Ranked #3 Colombia/#73 World.
Pt 1. Bucaramanga:
A few weeks after I started working with PJAMM Cycling to document La Muerte in Ecuador, we realized that it would be a shame to have someone so close to Colombia and yet not document 3 of the World Top 100 Climbs that are located that country. We had previously been in contact with a brand-new bike touring company located in Colombia, Colombia Bike Tours, so we reached out to them to see if they would be able to help us figure out a way to get to the 3 climbs that we wanted to do, which was no small request as each climb was quite a distance from the other. Despite the super short notice, Yves and Gustavo from Colombia Bike Tours put together an exceptional and affordable itinerary for the week, so I booked my flights to head to Colombia after my term abroad in Ecuador came to an end.
I arrived in Bucaramanga, Colombia late on the night of Saturday, March 2nd 2019 after flying from Cuenca, Ecuador vía Bogotá. After meeting up with my photographer for the week, Javier, and Gustavo from Colombia Bike Tours, who was waiting for me at the airport, we ran into a problem. Somehow, none of my baggage arrived with me in Bucaramanga which meant I had no clothes, and also no bike to ride! The plan was to ride Picacho the following morning, and we were told that my suitcase, and more importantly my bike, would get to Bucaramanga at around 3-4am, so we headed to the hotel hoping that this would be true and still planning to ride the Picacho the next day. It turned out that the promise of my luggage arriving during the night was only a half truth - in the a.m. my suitcase had been delivered, but my bike was still nowhere to be found! After many long phone calls to the airline, we resigned ourselves to no bike ride that day (this adjustment would catch up with us in 2 days with an hour straight drive to Medellin to climb El Limonar).
With nothing to do on Sunday, Gustavo and Javier decided that it would be fun to show me around Bucaramanga, which I agreed sounded like a cool experience. After hanging out at Gustavo’s house for a few hours, we drove in to the center of Bucaramanga to see the sights. While driving around, we came to a huge, popular bridge, and Javier decided it could be an interesting drone opportunity . . .
. . . which it absolutely was! Bridge over Carrera Novena Viaduct - Bucaramanga in the background!
After the bridge, we decided on a whim to go paragliding and drove up the side of a mountain to an awesome place with a great view of the city and payed $80,000 COP, roughly $25 USD, to go “flying” for 15 minutes. I was blown away at how cheap it was, as any activity remotely similar in the States would have cost hundreds of dollars. They harnessed me to a pilot and we literally just ran and jumped off the side of the mountain! I spent the next 15 min soaring hundreds of feet above the city being given the city tour via a birds-eye view by my pilot. Upon landing, I was effectively speechless, and only slightly motion sick (worth it!)
It is very difficult to describe how incredible of an experience paragliding was,
but I hope this picture is the thousand words that’ll do the trick!
Next, we then headed to the area of the city called Floridablanca, where we took an amazing cable car ride up through the mountains to view a giant statue of Jesus Christ (rivaling the incomparable 1920’s Rio de Janeiro masterpiece) that was recently built on a mountain top overlooking the city. We spent some time at the top of the mountain flying the drone (palm-sweatingly close to the statue) and checking out the Christ and lights of the city before we found out that my bike had FINALLY been delivered to Gustavo’s house. We headed back to his place to build up my bike and went to bed eager to wake up and ride Picacho the following morning. All in all, as much of a hassle my lost bike was, I am grateful for the wonderful day in this amazing city with two fantastic and fun tour guides.
Good luck getting drone shots like this in the States!
Pt 2. The climb
With my bike built up, and fully recovered from the previous day’s human flight induced motion sickness, we woke up early and headed to the start of Picacho so we could get the ride done and hit the road to drive to Medellin. At 28 miles long with over 7,300ft of climbing, Picacho ranks as the 3rd hardest climb in Colombia, so I was prepared for a tough climb.
The starting elevation of Picacho, 4,054ft.
Picacho starts out still in a pretty congested part of the city, with lots of houses and shops on the side, and also lots of cars to share the road with, but not to worry . . .Colombia as a whole absolutely loves cycling,and drivers were definitely comfortable sharing the road with cyclists as there were many other people out riding up Picacho this week day. As I worked my way farther up the climb, I was struck by the exceptional view of the city along the road, as well as just how green everything on the mountain was - just out of the city this was proving to be an exceptional experience.
