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Louisa & Tobi Bike Touring Colombia's Death Road

Colombia

Last updated: January 2024

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Key Facts Cycling

  • 32 days in the country, from 16/06/2022 to 18/07/2022

  • 1,384 km / 860 mi cycled

  • 23 cycling days

  • Overnight stays: 

    • Wildcamping: 0

    • Other free camping (villages, churches, etc.): 5

    • Paid campsites: 0

    • Hosts: 13

    • Paid accommodation: 13

    • Other (bus, ferries, etc.): 1

  • The Route: Bogotá - Girardot - Ibagué - Armenia - Salento - Palmira - Popayán - La Unión - Pasto - San Francisco - Death Road - Villagarzón - Gral. Farfán

  • Our Cycling Highlights: Old Highway 25 & Colombia’s Death Road - El Trampolín de la Muerte

Louisa & Tobi's Bike Route through Colombia.

Key Facts Country

  • Official name: Republic of Colombia (República de Colombia)

  • Population (2023 est.): 49,336,000

  • Capital: Bogotá

  • Official language: Spanish

  • Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)

  • Dialing code: +57

  • Area: 1,141,748 km²  / 440,831 mi²

  • Bordering countries: Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador & Peru

  • Right-hand traffic

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Old Highway 25

Louisa & Tobi Bike Touring Colombia's Old Highway 25
The beautiful Cañón de Juanambú
  • We cycled Highway 25 from Santander de Quilichao to Pasto

  • The part we can really recommend is from Mojarras to Pasto via La Unión (approx. 135 km / 84 mi)

  • At Mojarras the highway splits up - the western alternative is the new and busy part

  • The eastern road is very quiet and beautiful with some scenic landscapes

  • South of La Unión we cycled along the Parque Cañón de Juanambú which is a very impressive canyon

  • It’s a lot of up and down along the whole way, but the road is nicely paved and the gradient is mostly gentle

  • Beware though:

    • This route is considered to be unsafe as there have been several kidnappings for ransom in the area

    • We still decided to take the old highway to avoid traffic and luckily we had a great and safe time cycling there

    • But before taking this road, inform yourself, read the local news and/or talk to locals to not get yourself in danger

El Trampolín de la Muerte - The Colombian Death Road

Tobi cycling through a river on the Colombian Death Road
Louisa & Tobi Bike Touring the Colombian Death Road 'El Trampolin de la Muerte'
  • Also known as Trampolín del Diablo (Devil’s trampolin) or Adiós mi Vida  (Goodbye my life)

  • Highway 10 in the Putumayo Department

  • 75 km / 45 mi from San Francisco to Mocoa

  • The actual unpaved death road part is ~62 km / 38 mi long (from San Francisco to this location: 1°05'06.1"N 76°41'48.2"W) 

  • One of the world’s most dangerous roads, due to a narrow single lane, several blind corners and a high risk of landslides

  • Apparently, in 2011 alone, over 500 people died on the road, mainly from landslides pushing vehicles over the edge

  • Nowadays, the road has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, particularly for (motor)cyclists, as it offers spectacular views of the Andes mountains and a challenging ride

  • It winds its way from the Sibundoy valley at 2,200 m.a.s.l. / 7,220 ft, over a 2,800 m.a.s.l. / 9,200 ft  pass, down to the Amazon rainforest basin at ~500 m.a.s.l. / 1,620 ft

  • Coming from the west, the landscape between Pasto and San Francisco is already a good taste of what is to come (this section is still nicely paved though)

  • Our experience:

    • To get to the start of the death road, we cycled from Pasto to San Francisco, where we were able to sleep in a room next to the church

    • The next day, we cycled ~70 km / 44 mi from San Francisco to Villagarzón (we didn’t go to Mocoa)

    • We took the whole day, around 12 hours, to cycle the death road (we were also filming a lot though, otherwise we would have been a bit faster)

    • It’s a constant up and down and the road is quite rough and rocky

    • West to east it’s ~1,800 m / 5,900 ft of positive elevation gain and ~3,300 m / 10,830 ft of downhill (so better to do it this way than from east to west)

    • There was quite a lot of traffic as this is the only option to cross the Andes in the area - be careful, the road is really narrow!

