19 DAY - JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Medellin, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador Motorcycle Trip
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.
Guided Luxury Trip - Luxury accommodations are provided on this trip and are some of the best boutique hotels in Colombia.
$5000USD per person based on shared occupancy
Motorcycle Rental Only: $1235USD ($65USD/Day)
Add Pillion/Passenger $475USD ($25USD/Day)
Downloadable GPS route included
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
Day 1 – Medellin - Aerial Tram and Parque Lleras
Our tour kicks off with a meet-and-greet session in Medellin, where you’ll be introduced to your chosen motorcycle and get geared up for the journey ahead.
Medellin 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 Medellin the "Most Innovative City in the World" way back in 2013 – and the city has gone from strength to strength ever since.
This is one hell of a city to explore for a few days before the start of your tour!
Medellin 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 – Medellin to Jardin (130km / 80mi)
We get a head start on this fantastic itinerary and set off from Medellin early in the morning, when there’s still a chill in the air and the city has yet to wake from its slumber. We head south-west towards Jardin, often dubbed ‘the most beautiful town in Colombia’ – a speck of colonial splendor revered for its quaint and colorful houses and stunning floral displays. 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 we get off our bikes, you’ll realize that everything about Jardín is authentic. This is the Colombia every guide book seems to miss, the one that backpackers never hear about and the one, perhaps above all others, that personifies real life in this incredibly blessed nation. 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 – Jardin to Manizales (128km / 79mi) - Hot Springs and Paramo
Nestled amid stunning landscapes just outside the boundaries of Los Nevados National Park at 3500m, the Termales de Ruiz thermal-bath complex is the place to go for total relaxation. Rooms have the feel of a classic alpine lodge and, while not huge, are certainly comfortable. Outside, there's a large thermal pool set among otherworldly páramo plants. On a hillside above the complex, there's a birding shelter beside a gushing stream, where 17 species of hummingbird come to feed. There are also short trails to explore on foot.
Meals are served in an elegant fire-heated dining room, with large windows offering fine views of the mountains and – on a clear day – down to Manizales. The baths are the only ones near Manizales built right at the source – you can see the sulphur-laced waters bubbling out of the mountainside right behind the hotel.
Recommended Hotel: Termales de Ruiz
Day 4 – Manizales to Cali (260km / 161mi)
Today, we kick it up a notch and head off early for the first of our longer ride days. The road to Cali, from Manizales, is dotted with fantastic reasons to stop – all conveniently placed about an hour’s ride away. Didn’t we say this would be just perfect?
Stop by the northern shores of Lago Calima Valle just off the NR25, 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 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 favourite 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.
Yessir: Cali is the reason we got up at the crack of dawn!
Day 5 – Cali to Popayan (141km / 87mi)
A shorter yet more dramatic ride-day awaits us today as we start our climb up the Andes to reach the lesser-visited town of Popayan. Dubbed The White City of Colombia, Popayan is a resplendent maze of white-washed houses and quite outlandish architecture, 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, Popayan 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 centre is an architecture buff’s Utopia and boasts the highest concentration of churches in all of Colombia. If you’ve visited the country before – you’ll understand that’s quite the scoop.
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 that’ll make grown men cry. Our first challenge, in town, is usually to devour these by the dozen.
Day 6 – Popayan to Pasto (257km / 160)
The Popayan to Pasto road is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent in all of Colombia and we hope for a crystal-clear day to soak up the scenery. 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 Guaitara 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! Our 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) we 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, who are we to argue? So let’s spend the afternoon soaking our 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 our way to Quito, this morning, we’ll first 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. Aside from the impressive monument that marks ‘the’ spot, the complex also houses an interesting ethnological museum.
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, we’ll take the telefericio (cable car) to Pichinincha for a bird’s eye view that’ll blow you away, get lost in the cobbled maze of Old Town Centre and spend our 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, we’ll 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; and the local inhabitants, 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 we do on this entire motorcycle journey. The great news is that if we arrived in Ipiales a little late on Day 7 and skipped a visit to Las Lajas Sanctuary, we’ll have plenty of time to visit this afternoon.
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 eery fog. Riding a motorcycle along this stretch of road towards Mocoa is possibly the reason you initially chose this tour and, let us assure you, the hair-raising road with its hairpin bends and blind corners, will not disappoint. This is a biker’s ultimate bucket-list adventure!
Truth be told, 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. Just.
