Medellin Cartagena Loop

Known as Colombia's party central, Cartagena is all about languid days spent lying on postcard-worthy beaches, and nights spent dancing and drinking with new local friends.

RIDE DESCRIPTION
HOW MUCH

The pearl of the Caribbean and Colombia’s most celebrated colonial-era town, Cartagena is as beautiful as you’ve always been led to believe. We don’t even care how busy it gets – there’s never a wrong time of year to spend a couple of days meandering the historic center, meeting its colorful locals, and feasting on its delicious pargo frito, a dish of fried fish served with coconut rice is reason alone to visit. Known as Colombia's party central, Cartagena is all about languid days spent lying on postcard-worthy beaches, and nights spent dancing and drinking with new local friends.

Cartagena is right at the top of many South America motorcycle travelers must-visit lists and we’ve got four itinerary suggestions, each one offering different highlights and varying degrees of riding difficulty. The straightest distance is about 640km (400mi) and although it’s possible to do it in a day - you'll definitely want to avoid that if you have the time to slow it down and enjoy the journey.

 

  • West - Mutata (National Route 62) – This is the straightest route west to the coast and is ideal if you’d love to reach the beaches in the shortest time possible and then meander up the coast, visiting all those charming seaside villages up to Cartagena. This is also the route you’d take to Panama, via Turbo, but you don’t need to opt for this only if planning a crossing of the Darién Gap – the islands of Capurganá and surrounds are fab to visit of their own accord. 

  • North - Caucasia (National Route 25) - AKA the boring option that Google maps suggests. Fast and efficient if you’re short on time but, although the initial stretch out of Medellín takes you into high-altitude areas with mountain passes at 8500ft, it then drops down towards the coast, and this long stretch of straight can get a little boring.

  • East - Ruta del Sol (Highway 45) - Ruta del Sol is a motorway route that will take you almost to Santa Marta - a good option if you want to reach the far north-west and then slowly meander down the coast, to and past Cartagena, then Turbo and, finally, pick up the 62 back to Medellín. Great option if you’d like to do a loop trip.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Cartagena The pearl of the Caribbean and Colombia’s most celebrated colonial-era town, Cartagena is as beautiful as you’ve always been led to believe.

  • Capurgana -  Known for quiet bays backed by dense rainforest and abundant dive sites, Capurganá is the perfect place to spend a few days off the grid.

 

  • Bioluminescent Plankton  - Enjoy an amazing experience, swimming in complete darkness with only the glow of the blue light emitted being from the plankton. 

 

  • Cartagena Rooftop Pools - While you’re not busy avoiding partying and prostitutes at night are lots of things to do during the day such as going to luxury hotels and purchasing day passes to hangout at their rooftop bars and pools. 

 

  • Chicamocha CanyonLarger than the Grand Canyon, Chicamocha Canyon is covered with roads and switchbacks which make it possible to ride your motorcycle to the bottom, cross the river then ride back up the other side.

 

  • The Lost City Trek – Ready to play Indiana Jones? Believed to be almost 700 years older than Machu Picchu, the real Lost City of the Andes is one of Colombia’s most spectacular rising stars and we bet the trek to get there will soon-enough outrank even the famed Inca Trail in Peru.

 

  • Jaw-dropping Roads & Scenery– Enjoy the kind of sensory overload that can only be experienced when on a South America motorcycle tour. Ride through a kaleidoscope of landscapes, altitudes, and climates

ITINERARY

Day 1 - Medellín to Necoclí 

The trip to Necoclí takes a full day and is a natural stopping point for anyone wanting to visit the small towns on the coast before driving north to Cartagena. The ride to Necoclí is fairly uneventful. The trip takes you from the mountains of Medellín and drops you into the hot flat farmlands of Colombia. After endless hours of driving through banana plantations, you will finally arrive in Necoclí. If you wake up early the ride can be done in one day but if you want to break up the trip we recommend stopping in the small town of Mutata. The trip isn’t scenic or eventful but if you want to get to the beautiful coast it’s necessary to cross this area.   