    • If you are making way for a car/truck, make sure to be on the mountain side, so you don't risk being pushed over the edge, or the ground crumbling beneath you

    • Also generally consider riding more on the mountain side of the road

    • It was a really cool experience, even though it was also very tough

    • We actually liked the Colombian Death Road better than the Bolivian one, as the Colombian was much more adventurous and not as touristy as the one in Bolivia

  • Climate & weather:

    • Don’t wait for the sun to come out, the weather in the mountains is usually quite misty

    • We started in rain and mist, but after a few hours the sun actually came out

    • If it has been raining a lot, there is a much higher risk of landslides, so be careful and inform yourself before heading off

    • As the road starts (or ends, depending on your direction) at high elevation and descends down to 500 m.a.s.l. / 1,620 ft, you will experience different climate zones, so plan and pack accordingly

Camping & Accommodation

  • Wild camping was hard in Colombia (steep slopes, populous areas & many fences)

  • Sometimes we asked in villages or at churches, fire stations, etc. if we could camp there

  • But as accommodation is very affordable in Colombia, we often opted for that

  • Even the villages and small towns had at least one hostel, often even more than were displayed on Google Maps

  • The prices ranged mostly from 25,000 - 40,000 COP (6 - 10 EUR/USD) per room

  • The cheapest room we ever had cost only 15,000 COP (~3,50 EUR/USD)

  • The hostels usually offered simple rooms with shared bathrooms, but no hot water

  • We met many great people in Colombia and were invited to stay with locals on several occasions

Infrastructure

  • We experienced Colombia to have a rather good (cycling) infrastructure

  • The roads we cycled were often paved and only had some potholes

  • Often there was no shoulder, but also little traffic

  • When leaving Bogotá, we were able to cycle on bike lanes all the way out of the city

  • Colombia’s tap water is officially safe to drink

    • Back then we were still unsure about drinking it though, so we often bought water in 6L bags

    • You can also ask the locals if they drink the tap water and if they advise you to do so or not

    • We always carry chlorine tablets with us to disinfect water if necessary

  • If you are looking for a filling meal, try out the Almuerzo (local lunch)

    • Consists of a soup, a main dish (usually rice/potatoes, beans & meat) and a drink

    • It only costs ~2 USD per person

Spare Part Availability

  • As road cycling is quite popular in Colombia, it wasn't too hard to find basic spare parts 

  • In many towns we encountered at least one basic bike shop, cramped with all kinds of bicycle parts

  • We didn’t need any parts or bike service while cycling in Colombia, so we can’t really speak from experience of where to get what

  • But the bigger cities (e.g. Bogotá, Medellin) definitely also have more high-end bike shops, just search on Google Maps

Sim Card & Internet

  • Main network providers:

    • Claro

    • Tigo

    • Movistar

  • Claro is supposed to offer the best coverage throughout the country, Tigo the fastest

  • We got a Tigo sim card with which we had good coverage in the cities

  • In the rural areas we didn’t always have reception

  • You can buy sim cards at the airport, official stores (there you might need your passport) or at small tiendas (kiosks)

  • We definitely recommend getting a local sim card, as this makes traveling and communicating much easier

Climate & Weather

  • As Colombia is located on the equator, the climate is tropical

  • No distinct seasons, just differences in the precipitation throughout the year

  • Temperature and humidity are determined by altitude

  • Our experience in June/July 2022:

    • When cycling in the lower areas and valleys, the weather was warm & humid, not too hot for cycling

    • At higher altitudes, e.g. in Bogotá (2,625 m / 8,660 ft) or along the death road, we had lots of rain and cool temperatures (10-15°C / 50-60°F)

    • As we cycled up and down a lot, we sometimes experienced different climate zones within one or two days

Border Crossings

  • Coming from Central America, you generally enter the country on land as there is no road between Panama and Colombia (the Darién Gap)

  • So you have to either fly or take a boat (or traverse the Darién Gap, but that's another story)

  • We decided to fly from San José, Costa Rica, to Bogotá, Colombia

  • When flying to Colombia, you need to have proof of an outbound flight to be allowed to check-in

