Chicamocha Canyon, Santander, Colombia
Hola Amigos! So you made a decision to cycle in Colombia, huh? Woohoo! Then you have stumbled upon one of the world’s best countries for cyclists! Ask any of the cycling pros why they come here, and you’ll most likely hear them say, “it’s a training paradise.” Colombia has something for every cyclist, from its epic climbs, steep descents, and beautiful landscapes, topped off by great coffee! Even recreational cyclists like myself, who look for epic adventures, can’t get enough of this place (LOL)! Seriously, I have now adopted this country as my own. Let’s first start with Santander, known as the Land of Adventure! Here’s a travel guide made for cyclists to help speed up your planning, so you can focus more on your training! You are gonna need it there!
This is a multi-part series of a comprehensive, one-stop source for cycling in Santander, Colombia. My desire is for you to plan that perfect cycling dream vacation. Sure your travel can be spontaneous, but great trips are carefully planned. Enjoy!
Things To See & Do by Bicycle – coming soon!
Popular Cycling Routes – coming soon!
Immerse Yourself with Colombian Culture & Traditions – coming soon!
What This Trip Will Cost You – coming soon!
Book A Bike Tour that Best Fits Your Riding Style – coming soon!
You Gotta Save Some $$ on This Trip too! – coming soon!
Bike-Friendly Accommodations – coming soon!
Fave Places to Eat Before/After A Ride – coming soon!
Other Transportation to Get Around – coming soon!
When To Go For Best Cycling Weather Conditions – coming soon!
How To Stay Safe – coming soon!
Best Places To Book Your Trip – coming soon!
Gear & Packing List – coming soon!
How to Learn Spanish Fast – coming soon!
Additional Colombian Cycling Travel Tips – coming soon!
Recommended Influencers / Youtube Videos to Watch – coming soon!
Connect with Local Cycling Clubs – coming soon!
Check out Cycling Gear made in Colombia – coming soon!
Related Blogs on Colombia – coming soon!
Table of Contents
About Santander, the Land of Adventure
It’s important to note that Colombia itself is huuuge! It’s the 4th largest country in South America by size, larger than Texas and California combined. 😱😱😱
Santander is just 1 of 32 departments (aka states) northeast of the country in the Andean region, with a population of 2.3 million people.
When it comes to cycling, however, people have largely underestimated Santander’s stunning natural scenery and epic climbs for Bogota, Medellin, and even Boyaca.
Those are gorgeous places to cycle indeed, but to ride in a place mostly untouched by tourism (at the moment) definitely has its rewards.
Santander is also known for its food, instagram-worthy small-town vibe, and rich history!
Santander shown in RED
Flights & Arrivals
Before you go, it’s imperative to understand Colombia’s Entry / Exit process, especially if you are bringing your bicycle.
Use this quick & free tool to find the most up-to-date requirements and recommendations for the visa, passport, health, airport tax, customs, and currency regulations.
Do I Need a Visa to enter Colombia?
It depends where you are coming from. Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, South Korea, the UK, United States, plus 77 other countries can enter WITHOUT a visa and receive a “tourist visa” stamp. Check other countries requiring visas HERE.
If you are a US citizen, you don’t need a visa if you only stay 90 days or less or for cumulative stays of 180 days or less per calendar year as a tourist or business. You must apply for an extension of up to 90 more days if you decide to stay longer than the original 90-day visit or pay a fine. For more info, visit the Colombian Immigration Authority.
What do the US Dept of State, US Embassy in Colombia, and CDC say?
Be aware of the US Government’s viewpoint on traveling to/from Colombia and what health restrictions & requirements are needed.
As of now, there is a travel restriction for the unvaccinated. Visitors ages 18+ must have at least 1 vaccine to be eligible to enter Colombia. If less than 14 days have elapsed or if the full vaccination is incomplete, the traveler must get a PCR test with a negative result 72 hours before boarding.
Upon returning to the USA, a PCR test with a negative result must be taken 24 hours before boarding.
Interesting to note that you must be vaccinated upon entry, but US Citizens DO NOT need to be vaccinated upon return to the USA.
There is NO QUARANTINE nor any curfew in place at this time =).
Monitor the Colombian Health Ministry website for the latest guidance for covid-19 and other vaccines.
Our experience was smooth in this area. The Form came in our emails within minutes and we printed them out. We read the dos and don’ts of traveling to Colombia carefully and coordinated our trip with Santander Cycling to make our first trip more efficient.
