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)

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

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

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: 

 

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Introducing Motolombia’s Guided 4WD Tours

Now You Can Explore the Most Beautiful Parts of Colombia by 4WD

Motolombia started out as a motorcycle tour and rental company to help introduce motorcyclists to the beauty of Colombia – and in particular, its off-the-beaten track destinations. We’re talking about the sorts of places where busloads of tourists rarely venture. Not because they’re not worthy of outside attention, but quite often because they’re not so easy to reach by conventional means. But with the right set of wheels, entire parts of the country suddenly ae unlocked, making so much more of the country free to be explored.

But what if you can’t, or don’t want to ride through Colombia on a motorbike?

We’ve always felt that anyone with an adventurous spirit and a desire to see the “other” side of Colombia should still have the opportunity to visit some of these amazing but hard to get to destinations.

So, in the spirit of encouraging more intrepid souls to see Colombia beyond the “Gringo Trail”, the team at Motolombia have put together a series of 4WD guided expeditions.

The idea

Join a guided 4×4 tour, leave the driving to the experts, and see the best of “hidden” Colombia, without having to worry about getting lost or the joys of roadside “makeshift mechanicking”. Colombia is an adventure traveller’s paradise, and if you can’t go adventuring on two wheels, we say do it on four wheels! And if they’re the kind of wheels that eat dirt, mud and sand for breakfast, all the better!

Guided 4WD Tours in Colombia – Why They Are Awesome

Colombia is a country of wild, empty coastlines, remote deserts, immense mountain ranges and vast tracts of uninhabited montane forest and jungle. The sheer number of different ecosystems and wildly varying landscapes all connected with one densely concentrated patchwork make Colombia one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. It’s a country in which long-distance travel is extremely rewarding. Certainly, with some planning, it’s possible to travel throughout much of Colombia without your own transport When it comes to overland travel, your main options are:

Traveling in Colombia by bus

The majority of visitors to Colombia make use of the country’s network of public buses to travel long distances between locations, and there’s a lot to be said for that. They’re a cheap, comfortable and easy method for visiting just about all of the major cities and popular attractions in Colombia.

However, bus travel is frequently slow in Colombia. The humble autobus isn’t built for speed and agility on those twisty mountain roads (i.e. Colombia’s main highways). Then there are the inevitable traffic jams, endless passenger pick-ups, numerous roadside pit stops (always in the most uninspiring places imaginable).

Long distance travel by bus takes time (sometimes much more than the timetable/guidebook advises) and there are some places an ostensibly city and highway only vehicle simply can’t venture.

Travelling by private vehicle in Colombia

Travelling in a private vehicle shortens those huge distances considerably, allowing you to see so much more in a shorter space of time.

For those unwilling to rent and a vehicle drive themselves (understandable, given the challenging and unfamiliar conditions the first-time traveller to Colombia would find themselves up against), one option is to hire a private car and driver.

However, for long distances, this is prohibitively expensive for most travellers. Travelling in a small group can make journeying by private vehicle considerably more affordable.

Touring in a 4WD isn’t a necessity in Colombia. All the major highways are sealed and well-maintained, as are roads through the cities and many secondary roads throughout much of the country.

But some of the most spectacular places in Colombia simply can’t be accessed, or fully appreciated by conventional vehicle.

Reaching natural wonders like the incredible ‘rainbow river’ Caño Cristales, the cloud forests near Florencia and the sand dunes of Guajira desert without your own transport would mean navigating a series of plane, bus or taxi journeys, before making the rest of your way there on foot.

Instead, you could go the fastest way, which also happens, by far to be the most fun way! Overland, off-road in a mighty, mountain conquering Motolombia 4WD!

Mountains, Coasts and Jungles – Choose Your Own Adventure

To date, Motolombia have launched three separate, 10 guided 4WD tours, all covering completely unique parts of Colombia. Every tour includes an expert guide-driver per truck, all road-related expenses and accommodation. Each truck takes a maximum of three passengers. All trucks are air conditioned, all-terrain vehicles – trust us, this is as comfortable as off-roading in Colombia gets! Check out the 4WD Tour page for detailed information including full itineraries. Here’s a brief summary of what’s on offer.