  • We booked a 'dummy flight' which we then canceled after entering Colombia

  • Colombia to Ecuador (July 2022): 

    • Border Crossing General Farfán

    • The ‘checkout’ from Colombia was just a quick stamp

    • To reach the Ecuadorian border office, we had to cross the bridge over the San Miguel river 

    • It was pretty empty on both sides, so it would have been a fast process, but due to a power outage we had to wait two hours at the Ecuadorian border office until the power came back

  • Tourists from over 100 countries can enter Colombia visa-free for up to 90 days

  • As German citizens, we were granted a 90-day stay upon arrival

  • No costs for entering the country

Safety

  • Colombia is a country with a high crime rate, much of it due to gang activity, human trafficking, drug trafficking & corruption

  • Luckily we didn't have any dangerous situations during our time in Colombia and also felt safe while cycling - it actually still remains one of our favorite countries on our whole journey

  • But don't underestimate certain dangers - inform yourself about areas with a high crime rate (so you can avoid them), read or watch local news, talk to locals

  • Generally be careful in cities and also watch out for pickpockets

  • We asked at churches and villages for a place to sleep on a few occasions and had many nice encounters with the locals, never feeling unsafe

  • Sometimes we were even directly invited to sleep in peoples homes

  • The drivers were mostly considerate and the roads we cycled not too busy

  • Luckily we didn’t have many problems with dogs either

  • Emergency numbers: 

    • Police: 132

    • Ambulance: 156

    • Fire department (bomberos): 119

Cash & Expenses

  • We experienced Colombia to be a rather inexpensive country for us

  • Exchange rate Jan. 2024: 1 EUR = 4,300 COP / 1 USD = 3,950 COP

  • Especially accommodations were rather cheap, as already mentioned above

  • In most places outside of bigger towns or cities we couldn’t pay with card 

  • So make sure to always carry enough cash with you, also sufficient small change

  • ATMs are called Cajero Automático in Spanish

Tourism

  • Bogotá

    • A very busy city, but we liked the atmosphere

    • Colombia's capital offers several museums

    • We visited the Museo de Oro, the Gold Museum, which was very interesting and also inexpensive (~1 EUR / 1 USD per person)

    • Monserrate

      • One of the mountains surrounding the city, 3,152 meters / 10,341 ft high

      • At the top is a church and a little market with souvenirs and local food

      • To reach the top, you can either climb the 1,600 steps (for free) or take the cable car up (for a fee)

  • As we flew into Bogotá, we didn’t cycle through or past Medellín and Guatapé, but we went there by bus (without the bikes)

  • Medellín

    • Colombia's second biggest city with over 2,500,000 inhabitants in the urban area

    • Also called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ due to its temperate weather

    • The public transport is really good and cheap

    • Especially the cable car is a cool way to get around and see this huge city from above

  • Guatapé

    • The town is located at the shore of the Peñol Reservoir (Embalse del Peñol), a beautiful lake with many arms, scattered with tiny island

    • It's mostly famous for the Piedra del Peñol, a 200 m / 656 ft high granitic rock which you can climb

    • The landscape really is special and beautiful, but it was extremely crowded, especially at the Rock

    • For us, the crowds spoiled the experience a bit (then again, we were also part of this crowd)

  • Salento

    • The most famous town in Colombia's coffee triangle

    • The main road going to Salento is the Via a Salento

    • When cycling this road, prepare for descending and then climbing ~200 m / 660 ft and sharing the road with many cars and motorbikes

    • Salento is a picturesque town with colorful buildings, but it was also very touristy and crowded

    • As we accidentally arrived on a public holiday, it was especially full on our first day

  • Valle del Cocora

    • Only a few kilometers far from Salento

    • Famous for the Quindío wax palms, the highest palm trees in the world

    • The valley was beautiful and very impressive

    • But again, it was also too touristy for our taste

    • We actually also saw these palm trees just from the road while cycling other areas in the region, but not in those great numbers

  • These are only the places we went and our experiences there, Colombia has much more to offer in terms of tourist attractions

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