 

The town of Necoclí itself isn't that spectacular either but it makes the perfect place to park your bike for a day or two and take a boat to the remote beach town of Capurganá. 

 

Day 2 - Necoclí to Capurganá


 

If you’re looking for a coastal beach town, flip flops in the sand, and rum in the tiki hut type of place, Capurganá is more authentic and laid back than Santa Marta or Cartagena with their endless t-shirt shops and street hustlers.  Accessible only by sea or plane, what Necoclí lacks in seaside charm, Capurganá more than makes up for!  Known for quiet bays backed by dense rainforest and abundant dive sites, Capurganá is the perfect place to spend a few days off the grid. Speaking of being off the grid, be sure to bring enough money for your stay as there is no ATM machine in the area.

 

One of the most popular activities is walking into Panama and visiting the town of La Miel. The trip offers fantastic views of the two villages as well as the emerald green rainforest and sapphire ocean. The hike passes through the town of Sapzurro and takes around two hours. The trip isn’t too difficult although if it recently rained we recommend wearing boots for the mud. Once you arrive you will find seafood restaurants, crystal clear water, and white sand beaches.  


 

Day 3 (or 4 or 5) - Necoclí to Cartagena - 378km / 235mi

Once you’ve hit the coast and are heading up to Cartagena, the options are literally endless. If you took a few days out in Capurganá, and are running out of time, you can knock out this stretch in one very long day. 

 

Santa Cruz del Islote - Want to have a totally cool story to bring back home? Head over to the island of Santa Cruz del Islote. This remote place holds the title of being the most densely populated island on the planet with a population of 1200 people living on an island the size of two football fields. If you have a drone this island makes for an amazing photo to hang on your wall. To get here you can take a boat from the towns of Rincón del Mar, Tolú or from Cartagena.

 

Explore the  Islands - Rincón del Mar is the perfect place to relax for a few days or to catch a speedboat to the San Bernardo Islands. Múrcura, in particular, hosts stunning bioluminescent plankton as well as small hotels that are basically tiny rock islands in the middle of the ocean. Isla Palma is another island in the area and is known for lots of fish and great snorkeling.

 

Coveñas - For a more up-scale motorcycle trip, hit Coveñas instead, the most popular beach resort town in the Gulf of Morrosquillo. Coveñas has all you need for a few days of relaxing beach-bumming: long stretches of beach, water sport options, shallow surf, and great ceviche. Don’t forget to leave time for a longboat tour of the Caimanera wetlands next door, a prized mangrove system home to many caimans, tropical birds, and other exotic wildlife.

 

Day 5 & 6 - Cartagena

 

Don’t Party Like The Secret Service - Colombia is known as the “Thailand of Latin America for its availability of prostitutes and if partying had a capital city, Cartagena would be it. Just ask the US Secret Service!  Back in 2012, about 17 secret service agents and 5 members of the US special forces were sent to Cartagena as part of President Obama's advanced security detail. After checking in at the famous Hotel Caribe, they spent the week drinking, going to clubs where they picked up around 20 prostitutes. Everything would have gone ok except one of the Secret Service agents got into an argument with a prostitute over his “bill for services.” The girl said that she was owed $800USD but the agent said that it was only $47USD. The argument got really heated causing the police to be called and resulting in the biggest public relations disaster in the security team's history.  We definitely recommend staying away from a place called Pleyclub due to the large amounts of prostitutes, and alcohol found there.

 

Cartagena Rooftop Pools - While you’re not busy avoiding partying and prostitutes at night are lots of things to do during the day such as going to luxury hotels and purchasing day passes to hangout at their rooftop bars and pools. 

 

Bioluminescent Plankton Tour - When in Cartagena, you’ll have the chance to check out one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena. Take a boat tour to Puerto Naito Baru to swim among bioluminescent plankton. Pick a moonless, starry evening and enjoy an amazing experience, swimming in complete darkness with only the glow of the blue light emitted being from the plankton. 

 

Totumo Mud Volcano - Another cool thing to do is going for a swim in the naturally heated Totumo mud volcano which is about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena.