10 Day Carribean Desert Tour

From the colourful colonial city of Cartagena, this tour takes you out of the hustle and bustle of the tropical tourist town to some of the wildest coastline in the entire Caribbean. As you leave the resorts far behind, a surreal landscape of barren deserts, orange sandhills, turquoise coves and vivid blue ocean begin to open around you.

  • Not far from town, the real fun begins, as we spend around 70% of our drive-time off-road!
  • Imagine driving for hours without so much as a building in sight – just empty beaches, crashing waves, arid deserts and hundreds of bird species (including the pink flamingos of Punta Gallinas).
  • We cross La Guajira with the blessing of the Wayuu people. This is their land and we’ll attempt to learn a little of their culture and history while visiting some of the local communities.
  • Guajira is famous for its massive coastal sand dunes. Drive to the top or test your stamina trudging up the crests for sensational views of the ocean and its otherworldly desert surroundings.
  • Experience epic 4×4 beach driving, fresh lobster dinners, tackle the Caribbean waves on a kite surf, and sleep in hammocks under a pristine star-studded sky.  (View Tour details)

10 Day Amazon Jungle Tour

This adventure tour focuses on the rarely visited south-central and eastern parts of Colombia, where the Andes meet the Amazon rainforest. 

  • From the handsome “White City” of Popayan and the mysterious ancient statues of San Agustin Archaeological Park, we’ll traverse magnificent mountain roads descending into the lowlands and the heart of the Colombian wilderness.
  • Go for rambling drive along jungle roads through the mist-shrouded cloud forests near Florencia.
  • From La Macarena, it’s near full-day’s trek on foot through the forest to reach Caño Cristales. Bursting with vibrant reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and greens caused by blooming aquatic flowers, the locals sometimes refer to this natural wonder of the world as the River of the Gods.
  • From the steamy jungles of La Macarena, we’ll experience an incredible transformation in the scenery as we enter the Tatacoa Desert, where we’ll spend a night glamping beneath the stars.
  • After driving from the desert to the Andean foothills, we’ll overnight in Colombia’s famous zona cafetera, home to giant wax palms and sprawling coffee plantations. (View Tour details)

10 Day Andean Mountain Tour

We’ve built a little more comfort into this luxury tour of Colombia’s scenic Andean region, crisscrossing the smooth, paved highways between some of the most enchanting Colonial villages in the country. With just a few minor sections of dirt to navigate, this trip is perfect for folks who want to get off the tourist trail and experience the authentic, rural side of Colombia without sacrificing on comfort.

  • Take a guided stroll through a working coffee plantation, soak in the waterfall pools of the gorgeous hot springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal, tour the bizarre former ranch of Pablo Escobar and explore Jardin, one of the most beautiful towns in the coffee region.
  • You’ll sleep soundly in the best hotels every night, but the highlight of this tour is undoubtedly the jaw-dropping scenery that awaits around every turn. If the weather is clear, you may even see all the way to the summit of the active volcano Nevado del Ruiz. Soaring to 5,311m above sea level, this fearsome Andean giant is one of the highest peaks in Colombia.  (View Tour details)
 

Crossing Borders with Motolombia Part 1: A Brief Guide to Motorcycle Touring in Ecuador

Yes, this is a blog about motorcycling in Colombia, and while we’re not about to skip the border for good any time soon, we’re happy to say we have plenty of love for Colombia’s neighbours too. Just like Colombia, Ecuador’s road map is one of zig-zagging mountain highways and scenic country backroutes. Split in half by the Andes Ranges, with the mighty Amazon Rainforest flanking its foothills, Ecuador’s sweeping high altitude highways and rarely-ridden jungle tracks are adventure motorcycle touring heaven.

Sound like your idea of good, fun life-changing travel?  

