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Colombia – Bicycle Touring Information

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Map of colombia

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Time of VisitÂ
January-March 2009

Visa
Travelers from EU, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand will get an entry stamp that will be valid for 30, 60 or 90 days. Extensions for a stay up to 180 days are possible.

Borders
I entered by road from Ecuador (Puente Rumichaca) and left by plane from Bogota to Miami.

Route
Ipiales (Ecuadorian border)-Pasto: 100km (all paved)

Only 10km after crossing the border you will reach Ipiales, a fairly big town. From here a side trip to the sanctuary of Las Lajas is almost obligatory and only 7km one way. From Ipiales you will climb first a little and then go down 1400m through a very beautiful canyon. A huge climb takes you back to 3000m and another downhill takes you to Pasto. Traffic is fairly light, except for the last bit.

Pasto-Mocoa-San Agustin: 200km

This is a very hard and spectacular road, a lot easier would be to go straight to Popayan. You have to leave Pasto to the east. A 7km climb and a downhill will take you to a big lake, Laguna de la Cocha. You pass the lake on the northern side and enter a valley with interesting villages. Sibundoy, about 70km from Pasto is the biggest and a good place to stock up on food for two days, one day if you are very strong. After the villages the pavement ends and a long climb follows. You reach a high point and in the downhill the road becomes worse and worse. It almost always rains here. The scenery is stunning, the conditions very hard.
After crossing a big river another huge climb takes you up to 3000m again, before you drop down to the Amazonas. The views in the last downhill, that is if you can see anything, are spectacular. At a major junction you have to turn left. It is another 10km to Mocoa, about 155km from Pasto. You will find all you need here.
The road from Mocoa to Pitalito is all paved now. It runs through beautiful forested mountains, with many military bases hidden in the jungle. The distance is about 140km and better to be done in 2 days. It is all up and down, but no big climbs and it can be very hot and humid. This area has been recently lost by the guerilla to the army and was fairly safe and under control in 2009. Pitalito is in the upper Rio Magdalena valley, the biggest river in Colombia.
From Pitalito you can climb the last 5km to San Agustin. This area is famous for its very special statues and popular among hippies, that sometimes stay forever. There is a great casa de ciclistas here.

San Agustin-Popayan: 200km (estimation)

There are several possibilities to cycle from San Agustin to Popayan. I was told by locals that the most direct way, via Palatará, was not safe. So I decided to descend back to Pitalito and take the Garzón-La Plata-Inza-Totoró road. Until Garzón you are on a good paved highway, following the Rio Magdalena. After Garzón you have to turn left to La Plata, also paved recently. After that the area gets more and more remote. You follow a fairly big river upstream in the direction of Inza. The damage of a recent natural disaster is still very well visible, most bridges are gone. About 10km before Inza you start climbing the central range that lies between the Rio Magdalena and the Rio Cauca. After passing the village you continue the huge climb to 3300m. Don’t expect a smooth downhill to Totoró, the road is bad washboard. Just before Totoró you reach smooth pavement that will take you to Popayan, the white city.

Popayan-Cali-Bogota: 620km

In this part of the country I followed only main roads. The 130km to Cali you can do in one long day, because it goes down a little, most of the time. Closer to Cali, when you enter the Cauca valley, it gets clearly hotter. Cali is one of the biggest cities in Colombia and not so pleasant to cross by bike. Local cyclists use the bus lanes. There is a casa de ciclistas in Cali.
After Cali you keep following the Rio Cauca down stream either on the quieter left or the more direct right side. Buga is a nice place to visit. About 140 flat kms from Cali you turn right to Armenia. The road becomes hilly again. After Armenia starts one of the biggest paved climbs in the country, famous among road cyclist, Paso La Linea. Many curves take you to 3210m and a fantastic downhill follows. It is so beautiful to see the climate and vegetation change in a few hours cycling. Ibague is a big city on the other side of the central range. You are in the in the valley of the Rio Magdalena now. You can follow it to the north until the Caribbean or climb once more, to Bogota, the immense capital on 2600m. Coming from the south it is wise to leave the main road in Girardot and take the quieter road to La Mesa. Closer to Bogota follow the signs to Calle 80, a street with bike lane that will take you into the city. Like this you avoid the poor suburbs in the south part.

The BEST route
Pasto-Mocoa-San Agustin is one of the most spectacular roads I have ever cycled. Next to the Pasto to Mocoa road are such deep vertical drops, that the road is nicknames Trampolin de la muerte.

The WORST Route
Cycling to Bogota is not fun, but made easier with some bike lanes. On Sunday from 7am to 2pm many roads in the city are closed for cars and you will share the street with southands of cyclist, skaters and pedestrians. This event is called ciclovia (see “useful link” below)

Bicycle Shops
Colombia is a real cyclists paradise. You will meet road cyclists all over the country and mountain biking is quite big too. All cities have good bike shops with all the newest parts. Just ask a cyclist and he/she will show you. For example, in Pasto I found 3 or 4 really well equipped bikeshops. In Popayan I found two.

Bicycle Touring Gear Shops
Ortlieb panniers, Tubus racks and Schwalbe tires are hard to find in Colombia. You might be lucky finding wider 28 inch rims and tires, but mostly only road bike size.

Camping Gear Shops
By Emilie Baird de Vargas:
Tatoo Adventure Gear (https://co.tatoo.ws), which has a store in the Centro Comercial Andino (Carrera 11 & Calle 82), one on the west side of Carrera 15 between Calles 94 and 100 and another one on Calle 122 between Carreras 15 and 19.
Thundra Outdoors also has a shop near Tatoo on Calle 122 between Carreras 15 and 19 (they’re both on the north side of the street), and another one on the north side of Calle 85 between Carreras 11 and 15.
Online I’ve also seen a place called Iglu that seems like it’s pretty good, though I haven’t been inside (www.iglu.com.co, Carrera 24 No. 48 – 24).

Best / Worst Season
Climate varies between different regions and altitudes. In general the low lands in the north are very hot and humid and it rains more from May to November. Bogota has two drier periods: Jan-Feb and June-Sept and always spring-like temperatures.

Maps
Nelles Maps, 1:2,500,000. Not very good scale for cycling, but for main roads ok.

LanguagesÂ
Spanish is useful

Locals’ Average Salary
300USD per month

Transport your Bike
By Air: I flew out of Bogota International Airport to Miami with Delta. My bike was in a box and transported for free. I also didn’t pay the airport taxes. I didn’t like the idea of cycling to the airport with the box under my arm, so I took a taxi with the bike already packed.

Useful Info
On Sunday from 7am to 2pm many roads in the city are closed for cars and you will share the street with southands of cyclist, skaters and pedestrians. This event is called Ciclovia.

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Author
Peter Van Glabbeek (Netherland)
7 years of bicycle touring experience including a 4-year long journey around the world
Cycled through 40 countries
Peter’s website

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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