 

Day 7 - Cartagena to Santa Marta & Tayrona National Park

 

From here, you can hook up your itinerary with a visit to spectacular Tayrona.

If you’re after a truly spectacular place to take a dip in the Caribbean, then you can (almost) skip the whole above-mentioned lot and head straight up to Tayrona from Medellín instead. This protected reserve encompasses the wildest and least developed stretch of Colombia’s northern coast – an incredible coastal jungle that literally crashes into the sea in spectacular form – we’re talking dreamy beaches framed by rows of palm trees, quiet coves, unspoiled beaches, and the kind of coastal landscape that’s made every guide-book cover the world over.

Trek La Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City Trek

Ready to play Indiana Jones? Believed to be almost 700 years older than Machu Picchu, the real Lost City of the Andes is one of Colombia’s most spectacular rising stars and we bet the trek to get there will soon-enough outrank even the famed Inca Trail in Peru. Nestled in the northern wilds of the Santa Marta Mountains, the Lost City is an amazing trip. A multi-day trek means putting up with heat, bugs, and rain - yet the rewards are out of this world. Among an ecosystem that’s pristine and unspoiled, you’ll be ankle-deep in rivers and taking refreshing plunges in waterfalls not many even know exist, you’ll learn all about the tropical flora and will meet indigenous tribes still living here, unperturbed by the encroaching modernity, and always willing to lend a hand and a smile. This is not an easy challenge, but nothing that’s unforgettable ever is.

Optional Route - Tayrona to Cabo de la Vela - 428km / 266mi

If you have the luxury of more time and don’t need to loop back to Medellín just yet, continue north to the cape and the northeasternmost point in all of Colombia. A windsurfing and kitesurfing mecca, this windy but jaw-dropping region of Colombia is remote and hard to reach but absolutely spellbinding. We’re talking extremely hot and dry desert trails, overlooking sapphire seas, and very few towns to get in your way.

 

Day 8 - Cartagena to Santa Cruz to Mompox - 328km / 200mi

Mompox is known as the anti-Cartagena due to the fact that very few travelers visit the area. Mompox is a place of unparalleled architectural beauty and seemingly frozen in time. Founded in 1540, the town was once a center of wealth and trade and rivaled Cartagena in importance as a port. Once the giant Magdelena river changed its course and riverboats were diverted elsewhere, the town lost its importance as a trade hub. Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, Mompox is said to be the closest you can get to experiencing life in a colonial-era port town. Boat rides can take you into the wetlands of the Mompox Depression which spread out to the horizon, giving a home to giant iguanas and tropical birds. Mompox is a natural stopping point while making your way from the Caribbean coast of Cartagena back into the mountain ranges of central Colombia. The road from Cartagena to Mompox is paved but the ride can be long and hot.  Lasting around 7 hours the road cuts straight through arid terrain composed of low lying scrub brush and sparse trees. 

 

Day 9 - Mompox to Bucaramanga - 350km / 217mi

Bucaramanga is the capital of the Santander Department, a huge sprawling city set on the foothills of the magnificent Eastern Andes Mountains. The historic center is amazing, with whitewashed chapels and the towering Sagrada Familia Cathedral. There’s a fun water park (Acualago) and wonderful botanical gardens if you have time to explore after your long ride day. The main reason to visit Bucaramanga is because it’s a natural stopping point en route to San Gil, Baricharra, Chicamocha Canyon, and the general area of exploring the department of Santander. 

 

Day 9 Bucaramanga to San Gil & Barichara - 98km / 61mi

 

A shorter ride day today, southbound, will see you at San Gil and Baricharra, considered Colombia’s capitals of adventure sports. You can literally spend a week up here whitewater rafting, paragliding, horseback riding, hiking, caving, rappelling, and more. As usual, getting there is half the fun and this route is no different, taking you through the famous Chicamocha Canyon. 

