19 DAY - JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

Medellin, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador Motorcycle Trip

RIDE DESCRIPTION

Medellin to Ecuador - Just when you thought our motorcycle tour itineraries couldn’t get any crazier, we’ve gone and upped the ante by taking our most popular Colombia motorcycle tours and extending them southwest, all the way to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, before returning north through a different route.

 

Ride to the Equator - With very little backtracking, a sensational array of unique experiences and plenty of time to dig a little deeper into the history, culture, and wilderness of this astonishing region of South America, our 19-day trip to "The Center of the Earth" is that perfect trip you’ve been searching. ​

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Two Countries, One Trip - Ride a motorcycle from Medellin, Colombia then cross the border into Ecuador on a trip to stand on the equator.

  • Climb The Rock - Soak up “the most spectacular views in Colombia” from the top of famous Piedra de Peñol in Guatape, with its 740-step stairway to the heavens

 

  • Paramo - Fantastic high-altitude riding across the Colombian tundra called Páramo, one of the world’s rarest and most bio-diverse ecosystems – enjoy the country’s longest road ascent!

  • Devils Trampoline - Often touted as one of the world’s most dangerous roads, this is a biker’s ultimate bucket-list adventure!

 

  • Hot Springs - Soak up your weary bones in the sublime therapeutic hot springs flanking the glaciated Nevado Ruiz Volcano, at an altitude of 3,500asl

  • Visit The Equator - Stand on the spot located right outside of Ecuador's capital.  

 

  • Wax Palm Forest - Take a stroll through the otherworldly Wax Palm Forest of the Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees on earth 

 

  • Scenery - Enjoy the kind of sensory overload that can only be experienced when riding through a kaleidoscope of landscapes, altitudes and climates

ITINERARY

Day 1 – Medellín - Aerial Tram and Parque Lleras

 

Medellín is undoubtedly the one Colombian city that’s undergone the most drastic change in the last two decades and now shines resplendent as a beacon of tourism in the country. Like a bad kid turned really, really good, the city entices over 2.5 million tourists a year nowadays, with its young, dynamic, laid-back, and arty vibe. The Wall St Journal named Medellín the "Most Innovative City in the World" way back in 2013.

 

This is a great city to explore for a few days before the start of your tour! 

 

Medellín is one of the most picturesque cities in Latin America, set in a deeply carved valley and surrounded by verdant peaks – the view, from afar, is out of this world. We recommend spending the day flying over the city on the aerial tram on the way to have lunch in Parque Arvi. At night we recommend drinking some rum and people watching in Parque Lleras  

 

Day 2 – Medellín to Jardín (130km / 80mi)

 

Jardín, which is Spanish for ‘garden’, feels like it was plucked right out of a Western film set, complete with poncho and sombrero-wearing llaneros and a ridiculously charming main plaza framed by rustic bars and local eateries.

 

From the moment you get off your bike, you’ll realize that everything about Jardín is authentic. Take a leisurely stroll around the main plaza of El Libertador Park, take a moment to smell the bright pink roses in the manicured garden, and ascend the bell-tower of the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, for breath-taking views.

 

Have we mentioned the local melt-in-your-mouth milk candies yet?

 

 

Day 3 – Jardín to Manizales (128km / 79mi) - Hot Springs and Páramo 

 

This longer itinerary south brings you to those sensational thermal baths high up on the side of Nevado del Ruiz Volcano. Enjoy the coolness of the higher altitude because you’ll be heating up in no time after this!

 

Recommended Hotel: Termales de Ruiz

 

Day 4 – Manizales to Cali (260km / 161mi)

 

Today, kick it up a notch and head off early for the first of your long ride days. The road to Cali, from Manizales, is dotted with fantastic reasons to stop – all conveniently placed about an hour’s ride away. 

 

Stop by the northern shores of Lago Calima Valle for a refreshing swim. Bypass bustling Tulua and, instead, stop in the quaint town of Buga, one of Colombia’s oldest towns and a crazy-popular religious pilgrimage site.  

 

Cali is renowned as Colombia’s salsa capital (that’ll be the dance, not the dip!) and the hypnotic beat of Latin America’s favorite music permeates every corner of the city. Lively bars, street dancing, a modest Christ statue sitting atop a hill boasting great views, a quirky park filled with oversized cat-statues, world-class food, jaw-dropping churches, and outstanding wilderness just outside the city are a few of the highlights awaiting your arrival.

