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)

The Three Guianas – South America’s forgotten gems

Three Guianas

Uncovering the mysteries of South America’s forgotten gems

Contents:
1. A very short history of the Guianas
2. Why visit the Three Guianas
3. Culture of the Guianas
4. Destinations in Guiana
5. Getting to the Guianas
6. Ride the Guianas with Motolombia

As the world becomes more accessible and our planet seems to grow smaller, some of us feel a powerful desire to break new ground. To travel further.

In South America, there’s no better example of the “places that mass tourism forgot” than its three smallest nations, known collectively as the Three Guianas.

Strung side-by-side along South America’s north eastern Atlantic coast, the Three Guianas, from east to west, are Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Only French Guiana remains an overseas territory of France.

Guyana claimed independence from the British in 1975. The same year, Suriname rid itself of Dutch rule.

A very short history of the Guianas

Back in 1499, the Spanish first laid eyes on the mangrove-strewn coastline of the Guianas and its warrior-like Carib Indian inhabitants and didn’t particularly like what they saw.

The gold and silver hungry Spanish decided plundering the Guianas wasn’t worth the effort, although they did make the occasional slave raid.

When the Dutch, French and British began pushing south from the Caribbean, they were keen to stake out a piece of South America for themselves.

That really only left the Guianas, since Spain and Portugal had already claimed almost the entire continent.

The Netherlands began to settle the land in 1615, establishing trade in sugar, cocoa, tobacco and other prized commodities from the tropics. The indigenous workers they’d originally hired were quickly wiped out by introduced diseases, so the Dutch simply imported new sources of labour in the form of West African slaves.

After the second Anglo-Dutch War, under the 1667 Treaty of Breda, the Dutch retained modern-day Suriname and ceded the area east of the Maroni River to the French.

The next 150 years were marked by power struggles that saw sovereignty of the region shift between the colonists.

By 1800, Britain had established dominance in Suriname, although it remained under Dutch control.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Treaty of Paris reaffirmed Dutch sovereignty in Suriname, while Britain purchased the adjoining Dutch colonies, renaming them British Guyana.

In 1834, slavery was abolished in throughout the British Empire. Once again, the colonists found themselves seriously short on labour.

This triggered the next wave of immigrants, this time from the Asian colonies and
particularly India. Today, the Guianas are perhaps the countries with the most widespread mix of ethnic backgrounds in Latin America.

Today, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana showcase overt Asian and Sub-
Continental influences, mixed in with European, Latin American and indigenous culture.

Why visit the Three Guianas?

You’ll never complain they’re “too touristy”

The Guianas remain three of South America’s least-visited countries.

That’s not because they’re not worth visiting (far from it). Tourism simply hasn’t been high on the agenda for these, until recently, agriculture-based economies.

Overshadowed by their big brother neighbour, Brazil, and home to exactly zero world
famous “bucket list” attractions, the Guianas remain obscure to just about everyone.

They’re full of incredible natural beauty, including one of the last pristine rainforests on earth

The Three Guianas form part of the 270 million-hectare Guiana Shield. Known as “the greenhouse of the world”, this globally important eco-region straddles the northern boundary of the Amazon Jungle.

Pristine forest covers around 80% of the Guiana Shield. It’s dense vegetation and mountain-fed rivers are a refuge for iconic species like the jaguar, black caiman, giant river otter and giant anteater.

Although the coasts of all three countries meet the warm northern Atlantic, if you’re
hoping for postcard-perfect beaches, you won’t find them in the Guianas.

Tangled mangroves dominate the coastline. Beyond them lie the Orinoco Delta
Swamp and Guiana Freshwater Swamp Forests, whose rivers muddy the seafront as they empty into the Atlantic.

Delving deeper into the wilds of the Three Guianas isn’t too easy. Only a few roads
connect the capitals to a handful of regional rural towns.

To hike this barely explored wilderness, with its sheer mountains, windswept
savannah, and countless waterfalls, the help of an expert tour operator is essential.

Slowly, ecotourism is making in-roads into the Guianas, while at the same time,
their economies are swiftly transitioning to being oil and mining based. In particular, Suriname’s recent gold boom looks to be setting the country on the path to widespread deforestation.

Culture of the Guianas

The mishmash of cultures that are glaringly evident in everyday life in the Guianas is nothing short of fascinating. Guyana, South America’s only English-speaking country, is home to the only two Test Cricket Grounds on the continent.

Guianan cuisine is a hodgepodge of influences garnered from the French, the Bushinengue (descendants of the West African and Caribbean slaves) and indigenous ingredients.

In the capitals, you’ll also see Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian eateries alongside
Creole restaurants and French patisseries.

Common ingredients include fresh seafood, smoked fish, cassava and a huge array
of tropical fruits.

Rum and a locally produced firewater called tafia are favoured local spirits.

