EXPLORING BOGOTA, COLOMBIA BY BIKE – A MAMIL’S CYCLING ADVENTURE
Colombia’s issues have been well documented. Over the last 52 years the state has been at war with the FARC (a left wing communist guerilla movement) in a conflict that has left 220,000 dead and displaced perhaps 6m people. Alongside this, the drugs trade (Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer) paralysed the country and discouraged many tourists from visiting this spectacular part of the world.
Times are changing however. Recent peace process initiatives have delivered real results and, although a recent referendum to ratify a proposed peace treaty with the FARC was narrowly rejected, the country is optimistic an agreement will be reached very soon.
This means that there has never been a better time to visit one of the most culturally rich, friendly and geographically diverse countries on the planet. Tom, founder of MAMIL SPORTS, recently did just that and fell in love with the country, its people and its hospitality. As part of a wider trip he explored the capital, Bogota, by bike courtesy of the Bogota Bike Company. A small business set up by Mike Cesar, an American who has lived in Colombia for 11 years and various places in South America for the last 17.
Tom writes: After being dropped off in Bogota’s historical district “La Candelaria” by taxi I walked through the quiet streets admiring the old multi-coloured buildings on my way to Carrera 3 where the Bogota Bike Company was located. In typical British fashion I was about 20 minutes early and was greeted by a happy looking local by the name of Giovanni – Italian name but proudly Colombian. Booking my place I said I’d be back in 15 minutes and wandered off to a nearby square to enjoy a local Colombian morning coffee in the Bogota sunshine.
Returning at the arranged time I was greeted by a group of around 10 “cyclists” who had congregated outside the street front shop. We were issued with helmets and basic but perfectly good mountain bikes and, after friendly introductions, set off into Bogota guided by the ever smiling Giovanni and followed by The Bogota Bike Company’s trusty mechanic. Our 4-hour adventure had begun!
Although cycling is Colombia’s second most popular sport (once a week 1.7 million people take advantage of the “Ciclovia” – a mass closure of roads making it the world’s most successful mass-participation event) cycling in Bogota on normal days takes a bit of getting used to. Luckily we had regular stops and checks from the guides and everyone negotiated the day safely.
Leaving the shop we headed down a crowded street and into the main part of Bogota’s historical district. Passing the Botero Museum of Art we cycled through the main shopping area – “Bogota’s Time Square” and passed various musicians and street performers (including a Guns & Roses tribute band) reaching our first stop the Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota’s grand central square.
After a fascinating insight into the history of the square and Colombia by Giovanni we headed off through the streets to our second destination the fruit market at Palo Quemao . After parking our bikes we wandered through the market and spent a happy hour being shown (and tasting) some of the diverse and exotic fruits Colombia has to offer. The highlight was the huge fresh avocado cut up and served with salt and lime – an absolute must to try at home.
After a quick 10-minute break to chew some coca leaves and explore the market we headed over the road and entered a shop through an unassuming door which led to a back room of surprisingly cavernous proportions. Why were we here?
“Are you ready to play some Tejo!” Giovanni said with a grin, “If so we’ll need some beer”…..I was in!
What is Tejo? It’s lawn bowls on steroids, horseshoes with explosives. It’s a popular Colombian pastime and involves explosives and beer. Right up my street.
After lunch we cycled past some famous graffiti and the bull-ring before heading to the coffee roasting factory for a tour via the historic “British” district of Bogota famous for its colonial English design.
Arriving at The Cafe de la Fonda coffee factory we were immediately hit by the powerful smell of freshly roasting Colombian coffee beans and welcomed in to be shown around.
Not only able to speak 4 languages and very knowledgeable on all areas of Bogota, Giovanni turned out to also be a coffee expert and took us through the detailed process of turning raw beans into the finished product. Equipped with a new appreciation of Colombia’s second most famous export we were invited into the coffee shop to sample the coffee.
Unsurprisingly the choice of coffee was extensive. Giovanni recommended a local speciality by the name of “Carajillo” a mixture of coffee and “Aguardiente”, a Colombian national liqueur which I can only describe as akin to watered down Sambuca. Wanting to have a true Colombian experience I tried it but then immediately ordered a traditional Macchiato to enjoy the coffee in its pure form. It was excellent.
With a caffeine buzz it was back on the bikes for the last part of the tour which took us past some more spectacular graffiti from world famous street artists and also through Santa Fe, Bogota’s infamous red light district (no photos were allowed here!). After a very enjoyable 4 hours we arrived back at the shop with new friendships made and a unique insight into the cultural sights of Bogota that you wouldn’t get via any other means of transport.
If you visit Colombia (and I very much hope you do) and find yourself in Bogota, then this cycling tour is an absolute must. Turn up with an open mind and a smile and you’ll be in great hands with Bogota Bike Tours.
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About the Author
Tom has had a life long love of fitness, cycling running and Tri-sports. Having done numerous half-marathons, triathlons and half ironman’s he has focussed on cycling in recent years taking part in 3 Etape du Tour’s, the 2015 La Marmotte in the French Alps and the 2016 Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy. He set up MAMIL SPORTS in 2014 to share his love of an active, healthy lifestyle and create a friendly global MAMIL community which he’s really enjoying watching grow ! He’s always looking for his next adventure so if you’ve got any ideas you can contact him at: email@example.com
Preferred Terrain: Road / Dirt