Ride to Eat – A REGIONAL ROADMAP TO COLOMBIAN CUISINE

I love discovering a new country by motorcycle for many reasons. Among them, the fact that the flexible nature of bike touring allows you to duck into that dicey looking highway diner that caught your eye 200 metres back. You know, the one the tour bus just sped right past. A motorcycle provides the ideal vehicle for undertaking a cross-country culinary expedition.

Get hungry on the approach to a random town in rural Colombia, and wherever you pull in, it won’t be an air-conditioned coffee chain, or anywhere with English speaking staff or Israeli salad on the menu.

Whenever we’ve been riding in the heat, dirt and mud for hours, I get a little buzz when the first sign of civilization appearing on the horizon is a hand drawn sign for a rambling, roadside eat shack, where crew-line cooked meals are efficiently dished out to truck drivers, seasonal labourers, lost tourists and day tripping school kids.

WHAT MAKES COLOMBIAN FOOD COLOMBIAN?

Colombian food is difficult to generalise or judge as a whole, thanks to its wildly varying geography. Within its borders almost every ecosystem on earth can be found. From the Caribbean reefs to the Amazon jungle, the Andean cloud forests and the tropical plains, the sheer variety of produce grown in Colombia is mind-boggling.

Add to the mix at least 10,000 years of indigenous inhabitation, the legacy of the Spanish, the Africans and Colombia’s influential Latin American neighbours, and you have a cuisine that’s deeply connected to land, history, culture, access and ancestry.

It’s no surprise then that Colombian food varies massively from region to region. As you ride through Colombia, every time the landscape changes dramatically, you can reasonably assume the food situation has too.

This guide is by no means exhaustive, but it might give you an idea of what to expect as you travel and taste your way through different parts of Colombia.

No idea what to order? Trust in the menu del dia – the road warrior’s bargain-priced mystery meal of choice. No one place makes it the same.colombian fruit

THE CARIBBEAN 

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is blessed with a colourful bounty of tasty things from down in the sea and up in the trees. A visit to a Caribbean produce market is a must – you’re guaranteed to not recognise half of everything in the fruit section, while finding almost all of it delicious.

Cartagena was the most important Spanish trading port for both goods and slaves, so here, indigenous ingredients eventually began to merge with Spanish and African influence. These days, Cartagena has swapped the slave trade for the tourist one, and as a result, it’s home to some of Colombia’s best, and most expensive high-end international restaurants.

Coconut and seafood are common pairing. A simple grilled snapper on coconut rice is hard to beat, but a worthy challenger is cazuela de mariscos, a Creole-style seafood soup, with hearty bits of fish and shellfish swimming in a creamy coconut milk broth. Along buzzing beach strips, palanqueras (fruit sellers, usually older women) balance baskets on their heads, heavy with mango, guava, pineapple and more exotic offerings like pitaya (yellow dragon fruit) and nispero (like a small apricot in appearance, with sweet, tart flesh).

BOYACA

Boyacá Department is in Colombia’s east central Andean region. Many of Colombia’s major rivers originate in the lowlands of Boyacá, which support wide expanses of fertile farmland.

Much of Boyacá’s produce is sold directly to the eight million residents of its capital, Bogota, which is also home to Colombia’s most celebrated chefs and awarded eateries. Chefs who purport to honour Boyacá’s culinary traditions have the task of prettying up rather simple farmhouse fare. Their secret? Using ultra-fresh, high quality local produce, making inventive meals out of hearty, carb-filled, cool climate stodge. Beef, chicken, corn and potato are staples.

The region’s best-known dish, ajiaco is a soup made of three kinds of potatoes with varying textures. Corn and herbs are added, and you’ll usually find a leg or other bits of chicken thrown in. Other fixings are optional, but could include capers, cream, avocado or rice.

Corn is considered acceptable in desserts in Boyacá, particularly when it’s mixed with milk (hot or cold) and panela (whole cane sugar) or honey.