When they’re not criss-crossing all over Colombia, Motolombia regularly head out on guided multi-country expeditions. Several times a year, kicking off from Cali, the crew lead their leather-clad convoy into wildest South America, in search of some of the awe-inspiring riding routes on earth.

Of course, you’d need months, probably years, to truly say you “rode” this colossal continent, but if you’re short on time, Motolombia runs a 14 day South American Express, focusing on the lands directly beyond Colombia’s southern border.

Despite probably having more EPIC RIDES than any country of a comparable size   Ecuador is still a little under the radar when it comes to touring. So, with this blog’s first foray into foreign territory, we hope to give you a bit of an idea about where to go and what to expect riding in Ecuador.

Colombia-Ecuador makes a great combo trip, sine Ecuador is the only country with an overland crossing on Colombia’s southern border – making it a relatively easy place to access by bike, whether you’re riding independently or joining one of our guided tours.

 

WHAT IS MOTORCYCLE TOURING IN ECUADOR LIKE?

Ecuador is one of the smallest South American countries, but in terms of its geography and ecology, Ecuador’s diversity is almost unrivalled. Ride 20 minutes in any direction and the landscape shifts dramatically, from rugged canyons and snow-capped peaks to mist-shrouded cloud forest, steamy lowland jungle and dry, desert-like coastline.

Despite its extraordinary natural beauty, mass tourism is yet to make major inroads in Ecuador. Once you’re out of the main cities, you’re already very much off the beaten track – wild, remote and relatively traffic-free.

Imagine starting your day blasting up the 4,776m summit of an active volcano, and by sundown, eating barbecued prawns by the sea in a rustic Pacific fishing village. That’s all in a day’s ride in Ecuador.

WHY ECUADOR IS ADVENTURE RIDING PARADISE

1. It’s full of insane mountain roads with “is this real” scenery

Cutting through the country from north to south is the Andean Cordillera, a chain of snow-capped volcanoes and glaciated peaks that form the backbone of Ecuador.  Numerous highways (many of them paved) traverse the slopes and passes of this formidable mountain range, offering continuous days of exhilarating high elevation riding.

One of the loftiest is the highway snaking through Las Cajas National Park, which crests the Mirador Tres Cruces mountain pass at a breathtaking 4,100m altitude.

 

2. You you’ll beneath the shadows of giants at the Avenue of Volcanoes

Ecuador is a land of fire-breathing giants. Over 30 volcanoes, many of them highly active, tower above a valley forming the 200km long Avenue of Volcanoes. One of the most jaw-droppingly dramatic routes on the continent, it winds its way past seven volcanoes over 5,000m high. On a clear day you can see the perfectly conical summit of Cotopaxi, one of the tallest volcanoes in the world at 5,896m.

3. You can get down and dirty on miles of endless backroads

Off-road warriors will find themselves in dust-kicking heaven, with a vast network of unsealed roads winding their way through rural, remote and extremely rugged parts of the country.

It’s possible to hit the dirt within a couple of hours outside the capital of Quito. Just a hundred kilometres north of the city toward the Colonial town of Otavalo, you can find yourself navigating twisty mountain trails, climbing steeply above the clouds, before a dizzying descent into lush green forest and farmland.

A typical day of dirt riding will present plenty of technical and physical challenges – but the extraordinary views and the chance to see a side of Ecuador few tourists witness is well worth enduring the long days.  

4. You can ride from the remotest Andean reaches to the beach in a day

From one of the highest points of the longest mountain range in the world to the edge of the ocean – that’s the sort of mind-blowing variety this compact country can offer in a single day’s ride. Start your morning descending through the freeze and the fog of the western Andes and arrive in a balmy, tropical seaside town just in time to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Ecuador has 2,200km of coastline to explore, from tranquil tropical bays to worthy surf beaches and stretches of empty sand for days.

 

5. It has unique culture, cuisine, heritage and history

Ecuador has a mixed cultural make-up, drawing from various ethnicities and traditions both ancient and modern. The country has 10 spoken languages, with Spanish and the native Quechua tongue being the most common. Ecuador has the highest representations of indigenous cultures in South America, as well as a large Afro-Ecuadorian population with their own traditions, food and music.