Destinations in Guiana

Cayenne, French Guiana
Cayenne, a port city of roughly 138,000 inhabitants is the capital of French Guiana. It’s charming if run-down aesthetic in sharp contrast to its strong ties to the EU as well as French culture, law and order.

By far the most surprising addition to the city is the French European Space Centre. Also known as the Guiana Spaceport since 1964, it’s strategically located close to the equator and is where the French and European Space Agencies launch their satellites into orbit.

Paramaibo, Suriname
Laidback, tolerant and diverse, the capital of Suriname is built on a shell-sand reef over the Suriname River barely five metres above the ocean at low tide.

The city’s historic centre was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2002 for its fusion of European and local elements, particularly it’s distinctive Dutch colonial architecture. Lovely wooden cathedrals and grand government buildings add to the city’s slightly bizarre aesthetic appeal.

Check out the 17th century Fort Zeelandia and the bustling Central Markets,
overloaded with the morning’s seafood catch and food stalls serving cheap, freshly cooked Dutch-Indonesian favourites.

Georgetown, Guyana
Guyana’s capital (population 200,00), Georgetown runs at its own leisurely pace.
The closest city to the Caribbean, in its heyday, Georgetown was considered the “Garden City of the Caribbean”.

Georgetown boasts a vibrant contemporary street life, painting a curious contrast against a background of crumbling colonial mansions, overgrown parks, not-all-that-visited-museums and European churches.

Yet Georgetown is no sluggish backwater. The city is the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), established to further economic development in the Caribbean nations, and its restaurant and nightlife precinct showcases a surprisingly cosmopolitan sensibility.

Beyond Georgetown
Georgetown is situated at the mouth of the Demerara, which originates some 346km inland in the central rainforests.

Georgetown is surrounded by lush tropical scenery, including the incredible Kaieteur Falls. The world’s largest single drop waterfall is approximately four times taller than Niagara Falls and is one of the most powerful waterfalls on earth.

Kaieteur Falls can be reached on a five day expedition by road/ferry from Georgetown, but most opt for a straightforward day trip from the city, taking one of the daily flights between Georgetown and the Kaiteur International Airport (more of an airstrip really, but just a 15 minute walk from the falls).

The Iwokrama Forest spans 3,710skm in the very heart of the Guiana Shield, one of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world. Tropical lowland forest covers much of the reserve, protecting some of the most species-rich habitat on earth.

The Burro-Burro River winds its way through the centre of the rainforest, while the 1,000m high Iwokrama Mountains form the geographical focal point of the park.

The Iwokrama Reserve is one of the only localities within the Shield to boast eco-tourism facilities. The Iwokrama River Lodge is a hub for sustainable tourism, research and conservation offering guided hikes, suspension bridge walks, wildlife-spotting boat cruises and treks to Turtle Mountain for panoramic views of the jungle canopy and the mountain ranges beyond.

Getting to the Guianas

By air
Most international flights into the Guiana capitals arrive from the Caribbean or Brazil.

Maintaining close ties to its French overseers, around a dozen flights per week from Paris to Cayenne.

Paramaibo and Amsterdam are still connected by direct flights. You can fly straight to Georgetown from New York, Miami, Port of Spain or Panama City.

Overland

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not interested in travelling to the Guianas
on some cushy European airline.

Reaching the Guianas overland is obviously way more fun, although not without its
challenges. You’ll need ride in on your own set of wheels, as there are no real options for obtaining a bike in the Guianas.

Brazil has the only open border crossings with all three of the Guianas (the Venezuela-Guyana crossing has been closed for years).

Most overlanders enter the Guianas by crossing from Oiapoque in Brazil to St Georges de L’Oyapock, 188km north of Cayenne.

The border towns are split in two by the Oyapock River. Crossing are done on motorised wooden boats, some of which can comfortably accommodate a couple of big bikes.

Once inside the Guianas, the highways between the capital cities are generally good. There aren’t too many roads heading inland, and the ones that are, are generally unpaved and guaranteed rough.

Rural traffic is pretty much limited to the odd 4WD or truck slowly grinding its way through the dirt. These roads cut a winding sliver out of incredibly dense forest surroundings, making for a spectacular off-road adventure.

Ride the Three Guianas with Motolombia

Getting to Guianas by motorcycle is both logistically challenge and a guaranteed work out for your off-road riding skills. Not many people do it.

With no real moto touring culture in the Guianas, solo travel can be difficult and somewhat risky if you find yourself broken down in the middle of the jungle! Motolombia is one of the only motorcycle touring specialists that visit the Guianas.

The Trans-Amazonian Challenge is just about the biggest, craziest adventure we offer, visiting eight countries in 52 days. We take off in late summer and follow the weather to get the best riding conditions possible.

But we call it a “challenge” for a reason! With plenty of off-road experience under your belt, this will be a trip of a lifetime!

Plus you can actually say you’ve been to the Guianas! If your buddies have no idea what you’re talking about, at least you know your little South American secret is their loss!

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