ZONA CAFETERA AND MEDELLIN

Colombia’s verdant central Andean region is where some of the world’s finest coffee is grown, harvested and almost entirely shipped overseas to be enjoyed by millions of non-Colombian cafe aficionados.

I joke. But not really. Colombian coffee culture is surprisingly niche, and one of the few places you can get a guaranteed decent pintado (roughly equivalent to a flat white) is at a coffee finca in the Zona Cafetera. A more popular warm drink is agua de panela, literally brown cane sugar in hot water (sometimes with coffee added). Other crops include avocados, bananas, citrus, pineapple and cocoa.

The region’s lush valleys are criss-crossed with creeks and streams, which is why you’ll see river trout (truta) on almost every menu, prepared in an endless variety of ways – wood-grilled, whole-smoked, topped with herbs, breadcrumbs and cheese or slathered in creamy mushroom sauce.

Antioquia department proudly claims to have invented the bandeja paisa. This overdose on a plate is almost entirely bloat-inducing carbs and glisteningly visible trans fats in the form of chicharron, chorizo, ground beef, fried eggs, plantains, avocado and arepa. Finish a whole one at your peril.bandeja paisa

PACIFIC COAST AND CALI

Here’s a hot foodie tip for you: the place where they make the best food in Colombia is not the one with all the swanky interior architecture and the fancy foreign-trained chefs.

There are no Michelin-starred restaurants on the country’s surf-battered western coast, and there are none in the major city of Cali, just 30 minutes inland.

If there’s one thing most Colombian food lacks, it’s chilli and spice. Not hot enough? Come to this steamy slice of the country and eat your words with a side of sizzling habanero salsa. The Pacifico has Colombia’s largest African-descendent population, and their culinary traditions, mixed with the maritime bounty of the Pacific Ocean, have created a foodscape unlike anywhere else in Colombia.

The people here love rich, spicy flavours, using liberal amounts of garlic, onion, and cilantro. Turmeric gives many local dishes their signature yellow hue. Pacifico fresh chilli salsas are often properly hot, and pair deliciously with ceviche. Some of the coconut milk fish soups (like sanchoco de pescado) and meat stews are almost curry-like in their complexity. Paella Pacificos is the ultimate seafood feast, heaped with fish, prawns, calamari, clams and langostinos.

LLANOS REGION

Los Llanos, “the plains” are the massive swathes of grassland and wetlands in Colombia’s east, bordering Venezuela. This is cowboy country, where the best beef in Colombia is bred, butchered and barbecued, often on long metal skewers over a wood fire pit. Llaneros don’t just eat beef however. Sometimes they eat pork.

Boiled yuca (cassava) and potato are your typical sides, and to spice things up, add generous splashings of aji (a salsa of fresh tomatoes, lime, garlic and chilli) on everything.

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

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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)

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A Brief History of Colombia

Simon-bolivar

Colombia’s history is as rich, surprising, startling and complex as its geography. It’s this history that has led to a blending of people and cultures unique in all of Latin America. 

When you look at the country’s tumultuous, often brutal history, it’s almost miraculous that Colombia has survived at all – let alone functioning successfully enough to now be attracting record foreign investment and a growing number of tourists year-on-year. 

Sure, the country has a long way to go in many aspects. But for the international traveller, the Colombian experience will hopefully leave you full of positivity and hope. 

If you want to try and “understand” Colombia, the best place to start is learning about its history.

Interested in seeing some of Colombia’s most important historical sites for yourself? Check out our Motolombia tour recommendations at the bottom of this post.

COLOMBIA’S FIRST PEOPLE

Colombia has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. Unlike the empire-building Inca and Maya, Colombia’s first people, such as the Musica and the Tairona, developed small hunter-gatherer societies. 

We still know relatively little about the lives of Colombia’s original people. What we do know about pre-Colombian society comes from three main archaeological sites in particular – San Agustin, Tierradentro and Ciudad Perdida (“The Lost City”).

THE SPANISH INVASION

While Colombia took its name from Christopher Columbus, the Spanish explorer never set foot on Colombian soil. It was a companion of Columbus’, Alonso de Ojeda who became the first European to land on Colombia’s Atlantic coast in 1499.