Water Quality: Be mindful of the tap water & ice in rural areas when you go for a rest stop. Bottled water and beverages are pretty plentiful.
Altitude: If you are riding up Santander’s Picacho (11,000ft+ alt), be aware of altitude sickness. Take precautions before you travel. CDC’s Travel to High Altitude
Adventure Travel: Visit the CDC’s website for more health info & preparation for traveling to the extreme.
Flying With Your Bicycle
Spirit Airlines is the most favored airline flying from the USA to Bucaramanga, Santander.
Spirit provides a 3-hour direct flight from Florida to Palonegro International Airport (BGA), Bucaramanaga’s only airport starting from a $175 roundtrip.
We took an overnight flight from LAX with a layover in Fort Lauderdale, FL, then arrived at Bucaramanga in approximately 8 hours. Our experience with Spirit was surprisingly good compared to my “not-so-good” experiences in the past. They have come a long way, with new and roomier airplanes.
Our bikes to/from transfer were flawless. However, note that you MUST pay for added services: Carry-ons, checked-in luggage, bikes, and yes, even water isn’t free. 😒😒
But, if you are not a stickler for these things and like to save as much $$, by all means, get the basics, be patient, and you’ll be just fine. I got by with a personal item, carry-on, and a checked-in bike box for a 7-Day cycling trip.
Don’t forget to deflate the tires, and DO NOT pack Co2s with you. NOTE: BGA will inspect your bike luggage before checking in upon return.
For additional details on luggage costs and weight limits, click HERE.
For a list of other items you can and cannot bring, see HERE.
Don’t forget to sign up for points (FREE) and download the SPIRIT app. It is very helpful when checking in 24 hours before a flight.
BTW, you are gonna flip out on BGA! It’s the first airport I’ve ever visited, high up a mountain overlooking Bucaramanga!
Transportation to/from Airport: We coordinated with Santander Cycling for airport pick up / drop off just because it’s more affordable & convenient vs. a taxi or Uber. Our bikes were put together immediately at their clubhouse one of the city’s best bike shops.
Supplement your Health / Travel Insurance!
Cycling while you travel is absolutely fulfilling, but make sure you cover yourself medically and your bike if something were to go awry.
Note that Medical / Medicaid does NOT apply overseas. The US Government WILL NOT pay your medical bills.
Make sure your health insurance provides coverage overseas.
If you do, make sure you have enough coverage for major surgeries, emergency transfers, etc. It can easily cost you $50,000-$100,000+ of medical fees just for helicopter rescue and jet transfer back to the USA.
For now, I purchased World Nomad Travel Insurance. They have been the only travel insurance I’ve found in the USA that will cover you AND your bicycle.
However, they only cover your bicycle from any damage by the airline. Haven’t found a US travel insurance that will cover your bicycle for the entire trip. There is travel insurance in the UK that does offer that option. Lucky them!
Cell Phone & Wifi Access
If you stay in hotels and eat at restaurants, you’ll most likely have access to free wifi. Most networks will allow you free texting & 2GB of slowwwww internet.
I, for one, need my GPS to work consistently, keep in communication with my guide, my google translate to work, and immediately post my stories on social media. 😂😂
T-Mobile offers an International 10-Day Pass ($35 added to your bill, no need to pay upfront) with 5GB of high-speed data and unlimited calling to 210+ countries.
Verizon offers 4GB & unlimited calls / texts to 210+ countries at $10/day
Your foreign currency will not be useful during your trip. The Colombian Peso (Cash) is King in Colombia!
The Aerocambios currency exchange at Palonegro airport isn’t the best option as the fees can be high. There are 3 ATMs on the second floor from Bancolombia, BBVA, and Servibanca.
Exchange rates at these ATMS often come very close to the actual exchange rate given on XE.com.
There are also multiple exchange centers throughout Bucaramanga if you forget to take money out at the airport. It’s also safer to find an ATM inside a mall, supermarket, etc.
I carry my money in a neck wallet with RFID blocking or in my cell phone wallet instead of a purse.
ATMs often disburse bills of COP 50,000, which can cause some trouble for smaller vendors, taxis, etc., who may not have the change. Break these bills at larger stores or restaurants when possible.
$100 = approximately COP 369,000 is a good amount to start with and have on you unless you plan on bargain shopping.
Oh and inform your credit card company or bank if you are using your credit card to make purchases during your trip. Be aware that some banks DO NOT work well in Colombia, like USAA.
The best bet is to have US Dollars handy for exchange just in case.
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