Ecuadorian cuisine varies from region to region, from the seafood-heavy dishes of the Pacific (think fresh ceviche and tropical fruit) to warming, filling highland dishes made of pork or cuy (guinea pig) and staples like rice, potatoes and quinoa.  

Ecuador is also littered with incredible archaeological sites and Incan ruins. While none are as impressive as Peru’s Machu Picchu, they’re also almost devoid of crowds and commercialism. Ecuador’s ancient cities remain ghostly, mysterious and almost entirely swallowed by the jungle.

 

6. It’s the gateway to the Galapagos

If there’s one good reason mainland Ecuador doesn’t get enough glory, it’s probably because of that bunch of rock islands around 1,200km off its west coast.

Ecuador, is of course, the administrator of the incomparable Galapagos National Park, an isolated volcanic archipelago renowned as one of greatest wildlife-watching destinations on earth.

You won’t be taking your motorbike to Galapagos, (you’d run out of road pretty quickly anyway), but from mainland Ecuador, there are daily flights from Quito and Guayaquil.

CROSSING THE COLOMBIA-ECUADOR BORDER BY BIKE

 

If you’re entering Ecuador from southern Colombia, you’ll be using the Ipiales-Tulcan crossing on the Pan American Highway. If you’re crossing with an organised tour, all your paperwork will be sorted out at the start of your trip.

If you’re travelling independently, be ready at migracion (immigration) in Ipiales with your passport, vehicle registration and driver’s license. The name on your passport should match the name of the person your bike is registered to.

If you’ve rented a bike from Motolombia, with advanced notice, a special permit can be arranged allowing you to cross into Ecuador (but no other country).   

At Ipiales, you’ll go through the standard paperwork at migracion and then head to aduana (customs) to process the temporary vehicle import permit. Once you’re done, you’ll ride over the Rumichaca Bridge into Tulcan, where your papers will be checked and you’ll be stamped into Ecuador.

 

TIPS AND ADVICE FOR RIDING IN ECUADOR

If you haven’t read our guide to Motorcycle Safety in Colombia, much of the advice regarding urban and rural roads is also applicable to riding in Ecuador.

  • Hazards and Road Conditions: Unpredictable and occasionally reckless drivers, vehicles overtaking on blind corners, unfenced farm animals and extremely variable road surface conditions are major issues when riding in Ecuador, as are long delays caused by landslips, roadworks and broken down trucks and buses.    

 

  • Route Planning: When planning your route, be sure to take into account the shape and curvature of the roads, and the fact that road conditions can change from silky smooth to a pothole-dodging nightmare, even on major highways. Don’t plan your days based on distance alone – plan for strenuous riding and unexpected delays. A 400km ride may be a breeze where you’re from, but in much of Ecuador, it may well be a dawn to dusk endeavour.

 

  • Dealing with Altitude: Motorcycle touring in Ecuador almost invariably involves riding at high altitudes, sometimes well above 3,000m. These elevations can have pronounced effects on both you and your bike. The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatise at a slightly lower altitude first.

 

Plan your stops in towns below 2,500m in altitude before you embark on those high mountain roads. Quito sits at 2,850m – and so is actually a good base for acclimatising (despite being high enough itself to induce altitude sickness in sensitive folk for a day or two). 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 altitude sickness and can lead to things becoming more serious.

Unless you’re planning on mountain-climbing any 5000m peaks, the altitudes you hit while riding Ecuador generally shouldn’t cause any serious health problems. If you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness coming on (such as headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy and loss of appetite), 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.

 

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.

 

With majestic scenery from jagged mountain chains to deep blue volcanic lakes, lush valleys, arid plains, dense tropical rainforest and miles of deserted coastline, Ecuador is a hidden paradise for adventurous two-wheeled touring – well-off the beaten track and well-worth taking extra time to explore its most remote, dramatic reaches.  

