Due to the cancelation of last week’s Colombia Tour 2.1, we have a host of features, interviews, photo galleries, and other stories to celebrate Colombian cycling as part of “Colombia Week.”
Colombia is a natural playground, bisected by 15,000 foot high mountains that plummet into turquoise Caribbean seas. A semiarid desert pokes off its northern coast, and tropical plains give way to a vast expanse of Amazonian rainforest to the east. Its capital, Bogotá, sits high in the savanna, at 8,660 feet. Colombia grows some of the world’s best coffee and most fragrant flowers, has a culture rich in song, dance, and cycling, and is quilted in hundreds of thousands of miles of dirt road, trail, and double track.
In other words, Colombia is an adventure cyclist’s paradise.
Here are a few ways to plan an off-road adventure.
Download a route, check it out
In addition to Colombia’s stunning topography, there are dozens of reasons that it’s a great place to live off of your bike for a while. Given their rich history of cycling, Colombians have much to offer bikepackers: One, they are accustomed to cyclists on the roads, and (mostly) drive accordingly. Two, bicicleterias abound. While you might be more apt to find a welder than a Dynaplug, well, consider your bike choice before you go! Three, the street food is excellent and readily available. We could go on.
Furthermore, the best thing about bikepacking, around the globe, is the collective agreement to make routes a common good. No one is more generous in this way than the folks at bikepacking.com.
The website has three excellent bikepacking routes in Colombia which can be ridden individually or linked up to make one grand tour. The Ruta Chingaza, a week-long tour, begins in Bogotá and then climbs out of the city into the paramó, a unique high-altitude ecosystem that’s home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna — and the source for the city’s drinking water.
Last year, ultra-distance bikepacker Lael Wilcox traveled to Colombia to ride the Ruta Chingaza route with the folks from bikepacking.com and Conversation International who created it.
Start at the bike shop
While certain icons of Colombian cycling — the Las Letras climb, and Ciclovía — are an easy answer for a tourist just looking for a ride, a request for where to ride gravel or bikepack might furrow the brow a bit. However, small outposts across the country are honing in on the growing appetite for off-road adventure.
In Subachoque, a town situated at 8,737 feet elevation on the Bogotá savanna, Rafael Ospino and Camilo Ríos opened 3 Puertos Gravel Bici Bistro two years ago to satiate that desire.
The café is a meeting place for cyclists looking for routes, ride partners, or snacks. And, Ospino said, the focus is on adventure cycling: bikepacking, ultracycling, and gravel, what used to be “very uncommon concepts in Colombia.”
“The idea is to either start a ride or finish it at 3Puertos,” he said. “We offer healthy food after or before the ride, we offer some guidance in which gear they should use for specific purposes, we offer a comfy place to chill in the middle of La Sabana de Bogotá with good vibes, good food and the build of a community around adventure cycling. We are also building routes around the area so people can go ride them on their own.”
Ospino and Ríos are heavily invested in making gravel and adventure cycling grow in their community. So much so that they have plans to travel to other places (like Gravel Worlds, in Nebraska!) to learn how people around the world are creating the culture.
“Gravel is so perfect for a country like ours,” Ospino said. “We have plenty of unpaved roads that take you through the most amazing scenery you can find. You have talented people out there riding and building those routes so other people can ride them after. The community is growing faster than we thought and this is just because this country is the perfect Petri dish for this little beast to grow.”
Book a tour/find a guide
Bicycle tour operators in Colombia have also hooked on to the notion that a growing segment of people want to take their bikes on an off-road adventure.
One is Colombia Gravel, led by a team of four Colombian ex-road pros. They offer three tours in northwest Colombia’s coffee country for cyclists who are prepared to ride hard all day. Cesar Grajales, a former cross-country mountain bike pro who splits his time between Lyons, Colorado, and Manizales, will curate a mountain bike or gravel trip of your choosing with his Caturra Bike Tours.
Or there’s the old ‘ask around’ approach. Not cycling-related, but my most amazing experience in Colombia was an 18-mile hike from the coast to a tiny, non-Spanish-speaking indigenous village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta led by a wiry barefoot guide. I found him by asking around the neighborhood while on a morning run – ‘who can take us to the villages?’
In Colombia, the adventure can start whenever you want it to.