South America’s Thriving Active Travel Destination Ready to Welcome Triathletes
BOULDER, Colo. –(BUSINESS WIRE)– Equipo announces 2015-2016 dates for cycling holidays to Colombia, including Boyacá, Nairo Quintana’s home region and training ground for the Tour de France.
“Being local allows us to share that special ingredient that can’t be found by flying in a guide”
Equipo is responding to the growing interest of travelers from the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Brazil, Canada – and all over the world – by launching 23 group dates from now to April 2016. There has never been a better time to come explore this South American nation, where pro cyclists on the world circuit train year-round, commented Anisha Munoz, President and Co-founder of Equipo.
Equipo is a cycling travel and adventure company with its own line of innovative sportswear. The Colorado-based company is led by the husband and wife founders, Anisha and Rene Munoz. “Come ride with us. We’re meeting you at the airport in the second most biodiverse country on the planet, and we are by your side for the entire trip,” commented Anisha Munoz.
Co-founder Rene Munoz leads many of the tours in Colombia, where he is from. “Being local allows us to share that special ingredient that can’t be found by flying in a guide,” added Rene Munoz. “Ride at an easy pace or prep this winter for an Ironman or Gran Fondo in our training camps.”
Colombia was chosen in 2014 as the best eco-tourism destination by the World Travel Fair held in Shanghai. The Andes has mountain peaks that rival the Alps; however, the near-constant warm weather in Colombia is a huge draw.
“Equipo surpassed my expectations and is opening the doors to a beautiful destination in a very unique and special way. They know the roads and set a high standard for cycling tours,” commented Founder and President of Nalsani-Totto, Yonathan Burztyn.
A 5-day tour starts at USD $2,400 and includes lodging, all meals, van and motorcycle support, pro cyclist guides and mechanics, Equipo cycling kit, transfers and more. Leave your bike at home, as Equipo features a carbon bike fleet for rent by Denver-based Alchemy Bicycles. Non-riding options include Latin cooking classes, cultural sightseeing, trekking, spa packages and coffee cupping.
This post is reprinted with permission from fellow blogger Mr. Klaus Bellon, who recently interviewed Team Cannondale-Garmin’s Ben King in January 2015. Visit www.alpsandes.com for insightful blogs written by Mr. Bellon about cycling in Colombia.
After the last post, which largely dealt with the tough realities that some Colombians had to deal with in the past, today we fast forward to the present, a vastly different time in the country’s history. A time so different in fact, that professionals like Ben King are able to safely spend time training in Colombia, in order to prepare for the season ahead.
As I’ve stated numerous times on the blog, I retain a special spot in my heart for Americans and Europeans who are willing to put aside preconceived notions, and travel to Colombia. In so doing, they often become enamored by the very things that years of bad press have managed to overshadow. They see a country that has changed drastically, and one that is completely different from what is so often portrayed internationally.
This off-season, Ben spent time in Colombia for the second year in a row. I asked him a few questions about his take on the country, riding there, as well as advice he’d like to give to those who are considering a trip to Colombia in order to ride. Thanks to Ben for his time and patience.
How did the idea of spending time in Colombia toward the end of the off-season first come up last year?
Every Colombian I’ve met talks about his country the way I talk about the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I knew it had to be good and wanted to go. I enjoy latin cultures and speak enough Spanish to make friends and get around. January is cold in Virginia, and there is nowhere in the USA that you can get altitude and weather like this during the winter.
Where specifically did you stay last year, and where will you be staying this year?
I met Janier Acevedo at our first team camp in Boulder November 2013. He invited me to stay with him, and by January 2014 I was there. This is my second trip of over a week in Colombia and the second time that I’ll leave wishing I had more time here. I’m incredibly grateful to Janier, his family, and friends for their hospitality.
The reservations that some people have about Colombia as a travel destination are well known. Did any of those things concern you or anyone around you before you trip?
People make assumptions and fear what they don’t know. Of course, there are real dangers anywhere, but the country has changed dramatically in the last decade. My parents were concerned but they are used to my wanderings. I’m only familiar with Antioquia, but have not felt a bad vibe yet. There is an intense cycling culture here. I see between one hundred and three hundred other cyclists on the road every day. I could be naive, but I feel safer here on the outskirts of Medellin than in some places in the USA.
What things surprised you the most (if any) about Colombian upon getting there, and spending time riding?
The number of cyclists on the road. How early they are on their bikes. We’ve averaged 7 AM this week. And the fact that most Colombians don’t drink coffee.