 

Day 5 – Cali to Popayan (141km / 87mi)

 

A shorter yet more dramatic ride-day awaits you today, as you start your climb up the Andes to reach the lesser-visited town of Popayán. 

 

Dubbed The White City of Colombia, Popayan is a maze of white-washed houses an unmistakable hint that this was, in the early 19th century, one of the most prominent trading posts between Colombia and Ecuador. 

 

Impeccably preserved and rated second-best in Colombia only after Cartagena, Popayán is the first destination we hit that’s way off the usual touristy path. Easy to navigate on foot and more-than-a-little blinding on a sunny day, the historic center is an architecture buff’s Utopia and boasts the highest concentration of churches in all of Colombia.  

Recognized by UNESCO as a gastronomic hub bar none, Popayan is known for its potato empanadas (empanadas de pipián), usually served with a spicy peanut sauce.

 

Day 6 – Popayán to Pasto (257km / 160)

 

The Popayán to Pasto road is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent in all of Colombia so make sure the sky is crystal clear before setting off. Given that both cities boast impressive altitudes, on opposite sides of the mountains, you can expect a truly epic ride day through what is, essentially, one of the most overlooked and underrated regions of Colombia.

 

Pasto is a pleasant mountain town that’s set in the high-altitude Atriz Valley and boasts an interesting history. The most enticing aspect, however, is the amazing Andean nature that surrounds it. 

Nearby is Cumbal, the southernmost active volcano in Colombia (which stands at a breath-taking 4764masl – 15,630ft) and the main reason discerning mountaineers head here in droves. 

 

Day 7 – Pasto to Ipiales (118km / 73mi) - Las Lajas Sanctuary

 

The road to Ipiales (2,950masl – 9,678ft) is a biker’s dream: we’re talking over 100km of non-stop mountain curves, just the thing to get our adrenalin pumping. 

Ipiales sits just north of the border with Ecuador and is particularly famous thanks to the nearby Sanctuary of the Virgin of Las Lajas, perhaps Colombia’s most Insta-famous churches. The spectacular cathedral, intricately carved and with a richly decorated décor, was built on the side of a steep and narrow gorge above the Guaitará River, and is shrouded in mystical local lore. 

 

Whether you’re a believer (or not) matters little: the architecture and preposterous location of the church and its picturesque bridge make it an unmissable sight.

 

Day 8 – Ipiales to Chachimbiro (141km / 87mi) Border cross into Ecuador

 

Border crossing day! Your ride is not too long today although it’s always best to tackle the usual border-crossing rigmarole early in the morning. Once in Ecuador (high-fives all-round), you can head straight for the thermal spring resort town of Chachimbiro, one of the least known and most enjoyable of all the thermal towns in this northern region of Ecuador.

 

Locals are huge believers of the healing power of natural thermal pools and really, after a week of riding the Andes of southern Colombia. So spend the afternoon soaking your weary bones and the scenery, and feasting on fried tilapia.

 

Day 9 – Chachimbiro to Quito (135km / 84mi) – Equator crossing day!

 

The Ecuadorian capital is, in many respects, one of Latin America’s most appealing cities. Its setting is drop-dead gorgeous and its historic core as close to postcard-perfect as you could get. Yet it’s the distinct lack of tourist crowds, outside the main commercial drag of New Town, that makes it so enjoyable. 

 

On your way to Quito, this morning, stop by Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the somewhat cheesy but certainly entertaining City in the Middle of the World that denotes the crossing of the Equator. 

 

Quito sits at an altitude of 2,850masl (9,350ft) and is overshadowed by Cotopaxi Volcano, the second-highest peak in Ecuador (5,897masl – 19,247ft) and one of the most active in all of South America. Once you’re all settled in and refreshed, take the teleférico (cable car) to Pichincha for a bird’s eye view that’ll blow you away; get lost in the cobbled maze of Old Town Centre and spend your evening strolling along Calle La Ronda and its wonderful array of food, souvenir and craft stalls.

