same mission.     

F.D:  How did you support yourself through all those years travelling the globe on a bike?

M.T:  I always had to work to be able to support my passions. I did all kinds of odd jobs – I was a kitchen hand, kindergarten assistant, delivery driver, warehouse caretaker and a barbecue chef!

My other passion is music.  I worked 15 years in the industry, touring and recording as well as managing and organising events. I had very little spare time, but whenever I could, I’d go off to travel the world by bike.

F.D: When did you realise you could make a living out of motorcycle tours?  

M.T:  When I first decided to settle in Colombia, I had a daughter on the way. Tourism seemed like the most feasible way to make a living.

So, my wife and I started a backpacker hostel, which we had for six years. A lot of our guests were really interested in the motorcycle I had parked outside. Eventually I had the idea to spend the last of our money on a second bike and offer guided motorcycle tours in Colombia.

Eleven years on, motorcycle tours and rentals are our main business. It was a long and hard transition and I still consider it a lifestyle business. We do it because of our passion for riding, not because we crave financial stability!

F.D: What were your first impressions of Colombia? Did you know pretty quickly this was where you wanted to live, work and ride?

M.T:  The music industry had basically crashed in Denmark, so I took the chance to going travelling to South America. I was in Colombia for five days when I met Diana and we fell deeply in love. We got married, had our daughter and opened our business that same year, and the rest is history!

Colombia wasn’t really on my travel plans because of the bad reputation it had back then, but in the end, I decided to chance it. I ended up amazed by the country’s incredible natural beauty. The mountains, the jungle, the ocean. Every shade of green.

If you’re willing to work for it, Colombia has everything you could ask for. There are plenty of opportunities to invest and start businesses. There’s a general sentiment of “up and onwards” among Colombians determined to leave the painful past behind. You can see the improvements growing day by day. I like the type of entrepreneurial energy that exists in Colombia.

F.D. What other places stand out as some of the most challenging and rewarding for adventure riders?

M.T:  Almost the entire African continent is full of adventure, for all types of travel.

I absolutely love riding in Norway for the scenery and roads. It’s expensive and has a very short summer season, but it’s worth it.

The Brazilian Amazon, and the three old Dutch, French and English colonies on the east coast of South America are super unique travel experiences. We hope to visit there with a group of adventurers in 2020.

F.D. OK, tell me! The SINGLE best ride of your life? I know it’s a tough one but give me an answer!

M.T:  My first real off-road solo experience on a Honda NX650, riding from Cairns to Cape York along the Telegraph Line in Northern Australia is still imprinted in my mind – those deep river crossings and nights spent sleeping in the bush.

F.D. You opened Motolombia in 2008. Colombia wasn’t exactly stable back then and it certainly wasn’t the cool country in every “Top 10 Places” travel listicle today. What the hell were you thinking opening a motorcycle tour company there?

M.T: I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to ride the incredible roads and explore the unknown.

I have done more than 500,000 km in Colombia the past 11 years. And I did trips to destinations where the Colombians themselves didn’t dare travel 10 years ago. In some way, I think the fact that I was not a local opened many doors for me.  I was not a target, and though I did see some stuff in the early years, I have always felt safe and welcome.

The authorities and the Colombian government have been a great help. We were pioneers, among the first to start taking tourists around the country. We’ve been recognised as the most innovative travel agency in Colombia several years in a row.

I’m just happy we stuck, to it even though it seemed hopeless at times. We’d have customers cancel tours because they’d just seen another film featuring a Colombian drug lord and they’d freak out. There were times we’d wonder if it was all worth it.

We realised we had to go out ourselves and change people’s perceptions. We’ve made countless trips to North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, to motorcycle and travel shows and events promoting Colombia. We’re finally seeing the results achieved by people like us, who’ve believed for so long in Colombia as an amazing destination.

F.D. Why do you think more riders are embracing Colombia now? From a moto touring perspective, how different now are things like security, infrastructure, and reactions from locals compared to when you first started riding here?

M.T:  Colombia was already well on the way to change when I arrived in 2008. But the transformation over the past decade is like no other country on the planet, I think. The infrastructure is improving at a rapid speed. Of, course the peace treaty is a major step for security, but even before that, tourism had started booming.

As a rider, there is so much to experience here. It’s like all the different terrains of the world compressed into one intense area of incredible riding!

F.D:  What’s the most memorable tour you’ve been on with Motolombia?

M.T: Our first 50 day Trans Amazonian Challenge took us through eight countries, with participants. It was a logistical nightmare to begin with, and then Venezuela decided to close their borders, while we were there, cutting us off from returning to Colombia.

We ended up having to fly everyone out from Georgetown in Guyana. Then I spent another 10 days there to organise getting the bikes and support truck being shipped back to Colombia by container.

If that wasn’t enough, Colombian customs unrightfully confiscated the container and held all vehicles in Cartagena for one month. This caused absolute havoc as all our high season books were coming in and half our fleet was stuck in Cartagena.