Yup. We Colombians don’t drink much coffee. The little bit of coffee that we do drink is usually of so-so quality—at best— and sometimes instant. With that in mind, your thoughts about drinking coffee in Colombia are…
It’s shocking that Colombians don’t drink much coffee and when they do it’s usually instant. They export almost all of the coffee they produce. I brought a french press for Janier to see if he can develop a taste for good coffee before his return to Europe. [I’ve written about Colombian’s relationship with coffee before, which you can read here].
How do you spend your days in Colombia? What’s your schedule like, and do you get to see any of the museums, local sights etc? There’s lots to see all over Antioquia.
Since we train so early, there’s time for a huge lunch, a nap, and an adventure in the afternoon. Janier showed me a lot of amazing sights on this trip like the Piedra del Peñol. We rode to the Rio Claro and went swimming. We dropped down to Medellin for some sight seeing. I also really enjoy resting, soaking in the culture, and getting to know people. I end up stopping to take pictures on a lot of training rides because the views are unbelievable.
I’m sure that Janier introduced you to some local food, especially being that he’s from Antioquia. Any favorites, or conversely anything you disliked or found to be a bit outside of your comfort zone?
I’ll try anything. I love arepas con chocolo, agua panela. One of my favorite things to do in South America is go to the markets and look for exotic fruits that you don’t find in the USA. Guanabana and guava are two of my favorites. On the contrary, I can’t develop a taste for mondongo (beef stomach) or lengua (beef tongue).
I know you really enjoy fishing. Have you been able to do any fishing in Colombia?
No, but I met a man today who showed me pictures of the extraordinary fish he catches. Next time!
You start your season in San Luis, what’s the rest of the early season looking like for you?
San Luis, then from Argentina I fly to VA for one day to repack. Then to Barcelona for three days before training camp in Mallorca. Paris-Nice is the first major objective on my program.
Would you recommend Colombia as a training destination to other Americans or Europeans?
If so, any tips you’d like to give those who are interested?
Get connected with a local or a ride guide who can make sure you see the best of the best. Things like that are inexpensive relative to the USA. Bring a Garmin so you don’t end up wishing you had. Be careful not to do too much. The amazing riding will suck you in but the altitude is brutal at first. Wear sunscreen.
Check out the EQUIPO feature in the latest Triathlete Holiday Gift Guide.
If the emails in my inbox, and the keywords that people use to get to the blog are any indication, there are many people out there who are interested in riding in Colombia, but aren’t really sure how to go about it. In the past, I’ve interviewed Nate King, who has spent two winters living and riding in Colombia, along with others who have made a permanent move there, in order to gather more information on the topic.
For many, however, moving to Colombia to ride is simply not realistic. That’s where companies like Equipo come in. The Boulder-based company offers bike tours in Italy and Colorado, but largely focuses on Colombia. I decided to ask them some questions, in hopes of giving readers more information about riding in Colombia, especially as the winter draws near, and snow is sure to start falling soon enough in the places where many of us live. Thanks to Equipo for their time.
Full disclosure: Equipo is now an advertiser on the blog, but this interview predates that arrangement. I have never produced “sponsored content” and never plan to.
How did the idea of doing cycling tours, especially in Colombia, come about?
We’ve lived in Colombia for years, and cycling is an integral part of our lives. Cycling is embraced as a national sport, and along with its long history of producing great climbers, the climate allows us to enjoy cycling year-round. We discovered an endless supply of cycling routes, and being surrounded by Colombia’s natural beauty inspired us to share our own experience with others. We started by having cycling tours informally with our friends, and word quickly spread that we had created the ultimate cycling experience in an amazing destination, Colombia. That’s when we decided to launch Equipo.
In your opinion, why is Colombia an ideal cycling destination for your customers? How does it compare to Europe, where most people go for these kinds of trips?
Cycling is mainstream in Europe. It’s also where the media pays attention.
Colombia has an astonishing diversity to explore: modern cities, Amazon jungles, Caribbean beaches, archeological ruins, a cornucopia of the world’s best coffee plantations – and this region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth. The tropical mountain landscapes are very unique.
There is a dream-like quality to Colombia, which the famed writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about here. Life at the equator, the sun shines year-round and the warmth of the locals offers a change of pace for cyclists.
Have you found any hesitation or apprehension from customers or interested parties in Colombia, due to the image many have of it?
