I'm flying into Caracas on 14 June and have 10 days to make my way overland to Quito. I'm really keen to see Venezuela and some of Columbia but really not sure on what route to take or the best method of travelling overland.
I'm travelling with another female friend and her and I are keen to hire motorbikes and ride (we both have probation licenses for bikes). Given all the bad press out there though, I'm a little nervous to ride through Columbia. Could anyone provide some advice on how safe this would be? I'm happy to take a reasonable amount of risk, but I don't want to be silly enough to place myself in a situation where there's a really high probability of something going wrong... (I'm thinking hijacking/terrorists etc) If we do ride, are there specific things we should know about certain destinations or popular/major road routes?
Alternatively, if motorbikes are out - does anyone have suggestions on the best overland way to travel from Caracas to Quito? Are there buses or a series of buses? Any trains that head this way?
We have 10 days and would like to stop along the way... any suggested stopping points or good routes to take? What are the "must sees" in Columbia?
Any thoughts anyone?? Even if it's just advice about traveling as a female in Columbia....
I've just returned from travelling in Colombia for 5 weeks (cant advise on Venezuela or Ecuador). 10 days isnt enough time to be honest and you will literally be on the move every day spending most of the day sitting on your mopeds on probably the most dangerous roads in the world. I can give you the following advice though for consideration.
1. You state that you hold provisional/probation licences for motorcycles. In the UK this would mean your not very experienced on bikes (not sure about OZ?). I would highly recommend that you dont bike through Colombia. The driving over there is simply too dangerous even for experienced bikers and you will just become a statistic. Drivers overtake on blind bends and on the mountain passes this is just not good. Your small and there are lots of heavy goods vehicles and coaches who will be shoving you out of the way. Although in the cities they are ideal... Instead you can use the overland coaches through the country. They are very efficient (probably one of the most efficient I have experienced) and very regular throughout the day. This will give you an opportunity to use the travelling time to plan what your doing when you arrive at your destination and when you get there enjoy yourself. Also you will probably have to use a small engined machine which will require constant fuel stops (in not very nice/safe areas) and it will take you forever to get from one place to the next. (The average coach trip is 10 hours and they overtake everything on the road) a moped is very slow and you will be on the road for at least 15-20 hours a day)
2. Places to visit. If your crossing the border on a more northern point in Venezuela, go through Buccaramanga and head to Sangil (for 2 days). Sangil is like a small bogota and a bit cleaner. Stay in Sangil but spend a morning at least visiting Barrichara. Barrichara is a beautiful colonial village very near to Sangil. Go from Sangil to Villa De Leyva (change at Tunja on the bus). Spend 2 days at Villa De Leyva, do the horse trecking. Go to Bogota for a few days, not everyone will recommend this but I do. There is lots to do in Bogota and it is an experience in itself. Bogota to Cali. Cali is a more modern city and I felt one of the safest. Try to get there for a weekend to experience the nightlife, salsa etc. From Cali you can head down to the border with Ecuador and head off to Quito... This would be a bit rushed but you dont have many days. 5 weeks really wasnt enought for me and I only got to see about 20% of the country. I went to Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, Santa marta, Taganga, Buccaramanga, Sangil, Barricharra, Villa De Leyva and back to Bogota. To be honest Cali and Medellin were a bit like Mainland spain and not very Latin, other than the people. If you had longer I would say visit Cartagena as the old town in the fortress is probably one of the most beautiful towns I've ever visited, simply stunning.
3. Security... Well I met a lot of single female travellers in Colombia, although most linked up with other travellers for added security. No real horror stories from them, although theft from pickpockets is a huge problem. Just about everyone I met had a story to tell on this. My own experience involves 3 different attempts to steal from me in the space of 1 hour in Cartagena by 3 different thieves (I caught them all at it), and they werent very subtle about it. I'm a 6'5" ex soldier with a shaved head and built like a tank. If that doesnt put the thieves off then nothing will... and you will be a target regardless. Get a money belt, strap cameras etc to a belt, dont leave anything valuable in your day sack pockets, and carry you day sack in front of you. If someone says you have been spat on and offer to wipe it off your back hold your hand out in front of you and move away from them firmly (No gracias!). Being firm and polite works! I didnt have to hit anyone, but would have in a nanosecond if they give me any shit.
4. Dont be intimidated by Colombia. Other than for a few unsavoury characters everyone else I met were just great, friendly and helpful. There are lots of police and military along all of the major routes in Colombia. I never experienced anything in Colombia that I havent or wouldnt experience in any other part of the world. The security situation has improved remarkably.
Please feel free to ask me anything else I'm more than happy to advise you and my experience is as recent as it gets... I got home from Colombia yesterday. When you decide your method of travel let me know and I'll advise on bus companies, hostels etc which I would recommend.
I had a great time in Colombia and was amazed at how culturally and ethnically variant the place was between each city and town. I will go back there to finish off my trip at some point. Have fun, its an experience