Now I can look back at how much we learned from that tour, Despite the problems, it was a great journey and I cannot wait to make that tour again.

F.D:  When you finally realise you’re too old for the dirt, will you buy a Harley and just cruise the highways, Wild Hogs style?

M.T:  I might! Basically, I love anything with two wheels – the feeling of freedom and being alive in the moment. Two wheels require full attention just the act of riding clears your mind and makes you forget all your troubles. Heck, I might just ride my scooter!

VISIT MIKE’S OFFICIAL BLOG  ? WWW.DAKARRACER.COM

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

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Crossing Borders with Motolombia Part 2: A Brief Guide to Motorcycle Touring in Peru

Welcome to Part 2 of our blog series on motorcycle touring in the South America just beyond Colombia’s borders. This time, we’ll be giving you an introduction to riding in Colombia’s other southern neighbour, Peru.

Motolombia run several guided tours throughout South America, including the 14 Day South American Express, which starts in Cali and takes you overland through Ecuador and on to Peru, ending on a high in the beautiful and fascinating Andean town of Cusco, one of the oldest cities in the Americas.  

Peru has of course been a bucket list travel destination for decades, thanks to world-class natural and historical wonders like Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. But what does Peru have in store for adventurers setting out to explore the country on two wheels?

 

WHAT IS MOTORCYCLE TOURING IN PERU LIKE?

The high Peruvian Andes are home to the densest concentration of snow-capped summits and glaciers in the entire mountain range. With roads that wind their way along the ridges of towering cliffs, descend steeply into valleys and climbing breathtakingly high passes, Peru is criss-crossed with some of the most exciting mountain routes on earth.

Many of the major highways in the Peruvian Andes are paved and surprisingly well maintained, including some of the remote high altitude passes. Ticlio Pass (4,818m), between Lima and Oroya, and Abra Oquepuño (4,873m) in Peru’s southern Puno region, are among the world’s highest paved roads.

Sweeping bend after bend, the visual backdrop of the Andes is as wild and majestic as it gets, with endless chains of snow-covered peaks, distant glacial mountains and sheer cliffs tumbling into valleys carpeted by lush forest and ancient farmlands.

And yet, there’s more to riding in Peru than mountains. This is a country of intricate geography and astoundingly varied terrain. Peru’s patchwork of high peaks and plateaus, tropical rainforest, dry forest and coastal desert contain 28 of the world’s 32 individual climates. Witnessing the landscape change before your eyes every few hundred kilometres is one of the greatest rewards of riding in Peru.

Peru’s close proximity to the equator, as well as its diverse climatic zones, make it a year-round riding destination. However, be prepared for temperatures on ranging anywhere between 40 and 12 degrees Celsius, dropping colder still on the high mountains passes.

WHY EVERY ADVENTURE MOTORCYCLE RIDER SHOULD VISIT PERU

1. Peru’s paved roads make most famous attractions easily accessible

Smooth, sealed roads climbing to 4,000 metres altitude and beyond are a rarity almost anywhere in the world, but in Peru, you can conquer some of the country’s highest mountain passes while barely ever leaving the asphalt.  

Even with only a couple of weeks up your sleeve, it’s possible to hit up just about all of Peru’s best-known sights and destinations. Ancient Andean towns like Cusco and Puno and breathtaking natural wonders like Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca are all totally doable on a leisurely-paced, week-and-a-half jaunt through to country, while sticking to almost 100% paved roads.

 

2. You can ride the 500 year old remnants of the ancient Inca Road System

Beginning in the mid-15th century, the Incas began the construction of the most extensive and advanced transportation system in pre-Colombian South America. The Incas built networks of roads, bridges and tunnels stretching for almost 40,000km over six modern-day countries – Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. This extraordinary feat of engineering helped transform a tiny kingdom into the most powerful empire in the western hemisphere.

These roads, all built by hand, were so well constructed that substantial parts of them still exist – and are in use – today, with some of the most spectacular stretches of the Incan road system snaking their way through the highlands of Peru.

Riding Peru’s Inca Roads combines extraordinary history with some of the most fun and challenging off-road riding in the Andean region.

Taking the old roads out of Cusco through the Sacred Valley of the Incas means tackling days’ worth of steep, narrowing and winding dirt tracks, with the breathtaking backdrop of the Andes ranges as your constant companion.

You’ll truly appreciate the legacy of the mighty Incan civilization, as you travel across expansive landscapes, dotted with atmospheric ruins, colourful villages and open air markets, where Peru’s indigenous communities have plied their trades for countless generations.

 

3. The desert landscapes of Peru’s Andean plateau are out of this world

The 250km odd route between Chivay and Arequipa (the second deepest canyon in the world) is one of the most thrilling and dramatic rides on the vast Andean Plateau.

The ride through the Colca region is pure Peru – a breathtaking journey through the beautiful Colca Valley, dotted with farming terraces that pre-date even the Incas and which are still used by the local farmers today.

