Bikepacking Colombia: From Shores to Peaks
In recent months, Pablo and his partner Isabelle have been bikepacking from the Mayan jungle in Mexico to the Amazon. They aim to raise awareness about the challenges facing the world's largest jungles. Join them for the Colombia portion of their incredible journey.
Before we even touched the shores of the Caribbean coast, we were already deep into our journey. Our cycling escapades began in the depths of the Mayan Jungle in Mexico. Our mission? To unite the two most important jungles in the Americas. Our destination? The mighty Amazon. But this journey meant more to us than simply adventure, it was a quest to meet and amplify the voices of those who tirelessly defend the Amazon's forests and its unique beauty. Our planned route was designed to meander through Central America's most awe-inspiring landscapes and through Colombia's picturesque terrains.
Fast forward seven months, and we found ourselves in Colombia. Our bikes, each weighing nearly fifty kilograms, became our steadfast companions. We only dismount for short stretches, each time to shoulder the weight and push on. After covering around 2,300 kilometers through the country, we can only offer a glimpse of the real experience. So, if our journey piques your interest, consider gearing up and embarking on a Colombian adventure. Before you do, grab a cup of Colombian coffee, settle in, and immerse yourself in our story.
Beyond The Coast
Our story begins with two well-worn bike boxes emerging from the airport conveyor belt in Cartagena de Indias. Cartagena marked the start of our Colombian adventure, and though we initially steered away from the coastline, we couldn't resist soaking in the coastal vibes, the searing heat, and the mouthwatering arepas de huevo. Leaving Cartagena, we embarked on a typical chaotic bike ride out of the city.
A couple of days later, we bid farewell to the comforting hum of asphalt, knowing we'd be off it for a while. Our journey took us through San Jacinto, where we picked up a few Afro-descendant folk songs that provided the perfect soundtrack to our travels. That very day, we left the asphalt to venture into the foothills of a mountain range, situated about 100 km southwest of the coastal city of Cartagena. The region of Montes de María unfolded before us with its undulating geography and deep valleys, challenging us with every pedal stroke.The Montes de María region enveloped us in dust as we ventured deeper into our adventure. We eagerly faced the arduous road from Carmen de Bolivar to our meeting with the mighty Magdalena River. This arid landscape bore the scars of Colombia's tumultuous history.
Colombia has made significant strides in improving safety and security for travelers in recent years, and while challenges exist, being informed and vigilant greatly mitigates risks. Throughout our journey, we encountered warm hospitality and openness from the Colombian people, reaffirming that genuine connections can often dispel any apprehensions one might have about safety. Towns like El Salado were massacred and abandoned, accused of supporting guerrilla forces in the midst of the conflict. But we were met with warm Colombian hospitality, eager to share their stories and time with us.
Following The River
Our adventure took a turn when we reached the shores of Colombia's largest river, the Magdalena. As we journeyed, the many swamps along the Magdalena unveiled themselves, adorned with an array of exotic birds. We were mesmerized, and crossing the river in an old metal canoe at five in the morning was an experience that will be forever etched in our memories. Johnson's boat, known locally as the milkman's boat, ferries from farm to farm, bringing not just milk but also our dreams and bicycles to the other side.
Our route continued along the river's path on a flawless gravel track, where we encountered the occasional lizard and endured the relentless heat. Pedaling in such conditions felt like pushing through an oven, the sun scorching every inch of our journey and the air thick with humidity. We reached the historic town of Mompox, thirsty for more adventure. Crossing from one bank to the other, we embraced the dusty road that had accompanied us in recent days. We embarked on a small boat again, venturing along a trail to the opposite riverbank. I can assure you that two strangers on bikes do not go unnoticed in Colombia. Every town we passed through celebrated our presence, inviting us to stay and discover more. Given the size of Colombia, one could most likely spend a lifetime pedaling through its wonders.
The Andean Coffee Region
After 2 weeks of cycling, we found ourselves on a dirt road through Bajo Magdalena, surrounded by mango trees. Revisiting the Magdalena River, we marveled at traveling along its course once more. Nostalgic yet eager to forge ahead, we also navigated its waters, avoiding the central road. We challenged ourselves and our bikes, slowly witnessing the landscape change, cacti emerging before reaching the arid and dusty terrains of the desert. Villavieja welcomed us, leaving traces of our wheels on the red soil of Tatacoa. We explored and relished the unique destination, bidding farewell once more to a place and all those who had cared for us during our journey.
Strength in one's legs and heart can be trained, but health issues present a different challenge. In Tatacoa, I fell ill with a stomach issue, and despite attempting to continue pedaling, it proved impossible. I barely made it to Neiva, and under the circumstances, we decided to board a bus bound for San Agustín. We hoped that its ancient energy would mark a new and final stage in our journey through Colombia. With its magic, an enchanting ambiance, we were re-energized, almost bidding farewell before crossing the Amazonian border of Putumayo with Ecuador to continue our journey in the neighboring country.
Amid torrential rains, we set out to explore some of the most exquisite waterfalls we had ever laid eyes on. We reveled in the untamed rivers that nourished exotic trees and flowers and carried with them the wisdom of indigenous communities living in harmony with the jungle. Yet, amidst the rain and exploration, we discovered that not everything here resembled the dense jungle we had envisioned, and not everything we had covered was pristine forest. Factors like agriculture, livestock grazing, logging, mining, and other activities we all depend on were gradually diminishing the vast forests we had imagined when we heard the word "jungle."
Our journey was not just about exploration; it held a profound purpose. We embarked on this adventure to connect the Mayan Jungle and the Amazon on bicycles, immersing ourselves in the natural beauty of these tropical forests and other ecosystems. Along the way, we sought out individuals and projects dedicated to preserving these vital landscapes. These encounters enriched our experience, transforming us into messengers for the earth.
In one of our final destinations before bidding farewell to Colombia, Puerto Asís, we discovered a family's dedicated efforts to care for and protect the land. It was a testament to the immense love the Colombian people hold for their environment. Throughout our journey, we witnessed the juxtaposition of nature's grandeur and human impact. This realization fueled our commitment to spreading awareness about the importance of protecting our natural world.
Now, we stood on the brink of entering the Amazon after traversing Central America. Putumayo region would be the gateway marking the conclusion of our journey, a thought that filled us with elation. And experiencing it all on a bike made it even more special.
Follow Pablo and Isabelle's journey here.