 

Day 10 – Quito to Otavalo (92km / 57mi) Otavalo Market

 

Today, make a U-turn back up towards Colombia, not before stopping by the northern town of Otavalo, revered for its Saturday artisan market that attracts indigenous sellers and buyers from all over northern Ecuador. Brightly colored pottery and hand-woven fabrics are the best buys to nab here (and reason to leave half your bike-bags empty!) but the most memorable experience will surely come from your dealings with local sellers. 

A visit to Otavalo offers a glimpse into the more traditional and rural side of Ecuadorian life. Located 50 miles north of Quito, the valley is populated by some 45,000 Indians. Women with their distinctive long plaits and men with their colorful ponchos and fedoras, are among the most photogenic in South America. The Otavaleño’s weaving skills are legendary and the amazing popularity of their wares, with foreign visitors, has helped them keep their cultural traditions alive.

 

Day 11 – Otavalo to Ipiales (167km / 104mi) Border cross into Colombia

 

We return to Ipiales today on what is, essentially, the only back-tracking you’ll do on this entire motorcycle journey.

 

Day 12 – Ipiales to Mocoa – Devil’s Trampoline (218km / 135mi)

 

The Devil’s Trampoline is often touted as one of the world’s most dangerous roads: a 70km (43mi)-long stretch of winding, unpaved and narrow track that seems to float in a consistent layer of eerie fog. Riding a motorcycle along this stretch of road towards Mocoa is possibly the main reason to choose this itinerary and, let us assure you, this hair-raising road with its blind corners and 1000 ft. drop-offs, will not disappoint. This is a biker’s ultimate bucket-list adventure!

 

The road isn’t as utterly insane as it was just a few years back. Today, a few well-placed guardrails and colossal DANGER! signs do make you feel just a tad more secure. 

 

By mid-afternoon, you should be sweating buckets in Mocoa, one of the many gateways to Colombia’s luscious Amazon rainforest. With a smattering of wonderful waterfalls, jungle hikes, and eco-adventure sports, there’ll be plenty to keep you busy here for the rest of the day.   

 

Day 13 – Mocoa to San Augustin (145km / 90mi)

 

One day at low-altitude was enough, right? We hope so! After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and plantain chips, saddle up and head back up those addictive Andes again, aiming for one of Colombia’s most fascinating, UNESCO-listed archaeological sites.

 

San Agustin Archaeological Park is bursting with pre-Colombian statues – huge carved stone statues that look like they are from Easter Island in the Pacific. This place is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie my friends! First up, spend a bit of time in the little museum found at the entrance of the park, and then take one of the many walking trails that guides you to the main part of the park, where clusters of statues and monuments are all within easy walking distance.   

 

Day 14 – San Augustin to Tatacoa Desert (269km / 167mi)

 

The Tatacoa Desert is Colombia's second-largest dry area in Colombia after the desert of La Guajira and boasts one of Colombia’s most ethereal landscapes. Due to the lack of light pollution and clear, dry air, Tatacoa is renowned for offering world-class stargazing and home to one of the country’s premier observatories.

 

Reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota, the landscape is a maze of heavily eroded dry canyons and gullies. Exploring the dry desert place on motorcycles is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as is the chance to spend an evening stargazing in the company of avid astronomers. The Tatacoa observatory is open to the public although, if you simply wish to swing in a hammock and watch the sparkling lights, you can do that too.

 

Day 15 – Tatacoa Desert to Mariquita (350km / 217 mi)

 

Leaving the desert landscapes behind we head to the town of Mariquita. The town makes the perfect stopping point before tackling the high altitude ride to Salamina the next day. The road to Mariquita is fairly uneventful and is basically a straight shot on the highway, but there are some interesting stops along the way. 


 

The temperatures will remain high as we transit the Magdalena valley. The trip will be a 5 hour all paved ride. During the final stretch of the trip, we stop at the site of Colombia's most tragic natural disaster, the Armero Tragedy. In 1985 the dormant Nevado Ruiz Volcano erupted near the town of Armero. Recommendations to evacuate the community were ignored by politicians and town residents were not even warned about the eruption. The eruption caused a pyroclastic mudslide that destroyed the town of Armero and killed over 20,000 people who were sleeping in their beds. Today, Armero is a ghost town with the lower stories of buildings buried beneath the ground and only upper levels are visible. 

