Bikepacking in Colombia: Tips and Tricks

Thinking about bikepacking or randonneuring in Colombia, but not sure what to bring or where to go? We got you covered! Read all about bikepacking in Colombia, discovering the beautiful countryside on your bike with the ride gear.

Bike holidays, bike touring, bikepacking or randonneuring; no matter what you call it, it comes down to you and your bike, with your carefully selected packing attached to your bike. The idea is to ride the roads less travelled, and be self-supported as much as you can. But is this also possible in Colombia? Is it safe to travel anywhere with your expensive gear, and sleep outside? Find out in our tips and tricks for Bikepacking in Colombia.

What to bring?

Let’s start with the gear for your bikepacking adventure, because coming to Colombia with the wrong setup or missing some important items can make your adventure turn into a nightmare.

The bike:

bikepacking-colombia

The roads in Colombia can be hard, with unpaved mountain sections or huge potholls in the tarmac. So make sure to come with your Hardtail mountainbike in case of serious offroad plans, or choose the cyclocross or gravel bike for a mixture of unpaved and paved routes. When going for the gravel bike, any tire from 28mm slicks up to 38mm nobby tires would work perfectly.

And then the gearing setup, which is very important for the ability to reach the top of the high Andes mountain range. Make sure to go a gear or two lighter than what you are used to, don’t forget you are taking a lot of extra weight with you on the bike. A cassette with a range from 11-42T is perfect in combination with a single chainring setup. In case for regular road gears, choose a 34T inner ring with a cassette that minimally has a 28T sprocket. This will get you up to those nasty climbs with percentages over 15%.

The stuff:

bikepacking-colombia

My advice is to go light! Don’t bring too much stuff, since the roads in Colombia either go up, or go down. Reaching the top of the Páramo system might become impossible if you bring too many items. Since Colombia has food and drink sales around every corner, my advice is too leave the cooking stuff at home, and rather enjoy the delicious Arepa’s and Empanada’s from the roadside. For the items you do bring, make sure it is all lightweight. Don’t bring any heavy jackets but choose lightweight packable stuff that insulated well. Temperatures can be low on top of the mountains, but other than that Colombia has a very nice climate. So don’t bring too many warm layers.

The essentials:

some things that you absolutely not should forget if you go Bikepacking in Colombia, are mostly safety items. Bring your small first aid kit, because the next town might be two hours away. And the ambulance services can be bad at times, as is the mobile phone signal. Another useful item is the safety vest, with reflection. Most roads are not sides by lamppost, and high in the mountains you can get caught inside heavy mist. So wearing a reflective vest could save lives. Also make sure you have enough energy in the form of battery packs with you to charge your lights or GPS computer. There still are hotels where energy supply will be cut off at night, so having your own energy source is a must. Make sure to bring enough spare tires and repair kit to fix any puncture, because punctures will occur due to the tricky roads. And finally there are some products like mosquito repellent and sunblock that are highly recommended to bring when going into the tropics.

Balancing the gear:

The location of the bags and its weight can influence the handling of the bike. And since we will be descending quite a bit in Colombia, it is important to balance your bike well. In general, bikepacking will always include three bags: the handlebar bag, the framebag and the seatpost bag. Any extra bags can be a toptube bag or a bottlecage bag. Make sure these bags are all waterproof, because rain can be heavy in Colombia, and wet gear is useless.

bikepacking-colombia

It is best to store heavy stuff like tools and tubes in the framebag, since this will influence the handling very little. Don’t place too many heavy stuff in or on the handlebag bag, as this will make descending very difficult. If you’re bringing sleaping gear such as a tent or a mattress, place it on your handlebar. Your clothing is best placed on the seatpost bag, and make sure this is one with a harness system to easily get the tings in and out without having to restrap the bag to the seat again. Your energybars or other food are best placed in the toptube bag or on the quick-access part of the framebag. Same goes for battery packs and charging cables.

Where to stay:

Although Colombia is getting safer and safer, please don’t be stupid or naïve. It is still a 3th world country with relatively high crime. So my advice is not to go all the way back to basics and sleep at the side of the road. You might wake up with most of you gear missing. Rather choose to sleep in the very affordable small hotels and hacienda’s or if you do want to sleep in a tent, ask a farmer if you can camp on his private terrain. You will be surprises by the friendliness of the locals and the amazing hotels you can find in the small towns.

Where to go:

Colombia is a huge country, but does not have many roads. The roads they do have are sometimes filled up with big trucks and not a lot of space for cyclists. So make sure to avoid the main highways between big cities, and rather go over the beautiful mountain passes. Bringing a good GPS computer with detailed road maps and base maps is a must, and bringing paper maps as backup is a useful tip. Colombia has a lot of private lands that might look like normal nature, so make sure your maps has indications of land ownership to prevent trouble.

bikepacking-colombia

Some of my favorite regions of Colombia include Boyaca and the coffee region, known as the Eje Cafetero. These regions are absolute cycling heaven, thanks to the amazing views and colonial villages along the route. But going from Bogota to Medellin by bike is also a great route. The mountains in Cundinamarca are completely different from the ones in Antioquia, and the along the route you will notice changes in people, food and traditions.

Below is a list of some proven to be great bikepacking routes in Colombia with their stories:

Oh Boyaca! 

This route connects the town of San Gil to the dirt road loop in Sierra Nevado El Cocuy/Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy(PNN El Cocuy) and finishes in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva. We were pleasantly treated to endless seldom-used dirt tracks, overlapping mountains(read numerous passes) and páramos.

The first 200 kilometer section is an appetizer to a steady main course of at least 3000ft climbs. The entire route is rideable passing through cobbled small colonial towns where you can restock with food and bocadillo, the instensely-sweet guava pulp and my preferred riding fuel.

Bogota to the coffee hub

This bikepacking route will take you from the capital of Colombia to the heart of the coffee hub, known as the Eje Cafetero. Along the route you will climb mythical passes like the Alto de la Linea, Alto de Letras and El Vino. But it’s not only climbing, stop at the valle de Cocora to see the unique wax palm trees and sleep a night in a coffee hacienda in Salento.

Medellin to Armenia

the following route will lead to from the city of eternal spring, Medellin, through the coffee hub to Armenia. Visit de Nevado del Ruiz, and ride through the coffee crops!

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