Be on the lookout for the wheeling shadows of Andean condors as they soar above the towering red cliffs that mark the steep uphill climb to the top of Colca Canyon.

The last stretch of the day-long journey takes you over the 4,850m high Patapampa Pass, which commands panoramic views over a magnificent chain of extinct volcanoes, the largest of them, Nevado Hualca Hualca, rising to 6,025m.

4. You can add on a side-trip to Macchu Pichu

The remarkable monuments and ruined citadels of Peru’s ancient civilizations are undoubtedly the country’s biggest tourist drawcards.

Travelling on two wheels, you can make your way to legendary destinations like the mysterious mud city of Chan Chan in the northern highlands, and the enigmatic geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines in Peru’s southern coastal plain.

The most famous historical site of all, the mist-shrouded icon of the Inca civilization,  Macchu Pichu, while inaccessible by road, is an easy side trip from Cusco. From Cusco, it can be reached in a single day via a scenic train ride, or for the full experience, a tough but rewarding multi-day hike.  

A guided tour of Macchu Pichu is offered as an optional extra on Motolombia’s South American Express Tour.

 

5. Peruvian culture is both modern and ancient, diverse and endlessly fascinating

Peru’s warm, friendly, multi-ethnic people are themselves one of the country’s real cultural treasures. Peruvians in general are polite, hospitable and warmly welcoming towards visitors to their country.

The capital, Lima, is a truly diverse city. With an impressive historic centre defined by grand Spanish colonial architecture, Lima showcases a vibrant mix of native Peruvian, European and Asian culture in the make-up of its people, its music, celebrations, festivals and food.

Peruvian cuisine is a unique and increasingly sophisticated melange of indigenous, Mediterranean, Japanese, Chinese and West African influences, with Lima being widely recognised as one of the great food cities of the world.

Outside of the cities, many Peruvians still live remarkably traditional lives. Many Peruvians connect strongly with their Incan and pre-Incan roots and have held on to age-old customs and ceremonial practices.

Riding through the countryside, you’ll pass through patchwork farms where many people still dress in traditional clothing, speak the old languages and make handicrafts in the same way their ancestors have for countless generations.

 

REACHING PERU FROM COLOMBIA BY BIKE

Although Colombia shares a 1,494km border with Peru, the dividing line where the two countries meet straddles a wild and remote expanse of the Amazon rainforest. Because of this, there’s no official overland crossing between Colombia and Peru.

The only way to cross directly between Colombia and Peru is to cross by boat from Leticia, a Colombian port town. This is easy enough if you’re crossing on foot, but with a motorcycle in tow, this option is a serious logistical feat and not something we would recommend.   

Most riders first cross from Colombia into Ecuador, and then cross into Peru. There are two official crossings from Ecuador. The Macará-Sullana crossing is located in Peru’s northern western plains, while the more popular Huaquillas-Tumbes crossing enters north western Peru closer to the Pacific Coast.       

Rental bikes from Colombia can generally only obtain permits to cross into Ecuador – not Peru. So, you’ll need to own your own bike or be part of a guided tour who can arrange the necessary paperwork for you.

 

TIPS AND ADVICE FOR RIDING IN PERU

Check out our tips and advice for riding in Ecuador, as well as our original guide to Motorcycle Safety in Colombia, as much of the advice regarding urban and rural roads in these countries is also applicable to riding in Peru.

  • Dealing with Altitude Sickness: Altitude sickness can be quite a serious issue in Peru, since quite a few popular touring routes can take you to well above 4,000m altitude. The infamous Ticloo Pass (4,818m), between Lima and Oroya, and Abra Oquepuño (4,873m) in Peru’s southern Puno region, are among the highest paved roads in the world.

A number of villages in Peru are also situated between 3,000m and 5,000m, which is the elevation range where most people start to feel symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

Without proper acclimatisation, exposure to these low-oxygen environments can trigger mild to severe symptoms of AMS including headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue.

If you feel the symptoms of AMS coming on, get yourself to the nearest town or village and rest up. Don’t go any higher until you’ve fully recovered – this often takes a day or two.

To help with acclimatising on a road trip, plan overnight stops in towns at around 2,500m altitude for the first few days, before moving up to another stop at around the 3,000m mark. Ideally, you’ll want to acclimatise at altitudes between 2,500m and 3,500m for at least five days before attempting to go any higher. 

Altitudes of Peruvian Cities and Attractions

Arequipa 2,335m / 2,661 ft
Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley) 2,792m / 9,160 ft
Machu Pichu 2,430 m / 7,972 ft
Cusco 3,339m / 11,150 ft
Chivay (Colca Valley) 3,658m / 12,000 ft
Puno 3,827m / 12,556 ft

If your route has a quite a rapid elevation gain, take frequent rest stops and most importantly stay hydrated! Dehydration will compound the effects of mountain sickness and can lead to more severe symptoms.

 

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

So – keen to get high on a wild mountain adventure through Peru?

Check out Motolombia’s guided, multi-country South America motorcycle tours here: 

 

Colombia moto tours