 

On the final approach to our destination lies the crystal clear Medina Falls. A perfect place to go for a swim and cool off if you’re so inclined. There are several nice hotels in town that have swimming pools so if you're not up to drive to the waterfalls you can simply relax at the hotel pool.  

 

Day 16 – Mariquita to Salamina (188km / 117mi)

 

There are two routes to get to Salamina from Mariquita. The first one is the Alto de Letras, which is known as the longest road climb in the Americas due to its length and altitude. Topping out at an altitude of 3.692m (12,112ft), the paved road takes you from the tropics to an alpine climate in just a few hours. Not only does it cross the entire mountain range but as you increase in altitude you are able to ride through basically all the climate zones in Colombia, from the hot tropical climate in Mariquita to an alpine glacier climate when you arrive at the Nevado Ruiz Volcano. It's a beautiful ride but can be a little complicated due to truck traffic and tight corners. The weather can be cold, rainy, and foggy so bringing rain gear is absolutely mandatory. Don’t even think of going up there without it. After coming down from the pass you can stop for the night at a hot springs hotel in Manizales or spend time navigating through the city before making the three-hour drive north to Salamina. 

 

The second route, my personal favorite, is like riding through motorcycle heaven. Taking back roads from Mariquita to Salamina you begin a spectacular journey winding your way through central Andes. The road consists of hundreds of twists and turns crossing countless mountain passes and valleys. The trip lasts 6 hours and takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Colombia. The road starts out as paved but changes to an unpaved packed gravel road after the town of Manzanares taking you through cool climates and lush vegetation. 

 

Salamina is Colombia's best-kept secret. Tucked away in a far off corner of the coffee region, the beauty of Salamina is a sight to behold. The town itself is situated on the peak of a mountain, with entire streets sometimes appearing as if they are about to slide off the side of the mountain. Once we enter the town, we see why it has earned national heritage status. Houses climb the sloping streets with each one determined to outdo its neighbors. Elaborate woodworking takes the form of intricately decorated doors, windows, balconies, and zócalos (the distinct lower sections of the whitewashed facades). It's hard to walk the streets of Salamina without constantly looking upward at the flower-filled balconies.

 

A gorgeous bronze basin fountain made in Paris sits in the central plaza surrounded by tall trees and benches. In 1900 the fountain was brought to town on the backs of oxen and mules and since then it has become a symbol of the region. There are also various restaurants surrounding the main square where you can try typical local dishes, including the local favorite of steamed eggs (Huevos al Vapor), which is made with the help of an espresso machine. 

 

One of the nicer boutique options in Salamina is the Casa de Lola Garcia. Formerly a coffee hacienda, the owners have beautifully restored the house and converted it into a charming boutique hotel. The property is complete with spacious rooms, king-sized beds, and a beautiful courtyard with jasmine trees and a jacuzzi. The hotel has a perfect location and is only a two-minute walk from the main square.

 

Recommended Hotel: Casa de Lola Garcia

 

Day 17 – Salamina to Sonsón (87km / 54mi)

 

 

Today we ride to the former guerilla conflict zone of Sonsón. Sonsón has been off-limits for decades due to guerilla activity. Although it's safe now there is very little information on the internet about the area. Consequently, it’s untouched by tourism which makes it the perfect place to get an authentic taste of Colombia. We’ll even meet some people conducting demining operations and learn about their efforts to remove leftover anti-personnel landmines from the area. You’ll get the chance to hold deactivated landmines that have been recovered.  Yep, there are still landmines out here. This is a rare opportunity that you won’t get in any other country in the region. 

 

This ride is rugged and will be all off-road, but not difficult or technical. Some sections may be a little steep and other sections may have gravel. There will be some significant altitude changes and the going will be slower due to changing unpaved road surfaces. The route takes us through bamboo forest, banana plantations, and once we get higher, through coffee farms. 

 

The town of Sonsón is located at a high elevation but we’re going to climb even higher. The Paramo de Sonsón is a lookout point that stands at over 10,000ft in elevation. The lookout has a scenic view of the fog rolling across the cloud forest and nearby valley. By now it will be late afternoon and we’ll head back to town to check in to our hotel and grab a pizza and a beer. 

 

We stay at the El Tesoro hotel located on the main square. This is a 200-year-old mansion that has been converted into a unique hotel. Unlike other hotels, this one hasn't been updated and still retains its original charm. In addition, the hotel is somewhat of a museum and is filled with an eclectic collection of antiques. Looking over everything will keep you captivated for hours. 

