Colombia is rich in history and offers a surprising mix of colonial past, aboriginal culture and modern expansion. Located on the northeast tip of the South American continent, Colombia provides a wide variety of natural environments and eco-systems, from the Pacific coastline on the west to central Andes mountain range to the eastern rainforests.
But by now you’ve probably already asked yourself: “Colombia? Isn’t this an unsafe place to travel?”
If you are willing to set aside for a moment the clichés and old notions; if you are willing to forgive the country’s painful past; if you are keen to install the newest version of Colombia 2.0.17 in your cultural system—this article is written just for you.
So, why Colombia?
Mono500 and I haven’t blindly thrown ourselves into this. We have been planning for a long time, have done extensive research and multiple expeditions, and we’ve contacted numerous acquaintances and local characters to help us through the developing process. (Also, Colombia wasn’t exactly new to me; four years ago, I cycled the entire length of the country. This astonishing leg of my Pan-America journey left me yearning to return. And that is how — a few years and some extra pounds later — I came to be driving a 4X4 vehicle over highways and back roads, rediscovering Colombia’s extreme beauty and falling in love again.)
Immersing myself in Colombia’s culture, experiencing its traditions, absorbing the atmosphere, and uncovering the hidden roads and trails—there were my missions during the month of June 2017.
I first stopped in Medellin, Colombia’s second lung, as it were, right after Bogota, the capital city. Medellin’s growth is in full swing, far from the images we’ve all seen on TV shows and at the movies. More than a decade, the city has been beating to the rhythms of young entrepreneurs, start-ups, trendy cafes and fine restaurants. Enormous social progress is underway and the modernization and the rehabilitation of numerous boroughs are undeniable.
Medellin has done a complete 180, turning away from its violent past to become the most innovative city in the county. One wanders with enthusiasm and serenity in the city called “The City of Eternal Spring.” Remove yourself from the most touristy places, and you’ll discover peaceful and authentic neighborhoods where locals spend the bulk of their spare time outside in the cafés, market places and main squares.
But what really catches our attention is the Colombians’ positive energy. The smiles are free and frequent. Whether you are buying a metro ticket, a fresh juice or asking for directions, everything is done with relaxed attitudes and sincere kindness.
After a couple of days in Medellin, it was time for me to chase after winding and scenic roads, challenging trails, and postcard-ready landscapes. I headed to the South, to the coffee region, where the famous bean is produced.
I remember the startled looks of the locals when I cycled this region with the giant pack trailing my bike; this time, my mud-covered car got the same kind of reaction. On board my 4X4 Vitara Chevrolet, armed with two GPS, a roadmap and a notepad, I roamed the little roads—the ones you barely see on a map, the one along the streams and coffee fields. I faced multiple dead ends and closed roads. On multiple occasions I had to back up and pry my way through steep trails to avoid yet an other throwback. I got lost more than once, but it was all worth the effort in order to find the best roads possible for our legendary motorbikes and Mono500’s travelers.
Colombia has striking contrasts; you can leave a modern city such as Manizales, drive less than 15 miles, and find yourself in a village that seems to be stuck in time.
On the main square of the village of Murillo, on the edge of the National Parc Nevado Ruiz, I counted more phone booth than cell phones, more traditional hats than baseball caps, and more horses than cars. Yes: here, horses remain the principal mean of transportation among local inhabitants, and they remain patiently outside the local coffee bars while the horsemen slowly sip their cups while reading an outdated newspaper.
Further north, I discovered an entirely differently kind of atmosphere as I drove into the historic coastal town of Cartagena de Indias, wind-swept by the Caribbean breeze. Its name alone can inspire world travelers, and the streets, filled with bright colors and architectural wonders, will leave you in awe. This 16th-century trading port was mandatory and final stop for all the wealth gathered by the Spaniards before returning to Europe. Here, tourists and locals wander the streets to the sound of champeta, a local genre that invites everyone to dance.
I continued adding miles, passing by one side and the other of mountains, driving up and down valleys, in a region where straight roads are as rare as a Royal Enfield without oil leaks. Without a doubt, Colombia was made for motorcycle adventures.
During the scouting tour, I met a lot of great people. I lent a hand to many; driven some people home. I shared with them my ideas and goals, and in return these wonderful Colombians revealed to me many great insights and tips to better understand their culture and country. These new friends provided many valuable pieces to solve my puzzle, bringing me closer and closer to the motorcycle experience I dreamed to offer, one filled with cultural discoveries and great, challenging rides.
Creating the routes and destinations for a motorcycle road trip is like an enormous puzzle. One searches among the huge stack of possibilities to find the pieces that will set the base. These are the authentic villages (some classified as national heritage sites) and the vista points. Fine restaurants and charming hotels are also important pieces to start from. Little by little, the whole image begins to appear and the entire journey starts to sharpen. Secondary roads and historical monuments fill in the gaps.
I have done more than 7,000 miles in three weeks to find the perfect 1,000. I’ve visited more than 60 hotels to find the best 12. This is the base of the puzzle. I now invite every passionate rider and adventure seeker to join me on the Royal Enfield 500 classic to live a true Colombian experience.
I am relying on you to make your contribution to this great puzzle.