Colombia is a far more remarkable country than what the news headlines really say. With the promise of peace looming after 52 years of internal conflict, it is creeping up as an ‘off the beaten track’ tourism destination…one of those places you need to get to before it becomes ‘discovered’. As an expatriate living in Bogota, I have been spoilt for choice on weekend trips for exploring this impressive country. But there is one trip in particular that really stands out so far…
We decided to hire BMW motorbikes from a small private business in Bogota, and spend three days riding a 700km loop through the lush green and very mountainous ‘Eje Cafetero’, or coffee growing region, in central western Colombia. Spanning the distance between three of Colombia’s largest cities – Bogota, Medellin and Cali – the eje cafetero is a UNESCO world heritage site and produces some of the best beans in the world. This region with its coffee plantation tours, fincas (a type of farmhouse) for rent and incredible mountain hikes is high on the list of tourist destinations, both for locals and foreigners alike. But to see it by motorbike is definitely something unique.
We took a circular route, starting and ending in Bogota (see below).
With only a long weekend of three days and two nights, we had to ride long distances each day. We spent our first night with a friend at her finca in a town called Ibague, located at the gateway to the eje cafetero, sitting atop the central Andes mountain range (there are three that spread down like fingers from north to south in Colombia). The ride on the second day up a long, steep and very winding road called La Linea was a surreal experience, moving from the tierra caliente (hot lands) up into the clouds at over 3100 metres above sea level, before coming back down again to plantations clinging to the mountains like electric green carpets.
A treat awaited us in the Hotel Termales del Ruiz, a log cabin style hotel nestled in the mountains overlooking the picturesque town of Manizales. While the view alone is enough to lure people to the hotel, it sits right atop a thermal hot spring which fills the hotel pool with wonderfully hot, steaming sulphur water straight from the ground. Just what the body needs after an 8-hour day of riding pillion on winding mountain roads! Huddling around a log fire and drinking red wine, you could be mistaken for being in a cosy ski cabin in the Alps in December.
Our third and final day was more mountain winding, waving at families in little houses perched precariously on the side of steep and wiggly roads and some incredible vistas of the green coffee plantations that spread into the distance across peaks and troughs. Of course, a motor biking trip in Colombia would never be complete without getting absolutely soaked in a thunderstorm as we crawled back into Bogota with the Sunday evening traffic, but we were so high on adrenaline from our adventure that we didn’t really mind.
Numerous international and regional flights service Bogota daily.
BMW bikes can be hired through http://colombia.elephantmoto.com/
Bookings at Termales del Ruiz can be made at http://hoteltermalesdelruiz.com/
The trip can be done breaking up the 2 nights with any combination of accommodation in Pereira, Armenia or Manizales.
With more time, a stop in Salento is recommended including a visit to the stunning Cocora Valley: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/valle-de-cocora
‘Off roading’ on unsealed gravel, heading back to Bogota after a night at Termales Del Ruiz.
Stopping for a picture at one of the many scenic viewpoints along the route.
Helmets on a table in the foreground, stopping for a traditional BBQ feast on the roadside on our first day.
The magnificent Termales del Ruiz, with Manizales hidden in the distance beneath the cloud canopy.
The morning view from a room at Termales del Ruiz.
Winding our way through the eje cafetero, Colombia’s coffee growing region.
Stopping to let local traffic pass.