Colombia is an inspiring destination for cycling: a passionate and rapidly growing cycling culture, welcoming people, idyllic mountains, sacred lakes, remote gravel roads with rural scenarios, mystic paramos… we are proud promoters of these pictures. We are also proud promoters of exploring Colombia on your own terms, however, four years of experience have taught us we need to explain more clearly how difficult riding through these places can be, considering the roughness of some terrains and the abrupt changes in elevation our Andes mountains provide. To start our series of articles to help you prepare for your bikepacking trip in Colombia, we created a short checklist of knowledge and abilities you’ll need to have to be ready for a self-guided experience in our country. This checklist will allow you to prepare for your trip, and to understand if your experience would be better doing a self-guided, or rather taking a guided ride to make the challenge more pleasant.
1. Cycling level
We would love to have alternatives for easy rides, but the truth is cycling in Colombia is hard. Yes, we can help you check if the itinerary you’ll be doing is the right one for your cycling level, but if you are bikepacking on a self-supported basis (no support car or luggage transfer whatsoever), you will have to be used to large distances – at least 50 to 70 km per day (30 to 45 miles), with an important elevation gain. Consider that most cycling routes we operate are in high elevation above the sea level, starting at Bogota which is located at 2.600m / 8.530 ft and sometimes going well above 3.300m /10.800 or higher depending on the mountain passes you want to include in your ride. Self-guided bikepacking in Colombia is recommended only for people with frequent training and optimal physical condition. If you want a customized training program, we happen to work with cycling advisors who are great physical trainers and can work remotely with you. Contact us to connect you with them!
2. Basic mechanics
As you travel unsupported by any means of logistics, you will have to be able to repair basic issues that may arise, such as fixing flat tires, cleaning your bike, checking the brakes and gears are in place or changing your brake pads. For more problematic issues, you can find bike shops in most towns that can fix basic mechanics, but not anything too complex such as fixing tubeless tires, for that you will need to be in larger cities. Our point is, if anything happens on the road, you’ll need to know how to fix it to get to a place where you can find larger solutions. Make sure you bring the tools and materials required, in our rentals, for instance, we include a cycling multitool, punch repair kit, air pump, extra brake pads, and an extra tire. We can help you with our assessment call to check the route you’ll be taking and telling you where you may or may not find buses to take you to the closest town in case of any contingency.
3. Previous bikepacking experience
A self-guided bikepacking trip in Colombia might not be the best option to have your first bikepacking experience. If you haven’t travel on your bike before – guided or self-guided - It is much better to start step by step and either preparing with trips at places you know or taking a guided tour where you have less variables out of control. You need to know how does carrying bikepacking bags feel, what configuration will you be packing and how much can you carry in those bags. We will write another article on what to pack, but for now, make sure you have tried cycling trips before plunging into a self-guided adventure in Colombia.
4. Navigation expertise
Self-guided bikepacking requires you to understand navigation devices and be able to use them whenever you need to adapt a route during your ride. If you are using gravel roads, you will need your own GPS (cycling computer) and have enough experience using it – therefore, feel comfortable checking GPX files, adjusting them and uploading them to your device. We have self-guided routes that can be navigated using Google Maps and a cellphone, but they use primary and secondary roads, and connect towns that are relatively close to each other. If you are taking smaller roads, you will need your GPS device and enough experience to avoid mistakes such as allowing apps to change your GPX files. You can use our assessment call service to check the route you are taking, but still, navigation experience will be essential if you want to go gravel.
5. Safety measures and preparation
As an experienced cyclist you’ll be aware of the importance of always riding with your helmet on and lights. However, for a self-guided bikepacking trip you’ll need to learn how to plan for contingencies, how to prepare a first aid kit compatible with your bikepacking configuration, learn some Spanish for emergencies, make sure to have a roaming service of a local SIM card with a data plan and save local emergency contacts. Also, you will need to take the time to prepare and check the local weather, conditions, road closures and land use restrictions and rules. Self-guided bikepacking requires time for planning, so if you have a short time before departure, it is much better to go on a guided experience.
Hopefully, these 5 tips have given you a general picture to assess whether you are in condition to start an independent, self-guided bikepacking trip in Colombia. If you are, we are happy to say we have services such as our assessment call and our airport pick-up that have been carefully crafted to fulfill the small needs for assistance you may have. If you need more support, we are also happy to offer you plans, from less demanding self-guided tours, to fully supported packages, so please let us know more about you and your interests by filling the form at our bookings page.
Looking forward to help you plan a great experience in Colombia!