During his exploration of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, Ojeda was astounded by the wealth of the natives. The local Tairona were skilled metal workers, fashioning exquisite ornaments from the rich gold deposits at the foothills of the mountains. What they saw gave birth to the legend of El Dorado – a mysterious city of gold, deep in the jungle and overflowing with untold treasures.

On an obsessive quest to discover this mythical city, the Spanish built their first permanent settlement in Santa Marta, with Cartagena following shortly thereafter. Indigenous tribes who resisted were easily overcome by the superior weaponry of the conquistadors.

By 1549, the region was declared a Spanish Colony, with Bogota as its capital. Back then, Colombia included modern-day Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. 

The Spanish never did find their El Dorado, but they struck serious gold nonetheless. An estimated $639,000,000 worth of gold was mined from Colombia from the conquest until 1886.

The Spanish went about spending their newfound wealth on gilded cathedrals and lavish mansions, relying on their indigenous “subjects” for labour. However, outbreaks of European diseases swept through indigenous communities, significantly reducing the labour force. 

The Spanish sorted out the worker shortage by sending for ships full of slaves from Africa, setting up Cartagena as the Caribbean’s most important slave-trading port. 

The Caribbean and Pacific regions, where the Spanish originally docked their slave ships, remain home to Colombia’s largest Afro-Caribbean populations. 

Over time, the three racial groups –  Europeans, Africans and indigenous Colombians began to mix. Today, many Colombians are mestizos (of European-African ancestry) and mulatos (of European-African ancestry). However, class divisions cut deep, and the Spaniards kept a tight fist around their political power and wealth.

Colombian tribe

INDEPENDENCE UNLOCKED

After almost 300 years of Spanish subjugation, the native populace decided to make an organised stand. 

Enter “The Liberator”, Simon Bolivar, hero of the independence movement. Bolivar had already spent a decade fighting the Spanish in his native Venezuela when his ragtag army of 2,500 men trudged across the flood-swept plains of Los Llanos and the frozen mountain pass of the Paramo de Pisba on their way to stop Spanish reinforcements from reaching Bogota. 

On 7 August 1819, Bolivar’s men successfully intercepted the Spanish troops. The legendary Battle of Boyacá ended with the royalists surrendering after two hours, and Bolivar marched into Bogota without resistance. Although the fighting continued for several more years, the day is recognised as the definitive moment Colombia gained independence.

1819 marked the formation of a new, independent republic, known as “Gran Colombia”, made up of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. Bolivar was elected President, and Francisco de Paula Santander became Vice President. 

Gran Colombia was to be a short-lived dream. Bitter rivalry between the two leaders and simmering regional tensions soon saw Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America swiftly disintegrating. In 1828, in attempt to hold on to power, the “Liberator” appointed himself dictator, but resigned in 1830, by which time Venezuela and Ecuador had seceded from Gran Colombia. 

The debacle left Colombia in a deeply unstable state. No less than seven civil wars broke out between 1851 and 1891, with much of the conflict due to antagonism between the country’s two political parties – the Conservatives (supported by the landowners and the Catholic Church) and the workers’ party, the Liberals.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

These warring factions sowed the seeds for another century of political violence. 

Although the early 20th century saw a brief period of peace as the coffee industry brought newfound prosperity to the nation, Colombia remained staunchly divided into two opposing camps. 

In 1899, a full-blown civil war, the War of a Thousand Days killed, tens of thousands on both sides. In 1903, a seriously freaked out Panama bowed out of its union with Colombia and became independent. 

The struggle between the Conservatives and the Liberals erupted again in1948, with one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in modern history. 

La Violencia, took place between the paramilitary forces of the Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party, consisting mainly of armed self-defence groups and military units. The war cost up to 300,000 lives and neither side was victorious. A military coup toppled the Conservative government in power. Military rule remained in place until 1957, when both parties agreed to overthrow the junta.

That year, the leaders of the two parties signed a power-sharing pact known as the National Front. This would mean that, for the next 16 years, the two parties would alternate in the presidency every four years. Sound reasons able? Well, they also banned all other parties from participating in national politics.

