Colombia, a Great Place for a Long Ride
By Brad Hall
When planning a dream vacation, Colombia generally isn’t one of the top countries that come to mind. But Colombia is a country full of incredible scenery, diversity, and culture. Despite the country’s rich history, people tend to shy away due to perceived risk and danger.
Most people, when asked, will say that Colombia is a dangerous country and would not visit. This is a shame because Colombia is one of the most unique and beautiful countries in the world, especially by bike. While many Europeans and Aussies have discovered South America's gem, for some Americans it's still not on their travel radar.
What Makes Colombia Great?
Boasting more than 55,000 square miles of National Parks, Colombia is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. It offers stunning coastlines along both the Atlantic, Pacific oceans and the Caribbean sea, and contains a seemingly endless mountain range. It has the world’s largest diversity of birds.
Food, culture, history, sights, adventures; whatever your motivation is for travel, Colombia delivers. There truly is something special for everyone. An interesting aspect of Colombia is that nearly two thirds of the land mass is impenetrable jungle--barely inhabited by man but with plenty of animals and exotic fauna.
And Colombia is still highly affordable. A set meal at a restaurant usually costs about $2 and single hotel rooms are easy to find for under $10.
Don’t Forget Your Bike!
If you haven’t already started planning your next vacation to Colombia yet, do it! There is way too much to see and do for a short week or even two-week trip. So when you visit, make sure to bring your bike and plan to stay awhile. By the time you’re done, you will have new home and be sad to leave.
Biking is a unique way of traveling because of how vulnerable and slow it is. Bicycle tourists are at the mercy of the weather and the terrain and can only go as fast as they are able to pedal. Traveling by bike allows you to immerse yourself in the culture and fully experience everything Colombia has to offer.
The struggle to pedal over the mountains makes the views that much more sweet and the effort to the top literally takes your breath away. Bicycling through the Andes is one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures a person can do.
It’s Safer Than You Think
Colombia has gotten past the days of being a violent and dangerous country. The roads are well maintained and soldiers guard the Pan-American Highway. Cycling conditions are good as they are paved and generally have a shoulder. Since cycling is one of the most popular sports in Colombia, drivers are used to seeing cyclists. They provide plenty of space and almost always give a friendly honk to let you know they are passing.
People are thrilled to see people bicycle touring. They love having people visit the country and take on the challenge that is biking through the mountains. Expect people to wave, whistle, and honk when you pass by. Colombians love to stop you and ask about your trip and where you are going. Get used to this and embrace it!
It is said that the only fear of visiting Colombia, is the fear that you’ll never leave!
It’s About More Than The Bike
Even though it’s a bike tour, it really isn’t about the bike. It’s about the experiences and memories you make that are unique to Colombia. The bike is just a tool to help you fully immerse yourself. While biking you can take advantage of the hospitality of the locals. Many people will flag you down to start a conversation, while others will invite you to share a meal or stay for the night. You can even take advantage of sites like Warm Showers and have a warm bed ready for you when you arrive. This allows you to truly get a sense of what life is like in Colombia. A home cooked meal and some friendly conversation make it that much better.
Asadero Combia is a haven for cyclists that you can’t miss. It is a fantastic restaurant and the owner is a huge fan of cycling. Hernando has hosted more than 50 cyclists over the past few years. The restaurant can be found 4km past Calarca and is a great place to stop after the tough climb over La Linea.
The cycling allows you to develop a deeper connection to the mountains, country, and people. You will experience the joys of epic downhill rides and the pain of steep ascents. But in the end, it’s not the hard days you remember. It’s the friends you make and the great experiences that will stick with you forever.
It’s Easy - Your Next Steps
There really isn’t much that you need to do to prepare for your bicycle tour through Colombia. Obviously you will need a bike and some gear, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. If it has two wheels and rides true, it’s perfect! You should get some training in on your bike before you leave. It isn’t necessary but it’s very helpful. The mountains are brutal and are not easy to overcome but your body will adapt quickly.
One of the best parts of cycling through Colombia is how easy and fool proof it is. There is no need to plan ahead more than one day at a time. The Pan-American Highway runs through the whole country and you never really have to leave it. You can essentially follow one road the entire way and see many of the greatest things in the country! Hotels and hostels are cheap and readily available. There really is no excuse to not go.
Cycling through Colombia will give you a new perspective and a greater appreciation for everything around you. You will learn to push your mental and physical capabilities while having the adventure of a lifetime. What are you waiting for? Grab your bike and head to Colombia!
Bradley Hall is a recent college graduate from Wisconsin who recently embarked on a South American bike journey.
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