We’ve recently returned from our Big Colombian Recce Adventure and what a fantastic trip it was! We absolutely loved this crazy and colourful country and we’re excited about running our first official Colombia Motorbike Adventure in summer 2016.
We started our adventure from Cali and we spent our first few riding days on the never ending twisty roads of the spectacular Andes Mountains, before we headed down to the Caribbean beaches and UNESCO World Heritage city of Cartagena. Following a well deserved day off from riding we jumped back on the bikes to head south towards the vibrant city of Medellin which is located in the Aburra Valley in the heart of the Andes, and then we made our way back to Cali - the salsa capital of the world.
We had an early start on our first riding day and we spent a couple of hours getting our bikes ready and doing all the necessary final checks. At around 930am we jumped onto our motorcycles (Yamaha XT660’s) and onto the dirt roads as we headed out of Cali.
We were extremely privileged to have ‘El Profe’ guide us out of Cali on the narrow mountain trails. El Profe is a well-known off road motorcycle guy in Colombia, he’s big on the enduro scene and he’s a good friend of Daniel Fernandez who was heavily involved with the planning and logistics of this trip. It was great to have El Profe with us for the first few hours of our riding adventure and we were all buzzing with excitement about the trip ahead of us.
We rode on the twisty trails up to the top of a mountain and then we took a fast road down to a freshwater lake where hundreds of Colombian’s were enjoying a family Sunday together on the shores of the lake. We rode around the lake and we came across a group of 50 motorcyclists who are part of a Rider’s Club from Cali.
Later that afternoon we rode on a fast highway for about 150km to a little town called Salento which is on the edge of a National Park. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes amid lush green mountains, the town’s income comes from coffee production, trout farming and tourism. We absolutely loved Salento with its quaint streets, paisa architecture and extremely welcoming and friendly locals.
We left Salento the following morning and we rode down to the spectacular Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) which is an absolutely stunning region famous for its unusual 60 metre high wax palms (palma de cera), the national tree of Colombia.
Later that afternoon we had a brief stop in Manizales which is located in the heart of the Coffee Region (Eje Cafetero) in central Colombia. From Manizales we took a turn off of some super fast tarmac onto a gravel road and began our climb up to Volcano del Ruiz - one of several stratovolcanoes within the ‘Los Nevados’ National Park.
The volcano last erupted in November 1985 causing a large mud flow which swept through the town of Armero almost 40 km away from the summit where more than 23,000 people were killed marking one of the worst volcanic disasters in history. Sadly, this tragedy could have been easily avoided if clear warnings by volcanologists had been taken seriously.
Our ride up to the top of the volcano was stunning, but fairly tough as we ascended from 1000 metres above sea level to 4000 metres in less than half an hour. Once we’d passed through the clouds we braved the cold and had a quick picnic at the summit. Then we began our descent where we rode on a bumpy track for 20-30 kilometres and this took at least an hour. It wasn’t technical, but we certainly had to keep our wits about us. Then we were back on tarmac roads and we had an incredible fast ride with lots of twisty turns and hardly any traffic. What an absolutely amazing ride! When we reached the bottom everyone had huge smiles on their faces and some of the group said that it was one of the best motorbike rides they’d ever experienced.
We rode onwards for 50kms to a hot, dusty town called Honda, and upon arrival we checked in to our lovely hotel which is run by two sisters. We were delighted to see that the hotel had a swimming pool, and as the temperature was almost 40 degrees we jumped straight in to cool down. That evening we ate delicious fresh salmon from the local river!
The following morning we started the day with a traditional Colombian breakfast called ‘Tamales’ which is polenta, rice, chicken, raisons and spices, cooked in a banana leaves on an open fire. It was definitely an interesting breakfast, but very tasty!
After breakfast we left Honda and took the road north of Bogata and back on to mountain roads heading towards Villa de Leyva. With cobblestone streets, white-washed houses, lush green mountains as backdrop, Villa de Leyva is one of the prettiest towns we visited and we felt like we were on a film set. From here we took an excursion deep into Colombia's Zipaquirá Mountain to visit a Catholic cathedral carved out of the salt deposits of an abandoned mine.
From Villa de Leyva we rode on twisty roads on a mixture of dusty tracks and superb tarmac, heading towards our next destination - the stunning Spanish colonial town of Barichara.
With traditional cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings covered with bougainvillea blossoms, it’s easy to see why Barichara is known as Colombia’s most beautiful town. We stayed at a fantastic hotel located at the top of a hill overlooking this picturesque little town and we walked down to the main square at sunset for some cold beers!
The next morning we noticed that there had been some rain overnight and the roads were a little damp which required our full concentration on the narrow mountain roads. We took it slow and steady and after about an hour and a half of pushing down the mountain we reached the highway.
Once we were out of the Andes Mountains, we rode out on the flat on the banks of the Magdalena River towards Mompox. The riding was a real push – it was stinking hot (40 degrees) and it literally felt like having a hair dryer in your face. After a tough day on straight roads in the heat we were happy to arrive at Mompox.
Mompox (also called Mompos) is a fascinating place which feels like a town that time forgot. It’s been in decline since river transport patterns changed in the mid-19th century, leaving the town – quite literally – a backwater. However, this perfectly preserved colonial town is finally rising again, with several hotels and restaurants opening in recent years.
The next day we left Mompox and headed to Tayrona National Park on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The scenery in this area varies from sandy beaches along the coast in the north to rainforest at an altitude of 900m on the southern limits of the park.
We came to a place called Palomino where we found endless white, sandy, empty beaches and we couldn’t wait to jump into the turquoise Caribbean Sea! This place is an unspoilt paradise and it was one of the highlights of our trip! The landscape is breathtaking and on a clear day from Palomino’s beaches, you can see snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s of Santa Marta, reaching over 5,000 meters.
The next day we left Tayrona National Park and rode on the spectacular Highway 90 along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. We had stunning palm-fringed beaches on our right and the Sierra Nevada’s behind us. What a ride!
As we approached Barranquilla the town was getting ready for Carnaval de Barranquilla, which takes place every February and is one of the biggest carnivals in the world. The traffic in the city was hectic as preparations were made for the procession the following day, but once we got through Barranquilla we pushed on for another 120km to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cartagena.
Cartagena is an absolutely stunning city with 16th-century plazas, cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings. We spent two fantastic days in Cartagena, and there was a buzzing carnival atmosphere on Saturday night with fireworks, live music and people dancing in the streets! Colombian’s certainly know how to party!
After leaving stunning Cartagena we headed out from the coast towards the vibrant city of Medellin which is located in the Aburra Valley in the heart of the Andes Mountains. The ride up to Medellin was incredible – twisty mountain dirt roads surrounded by lush green vegetation, jacaranda trees and beautiful bougainvillea. Biker’s heaven!
Medellin itself was great and we enjoyed an evening out exploring some of the bars in the cool area of the city – thanks to our guide Daniel Fernandez!
From Medellin we rode through some scenery stunning back to Santiago de Cali, the salsa capital of the world. We spent our final two days here and then we said ‘adios’ to Daniel and our new Colombian friends before heading back to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport to catch our flights home.
We’d just like to say thanks to our riders Andy Biglin, Kevin Amos-Yeo and Grant Goodings for joining us on this recce, and muchas gracias to Daniel Fernandez who was a driving force in helping The Big Adventure Company make this trip happen. Daniel shared his in-depth knowledge of his incredible home country which few tourists get to see by motorcycle. Daniel you are a top man! We can’t wait to officially launch our Colombia Motorbike Adventure and look forward to introducing more lucky riders to this spectacular country.