Itching to get that Ecuadorian adventure underway? Check out Motolombia’s South American tours:  

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8 Must-See Places in Colombia with Amazing Natural Scenery

As one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, Colombia is made up of an incredible patchwork of wildly differing landscapes and extraordinary natural beauty. From awe-inspiring mountain ranges to mysterious cloud forest, scorching desert and rugged, surf-spattered coast, here are eight of Colombia’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders.

1. Caño Cristales

Cano cristales

Deep in the dense forests of the Sierra de la Macarena National Park lies a river with a beauty so strange and unearthly it has been called “the river that ran away from paradise”. More co mmonly, it’s referred to as “el rio de los cinco colores” (the river of five colours), since for several months each year (usually between mid-May and early December), the pools and cascades of the Caño Cristales become liquid rainbows. Bursting with vibrant reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and greens, the phenomenon is caused by the blooms of the aquatic flower, macarenia clavigera.
In an isolated range, the Sierra de la Macarena is a vast, wild tract of mixed forest, tropical jungle, shrubland and savannah. Until the mid-2000s, it was a known guerrilla hideout and completely closed to tourists.
These days, tourists can hop on a direct flight from Bogota to the small town of La Macarena, and from there enjoy a half-day hike, boat and truck trip to Caño Cristales and the surrounding swimming holes and waterfalls. Guides are mandatory inside the park and are easily hired in town.
Hardcore dirt riders can visit Caño Cristales on a guided 9 day tour with Motolombia, but heed the warning: this one’s for expert off-roaders only!

2. The Cocora Valley

Cocora valley

Beautiful scenery is everywhere in Colombia’s coffee region. Jade green mountain ranges, forested hills and verdant meadows abound. But one place in the Coffee Triangle stands out, not because it’s unlike anywhere else in the region, but because it’s unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Just east of Salento, the Cocora Valley sits in the lower reaches of the Los Nevados National Park, a broad, perennially lush valley framed by sharp peaks. What makes this valley, also known as el Bosque de Palmas (Forest of the Palms) is that sprouting out of the ground in every direction are the gigantic palma de cera (giant wax palms), the largest palms in the world and Colombia’s national tree.
Some of these strange, spindly giants (their smooth, cylindrical trunks are naked, bearing just a crown of leafy fronds at the top) tower an incredible 60m high. Seeing hundreds of these majestic trees scattered across this resplendent valley is a sight to behold. Measuring yourself up at the base of one of these behemoths and you’ll appreciate how truly tiny you appear in their presence. This is a rain-soaked region, and some days a thick, swirling mist descends on the valley. Some say the foggy weather makes Cocora even more beautiful, shrouding the valley with a mysterious, almost prehistoric air.

3. Chicamocha National Park and Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha canyon

54 km south of Bucaramanga, Chicamocha is a bit of a sidestep from the typical Gringo Trail, but it’s a region experienced Colombian adventure riders know and love. The park is bounded by the spines of the mountainous chain surrounding the Chicamocha Canyon.
227 km long and around 2 km deep, Chicamocha is a lush and fertile canyon, with undulating slopes carpeted in emerald green vegetation. The Chicamocha River races along the bottom in a series of rapids, which have recently gained the attention of whitewater rafters. Being not so far from San Gil, Colombia’s ‘adventure capital’ a small adventure sports industry around paragliding, climbing and camping started offering activities within the park.
There are some great day hikes and multi-day treks within the park, but for motorcyclists, it’s the 50km, 45A Route from Piedecustra to Aratoca that makes this natural wonder well worth a detour. The road winds its way along the high ridges before descending almost to the canyon floor. For a remote rural Colombia road, its surface is almost unbelievably perfect. The curves seem to go on forever, and the views are something else altogether.

4. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona national park

At its southern edges, the forests of Tayrona creep up the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. At its northern boundaries, it meets the wide bays and picturesque coves of a rugged, undeveloped slice of the Caribbean coast. To many, Tayrona is the very definition of paradise. For a beach destination with sparkling clear water and idyllic, palm-fringed stretches of white sand, Tayrona has no equals in mainland Colombia.
If you’re an avid wildlife spotter or birdwatcher, a few days exploring Tayrona’s hiking trails is a must. It’s home to a tiny primate called the cotton-topped tamarin, as well as howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas and poison dart frogs.
However, beauty has a downside. Tayrona can suffer from overcrowding, especially in the peak December-January tourist season. A sacred site to the indigenous Kogi people, Tayrona needs protection. To help the local environment recover, the park often closes for weeks directly after the peak season.

5. Tatacoa Desert

Tatacoa desert

Between Bogota and San Agustin is one of Colombia’s most surreal natural wonders. Desierto de la Tatacoa is a rugged, scorching badland. Its dry, rocky canyons form a labyrinth of eroded red cliffs and gullies. Bizarre, towering rock formations punctuate the arid landscape, which appears hauntingly void of life apart from the occasional giant cactus.
Once the hot desert sun has set, Tatacoa becomes an amazing stargazing destination. In this part of the country, there is little to no light pollution, so on clear nights, an astonishing number of stars are made dazzlingly visible. Home to an astronomical observatory, at 6:30 pm each night, you’ll have the opportunity to see the stars through a high powered telescope, with the local astronomer on hand to point out the constellations.

6. Colombia’s Pacific Coast

Pacific Colombia

Beach vacations in Colombia are synonymous with the Carribean, but Colombia (the only South American country with both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean coastline) has an entire, separate and largely-forgotten coast lapping at its western shores. The Pacific Coast of Colombia extends for 1,392 km, with the Chocó department claiming the longest stretch of seafront.
This is one of the least developed regions in Colombia, the complete opposite of the manicured attractiveness and tame beaches of the Carribean resorts. In Chocó, where the sand ends, the jungle begins. Deep inside the rainforest, waterfalls stream over mossy ledges to crash into wild rivers below. Thermal pools, hidden sanctuaries in the jungle, wait to be discovered by only the most intrepid and foot-sure adventurers. Most settlements on the Chocó coast, tiny fishing villages are isolated and poor. A lack of infrastructure makes travel here a fairly challenging prospect.
Still, modest steps are being made towards lifting-up the region’s economy through eco-tourism. The wild waves of the rugged Chocó coast harbour epic secret surf breaks. The region too, is rich in wildlife – most notably dolphins, turtles and the humpback whales who hug the Colombian coastline on their yearly migration. Whales can often be spotted from shore, but for an up close encounter, head out on a boat tour during the June to October whale watching season.

7. The Sand Dunes of La Guajira

Guajira desert

There is no place remotely like La Guajira, a tiny coastal region on the northernmost tip of Colombia, where the desert touches the Caribbean Sea. The arid landscapes of La Guajira have a desolate, almost alien beauty – cracked yellow earth, straggly clumps of cactus and tiny settlements of tin and thatched roof houses.
And then, the parched, hard earth of the plains gives way to a vast expanse of windswept sand, whose edges plummet precipitously into the crashing waves of the Atlantic below. Standing atop one of these towering dunes, you’ll find yourself gazing in wonder over the blue waters of the Caribbean and the red cliffs of the Guajira desert. This the land of the nomadic Wayuu people. The Spanish never succeeded in conquering this harsh environment and to this day, the Wayuu have managed to maintain a large part of their traditional lifestyle and culture.

8. Chicaque Natural Park

Chicaque Natural Park

The cloud forests of Chicaque remains an untouched wilderness, despite being just 30 minutes south of the crowded capital of Bogota. Well and truly in the clouds, at around 2,700m above sea level, the protected private reserve boasts some of the most magical forest scenery anywhere in Colombia. Some 300 bird species call Chicaque home, as do a dozen different mammals, including the two-toed sloth and spectacled bear.
An amazing ecotourism destination, Chicaque features miles of magnificent hiking trails, varied accommodation and numerous activities. Inside the park are nine well-marked ecological trails. It also offers a canopy walk at the top of a 200 year old oak tree, ziplines, horseback riding and guided birdwatching tours.

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

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