Going on a cycling holiday is getting more and more popular these days, it is becoming easier to bring your bike on a flight and airline tickets are getting more affordable. With these two positive trends, the possibilities to ride your bike in a new country or even continent is getting more easy. Cyclists go on cycling holidays to discover new places, find better weather than at home or to get into shape for the new season.
There have always been some popular cycling destinations for the above reasons, such as Mallorca or the southern Spanish coastline. The weather is already great in February and there are some mountains in the area to challenge yourself. But at the same time, it is a very standard location, that might become a bit boring. All your friends have already been there, and the climbs are limited.
So why not go to a cycling crazy country with a rich history, that is completely covered with the most amazing mountains to climb? Yes, we are talking about Colombia! A country that has delivered some of the best climbers in races like the Tour de France and has been voted one of the “happiest places on Earth”. It is the only South American country with coasts on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the only one connected by land to Central America. It’s an Andean nation, an Amazonian nation, a Caribbean nation, and a Pacific Rim nation. Its territory includes beaches, jungles, deserts, alpine meadows, snowy peaks, and island archipelago. And that’s not all, it has a year round warm climate, one of the most diverse environments and Eco-systems in the world, and an intriguing pre Colombian history and culture.
Do you need more reasons to add Colombia on your cycling bucket-list? Here are a few more:
When entering Colombia, the Andes mountains splits up in 3 branches, known as Cordilleras. the West Cordillera run adjacent to the Pacific coast and is home to the city of Cali. The Central Cordillera run up the center of the country between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and includes the cities of Medellín, Manizales and Pereira. The East Cordillera extend northeast towards the Guajira Peninsula, and includes the cities of Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta.
These branches all have their own legendary climbs, such as the Alto de la Linea, Alto del Vino and the Alto de Minas. These climbs are no ordinary climbs, but have a length between 25 to 50 kilometers. To find climbs with these kind of lengths in Europe, you have to go to several different countries.
But the biggest legend of them all has to be the Alto de Letras. with its 80 kilometers of length, it is the world’s longest paved climb. This is absolutely the No.1 reason to go cycling in Colombia. Reach the top of this climb and check it off from your bucket-list and make your friends jealous who “only” climbed the Galibier during their last cycling holiday.
This point could not be backed up with figures as easily as the previous point, but we’ll try to explain this with some simple examples. The Colombian people are such warm and friendly people, who are always willing to help you out. But besides helping you, they are always interested in your story. Where are you from, why did you come to Colombia, how do you like it? these are just some questions you can expect when stopping in a small town for some fresh coffee. And when it comes to cyclists, the locals will always give you some great motivation during your ride. Expect at least something like “Vamos Campéon” yelling from the passing car or the guy sitting outside the store. There is a lot of respect for cyclists in Colombia, no matter if you’re the big star Nairo Quintana or just a tourist on a bike. Cars will always pass you with enough distance and even give a friendly honk before doing so.
The constant changing landscapes
When riding your bike through Colombia, you will be amazed by the ever changing views. Going up and down between mountain passes and valleys, the landscape will change rapidly. One minute you are in a lush green valley, and after topping yet another great climb the landscape has changed into an arid semi-desert terrain. And while climbing a regular Colombian mountain, you will probably start between the fruit stands celling tangerines or mango’s in humid conditions, climb through pine tree forests and end up in the unique páramo system at the top of the climb.
But besides the mountains and its ‘campesinos’, Colombia also has a very warm Caribbean coastline with a completely different culture and habits. Ride your bike along white beaches with the Caribbean music on the background, and you’ll forget that you’re still in the same country.
Don’t be afraid that you will ever bonk during a ride in Colombia, because where there are cyclists, there are food stands and restaurants. At nearly every top of a climb is a small store or a restaurant serving you the best Colombian snacks and plates. You could just stop for a quick energy refill, by taking aguapanela with cheese, an arepa or just a bocadillo. But if you have some more time, order a very rich soup with meat, yuca and corn that has all the ingredients to get you back on the bike for another great climb.
And then there’s the fruit, that comes in all colors and sizes and can be eaten fresh from the trees or turned into a delicious smoothie. Colombia has a very wide selection of exotic fruits, with some very unique ones such as Guanabana and Lulo.
Cyclists love coffee, it is their fuel for the ride and sometimes even the excuse to go on a coffee-ride. What better way to start your ride than with a fresh Colombian coffee inside the coffee hub? This area, which is a triangle between Armenia, Pereira and Manizales has jaw dropping views everywhere.
The mountainous terrain can be compared with the hills of Tuscany, but filled with coffee crops instead of cipressa’s. Many of the coffee plantations are open for a tour, and the owner will explain you the hand-picking process that results in the highest quality coffee beans.
The rich culture
Colombia has a very rich history dating back to indigenous tribes such as the Muisca, Wayoo and Tairona. Even though the Spanish conquerers have wiped out most of these tribes and their heritage, fortunately there are still some attractions to visit. The lost city – ciudad perdido – in the tayrona park is older than the well-known Machu Pichu, and the Guatavita lagoon close to Bogotá is well known for its el Dorado legend.
The Spanish have left a great mark on the history and culture of Colombia, and build beautiful colonial towns like Cartagena and Villa de Leyva. Cartagena is described as the most beautiful city of whole South-america, and we can’t disagree.
Every Sunday and public holiday more than 100 kilometers of streets of the three largest cities – Bogotá, Medellin and Cali – are closed for motorized vehicles and are taken over by cyclists. Ever since the late 70’s this phenomenon known as Ciclovia is held, and has already inspired many other big cities around the world.
Starting at 07:00 am, the first riders will hit the streets and have a healthy exercise on roads that are normally filled up by trucks, cars and busses. Along the route are places to fix your bike, buy some fresh juice or fruit and even have aerobics lessons.
Ciclovia might be the best example that shows how much Colombians love riding their bike, and would love to share this love for cycling with you. So what are you waiting for?