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Cartagena to Medellin, Colombia

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 8 December 2009 | Views [6758] | Comments [8]

Just another hazard on the road in Colombia...bike lane or donkey lane?

Just another hazard on the road in Colombia...bike lane or donkey lane?

Cartagena to Medellin  710 km 19/11/09 to 29/11/09 (Total 18727km)

Bienvenidos a Sudamerica

After 18,017km on the north american continent and nearly a year and a half since riding out of Anchorage Alaska, we finally arrived in South America into the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena, once the most important port of all of the spanish americas. The large Colombian flags welcomed us to the second big stage of our journey. This was probably the biggest milestone of our trip and something we had been looking forward to for many months.

In Cartagena we met up with Jeff Kruys, a bike traveller from Canada - somewhat of a legend among cycle tourists on www.crazyguyonabike.com, he was back in Cartagena after 2 years on his bike in South America heading back north home to British Columbia, Canada. Our two lines on the map one heading south, the other heading north met here briefly in Cartagena at Hotel Holiday, where he shared with us a wealth of information on the road ahead towards Argentina.

Images of Cartagena de Indias....

Muddy Volcano antics at the Volcan de Lodo el Totumo

It was hot, incredibly hot in Cartagena...time to get back on the bikes and into South America!

On only our second day into riding Colombia we met a local cyclist Miguel on the road near San Onofre. He welcomed us into his home for a cool drink which quickly became the afternoon and night...even if it was only 8:50am when we arrived for ‘just a drink’...it was too hot to leave after 11am and we couldn’t turn down his generous hospitality and meeting his son Miguel Andres.

I think close to one of the funniest moments on our whole trip was while having a late morning break of yoghurt and banana in the ‘Park of the Ceiba’ in the sweltering city of Caucasia we are surrounded by 25 or so 13 and 14 year old enthusiastic students with questions for us, they are touching our hair, looking strangely at my blue eyes and taking photos of us with their mobile phones. As soon as they knew we had emails and facebook they all wanted to know. I think we are going to have 25 new facebook friends from Caucasia!. They were so sweet, polite and funny with us.

Close to most towns motorbikes slowed down to our pace to ask us where we are from and where we are going, laughed, smiled, gave us the thumbs up gesture and then they would speed off again as quickly as they had arrived. In Planeta RIca I could barely last 10 seconds without someone asking me a whole string of questions. Normally this would wear a bit thin on my patience but for some reason, everyone was so genuine you couldn’t help but answer with a smile. The most amazing part is that everyone wishes us well on our journey, and that we will enjoy their country and that Colombia will be good to us. Colombia tierra querida! They all seem extremely happy that we are here.

Bicitaxis and Park Sloths in Tolu

How many central parks in latin america can boast that a family of four sloths lives in their trees? Well in Tolu they can. While we feasted on mango we were trying to spot the sloths that we had read about. But not knowing exactly which tree or if it was even the right park we weren’t looking too enthusiastically. Then one of the ‘minutos’ vendors (someone who sells mobile phone minutes in a public place - they don’t really have much else to do...) kindly points out not one but too lumps of grey high up in the green. Very cool, but as sloths do best, they weren’t doing anything of great excitement. We couldn’t help but wonder how they came to be there in a central park!...... 

Another interesting feature of Tolu was the lack of cars, and the abundance of bike taxis, ‘bicitaxis’. It was fantastic, 100% genuine (maybe not) mountain bikes with suspension forks towing trailers with beach umbrellas for the clients, while others were four wheeled pedal machines decked out with speakers and car stereo systems pumping music into the streets.

Senor Specialized with his fully equipped Specialized MTB with double crown forks and other bike ‘bling’, that you need working the rough streets of Tolu .... he was very proud of his bicitaxi though!

So just after Tolu and the Colombian holiday beach town of Covenas, we left the Caribbean sea behind us for the last time on our trip and headed inland. The rest of the journey to the foot of the Andes was through the sweltering lowlands of rolling green hills, cattle ranches and swampy wetlands punctuated by equally sweltering hot towns and villages. However it was quite pleasant riding in the early hours of the day, we could cover good distances, cheap hotels and hospedajes were in ample supply at every petrol station, the people were extremely friendly and the scenery was actually pleasantly interesting for the same kind of cleared lowland forest ranching land that we have seen since Guatemala.

Into the Andes!

After following the Rio Cauca for two days the highway crosses the river and heads straight up into the Andes from Puerto Valdivia. We managed to reach Alto de Ventanas, a mere 1800 metres higher than where we had started over only 37 kms of riding, the contrast in climate was amazing.