 

Located next door to the hotel is a great pizza restaurant. From the second-story balcony, we can enjoy a brick oven pizza while people-watching on the main square. Sonsón leaves the warm weather of Guatapé behind. Located at 8,100ft you’ll want to bring a jacket because it's going to be cold at night.

 

 

Recommended Hotel: El Tesoro

 

Day 18 – Sonsón to Guatapé (140km / 87mi) - Climb the Rock

 

The gorgeous town of Guatapé is a leisurely 2hr-ride away from Medellín (paved all the way) and makes for a fantastic ‘lunch’ outing and makes for a great intro to touring Colombia.

It’s safe to say that pretty much all the towns in Colombia are beautiful and this one is no exception; the only difference is that here you can visit the famous Piedra del Peñol. This high granite monolith (technically an inselberg) rises from near the edge of a man-made lake, the Embalse Guatapé. A brick staircase of 659 steps rises up through a broad fissure on the side of the rock. From the top, you’ll soak up magnificent views of this fertile region, the fingers of the lake sprawling amid a vast expanse of green mountains.

 

After coming down, find a spot in the restaurant below, that boasts a view of the lake. Order up a huge bandeja paisa complete with beans, rice, chorizo and avocado, and of course a cold beer or guanabana juice. 

 

Some tourist attractions are just too good to ignore!

 

 

Recommended Hotel: Zocalo Campestre

 

Day 19 – Guatapé to Medellín (100km /62mi)

 

The day no-one ever looks forward to! This morning, after a lazy breakfast, you can head home to Medellín and bring this unforgettable adventure to an end.

 

As you may already know, the best way to tackle the post-trip blues is to get stuck into the planning of the next one!

HOW MUCH

Guided Trip

  • $5,510USD per person based on shared occupancy

  • +Add Pillion/Passenger $475USD ($25USD/Day)

  • + Upgrade Single Room: +$1000USD

  • Support Vehicle Available 

Self-Guided Trip

  • $2,660USD per person based on shared occupancy

  • +Add Pillion/Passenger $475USD ($25USD/Day)

  • + Upgrade Single Room: +$1000USD

INCLUDED

 

We aim to provide you with the best value for your money. Our trips and rentals include great bike, all riding gear, clean, budget-friendly hotels, and off-the-beaten-path locations for an authentic experience in Colombia:

  • Bilingual Guide / Photographer

  • Fuel and Road Tolls

  • Unlimited Kilometers

  • Hotels - Clean, budget-friendly hotels

  • Helmet

  • Cell Phone Holder with Wireless and USB Charging

  • SOAT - Colombia's mandatory liability insurance

  • Medical Insurance - (Just in case)

  • High-quality 50 Liter dry bags 

  • Emergency Tool Kit and Spares 

  • High-Quality Rain Jackets

  • GPS Tracking Device

  • Gloves 

  • Jacket 

  • Top box 

  • Luggage Storage

  • Optional Motorcycle Lowering Kit

  • Flexible Refund Policy - Cancellations 31 days or more will be allowed to reschedule or given a full refund. Cancellations 30 days or less prior to rental will be allowed to reschedule their trip at no cost. If rescheduling isn't possible you will be refunded the full price of the trip excluding the price of the hotels.

IS COLOMBIA SAFE?

Now it is. Gone are the days of kidnappings, drug lords, and guerrillas. We routinely encounter Colombian military checkpoints that ensure safe travel throughout the country. We've led hundreds of tours around the country and have never had any problems with security. 

 

Anthony Bourdain summed it up perfectly:

 

"If you want to find bad people in Colombia, you can surely find them, as you could in New York or Los Angeles. But nowhere have my crew and I been treated better or with more kindness and generosity. I'd bring my family on vacation there in a heartbeat. And hope to soon. As I said before: Colombians are proud. Let them show you what they are proud of."

🚠 Skyline of Medellin from the Metrocable
Bandeja Paisa
Motorcycle Tour Jardin, Colombia
Termales Del Ruiz Hotel
Colombian empanada with spicy sauce
Hotel Dann Popayan
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Quito, Ecuador Plaza
Mitad del Mundo in Quito Ecuador
Otavalo Market Ecuador