I was apparently very excited about biking after the Cuba trip that I decided now was the time to do a bike tour in Colombia too, one I had on the to do list for a couple of years now.
The trip is approximately 160km or 110 miles from Bogota to a very touristy town called Villa de Leyva in my favorite Department (State), Boyaca. This Department is mountainous and cold but with great food and amazing people. Although the majority of Boyaca is like this Villa de Leyva lies in a desert, a not so cold place (nights do get chilly but nothing compared to the rest of Boyaca).
The weekend I chose to ride was a puente (bank holiday or simple 3-day weekend)…Colombia has about 18 of them a year! I rode in March so that means it was the first puente since early January…also known as…everyone leaves town…aka lots of cars. I decided it was the perfect time to ride out there and I was ready to go alone but I was also asking around to see if anyone else assumed the task (last minute of course, I decided I was going 3 days before).
I know in October there is a race out in this town and a group goes biking to it with escorts and everything but I couldn´t wait. The first three people I mentioned the feat to were already busy so I was convinced I was going solo again…until someone reminded me that I said I would do a long bike ride with them, so I mentioned it again…this time the answer was yes! So my friend, Jose and I decided to head out early Saturday morning. My plan was to do a 4 day ride, day 1 close to 100-120 km then day 2 the rest and then something similar on the return. Yes, I wanted not to just go there but also return, which is rare as most who do this ride go there and take a car back (aka a friend or relative drives out and they meet them, hangout then drive back at end of weekend). Many also enjoy driving out and biking around when there (usually on MTB).
In the end Jose convinced me to do the whole 160 km in one day…aka nearly 8 hours on bike…because after 100 or so Kms it is all downhill (mainly true). The agreed upon plan though was definitely a paseo (no rush)..in the end a trip of around 10 hours with a few stops along the way…the main one being to see the historic Puente de Boyaca where Colombia fought and won the last battle against Spain to receive freedom…famous Simon Bolivar is also involved in this historical battle and of course the yummy Arepas Boyacenses.
We actually stopped 2x for Arepas because Jose spent over 1 hour telling me of a stop close by with the best arepas. I clearly remember asking if he was speaking in terms of car travel or bike travel…well we now know….car travel (the total journey out in car is 3.5 hours or so). Turns out the close arepa stop was in Venta Quemada which is just after Villapinzon, some 20 km or so….of course he advised before even reaching Villapinzon…so we had a good hungry hour of joking about it while climbing various hills to get there. We ate arepas 2x because we decided not to wait the full 20 km as the place never appeared and then obligatorily had to stop again for the real arepa joint. HA HA HA
Lucklily from there we were super close to Puente de Boyaca. When we arrived we took our time taking photos, him telling the story that the original bridge was wood and some president decided to take it down a put a prettier bridge there, which totally destroyed my excitement about seeing the historical now political failure bridge…lol Anyway, stories continued as he told me how they won the battle against Spain. Supposedly a very young soldier found where the Spanish soldiers were, ran back and told his mates and they all came and crashed the Spanish party, thus winning the battle on August 7, 1819….yippie Freedom! From reading a bit further about the battle it seems as though the local forces out numbered the Spanish and they retreated in various directions and had to surrender due to fire power from the locals. This battle gave way to the capture of Bogota and in the end helped Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela gain independence as the local forces were now ahead of the game, aka headed to the capital without anyone against them and in full force. Also interesting to note, Colombian Presidents are sworn in on independence day…which falls every 4 years, 2018 being one of those years….so cool, glad I waited a few years to do the trip… ha ha
Any who from there it was to Samacá up the hill and off the freeway finally. This was my favorite part now that it wasn´t too hilly, it was curvy and all farmland. Lots of peach vendors were on the road which we eventually gave into and purchased some, we stopped to eat lunch (4pm) in Samacá and then headed down a long, long hill into the valley of Villa de Leyva. With the hills we meet on the journey there we anticipated about 5 tough hills on the way back. Arriving to Villa de Leyva just in time for sunset. Jose got his coffee and I went on a short run (3km…hey triathlon training is like this!). After we met with his friends who we would stay with and tried out their new burger joint…El Divino…right in the Plaza (Main Square).
The journey ended a few hours later on a dirt road to their house in the dark, we made it but also went too far…oops.
The next morning we had plans to check out a waterfall just outside of town, some 11km from the house (one I found looking at the Maps.me app ja ja). I ran while Jose took his friend´s mountain bike and followed me. It was a great plan, even though it was all up hill, and I ended up spraining my ankle….the mountain part of the run was beautiful, it was so immense to be next to these mountains and finally find a waterfall among them. The ankle was ok, I could use it but I was cautious first since I heard a crack….humm. Feeling fine and little pain I ran back home and the rest of the day was R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate)…the other touristy plans now out the door. Saving Pozos Azules and Fossil Park for another visit..I did get to check out the hospital though, won´t be doing that again. LOL Instead our biggest plan became taste testing the new veggie burger they were adding to the menu…Cool!