The night before we had sweated under a small fan in our hotel room in the hot and sticky conditions, then 37 kms later we arrived into the mountain clouds, lush green cloud forest and after a short downhill to the village of Alto de Ventanas we were actually freezing cold in our sweat soaked clothes. Luckily there was a sweet little ‘Residencia’ (small roadside hotel), cheap rooms with mountain views (when the clouds cleared!), good food, a sweet old lady in the kitchen and thankfully hot showers! The first time we had really needed hot showers in what seemed like forever. Welcome to Los Andes!

The next day the climbing continued up to Yarumal past some extremely poor people living in black plastic lined wood framed huts right on the road. Some of the kids and women were shaking plastic cups at the passing trucks begging for money, although not at us, while others seemed to eek out an existence on collecting tree fern trucks from the surrounding cloud forest and making utensils or souvenirs from them.

After Yarumal it then dropped down 500m or so then straight back up to the highest point on this stretch of road at Los Llanos and 2,800 metres elevation. Just before we reached Los Llanos which sits on a highland plain the clouds moved in and the rain began. In ten minutes we had found a hospedaje but were already soaked to the bone and freezing cold at this icy wind and rain swept place. Luckily hot showers again. We both noticed the distinct thinness to the air up here after so long near sea level. 

The next morning after wrapping our hands around large mugs of hot coffee and rugging up with jackets and winter gloves we rode under blue skies through this beautiful landscape. In fact with the large number of eucalyptus trees, some pine trees, and rolling green fields filled with the distinctive black and white fresian dairy cows we could have been forgiven for thinking we were riding in winter in the Adelaide hills.

Who would have thought that parts of the Andes would look like this. In Columbia this is know as ‘La Ruta de Leche’ (the milk route), with and it was beautiful riding. The most spectacular part however was saved for the 1000m descent into the valley where Medellin lies. Like all big mountain roads that hug cliff faces, wind around big switchbacks, descend very steeply, and that you can see 500m below exactly where you are going to follow this ribbon of road cut into the mountain....this one made us feel particularly small on our bikes.

I think our mouths were permanently open in awe as we attempted to capture it on photos and tried not to burn out our brakes...a good excuse to stop to soak it all in.

Entering Medellin was as usual with the big cities (Medellin has 2.5 million inhabitants) a high adrenaline activity, a very long and busy entry into the city and then we were frustrated a little by the appearance of a nice two lane bike path which after 500m stopped dead in it’s tracks,

(???? i dont know what they expect people to use this 500m of bike lane for!) meaning pushing our bikes back down onto the busy 3 lane highway. The sky was blackening and the shadow of rain that covered the city skyline soon hit us unleashing vast amounts of rain, the streets were flooded and we made our way lights and all to a hostel. We were drowned rats wheeling our dripping bikes into the hostel...but we had made it to Medellin, ridden up into the Andes and we are now going to rest up for a couple of days!

Thanks for sharing the journey with us. Happy pedalling, blue skies.

Hasta la proxima vez

Ali and Anna

If you’re hungry for more i’ve written below some more things about our impressions of Columbia.... thus far . Hope you enjoy!


On every street, beach, park, cafe and footpath it seems in Colombia, there is a man walking or sitting with a tray full of cigarettes in one arm and the other is holding a wooden box containing between 2 and 5 thermos flasks. ‘hay tinto’ they call to us.

Tinto is a black coffee served in tiny espresso sized plastic cups and is a sweet sugary muddy brew rather than a fine espresso. But it is extremely cheap (at 200 COP = 10 cents a shot) and extremely convenient having it available everywhere. We don’t really like it for the coffee but we drink it for the social interaction with the street tinto vendors, and after all when in Colombia do as the Colombians do. And they all drink tinto...

Fruit, jugos, cocos and arepas

We have had some special requests from loyal followers about the exotic foods we have been consuming on our travels. 

The fruits and juices in Colombia are amazing. In Cartagena you could buy fresh mango, papaya or watermelon from the wooden carts wheeled around town. In most villages we pass we can usually buy fresh fruit. Our favourite fruits from these parts are mango, maracuya (large yellow passionfruit), granadillo (also the same family as passionfruit), sandia (juicy watermelon) and bananas of course. 

Granadillos and other fresh fruit goodness at a streetside market

Jugos naturales’ are fresh squeezed orange juice or grapefruit available on the roadside. In Cartagena we could have blended juice combinations of mango, mandarin, passionfruit and orange, served ice cold with a free top-ups.