Yes, and we address it. Colombia has evolved from its past history, but that news hasn’t reached everyone yet. Over the past decade, there has been a significant growth in Colombia’s tourism and overall, it has transformed to be one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The government has invested significantly in: infrastructure, public safety and security, the economy and eco-tourism.
In fact, there has been a surge in hotel development and direct flights to Colombia due to the dramatic rise in UK visitors. Colombia is only about a 3-hour flight from Miami. It comes down to awareness, and we are helping to get the word out by featuring cycling tours in Colombia, by writing about it, and by sharing our cycling stories.
On the flip side, we also see a natural curiosity of where these professional Colombian riders come from.
What type of accommodations, transportation or other services can people expect during a trip to Colombia with a company like yours?
Equipo offers a luxury cycling experience and we select top accommodations in each of the 3 regions we visit: Quindío, Antioquia and Valle. We have relationships with boutique hotels, and these meet international standards for comfort, quality and service. We also partner with exclusive residences that are not open to the public, for customers who request a custom-designed, private tour.
Our team (equipo means “team” in Spanish), includes pro cycling mechanics and drivers who currently work with professional teams, a pro chef who makes exquisite Colombian meals for U.S. dignitaries when they travel to Colombia, and pro cyclist guides on their “off” racing season. We work within this pro network, because the team, as a whole, is the best at what they do.
Each cyclist receives a gift basket with two full Equipo cycling kits (by a top Colombian brand, Safetti), along with socks, t-shirt, poncho and cycling cap. We also include daily massages, a 6:1 SAG car ratio, daily laundry, all the meals (including snacks and hydration by Skratch Labs), airport pickup and transfer, bike assembly, excursions, and other things if a cyclist needs it: tubes, tubulars, chains, brake pads, cables.
In fact, if we receive a booking with at least 90 days notice, we will also customize the cycling kits with your national flag on the arm band, and your name. My kit has the American flag and Rene’s has the Colombian flag. It’s this attention to detail that sets us apart. Our vision is to continue to build a loyal base of Equipo clients who keep coming back.
Also, as safety is our top priority, we depart from our hotel or if we are staying in the city limits, we navigate around traffic zones by boarding our minibus for a short ride. Finally, we support cyclists who are seeking to challenge themselves. If Alto de Letrasis on the menu, a cyclist simply cannot carry enough water bottles to do this 60+ mile monster climb. If at any moment the cyclist either needs food or water or simply needs encouragement to shift gears, we’re by their side and tuned in to their needs.
What advice would you give to cyclists looking to visit Colombia?
Colombia is a destination not to be missed. It’s no surprise pro cyclists from all over the world come here to train year-round for the altitude, great food, beautiful scenery and warm welcome. By joining an Equipo tour in Colombia, we take care of everything, and we have all the bases covered. We advise being prepared to ride in the mountains at high altitudes, in a variety of temperatures and to train for whatever goals they are aiming for. We share our insights from having lived there and knowing the lay of the land. We’re also able to help cyclists tune their training program in advance.
What do you hope to accomplish with Equipo, and where would you like to see the company in one year, or five?
Equipo is on your side, focused on delivering authentic, challenging and utterly unforgettable days and that’s our signature. We are raising the bar by delivering on this statement.
Colombia stands out as a destination to go anytime, but in different seasons we also feature tours in Italy and Colorado. We recently opened a cycling showroom in Boulder, Colorado, where we are based, and there are many amazing routes nearby including Flagstaff, Peak to Peak, and all the way to the high country by the Maroon Bells and Independence Pass near Snowmass and Aspen.
We have big plans for next year. We had great positive feedback from our customers when we were joined by Santiago Botero on a tour in Quindio, including Alto de Letras. Next year, we are working with the Colombian Pro Cycling team to feature their top riders. We’re also giving back by creating more awareness of development teams rising from Colombia. We’d like to thank sponsors who joined us in creating 37 cycling kits for the Urrao Youth Cycling program. This is the hometown from where Rigoberto Uran is from. We are crafting more ways to help the next wave of cyclists coming out of Colombia and getting behind important causes like this.
Our future is to grow our community of cyclists, our customers, who share in the notion that cycling is a great lifestyle choice. If you haven’t yet traveled with your bike to someplace new, now is the time to seize that opportunity.
Checkout the latest cycling and tri gear by Safetti, Zeal Optics and Alchemy custom bikes. Learn all about our next pro cycling tour in Colombia this September. Boxcar Coffee, anyone?