I receive emails on a weekly basis with questions about traveling to and riding in Colombia. So as part of an ongoing series about riding in Colombia, today I have an interview with Cyclotá, a Bogotá-based bike touring company that offers training camps, and multi-day tours for road cyclists, as well mountain bike packages throughout Colombia. Thanks to Tomas for his time, and for answering my questions.
How didyou get the idea to start a bike tour company?
By mere chance. In 2008, I raced with friends who organized the Ruta De Los Conquistadores in Costa Rica. After that, I was left with the impression that something similar could be done in Colombia. I was talking to people, who all said that a company with a focus on bicycle tourism would work well here. The original idea was to do mountain biking or urban cycling tours, but after a while, the focus became on road cycling. That was not the original idea, by the history of Colombian riders in Europe at the Tour de France were a big inspiration for our current focus.
What type of tours does your company currently offer?
Cyclotá offers both road and mountain biking tours. We take care of everything, and our guests merely have to think about riding their bike, and enjoying themselves.
Who are your usual clients?
It varies greatly, and they come at all levels. We enjoy showing people Colombia, regardless of their ability. If the riders are stronger, we can tailor the route to their abilities. But most importantly, we want people to have a good time, and to enjoy themselves safely as they get to know Colombia.
A big thing for us is to understand our clients' limitations, and their taste for adventure. We want them to know that they have us, a team helping them along the way, to help them meet their expectations and goals here. Right now, we are aiming to grow the offering we provide, all of which we first enjoyed on our own as hobbies. So our passion will always come through. In the words of Gary Fisher, "everybody who rides a bike is a friend of mine."
What services do you provide with your tours? Bike rentals, lodging?
We provide full service, with a focus toward this being a fantastic experience for our guests. So we have lodging, food, as well as full support and bike rentals to make sure everything is taken care of. Colombia has changed significantly since the 80s and 90s, when the country was known for violence and other negative things.
What can a visitor expect when they travel to Colombia to ride or train?
There's two things that still surprise even me. The first is the landscapes. Photos can't do it justice, that's the kind of beauty you see when you ride in Colombia. Second is how warm and welcome people are. Riding a bike makes you almost vulnerable, which here in Colombia means that strangers want to welcome you, help you, and get to know you. People here in Colombia are extremely friendly, so they will always want to approach you and want to make you feel welcome.
See, these are two things about Colombia that were never affected by time, or even problems with safety that existed in the 80s and 90s. Today, people who come visit can feel at ease, and completely safe. You know, I'm no expert, but with this whole subject of violence of that time, I tend to think of it in terms of the Wizard Of Oz, in the sense that the mechanisms that make us feel fear are often much simpler than we expect.
Seen through the lens of tourism, it's impossible to make someone visiting your country feel safe if you yourself don't feel that way. And perhaps the most important development in Colombia over the last few years have been that of re-appropriation of our own country by Colombians. This means that there is real safety, while I'm still intrigued by how our perception of reality affects reality itself.
Based on your experience, what are the routes that your clients have enjoyed most? And what are they most surprised by when they arrive to Colombia?
I still think that climbing Letras will always be a real challenge for anyone, and there's an obvious hesitation when starting that climb [Letras is, more than likely, the longest climb in the world at 52 miles]. There are various routes around the coffee growing region here, and in Antioquia that clients have just been delighted by. Each of the rides we plan out are intended to delight our customers, and make them feel in awe, just as we are in these routes.
I think what surprises people the most are the landscapes, and the changes in temperature [temperature is regulated by altitude around the Equator], as well as the immense size of the mountains.
What's your favorite climb in Colombia?
Letras is just incredible, and I never tire of doing it. Each time I find new things I love about it. I also love several climbs around Bogota. But I don't have a favorite, I like them all equally. Each route in a different region in Colombia offers something completely different and beautiful. Perhaps the roads around the coffee growing region are the most beautiful, as they never cease to amaze me.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to travel to Colombia in order to ride a bike?
To relax, on several levels. First, because Colombia is an excellent destination. It's a relaxed place, and with our company we take care of everything and take you to ideal locations that are conducive to great relaxing riding. Secondly, people should remember that Colombian culture is, by and large, simply not as demanding and intense as others. For example, as far as how we view times and schedule. This can lead to some slight culture shock, but as a company, we strive to move toward the standards of our clients. But that's part of traveling to a different culture, that you need to put aside preconceived notions you have at home, and take time to see the world differently, if only for a moment.
That aside, training can never hurt, as it will allow you to further enjoy your trip to Colombia, in particular all the climbs we have here.
What time of year would you recommend that people travel to Colombia?
Our dryer times of year are ideal, which is to say between December and March, and then June
to September. Having said that, climate is changing, and it's not as easy to predict rainy seasons as it once was. But if you tolerate just a little bit of rain, Colombia has great weather for riding year round. High up, in places like Bogota, at 8,500 feet in elevation (2,600 meters), it never gets colder than 54 degrees (12 Celsius) during the day. And you can get to warmer temperatures, 80 Fahrenheit/ 27 Celsius just 60 kilometers away.
What is the future of Cyclota?
Out objective is to help position Colombia as a destination for adventure seekers. With our mountains, we have a virtual amusement park for adventure. With that in mind, we aim to grow our business, particularly tours and camps during the winter months for those in the United States, Canada and Europe. We'd love to host people who want to come experience our beautiful landscapes, and to enjoy the warmth of our people.
5 well done documentaries about five riders that have helped shape Colombian cycling. They are in Spanish, but even if you don't speak the language, there's still some fantastic footage in all of these. Enjoy.
Rigoberto Uran Documentary (Spanish)
Lucho Herrera Documentary (Spanish)
Fabio Parra Documentary (Spanish)
Nairo Quintana Documentary (Spanish)
Cochise Rodriguez Documentary (Spanish)