Well, as I’m on my way out of this wonderful country, it’s only appropriate that I jot down some of what I’m feeling and experienced in this wonderful country.
On traveling and safety. Like many of you, I had my reservations and concerns about traveling in Colombia because of the cartels, drug traffickers, the FARC, and other armed organizations/individuals that may be looking for kidnapping victims. Also, remember I’m on this adventure on my own. Interestingly, this same concern was shared by some of my friends and acquaintances that I made while in this amazing country.
I think if you follow a few basic and sensible rules, Colombia is one of the most diverse and fantastic countries you can experience on a bike. My first rule, that applies to all places, not just Colombia is “get on the road early, and DO NOT ride at night.” I figure anyone wanting go do any mischief is not likely an early riser, so if you can get on the road early in the day and be done riding a little after mid-day, you are in pretty good shape not be bothered, plus, six to eight hours on the bike should suffice to get you where you want to go. If not, you are missing a lot.
If you are riding at night, you are just asking for trouble. You would obviously be in much greater risk in general with many drivers not having as good visibility, you included. Also, that is a perfect time for the criminal element to be out and about.
Second rule “Stick to main roads” – There are plenty of roads in the world to go into the backwoods and off the beaten path – Colombia is not that place. I found that the roads are in very good shape, or they are hard at work to get them there. They are incredibly fun, loads of twisties, and some absolutely incredible views, so there really isn’t any real reason to go too far into the boonies. I even had a chance to go do some off-road riding in a safe area near Guatape as an alternative route because of a bicycle race had the main road blocked for several hours.
I also found that most roads have a large number of police and military checkpoints. You usually couldn’t go more than 50kms without seeing a checkpoint. These guys are dedicated, serious, and I was not harassed or stopped even once. I stopped a few times to ask for directions or check on time/distance to the next gas station, and each time they were very courteous, genuinely interested in my trip, and I was always asked if I liked Colombia and if I had had any trouble. My answer was always the same “I love Colombia and I’m having a great time.”
Now, having said that, it is important that you are very careful on the road. There aren’t a whole lot of rules on the road and it’s pretty “wild west”, so be ready to go around a blind curve and find a large truck or bus coming your way. I always kept playing these scenarios in my mind as I rode and trying to figure out what my move would be if I got into a pinch. It’s a bit like playing chess – just keep thinking a few moves ahead and you’ll be fine.
I know a lot of riders like to roll back on the throttle. I’m not one of those riders, but if you are, try rolling it just a little less. After all, what’s your hurry? You’ve got nothing but beautiful scenery all around you. Take it all in, enjoy it. I had one of the most difficult riding days of my trip going up from the savanna of Cordoba up to Medellin. Was caught in an afternoon rainstorm going up an incredibly twisted and inclined road, with dense fog, and weather so cold my teeth were rattling. I also had one of the most amazing views. Through a break in the fog, I was on a steep ridge, probably at least 400 meter drop, and across, not 100 meters away, was a waterfall that just appeared out of the mountain… like something out of a National Geographic documentary – AND I WAS LIVING IT!
More than a country of cities as it is traditionally known, Colombia is a country of tremendous beauty. I leave with a full heart and knowing that when it needs replenishment, there is plenty still to see and do. I missed the Santanderes entirely, so that will remain in the bucket list. It’s always good to leave things left unseen so you have a reason to come back, especially when it’s as an amazing a place as Colombia.
To my old and new Colombian friends… I want to thank you for making my stay in your country an incredibly memorable one. You certainly have a country to be proud of and to cherish. Despite some of the difficult history and challenging political situation, I’ve found some of the warmest, most charming, well educated, and industrious/entrepreneurial people in this beautiful land and I for one, am incredibly grateful for the memories I’m taking with me.
To those that have any concerns about coming to Colombia, don’t think about it twice, get on your bike, hop on a plane, do what you need to do and get your butt down here. You’ll absolutely fall in love with the place and the people. Don’t fret… really. I was here almost an entire month, on my own, and I never even felt the least bit insecure. I guarantee you’ll have an amazing time. As they say here… the only thing to fear, is the fear of not wanting to leave.