Biking is big in Colombia. So big that its capital city’s weekly Ciclovía event is now attended by up to three million people -- or more than a third of the Bogotá’s population, -- who come out to enjoy a car-free Sunday on many of the city’s major roads. While in Bogotá last month, we of course had to join local agency Bogotravel Tours for one of their cycling sightseeing tours to find out what all the buzz was about.
We set off on a sunny Monday morning from the company’s small office in the city’s sprawling historic center (called La Candelaria), which, though situated in the Andes at an altitude of over 8,600 feet, is largely flat, lending itself perfectly to explorations by bike. When we returned some five or six hours later (tired but much more knowledgeable about the local culture), Fernando Morales, who founded the business with his father in 2010, explained, “Sometimes, we get so passionate about our city that it is hard to contain ourselves”.
Indeed, our local guide Edgar, formerly a successful businessman whose family owned a shoe factory, proudly showed our small group “his” city. We learned about informal emerald traders, who populate the heart of downtown looking for business; heard about the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar; and visited the window through which local hero Simon Bolívar escaped an assassination attempt in 1828.
Along the way, locals shouted words of encouragement at us, showing just how much a part of the culture biking has become – something that Fernando is not taking for granted. “Just 10 years ago, people assumed you were either poor or crazy to be riding your bike in Bogotá. Now locals wake up on a Sunday and know what to do.”
Making frequent stops as we rode along parts of the city’s 186-mile long CicloRuta bike lane network, we also got to indulge in a variety of fresh, tropical fruits at a local food market (an undisputed highlight of the tour), and pay an unofficial visit to the local bullfighting ring, complete with a torero demonstration from our guide (without the bull of course). This was a particular treat because the arena is now only open during scheduled events following a 2012 ban on bullfighting in the city. We finished our expedition with refreshments at a local coffee roaster, where we learned about the production of one Colombia’s largest exports.
Bogotravel Tours uses only local, English-speaking guides for their groups and many tours are still run by Fernando himself. Tours depart daily at 10.30 a.m. and are available for approximately $20 per person (cash only). Make sure to carry some extra cash to pay for coffee, tropical fruit, as well as lunch if passion gets the better of your guide and the tour runs long.
For the adventurous traveler, Bogotravel Tours recently launched a mountain bike tour, which costs $48 per person and includes water, transport, and a snack.