Small buildings like this one were common for the first part of the climb.
About 7 or so miles in to the climb, we came to an awesome little shop called “La Parada del Ciclista” which translates to “ The Cyclist’s Stop”. La Parada del Ciclista was a a cycling themed shop that sold coffee and juices as well as snacks and other types of food. The stop was apparently famous for its ‘jugo de durazno” (peach juice) so I bought some to try. Verdict: super tasty! In addition to selling snacks and drinks, there was also a side of the store that was pretty much a bike shop. They sold tires, tubes, and tools, as well as a wide variety of bibs and jerseys.
Overall, “La Parada del Ciclista” was a really cool little shop. Colombians love cycling!
Just a bit further up the road from my refreshing peach juice stop was long bridge that offered quite a scenic overlook of the city. We stopped here to fly the drone and get some very nice video, photos and then onward and upward . . .
I love a good bridge!
After the bridge, the climb became much more rural, with less shops and homes. Atthis point, the mountains surrounded you and the greenery and thick vegetation are both calming and scenic. Something quite noticeable wass the constant chirping and singing from birds in the trees - It sounded and felt like I was riding my bike through the set of Jurassic Park! As I continued climbing, the road became quite serpentine, with awesome switchbacks that were quite steep!
One of many scenic switchbacks.
The road continued to climb and wind its way up the mountain, and the next segment was both breathtaking and “breath taking” - with me just trying to hold a steady pace and marveling at the beautiful green mountainside. Picacho is a long climb but quite manageable. The road is pristine, and aside from the apex of some switchbacks, is a steady mild gradient.
Beautiful roadway! Lots of people think Colombia, or even South America as a whole, is like a third world country, but the infrastructure and roads of Colombia are often equal to, or better than, the U.S.
After stopping at a store on the side of the road for food and water, we ended up having to wait 45 minutes for work on the road ahead. By the time we were allowed to carry on, there was a substantial line of cars waiting in line to move, experienced a steady flow of cars and exhaust pass me for a solid 5 minutes. Once we were back on the move, things started to get a bit chilly and foggy, which had me worried a bit (I had just experienced brutal weather on my KOM effort on World #3 La Muerta, Ecuador). The weather behaved however, and a bit of a chill and the spooky fog was all I had to deal with.
Flashbacks to my miserable La Muerte attempt as the fog rolled in just up the road
I was a little bit antsy to finish the climb so we could get cleaned up and start the long road trip to Medellin, so once we were clear of the cars and construction after our food stop, I started to amp up the power and push the pace to the finish. There were lots of steep switchbacks, and the gradient shot up a bit towards the end, so I was suffering pretty hard on the last segment! Just as I was at the end of the climb, it started to drizzle rain and the temperature was dropping substantially - so, no dilly dallying at the top - we loaded up quickly and headed back down the mountain - no cycling descent today . . .
The end of Picacho, altitude 11,264ft. Almost 7,400’ of climbing in just under 30 miles!
Overall, Picacho was definitely one of my favorite climbs I have ever done. Aside from the fog for the last portion of the climb, the weather wa absolutely perfect, which really helped me soak in and appreciate how beautiful the climb was. Of the 3 climbs that I would end up doing over the week in Colombia, Picacho was definitely my favorite. It was a long climb, but not too strenous, and it was so incredibly beautiful that despite 7,400’ of climbing, I was disappointed to stop riding at the top of the mountain.
This is a climb worth travelling to . . .
And Bucaramanga is a fun town to visit - we LOVE Colombia!
A very gracious thank you to Colombia Bike Tours for making our Colombia trip possible and for helping us document the hardest climbs that their country has to offer. Check out their site to learn more about their services, and consider booking a trip with them to ride some of the most beautiful roads in the world! You won’t regret it!
Our photographer for the trip was Javier Chacon Mendoza, and we were very happy with his talents as both a camera man and a drone pilot. If you are ever in South America and are looking for some amazing photography and film from either the ground or from the skies, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org