Border Bound: Mocoa to Ipiales


Mocoa, Colombia.

After a powerful 3 days in the jungle above Mocoa, it was time to push on toward the Ecuadorean border. My newfound bike parter Raimon had arrived into Mocoa just in time to join me for a while. Exciting, as I’d not toured with any other bikers for over 2 months. We’d be jumping on the famed Trampolin de la Muerte between Mocoa and Pasto, a supposedly treacherous one-lane mountain road which through various floods and landslides has claimed more than a few lives over the years. Given than no bikers are on that roster, I wasn’t feeling to concerned…


“Narrow Route. Zone of Landslides. Travel with Caution.” Lots of hype so far… We began the long, long climb on dirt just outside Mocoa as early as possible, knowing that road conditions could make the 75km road to San Francisco quite slow going.


 Great views!! It is the extremely rare day that it’s not completely fogged in and rainy on the Trampolin. Likely that contributes quite a bit to all the landslides. I was pretty impressed by Raimon’s skillz in riding a narrow-tired bike with a very heavy BOB trailer on the rocky roads.


As I said, great views!


The higher the road climbed, the more exposed cliff drops it presented. I imagined driving it in a car, or even worse a bus. Seeing how close the tires would get to the road’s edge around tight corners and not being able to see the bottom of some of the cliffs would be a bit daunting.


Keep up the momentum to get across the rivers!


Evidently Raimon had lost his rain jacket a ways back on his route and had purchased a rain poncho in Mocoa. It created a lovely Poppins-esque look. Quite dashing.


Atop the final hill climb towards San Francisco just as the evening light started to change, we had to race to make it down and meet our generous Warmshowers host in San Francisco. All in all we climbed well over 10,000’ that day, not a bad feat! We rolled into San Francisco just after dark and bought some chicken dinner to carry to our hosts’ house. They welcomed us with HOT showers and clean bunk beds. So kind. We rolled out early the next morning to make the push to Pasto, a major industrial city in Southern Colombia.


 On the way, we started seeing signs of a Central Andean delicacy, Cuy — they’re guinea pigs, put on a steak and cooked over a grill. So far I wasn’t feeling a big pull to partake…


Overlooking Laguna de la Cocha on our way into Pasto.

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Quick stop for lake trout and coffee…


 Upon reaching the city center Raimon and I searched for a cheap hotel to regroup, restock and rest for a day or two. Hotel Santa Ana was just off the main plaza and had enormous rooms for a good price.

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Whenever possible I always contact local mountain bikers to go on group rides and explore the terrain. Julio Caustumal, owner of Ciclo Planet, was my contact from some friends back in Cali. We met up the next morning for a 3 hour tour… Great riding and even better company. Thanks Julio!!

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Raimon and I spent some time around Pasto looking for some bike clothing replacements for what had worn out. Colombia is hilarious. Even the mannequins look like they’ve had plastic surgery. Improportionately large breasts and, if you could see it, a butt that looks like it has balloons in it.

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After browsing another local bike shop the owner (right) offered to meet up for beer and dinner. How do you say no??

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 A little sleuthing led me to the Park Tool shop (officially sanctioned name by the company), a little hole in the wall high end repair shop in town. I needed to replace my shift cables and housing and he kindly obliged. NOTE: that tool really doesn’t go there, good thing I had a real mechanic around…


Two rest days in Pasto and we were back on the scenic route towards Ipiales, Colombia’s border town with Ecuador.


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More cuy restaurants. I think this guinea pig thing is pretty popular.


Raimon and I passed through the town of Túquerres just West of Pasto so we could visit a popular high altitude lake, Laguna Verde. Long steep climb up to the ranger station out of town, but so worth it.


 We stripped our bikes down at the ranger station and rode up towards the crater rim and the lake itself. Fun trail ride that would certainly be a great downhill return…


This guy’s got skills! Especially on tiny tires and drop bars.


Laguna Verde and it’s dark step child, Laguna Negra.


Down on the lakeside, Raimon was keen enough to spot some steam rising from off in the distance… Oh yes indeed! Hot springs at 10,000’? Here we come! We rode around the lakeside and found a perfect little muddy pool with piping hot water perfectly cooled for soaking. I think we inspired the other tourists as people were starting to flock over when they say the two half-naked gringos in the chilly mountain air.

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Upon reaching Ipiales, we found yet another cheap hotel room and I went out for another exploratory ride, this time to discover the famed Catedral Las Lajas. Of course there were many more guinea pigs available for consumption along the way…

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 Las Lajas. Built creatively in the bottom of a tight canyon outside of Ipiales. Gorgeous.

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After a couple of days in Ipiales, I was ready to push for the border. Raimon needed more time to complete some writing work and was also planning on a paved route through Ecuador, so this would be our parting point. We’d spent a fun week riding and exploring together, and I was a little sad to be on my own again. But I’d gotten really excited to ride a newly designed route through Ecuador, the Trans Ecuador Mountain bike route. Time to hit the dirt again!

Link to the route we took can be found HERE





One Response

  1. Sharon Elliott
    | Reply

    Hey, Scott – I ate a few cuyes in Ecuador when I lived there. Pretty good eating. Once was at a feast when I became a Comadre to our neighbor’s baby. Love your photos – can’t wait to see Ecuador.

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