The video for the megahit “La Bicicleta” shows a carefree Shakira on her bike zooming past a never-ending line of cars stalled in traffic. Now, when I think of Colombia or Latin America, the term “bike friendly” doesn’t always come to mind. Since I used to live in Cambridge — arguably the most bike friendly city in the U.S. — I decided to do some research and put Shakira to the test.
I should have known better. Is Shakira ever wrong? While many Latin American cities have a long way to go before achieving the highly developed biking infrastructure of cities like Amsterdam, they’re certainly on their way. So in honor of National Bike Month in May, plan your next biking excursion to one of these cities.
Since 2012, Buenos Aires has implemented more than 85 miles of bike paths. The city launched an Ecobici bike share program in 2015, expected to clock in about a million trips per year. Their focus on bikeability is just one of the many city planning initiatives to address congestion, urban sprawl, and transportation inefficiencies in the South American metropolis.
Unlike Barranquilla, where the video for “La Bicicleta” was filmed, Bogotá is the true Colombian city for bike aficionados. Not only does the Colombian capital boast 215 miles of bike paths, but it also closes an additional 70 miles of roads to vehicle traffic every Sunday for the Ciclovia program. That’s more bike paths than any other city in Latin America. Dating back to the mid-1970s, the program has spread to other cities around Latin America and the rest of the world. Bogotá’s love for the bicycle is rooted not only in fitness but also socioeconomic justice. Former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa was quoted as saying, “a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important to one in a $30,000 car.”
Like Buenos Aires, Mexico City also has an Ecobici bike sharing system. Many of the 100,000 members have used these bikes to replace another form of public transit. Just a word of caution for amateur riders: make sure you’ve chosen a bike-friendly route. You won’t want to be faced dead-on with an eighteen lane raised highway. And I’m only slightly exaggerating. These roller coaster like structures are quite common in North America’s largest city. But once you do know your route, Mexico City’s year-round temperate climate makes it an ideal place to hop on a bike no matter what month it is.
Rio De Janeiro
Rio’s bike system tracks its rides in real-time, currently clocking in more than 9.5 million! It’s also home to an impressive 275 miles of bike paths, just short of Bogotá’s network.
The Guatemalan capital followed Bogotá’s lead on vehicle-free Sundays with its Pasos y Pedales program, which started back in 2001. With about 15,000 cyclists and pedestrians each Sunday, the program has made Guatemala City into one of the most bike-friendly cities in Central America.
Okay, I know this isn’t Latin America, but Miami gets an honorable mention. I love the city, but my least favorite part is the traffic. I have too many not so fond memories of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and hearing the same Nicky Jam song play on the radio for the third time during what should be a quick 12-mile highway journey. Miami deserves mention in this list because its Citibike program can help you to beat the traffic. There’s a lot worth seeing outside of South Beach. Hopping on a bike might even get you to North Beach, Bal Harbour, or even Brickell in less time than that unpredictable UberPool.