A recent tropical addiction of Anna’s is coconut juice or ‘agua de coco’. Whenever she gets a chance to drink a fresh one she will, I know that we are about to stop the moment i see a vendor on the side of the road with fresh green coconuts in his wheelbarrow. And as we rode towards the Andes she drank one at every opportunity “well who knows if this is going to be the last one I can drink!” she tells me every time. Fair enough!

Most street-side food here is deep fried. Patacones, are squashed and deep-fried plantains (one of our favourite snacks), Arepas are round, fat, pancakes made of corn dough sometimes stuffed with cheese and grilled on a hot plate with loads of butter, or otherwise filled with an egg and then deep-fried (Arepa con huevo), which is our weekly dose of oil in one hit. 

The ‘Comida corrientes’ (current meal of the day) have not been a culinary highlight of our time so far in Columbia. On the lowlands deep-fried river fish or stewed and fried chicken were always on the menu with rice and beans but for the die-hard vegetarian among us (Anna that is), there were not so many good options. Strange given the diversity and abundance of fresh vegetables like aubergine, tomato, onion, carrot, potatoes, coriander, yuca, plantain and more, but this has been the case throughout most of latin america thus far. However since we have entered the mountains the senoras in the restaurants are more than happy to prepare a ‘plato vegetariano’ (basically a normal plate minus the meat) which doesn’t vary from the standard theme of rice, red beans in sauce, fried platanos, maybe a small bit of salad, some sliced tomato and arepas. I hope we won’t get bored of this, but for now it’s filling and a hearty meal.

Which again brings us to our conclusion that often it’s better to cook for ourselves. We usually cook outside our hotel room which always draws attention and questions about “what we are doing”, “is that a stove?” and they must think “what poor people to have to cook and eat like that on the ground, they are almost like animals...” etc... Sometimes however we have to resort to cooking inside and even in the bathroom.


Another very ‘Colombian’ thing is the streetside ‘llamada’ vendors or ‘minutos’ vendors, basically people selling minutes on a mobile phone. They sit there with there sign ‘hay llamadas’ or ‘minutos 200’ looking completely bored out of their minds with 2 or 3 mobile phones that you can call from. So if you’re in the central park of any Colombian town and need to call anyone, you can for 200 COP  (only 10 cents) a minute. It’s hilarious to watch.

‘bmx boys riding trucks to the tops of the hills’

Another thing so far unique to Columbia is the boys on bmx bikes that latch onto the back of slow moving trucks and basically catch a free ride to the top of the hills before zipping back down the bottom.

Enjoy...more impressions to come from this wonderful country!

Ali and Anna

Tags: andes, columbia, cycling, fruit



You captured Colombia very well. I enjoyed reading it, especially with all of the wonderful photos!


  Jason Dec 9, 2009 3:01 PM


Dear Anna and Ali,

Great to read your update again and what a fantastic pictures! It gives such a good impression! Seems as if you are enjoying it thoroughly!

All's good here in too. Darwin shows it's tropical build up! I will send you a more detailed email, sometime soon.

Stay well & keep enjoying!

  Olga Dec 9, 2009 11:48 PM


Brings back a few memories... what an amazing country Colombia is... best wishes for the next stretch to Ecuador.

In Quito I recommend the Hotel Grand in the old town (has a kitchen).


  Graham Haigh Dec 10, 2009 1:35 PM


Hi A and A,
Thanxs for the food update! That should be a standard topic :)
Also enjoyed reading the other impressions, love to read some more next time.
Keep making pictures of your ordinary things and daily rituals, it helps me imagine how it is being Alli and Anna.
Lots of hugs from your Rotterdam fanclub,

  Eva Dec 11, 2009 6:26 AM


Hi Anna and Ali,

Been a long since I thoroughly read one of your reports. And that's a shame, because I love them! I'm happy you've reached South America, and it sounds like a wonderful part to travel through!

xx Lotte

  lotte Dec 13, 2009 11:40 PM


Hey thefuegoproject,

We really like following your story and have decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Dec 14, 2009 8:33 AM


GREAT photos and narrative....CONGRATS you two...looking forward to the next addition...it was wonderful to meet up with Nobu and Hiro in Panama City...continue to be SAFE...love, Carol in L.A.

  Carol Williams Jan 5, 2010 4:39 AM


Keep me updated on your travels


  janice Jul 17, 2010 10:46 PM

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