By mid-afternoon, we 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, we’ll saddle up and head back up those addictive Andes again, aiming for one of Colombia’s most fascinating, UNESCO-listed archaeological sites.
San Augustin Archaeological Park is bursting with pre-Colombian statues, altars, and burial mounds – combined, they make up the largest collection of ancient religious relics in all of Latin America. First up, we’ll spend a bit of time in the little museum found at the entrance of the park, as we find it offers a great intro to what you’re about to see and makes the whole visit that much more fascinating. Next, we’ll take one of the many walking trails that guides us 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 boasts one of Colombia’s most ethereal landscapes; renowned for offering world-class stargazing and home to one of the country’s premier observatories. What once was a luscious tropical forest is now a petrified canyon-maze, one that’s defined not by sand-dunes but by rocky crevasses carved into the terracotta-hued earth.
Exploring this otherworldly 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.
We might just join you.
Day 15 – Tatacoa Desert to Mariquita (350km / 217 mi)
The sensory overload of this wicked trip continues today, as we take to the road for the long but beautiful ride to Mariquita, a town drenched in historic ruins and sensational natural surroundings that hide a bevy of waterfalls.
Day 16 – Mariquita to Salamina (188km / 117mi)
Salamina is an enchanting town that received National Historic Heritage status in 1982. The town sits atop a hill and is defined by its narrow and steep streets and its distinctively colorful architecture, with grand homes boasting intricately carved window frames and doorways. Part of a cluster of historic towns known as Pueblos Patrimonios, Salamina holds immense cultural value. Standing right at the heart of Colombia’s Coffee Axis, this town was the original coffee-growing hub, the one that spearheaded the country’s most internationally renowned export.
With a super-cool historic center, a maze of shop-lined alleyways, and a main square that makes for ideal people-watching, Salamina is a Colombian pearl you won’t want to miss.
Recommended Hotel: Casa de Lola Garcia
Insider’s Tip: Google Maps is ingenious at getting motorbike adventure riders on the right road, except when it most definitely isn’t – the way to Salamina is one such example.
Google will probably insist you follow a path that’s barely big enough to be a hiking trail and, in this instance, feel free to ignore it and ask locals for directions instead. Ironically enough, you may meet people who live close to Salamina and who may not even know where the main road is – a rule of thumb when riding remote regions of Colombia? When in doubt, ask three people and go with the majority!
And remember that the road to Salamina, although no 4-lane highway, is no walking trail either: this is a wide unpaved road that accommodated both cars and trucks
Day 17 – Salamina to Sonsón (87km / 54mi)
Sonsón is a picturesque town of barely 18,000 souls, nestled in the remote highlands of Antioquia, one of Colombia’s most fertile regions and one blessed with undulating verdant hills, cool nights and deliciously warm days. Agriculture is, and always has been, at the very core of Sonsón’s essence and here you’ll find a landscape dotted with coffee, maize, beans, and tomato plantations.
The town suffered greatly during Colombia’s agonizingly long internal conflict and, unfortunately, still bears the scars of prolific land-mining. If you’re keen, we can visit the Halo Trust, one of several agencies that are busy de-mining the surrounding mountainous terrain.
Tonight, we’ll stay in a 200-year-old hotel that’s filled with eclectic antiques and boasts a balcony that overlooks the main square and offers sweeping countryside views.
Recommended Hotel: El Tesoro
Day 18 – Sonsón to Guatapé (140km / 87mi) - Climb the Rock
Guatapé is a gorgeous colonial town that sits on the shores of a glistening blue reservoir.
Before reaching the town center, we swing by the striking El Peñon de Guatape monolith, which we climb for an unforgettable 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The town itself is an absolute charm, with brightly coloured houses and streets bursting with cool cafés and restaurants. Fancy a piping hot empanada and refreshing cerveza michelada for dinner? You got it!
Recommended Hotel: Zocalo Campestre
Day 19 – Guatapé to Medellin (100km /62mi)
The day no-one ever looks forward to! This morning, after a lazy breakfast, we’ll head home to Medellin and bring this unforgettable adventure to an end.
Itching for more?
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!
Adventure Motorcycle Rental
Motorcycle Luggage (top box)
Motorcycle liability reduction insurance
Personal medical insurance
Accommodation (beautiful 3 and 4-star hotels)
Entrances to the hot springs
Valid Driver’s License with motorcycle endorsement
$500USD security deposit
Tickets to and from Medellín
Visas (if needed)
Any personal expenses
Lunches and dinners
Entrances to tourist attractions not mentioned