Larger Than The Grand Canyon - Have you ever wished that you can ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?  Larger than the Grand Canyon, Chicamocha Canyon is covered with roads and switchbacks which make it possible to ride your motorcycle to the bottom, cross the river then ride back up the other side. Chicamocha Canyon drops down 2,000m (6,560ft) at its deepest point. The terrain is arid semi-desert and speckled with cactus so be sure to bring extra water and wear your sunscreen. Riding through endless switchback curves the journey ends at the well preserved colonial town of Barichara or the adventure sports town of San Gil.

San Gil vs. Barichara - San Gil is where all the river-based action plays out: this is a much bigger working town that offers a ton of exciting excursions (like the whitewater rafting, bungee jumping kayaking, paragliding, etc) and a much livelier evening scene. Baricharra, on the other hand, is a more charming but smaller and quieter village but this is the best base for amazing hikes. Barricharra is an enchanting town, one that’s often used as a movie set for Colombian telenovelas.

Our pick would be to head to Baricharra early in the day, park up, look around, and be in San Gil by the afternoon, to plan whatever crazy adrenaline-pumping sport you like best for the next day. If you’re an extreme-sport junky, this is the kind of area that’s likely to kidnap you for an entire week! (Although most people just spend a couple of days)

Optional route - El Cocuy National Park - 234km / 145mi

Absolutely mindblowing! One of the best and least-explored wilderness areas of Colombia, El Cocuy National Park is all about sapphire-hued lakes, snow-drenched high peaks, and spectacular ancient glaciers which are fast disappearing. Over the last five decades, more than half of Colombia’s glaciers have melted so if there’s ever been a time to visit this region on two wheels, now is it. You can ride into the park, all the way to the start of the hiking trail to Ritacuba, by far the most accessible glacier in this region. The town of El Cocuy is the best base to explore the park but the entrance is still an hour’s ride away – spend the night here, ride up in the morning and spend a full day hiking the somewhat limited but still sensational trails. 

Day 10 - San Gil to Barbosa - 193km / 120mi

Quebrada Las Gachas, Santander - Quebrada Las Gachas is a series of natural "jacuzzi-like"  pools along a shallow river bed. Covered in colorful algae the river has been called Santander’s Cano Cristales. There is a 10 to 15-minute walk to get there, but it's worth the effort and the views are gorgeous.

Optional Trip: Windows of Tisquizoque - This hidden-secret is straight out of Jurassic Park. We love visiting here on our tours and although we’d love it to remain secret, we’d be amiss if we didn’t include it here. Tisiquizoque is a spectacular three-tiered waterfall that emerges from a cave set high up on the side of a mountain (the window) and cascades down 300 jaw-dropping meters of freefall. Best part? You can actually hike up into the mountain where the fall originates and follow the path of the river until the moment it plummets. There is also another trail that takes you to the bottom of the waterfall which is equally cool but without the huge panoramic view. 

 

Day 11 Barbosa to Medellín - 367km / 228mi

Either one full day of riding or 2 will see you back home taking you through the towns of Landázuri, Cimitarra, and Puerto Berrio before arriving in Medellín.

Guided Trip

A bilingual adventure guide/photographer is included. Luxury accommodations are also provided on this trip and are some of the best boutique hotels in Colombia.

  • $2,750USD per person based on shared occupancy

  • +Add Pillion/Passenger $385USD ($35USD/Day)

  • + Upgrade Single Room: +$700 USD

  • Support Vehicle Available 

Self-Guided Trip

  • Motorcycle Rental:

    • $770USD - Honda XRE300/Kawasaki Versys 300 

    • $990USD - Suzuki DR650

  • +Add Pillion/Passenger $385USD ($35USD/Day)

  • Hotels Not Included - Hotels are easily booked via booking.com or similar. This gives you the flexibility to make changes to your route as well as book hotels that fit your budget.

  • Fuel Not Included - Gas isn't included but the bikes are fuel-efficient and gas isn't that expensive.

  • Some Skill Required - Do you know how to change a flat tire? If you’re a confident rider then maybe a self-guided tour is for you.

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.

ALL GEAR INCLUDED

For maximum comfort and convenience, we recommend that you bring your own riding gear but if you need something we have quality gear available for you at no extra charge.