Guatemala - Antigua and The Mayan Highlands
By: Todd Weselake - Raven Eye Photography
In the fall of 2013 my mountain bike and I took off for South America for five weeks of non stop biking. This photo essay covers three weeks in Guatemala. Although not widely known as a biking destination, the combination of intriguing Guatemalan culture and the high elevation single track farm trails of the Mayan Highlands resulted in a truly unique mountain biking experience. Guatemala can be a tricky place to travel around on your own, especially while lugging your bike. Luckily Old Town Outfitters (www.adventureguatemala.com) based in the old capital city of Antigua offer spectacular day trips, while Sacred Rides (www.sacredrides.com) based out of Canada offer some unforgettable week to ten day long trips bike trips through the country.
Most of the biking starts and finishes in the UNESCO heritage town of Antigua, and there is a sweet shop - Old Town Outfitters ready to get you on the trails and fix whatever the local airlines broke on your bike during the flight over. The culture in Guatemala is incredibly diverse and colourful. There seemed to be countless traditional Mayan cultures and languages making up each region. Every town I arrived in brought with it a new and unique cultural experience. The farm land high on the ancient volcanic slopes above Antigua, offered easy access singletrack to warm up the legs - just keep your eyes open for the multi use traffic. The landscape and trails will not disappoint... It's not uncommon to meet several armed locals along the way who can help with directions. Up in the Mayan Highlands the terrain transforms from lush volcanic slopes into a high elevation labyrinth of prehistoric rock formations. The local kids and farmers in the Mayan Highlands are always excited to see bikers! The mellow and winding 1000m vertical descent from the highland plateau to the lower farming village of Todos Santos was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip. Todos Santos offers a Mayan culture largely unchanged for generations A long climb back out of Todos Santos to regain the highlands brings you back to an ancient surreal landscape and the fast singletrack that flows through it. At this point I was almost expecting a triceratops to amiably wander across the trail ahead of me... sadly there were only sheep.
Our local guide ripping it up. Trail side accommodations in the highlands - With an elevation over 3000m and nights dropping below freezing the Unicorn Ranch offers warm meals and a great nights rest. They did not however have any unicorns which was disappointing... And I thought lugging around all my camera gear was heavy... Sharing the trails with the local farmers... You run into the odd traffic jam... Dropping back down from the highlands the hectic Guatemalan culture presents itself in full colour again... Semuc Champey Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world, a remote jungle site where the river forms spectacular green pools and waterfalls.
Can you hold your bike up with one hand?