The doctor at the hospital said it was fine, rest a few days ,1st degree sprain. I also asked about biking, his recommendation, don´t go by bike as it will swell a lot. I later also asked my coach and he said if less swollen in the morning and you can put weight on it, try the bike for 1-2 hours and see how you feel.
In the morning that was the plan; test ride. Plan B was in place too, if needed, return downhill, someone takes the bike and I bus back. We warmed up on the local roads looking for the fossil museum´s dinosaur sign then headed up the hardcore hill to Samacá. It was definitely a steep and long tough hill but we made it and in Samacá I assessed the ankle. It was not hurting, not even when I stood up to pedal so we continued together.
Oddly after this hill the next toughest hill was after Venta Quemada and then the last to Sisga. The rest were easy it seemed. We also found we enjoyed so much more the return trip than the arrival. We had great weather both directions, lunch again was a long wait to stop decision (this time literally because after Venta Quemada there is nothing – most in car don´t stop, most eat lunch before heading back – so really only arepas stop Colombians on the way back)…so this time we went all the way to Villapinzon town center to eat…by the way it is cute and has tons of restaurants to choose from. Here we took a good break as I noticed my ankle was pretty swollen and now bruised…yippie. I debated not continuing but in the end only a few more hours remained so I iced the ankle in the plaza for a while, rested and then off we went.
We didn´t make it into Bogota by bike because we didn´t want to deal with the crappy traffic to enter the city after the puente and well we found we were tired and burned out. I was ready to be off the bike and so was Jose. We also took another break for the ankle after the long, fun ride down from Sisga…Jose breaking records of speed at some 80km per hour and me somewhere over 40 mph (I didn´t check until almost at the bottom…buu). We ended the ride about 10 miles out (which would have been 1 hour or more in traffic on bike between cars and their exhaust..eww) having a celebratory Pan de Yuca at a local shop while his girlfriend arrived to pick us up. he he We rested at her family´s house nearby and entered the City around 10pm when traffic was finally moving.
I came back from this trip really happy and can´t seem to get rid of the pure joy of the challenge we took on and the true experience it was. Not even the ankle business bugs me, even it seems worth it. Highly recommend this trip, especially on bike.
Comparing this ride to the recent Cuba ride:
Colombian´s although worldwide are known to have some of the best cyclist in the world haven´t won the respect on their own local roads. You receive many honks, sometimes angry passengers and drivers who don´t seem to understand how to or why share the road with a bike. Most of the time we laughed and yelled at them, I think you forgot you have brakes; what is the rush to get to the traffic jam; or it take 3 seconds to pass us we´re pretty sure you can learn to anticipate and use both lanes. Just anticipate and go with it, few honk are in support or for the joy for you riding….the trucks and buses in general do seem to respect bikers, only honking if you really need to move over…as well as cars carrying bikes (many take them out of town with them and ride).
In Colombia, even the highway has pretty views and there are towns and things going on along the way. The back roads here are mainly dirt and take much longer (I do think if you have time and the right bike that the best option is the back roads because it must be gorgeous. As I wanted to do the back road but lacked both time and bike.)
Roads in general were in excellent conditions, only between Samacá and the downhill to Villa de Leyva did we see holes and exposed parts of the road.
The fruit is peach in this part, of Colombia; in Cuba it was Guava…both are yummy. Arepas Boyancenses are a must have and food options are plentiful..a full menu is like 8,000 (2.50 USD) on the road which includes, soup, drink, meat, rice, potatoes, salad and sometimes more stuff. Also funny was that while biking in Cuba I definitely missed the arepas and actually wished they were along the roads i traveled…
Water – all was drinkable except in Villa de Leyva…which I found odd.
Although I didn´t stay at hotels along the way every town has places to stay. You should estimate 20,000 – 25,000 COP (little less than $10 USD) per night. It will likely be less but best be prepared just in case, obviously places like Villa de Leyva you can expect to pay more but still should have these lower cost options (if going during a holiday or Puente book in advance).
You do run into other bikers, but few, all were locals either training betweeen Bogota and Sisga or Tunja and Venta Quemada or the rare ones like us doing the same journey. On the ride back we found a group of 3 that joined in the first climb to Samacá and at Puente de Boyaca we saw 1 on the way over…that was it. We heard about another group that biked the day before us and were driving back…yup that is all. So expect some good solitude (apart from the cars)!
Packing: Although we had great weather, normally you need a rain jacket and warm clothes. I packed nearly the same as the Cuba trip but clothes were now wool each with an additional layer and I brought my wool sleeves for the ride and used them quite a bit (downhill parts I got cold if it was cloudy). Here shoes were handy instead of sandals. This time I forgot an extra shirt for after ride so that complicated things but it was only 3 days so no big deal.
Other trips over puentes in Colombia.