Directly after visiting Colombia for the first time as a backpacker I knew it; I had to come back to this amazing country to discover more. And this time not with a heavy backpack, but with my bike! This is my story about cycling in the heart of Colombia.
Colombia has a rich cycling history, getting first worldwide recognition with Martín Emilio Rodriguez, also known as “Cochise”. Currently Colombia is enjoying the successes of a very talented generation including Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and Rigoberto Uran. All these have won important stages in the grand tours, and these weren’t on flat terrain. Ever since the first appearance in Europe, the Colombian cyclist were known as magnificent climbers. And this is not a coincidence, as it is very difficult to find some flat kilometers along the country.
“It didn’t take long to decide Colombia would be my next cycling destination.”
As a young cyclist I was already fascinated by the mountains. Every summer I enjoyed watching the mountain stages during the Tour de France. Unfortunately, I was born in the flat Netherlands with it’s highest “mountain” reaching a stunning 322 meters. So in the summer holidays I would go to France, Spain and Italy to climb the mountains. After conquering these mountains, it was time to do something different. So with the great experience of my holiday in Colombia still fresh in my mind, it didn’t take long to decide Colombia would be my next cycling destination.
How it started
Since it is very difficult to find great routes in an unknown country, I searched for an experienced guide that could help me find my way into the local mountains. I came into contact with Tomas from Cyclota, and after discussing my preferences we soon came to the conclusion that going to the Boyaca region, home of Nairo Quintana, would be my destination to start my Colombian cycling adventure.
Boyaca is located on the eastern cordillera of the Andes, and is know for its “campesinos” wearing their traditional ruanas and sombreros. Historically the region is most known for the battles between the Spanish conquers and the local Libertadores. This last historical fact happens to be the theme of the tour that I decided to join, “Los libertadores: in the heart of Colombia.” The guided cycling tour was a four day adventure starting in the beautiful old colonial town Villa de Leyva and riding back into the busy streets of Bogota.
Here we go
I couldn’t have imagined a better place to start the trip than in Villa de Leyva. The colonial town hasn’t changed much in the last centuries, with the main square as its highlight. Our spa-hotel was just around the corner, and was a perfect place to start our beautiful but demanding 3-day ride. After a great breakfast with some local fruits and fresh coffee, we geared up and mounted our Argon18 rental bikes to hit the old cobbled streets.
On the menu was a nice first stage of 75km, with quite some vertical climbing meters. We started with an easy flat 5k to get out of the town, before our first of many climbs was on the menu. An easy 6 kilometer steady climb in a very arid, semi-desert terrain was a nice warm-up for what was to come. While pedaling the kilometers away, the scenery slowly changed into green valleys with beautiful panoramas.
We cycled by the “Puente Boyaca” memorial, were the famous battles of Simon Bolivars army were fought. After a quick coffee stop we headed onwards onto our final destination of the day. But reaching the well deserved final rest stop was not an easy ride home, with a final 1.5km steep hill still to conquer. with the sweat still dripping off my face, my jaw dropped down completely when seeing our hotel for the evening. An old monastery turned into an amazing Hacienda surrounded by beautiful colorful flowers was welcoming us with a great lunch to fuel up again. We spend the rest of the afternoon around the swimming pool and the garden, looking back on a great first day of riding.
The epic day
The next day Tomas gave us the briefing for the second stage of the tour. When he described it to be an epic day, we all got excited to hit the road again for more amazing views and challenging roads. This day turned out to be the queen stage of the tour, with the most climbing meters on the occasional unpaved sections. Along the route were many small shops selling the local snacks, arepas usually combined with aguapanela and some fresh cheese. At almost all of our stops, the friendly and curious local people would ask us where we’re from and what we thought of the Colombian roads.
After eighty tough but amazing kilometers we reached our lunch stop. We were treated by a typical Colombian dish containing lots of meat, corn and delicious plantain. With our bellies full we loaded the bikes onto the support vehicle, and hopped in for the transfer to another amazing hotel.
Reaching the finish
Our last day on the bike would be another 75 kilometer ride all the way into the busy streets of Bogota. After two days of serious climbing, this hilly stage was a nice change. Rolling up and down the hills we had an amazing view over the Tominé resevoir. After another great coffee stop with some freshly baked croissants, the roads slowly started to fill up. Not with cars, but with local Sunday riders climbing their way up the famous Patios climb towards Bogota. When reaching the top, we were amazed by the amount of cyclist battling up the other side of this local legendary climb. On road bikes, mountainbikes or bmx bikes, they were all riding to their new personal best on this by cyclist dominated road.
Our last descending kilometers felt like reaching the Champs-Élysées in Paris after the Tour de France. The stretched out city in the valley was slowly greeting us after a few corners. It absolutely was an amazing view. After some pictures, we headed further down and eventually reached the streets of Bogota. Hundreds of cyclists riding the car-free streets better known as Sunday’s Ciclovia welcomed us. Our final stop of this perfectly organized tour was a nice city hotel. Here we had the opportunity to enjoy a warm shower to freshen up. With our minds full of great memories we thanked the guide for his great stories along the route. And we should not forget the support vehicle driver for this formula 1 like bike maintenance.
This 4 day tour in the heart of Colombia was a very nice introduction to cycling in Colombia. I am absolutely sure that I will have to come back again to Colombia. And this time join the Cyclota team for their 15 days tour from Bogota to Cartagena.