THE RISE OF FARC

Resentment soon began to brew, as the Conservative-Liberal cooperation did little to address the vast inequalities that plagued Colombia, thanks to a Colonial legacy of unjust land distribution and an impoverished mestizo and indigenous underclass.  

Colombia was ripe for an armed communist insurgency. Among the outlawed political groups that formed during the 1960s were the Russian-backed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known to the world as FARC.

A guerrilla movement who claimed to be fighting for Colombia’s poor, FARC waged a terrorist-style war against the government for 55 years, until the 2016 peace treaty signalled the end of the world’s longest continuous civil conflict. 

As communism began to crumble, FARC lost the support of Moscow and turned to kidnapping, extortion and the drug trade to finance its struggles. As FARC territory encompassed vast swathes of prime coca-growing countryside, they became entangled with the drug cartels who were growing in power thanks to the rise of the cocaine trade, creating both allies, enemies and yet more violence.

La Farc

THE ‘NARCOS’ PART

The cocaine boom of the 80s saw cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar begin amassing incredible wealth, and even political aspirations.

Backed by the US, the Colombian government launched an offensive against the cartels. The cartels asserted their dominance by bombing banks, government buildings, newspaper offices and even a passenger plane. 

After a decade long manhunt, Escobar was finally tracked down and killed in Medellin in 1993. 

Escobar’s death had little effect on the drug supply. However, his death, along with several other high-profile arrests, lead to the eventual dismantling of highly organised crime syndicates. Numerous smaller enterprises and gangs took their place, often cooperating with the increasingly influential Mexican cartels. 

From the late 80s until the mid-2000s, Colombia was as dangerous for the average civilian as ever, with gang warfare on the streets and FARC continuing their campaign of bombings and kidnappings in the countryside.

Colombia elected Alvaro Uribe as president in 2002, pinning their hopes on his anti-gang, anti-drugs and anti-guerrilla campaign. 

Uribe immediately stepped up military action against the guerrillas, successfully liberating many regions from FARC control and restoring a stability Colombians hadn’t experienced in years. 

Still, Uribe’s aggressively pro-military stance was criticised as failing to address abuses committed by the armed forces themselves (a primary reason ordinary people took up arms with FARC in the first place).

Pablo Escobar

PEACE… AT LAST?

In 2010, Juan Manuel Santos was elected president. Although his campaign was supported by Uribe, Santos surprised the world by instigating peace talks with FARC. A treaty was conceived, to be ratified by referendum, but narrowly missed majority support. 

A revised Peace Accord was approved in November 2016. The historic deal finally put an end to Colombia’s two-party system, allowing former FARC members to create their own political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. The accord also decreed that perpetrators of human rights abuses on both sides on the conflict must be held accountable and restricted from political participation. 

Most FARC members have disarmed willingly, but whether the negotiations will end the violence entirely remains to be seen. So far, progress has been met with numerous hurdles. Still, the vast majority of ex-FARC remain in support of peace. Like the rest of Colombia’s 49 million inhabitants, they are tired of conflict. 

Their hope is that the next generation of Colombians only knowledge of war and violence will be relegated to the history books.

peace treaty colombia

MOTORCYCLING IN COLOMBIA NOT EXCITING ENOUGH? HOW ABOUT A BIT OF HISTORY ON THE SIDE?

There’s much more to Motolombia’s tours than riding around dominating the roads like a modern day, motor-powered conquistador. 

We want you to fall in love with the country. That means getting to know the people and culture and how history has influenced their identity.   

Ancient history buffs should look into tours with visits to important historical landmarks.  

If you’re fascinated by American pre-history, the aptly-named Tomb Raider visits the mystical stone sculptures of San Agustin and the underground burial chambers of Tierradentro. 

Our Desert Guajira Challenge takes us to the least developed corner of Colombia. The local Kogi and Wiwa people are direct descendants of the Tairona, and still hold on to some of their millennia-old traditions. This tour starts in Cartagena, the most beautiful of all Colombia’s colonial cities.

