The mountain biking in Colombia is in its infancy. Especially in the Sierra Nevadas where Scotsman Tom Wilkinson has started Elemento Outdoor, a mountain biking tour company. Tom wants to change all of this, however. He sees huge opportunity in the sun kissed green hills above Santa Marta, Colombia. These hills, just ten short years ago, were controlled by paramilitary groups, and were a ‘no-go zone’ for tourists and locals alike. They left, however, a series of trails that are perfect for mountain biking.
I’ve talked before about how Colombia is moving forward, and I think that Tom’s investment in the country is a perfect example of the hope and progress that is being made. Tom sees a mountain biking mecca, where there was once war torn carnage. He sees the coastal mountains of Colombia as being a draw for mountain bikers from around the world. His plans are large, and when his vision is completed, I think that the Sierra Nevadas of Colombia will be on the radar of every mountain biker around the world.
Tom wants to bring mountain biking in Colombia to the forefront of adventure tourism, not just in the country, but the continent. He plans on building a mountain biking playground that, once complete, would rival anywhere in the world. A single track trail that descends 2000 vertical meters from pine tree cloud forest to Caribbean white sand beach is only one of the many ideas he has in mind. All designed by professional trail builders, and created with the help of local labour.
All of Tom’s dreams of a mountain biking mecca in Colombia are not just pie in the sky fantasies. He’s been running his tour company now for over a year. There’s enough trails in the surrounding area that they even offer overnight journeys, to get even deeper into the heart of the Sierra Nevada range. He has quality contacts with the locals, who respect him, and are excited for his vision. He hires local guides, and works with the natives to get access to places that no one else has access to. It’s a model of sustainable eco-tourism.
These contacts are allowing him to guide on more land in the region than anyone else. The Sierra Nevadas are one of the most bio-diverse places in the world. Mountain biking in this range is not just a thrill, but a journey. The peaks are snow capped, and it’s apparently the only place in the world you can see both snow, and the Caribbean. Throw in some exotic birds, fresh oranges picked off of a wild orange tree, and the excitement of riding former paramilitary trails, and you have a concoction for one hell of a ride.
Tom’s part of what is moving Colombia forward. Foreigners are coming to the country to work and play. It’s a vast frontier land right now, with opportunities for driven foreigners such as Tom. In the coming years Colombia’s name will no longer be synonymous with cocaine and violence, and the people who are investing in the country right now will have a head start on everyone who comes late to the party. Tom’s vision is big. As is Colombia’s future.