Published: April 11, 2018 by PICSPORADIC
Shutting in the dusty jungle – El Zur Bike Park – Esquintla, Guatemala
Checking out the salsa band at Las Palmas
Guatemala’s Colonial past
The sights and sounds of Antigua bring you into another time. The city – a UNESCO world heritage site – is rich in Spanish colonial history and scattered with ruins, remnants of various natural disasters since its foundation in the 16th century. Everyday life here involves the bustle of street carts, mopeds, moto-taxis and campesinos carrying goods on their backs through town.
Our first few days we explored the city and environs by bikes, connecting ancient footpaths and agricultural trails to vistas high above the town. It’s easy to get out around here.
Post-ride refreshment break on the side of the highway.
"This is not like the riding in Canada"
One thing was a consensus among the riders: this wasn’t like any of the riding up north. Dry sandy volcanic soil, loose corners, and a raw element that the groomed trails of Canada will never have! With our teeth cut on the local terrain it was time to make moves.
Bikinis and Down Jackets
On day three, we packed our belongings for the ascent of Volcán de Acatenango, leaving Antigua for 4 days of bike travel across the country. The logistics were a bit complicated: a third of our luggage would go up to high camp at 3,500m on the volcano, carried by a team of porters on their backs. Another third including the bikes would go up in two heavily loaded 4×4 trucks, while the last bit would go directly to our next destination in Tecpán.
Preparing the bikes for the climb. |🛒
Kingdom of the Kaqchikel Maya
Located at 2,100m in a forested region above Lake Atitlán, Tecpán is home to Iximché, a former Mayan metropolis from the post-classic period (300AD). The kingdom was violently overthrown by the Spanish in the 1500s. Conquest proved difficult because of the city’s strategic location atop a cliff band in the center of a canyon.
Later on, although briefly, the Spanish established their first capital in the region. It is also said that Guatemala gets its name from the Mexican Náhuatl translators the Spanish had with them, who interpreted the Maya K’iche’ word for “between the trees” as Quauhtemallan or “place of many trees”.
Hunting for singletrack in the home of the K'iche' Maya
The greatest treat of this tour for me was being able to show the Big Mountain group one of my favorite places to ride in Guatemala: Lake Atitlán. The trails here are technical, rocky, and steep, with volcanic views that make it hard to keep your eyes on the handlebars! This supervolcanic crater is steep in all directions with 1,000 to 2,000m downhills – I always find a new challenge when riding the raw trails here.
We shuttled up to the town of San Andrés, home to pine forests and agricultural trails that sweep down through cornfields and onto tight streets. Children scream and wave as we roll through town. We break at a stunning lookout where paragliders launch into thermal drafts, taking off at 2,000m.
We finished our last ride on the legendary Santa Catarina trail: nearly 1,000m of rocky downhill that follows an aqueduct along a cliff above the lake. Technical riding that is demanding to the very end, finishing through the stepped streets of town.
We made it
On the shore of the lake, the late-day sun glistens on the water. We are on the last part of the ride, following a path along the beach. Brightly colored stands and vendors line the sidewalks in Panajachel, their calls and whistles merge into a collage of sound as we ride by.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of riding in Latin America is passing through markets like this. The stimulation and stolen glances of the people, the men playing cards, the children laughing as you roll past. “This place is incredible”, I hear someone mutter.
It’s another beautiful day in Guatemala and our 6-day ride has come to an end. Tomorrow, we’ll spend the day resting at Casa Del Mundo, a cliff-side hotel with nothing to do but watch the light change, fading through its spectrum at the end of the day.
In a little while, our guests will go back to skiing in the northern hemisphere with nothing but memories and sun-tans to show for their time spent here in Guatemala. I can only hope that they come back some day and we can ride a little more. We have just scratched the surface of the riding here and there is still much more to discover.
Published: April 11, 2018 by PICSPORADIC
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