No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be stopping off in picturesque Spanish-era villages from the gold rush days and interacting with the many diverse cultures of Colombia – a country striving for success against the odds and smiling all the while.

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

Colombia moto tours

The Final Frontier: Trans Amazonian Challenge

52 Days, 8,000 Miles, Eight Fascinating Countries

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

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

Introducing Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I Need My Own Bike?

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

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

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

Can Non-Riders Still Come Along for the Journey?

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

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

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

Introducing Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Motolombia’s Trans Amazonian Challenge For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I Need My Own Bike?

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

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

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

Can Non-Riders Still Come Along for the Journey?

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

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

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

What Should I Most Look Forward To?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Things to Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT IS MOTORCYCLE TOURING IN PERU LIKE?

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

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

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

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

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

WHY EVERY ADVENTURE MOTORCYCLE RIDER SHOULD VISIT PERU

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REACHING PERU FROM COLOMBIA BY BIKE

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

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

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

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

 

TIPS AND ADVICE FOR RIDING IN PERU

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altitudes of Peruvian Cities and Attractions

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Colombia moto tours

 
 
 

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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Why You Should Visit Popayán – Colombia’s 480 Year Old Colonial ‘White City’

Most people have heard of Cartagena, the colourful Spanish colonial city on the Carribean coast. Regarded as Colombia’s number one tourist destination, the name Cartagena conjures up images of a romantic, sun-kissed city of cobblestone streets, brightly painted mansions and mango coloured churches. And yet, being crowned “the Most Beautiful Colonial City in Latin America” has its drawbacks. With the crowds come the tacky souvenir stores, pointless attractions, scammers, tricksters and “tourist tax” prices. Don’t even get us started on the cruise ship passenger herds, so seem to be cramming into the city in greater numbers every year! Despite all this, Cartagena remains a truly stunning place, completely worthy of its reputation. But while Cartagena hogs the limelight, many travellers remain in the dark about Colombia’s other World Heritage listed colonial city. Nestled in the lush Valle de Pubenza is a far more laidback colonial gem. Popayán is nicknamed la Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for the whitewashed buildings that give its historic centre a stately, distinctive appearance. Still largely undiscovered by foreign visitors, Popayan is an authentic, unsanitised, tourist trap-free colonial city. It’s also nowhere near the ocean, making it safe from the cruise ship invasion for all eternity.

COLOMBIA’S SECOND COLONIAL CITY

 

The Spanish founded Popayan in 1537, one year after Cartagena, establishing it as the capital of southern Colombia before Cali eventually took its place.
Popayan’s historic downtown is a collection of beautifully preserved colonial era buildings. Dozens of striking historic landmarks, some dating back to the 16th century, are clustered around a massive central plaza, the lovely, lively Parque de Caldas.

WHAT TO SEE IN POPAYÁN

As you wander the old streets of Popayan, look out for some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including;

Iglesia de San Francisco: a lavish 18th century cathedral and one of the finest examples of Baroque style architecture in Colombia. Ask to see the ossuary, which was cracked open by an earthquake in 1983, revealing six unidentified mummies

Iglesia Santo Domingo: built in the mid-1700s, this is the city’s most spiritually important church. It’s flooded with pilgrims during Popayan’s famous Holy Week celebrations, held between Good Tuesday and Easter Saturday

Natural History Museum: within the magnificent grounds of the University of Cauca, this excellent museum is dedicated to Colombia’s amazing biodiversity

Puente del Humilladero: – this 240m long, 11-arch stone bridge was built in 1873 to connect the city centre to the northern neighbourhoods

 

POPAYÁN – WORLD HERITAGE CITY OF… GASTRONOMY?

 
 

Earlier, we described Popayan as a World Heritage Listed city. Which is true.
But while Cartagena’s fine colonial buildings brought it UNESCO recognition, Popayan’s architecture, although undeniably pretty, isn’t quite World Heritage league a la Cartagena.

