Colombia's Million Dollar Highway
Riding motorcycles can have its ups and downs and our ride from Popayan to Pasto was a good example.
We started the day in a city named Popayan, where we had stopped the afternoon before. This city will not make our top 10 list of best cities in Columbia. Our negative impressions of Popayan were mostly formed by the hotel where we stayed. Right next to the hotel was a nightclub that had a big noisy party planned the evening we arrived. The party continued until 3:30 AM the next morning. With music blaring just outside our window, we didn’t get much sleep that night. We didn’t even get an invitation to join in the fun.
After prying our eyes open with extra cups of coffee, we finally got underway around 10:00 AM to our next destination of Pasto, Colombia. Our ride went well for the first 60 miles. Suddenly traffic came to a complete halt, then just inched along for the next 45 minutes or so. When we finally arrived at the point of congestion, we were surprised to find the delays were caused by a landslide. Although the landslide itself wasn’t that massive, it had deposited a boulder the size of small import car on one lane of the road. Shortly after the boulder was rolled onto the road, an unfortunate motorist collided with it. After we got around the boulder, traffic flowed normally all of the way to Pasto.
The remainder of the ride to Pasto was some of the most exciting and beautiful we have experienced. It was 100 miles of fast curves and steady elevation gains. Since the road was in excellent condition and the traffic was light, we could go about as fast as we wanted. Well maybe not as fast as we wanted due to the military and police checkpoints we had to pass through. Nevertheless, it was a terrific ride.
Much to our surprise we discovered that the southern part of Columbia near the border with Ecuador was a mountainous region. For some reason, both of us had it in our minds that this part of Columbia was low and flat. That was definitely not the case. The road to Pasto gained in elevation until it reached about 10,000 feet (my estimation) at the summit then dropped down rapidly to Pasto. Pasto itself is located at 8,291 feet elevation. When we reached the summit, the temperature was 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the riding was fun in and of itself, the views were so spectacular it was hard to keep our eyes on the road. Around every turn there seemed to be sight that grabbed your attention. Another interesting feature of this road was an extremely long tunnel that literally went through a mountain to the other side. Fortunately, Omar had the GoPro running to capture the tunnel and some of the other sights as we rode to Pasto.
Along the way we came upon a roadside restaurant serving arepas, our favorite Colombian dish. Of course we had to stop and try them out. They were exceptionally good.
The final mile into Pasto was on an extremely steep road that dropped off at what seems like a 45 degree angle. With our big bikes the ride down this road was both exhilarating and nerve racking.
As you can see from our pictures, Pasto is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. It is an absolutely beautiful city with a population of half a million people. When we arrived in the downtown area, most of the residents appeared to be out and about. The sidewalks were packed with shoppers, street venders and others just walking around enjoying life. Our hotel for the night was relatively easy to locate, so we didn’t get too stressed over the heavy traffic or the narrow streets. The only negative thing about our visit to Pasto was that we only scheduled an overnight stay. Perhaps on our return we will arrange to spend more time to explore and enjoy the city. If you plan to be in the area, check out Rebecca Pittore's Off The Beaten Track Travel post Things to do in Pasto Colombia.