In fact, Popayan received its World Heritage honours for a something else entirely. In 2009, UNESCO’s Creative Cities initiative declared Popayan the first World City of Gastronomy in Latin America.

Popayan is known for its distinctive take on the national cuisine, drawing on pre-Colombian, Spanish, African and European influences. It utilises a vast array of native ingredients, some found only in the mountains, forests and coastal areas of southern Colombia.

Must-try dishes local dishes include:

Empanadas de Pipián: Snack-sized pasties, filled with a mixture of meat, potatoes, garlic, onion and achiote

Helado de Paila: A traditional ice cream of fruit juice and ice, hand-stirred and set in a copper pot

Breva Calada: Commonly enjoyed at Christmas, this dessert is made from figs soaked in panela (brown cane sugar), served on top of white cheese

Champus: This sweet, aromatically spiced dessert drink is a blend of pineapple, sour orange, lulo, cloves and cinnamon
Salpicon Payanes: This delicious fruit cocktail is a blend of the Colombian fruits lulo, papaya, guanabana and mora

WHERE TO EAT IN POPAYÁN

 
 

Hotel Camino Real: This hotel’s owners are key players in the Congreso Nacional Gastronómico. Set in an elegant Colonial mansion, the restaurant showcases skilful cooking across an innovative menu combining French and Colombian elements

La Coescha Parillada: With smartly dressed, bowtie-wearing waiters, this restaurant has a friendly, old-fashioned vibe and specialises in giant cuts of beef cooked on an open grill

La Fresa: It might not be more than a few plastic tables and chairs, but this cheap-eatery is famous for its scrumptious empanadas de Pipián

Aplanchados Doña Chepa: This pastry shop is run by Doña Chepa, a veteran baker who’s been making her legendary aplanchados (shortbread-style flat pastries) for some 70 years

La Semilla Escondida: This French-owned bistro is a cosy spot for delicious sweet and savoury crepes

 

NIGHTLIFE IN POPAYÁN

 
 

On the surface, Popayan may look like an old, relatively unchanging place, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a city buzzing with youthful energy and a creative, independent spirit.
Home to the prestigious educational institutions including the University of Cauca, Popayan attracts thousands of students from across Colombia every year, ensuring a lively, authentically local after-dark scene most nights of the week.
Salsa fans should check out Bar Iguana and New York. For something a little more old-school, El Sotareno is an old-time locals’ favourite, playing classic tango, bolero and ranchera. For a more chilled-out bar experience, check if there’s live music playing at Wipala, a cafe, bar, gallery and performance space in one, or cosy up at Bendito, a labyrinthine student hang-out with a pop and rock soundtrack, craft beers and tea-infused cocktails.

 

DAY TRIPS FROM POPAYÁN

 
 

Popayan is a compact city and the major sites can be seen in a day. However, it’s worth extending your stay to explore the magnificent natural landscapes of the surrounding region.

Some of the best day trips from Popayan include:

Purace National Park: A vast, rugged park protecting a swathe of Andean paramo (high altitude alpine grassland), dotted with waterfalls and thermal springs and home to a small population of endangered Andean condors. Within the park is Volcan Purace, one of the most active volcanoes in Colombia. Tour companies from Popayan offer gruelling full-day trekking trips to the top of the volcano at 4,750m.

For motorcycle riders, the two highways that cut through Purace offer hours of fun dirt and gravel mountain roads through the prehistoric-looking paramo. Silvia Tuesday Market: Silvia is a tranquil little mountain town, 60km northeast of Popayan. Every Tuesday, Silvia comes alive thanks to the weekly market, when Guambiano villagers in colourful traditional dress come to town to trade local wares.

While this authentic trading post is mainly dedicated to fresh produce and wool, the Guambiano set up stalls selling handicrafts, bead necklaces and ponchos to the few tourists who visit. Remember, this is a real market and not a tourist attraction, so please respect the local people, who are generally shy of cameras.
We highly recommend a few days absorbing the charms and natural beauty of Popayan. Two and half hours from Cali down a fast, straight highway, it’s a worthy stop for those planning to ride southern Colombia and its roads less travelled.

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A Motorcycle Mecca of Seven Million Motorbikes

WHY MOTO-TOURISTS SHOULD EMBRACE COLOMBIA’S TWO WHEELED PASSION

 

My first port of call in Colombia was Medellin. I was immediately struck by the sheer number of motorcycles plying the city’s busy streets.
Before Colombia, the last place I’d embarked on a long-distance motorcycle journey was another Latin American country, Mexico. But unlike Mexico, where cars are definitely king, in Colombia, road-goers harbour a unique passion for travelling on two wheels. We all know Colombians are renowned as some of the world’s keenest cyclists, but motorcycles too, are an integral part of life on Colombia’s highways.
Exploring Medellin on foot, I constantly found myself dodging scooters and 200c Chinese-made bikes whilst trying to navigate the city’s chaotic traffic. I also strolled past gleaming dealerships showcasing the latest Ducatis and Aprilias, and even a Royal Enfield specialist. Medellin is a city with a thriving motorcycle culture, and that’s true of Colombia in general. In many urban areas, motorbikes outnumber cars by a significant margin.

Later in Cali, we rode past an impressive of cavalcade of hundreds of sports bikes, tourers and cruisers on one of their regular Sunday rides to the nearby countryside.
Several locals explained to me how ingrained the motorcycle is in Colombian culture. Rich or poor, male or female, so many Colombians ride. And why not?
The popularity of motorcycles in Colombia goes beyond the fact that they’re an affordable mode of transport in both cities and rural areas. Ninety-five per cent of Colombians live in mountainous regions, where steep, narrow, rough and winding roads are a fact of life. Riding a moto here isn’t just practical, it’s fun.
Crazy, crazy fun.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise then to know over 7 million motorcycles (out of 13 million vehicles in total) were registered in Colombia in 2017.
For Colombians, the motorcycle represents not just freedom and discovery, but kinship with your fellow riders.
For visitors, la moto is a ticket to unlocking the Colombia beyond the major highways and well-trodden tourist trails. Travelling by bike, you’re a participant, not just a passive observer. With no barriers between you and the outside world, motorcycle travel fosters an intimate connection with the landscape, the environment and the people.
This is true of motorcycle travel everywhere of course, but for experienced riders, Colombia has something extra special.
The majestic Andean ranges dominate the western half of Colombia, carving up the land into a series of mountains and valleys that make the country a rider’s paradise, blessed with endless twisties and astonishing scenery at every turn.
Fabulous roads aside, two-wheeled touring in Colombia has other advantages thanks to the country’s strong motorcycle culture.

 
 
  • Exploring the country by motorcycle, you’re sure to meet other bikers riding for leisure or adventure – not just foreigners but locals too. Meeting fellow riders always makes for interesting conversations, and the opportunity to share advice, travel tips and recommendations
  • Since so many Colombians haven an interest in motos, the presence of a bike often captures people’s attentions and encourages them to strike up a conversation. Travelling by motorbike makes it easy to meet friendly locals from all around the country
  • Tyre and basic motorcycle repair shops are literally everywhere. Even on some of the more remote stretches of highway, you’re rarely too far from a side-of-the road shack ready to patch up that pesky puncture.
  • Dealerships for many of the major brands and quality bike mechanics carrying spare parts are present in almost all large Colombian cities
  • Foreigners have several options available for either renting or buying a motorcycle for a self-guided expedition. Don’t want to go it alone? The same rental companies also offer organised, fully guided group tours. Thanks in part to Colombia’s moto-friendly attitude, motorcycle tour operators in Colombia tend to be professionally run organisations with a wide selection of new, well-maintained machines on offer
  • Some main roads in major cities have dedicated motorcycle lanes so riders are able to breeze through traffic much faster
  • Toll roads are free for motorcycles. Hooray! When you approach a toll gate, just slip in to the designated bike lane on the far right and off you go, leaving a trail of grumbling car drivers in your wake

Whether you have four days or four months to go riding, there’s a special part of Colombia that only a passion for two wheels and a spirit of adventure can reveal.

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