The epicentre of Mayan Civilization, before the Spanish landed in Mesoamerica, was located in today’s Republic of Guatemala. It is a wonder to explore and loads of places to discover. For us, the best way to reach out remote villages, climb and descend mountains, explore local markets and get close to volcanoes was with our own legs by either pushing the pedals or trekking. We spent about a month in Guatemala and there were many highlights. Here they are.
From Belize, we crossed the border into Guatemala at Melchor de Mencos. We spent the afternoon at the fire station because of heavy rainfall and decided to go the following day rather than getting wet yet again. With Oleg, we pedalled to the road junction leading to Tikal where Oleg decided to skip the famous site and go toward Flores on his own. I’ve already mentioned how Tikal was our favourite Maya site in a previous article and I invite you to read that and have more details about the site itself. Tikal is a standout highlight in Guatemala and a must-see Maya site.
Mountains and its villages
From Tikal, we rode to Flores before going south toward Coban and the mountains where traditional villages rarely see foreigners apart from the windows of speeding buses. The sections going through the towns of Xuctzul, Coban, San Cristobal Verapaz, Sacapulas, San Pedro Jocopilas, Chichicastenango and Solola were spectacular despite the ridiculously steep gradients going between 16 – 25%. The highlands offered stunning views, sections of trafficless roads, lead to traditional villages, lively markets and friendly locals albeit being yelled “gringo”, the kid’s national sport. Everywhere we passed, colourful indigenous clothing was worn by the ladies. The different styles, colours and patterns changes from region to region, something the Spanish established to differentiate communities.
Lago de Atitlan
Our Warmshower hosts in Panajachel, located right beside the lake, was pure ecstasy. The Mooney’s, as they identify themselves in Warmshowers (https://www.warmshowers.org/user/218594), have an amazing place overlooking the lake and accepted to host us for a couple of days. Lago de Atitlan is blessed with a breathtaking view with volcanoes as its background, clear water and numerous little towns accessible by boat rides. It is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
The first Capital city of Guatemala, Antigua is a colonial-style city with a rich history, many churches, a cathedral facing a large central park and the Santa Catalina arch dating back to the 17th century. Its UNESCO Heritage site recognition attracts many tourists all year round. The short hike up the popular Cerro de la Cruz gives a wonderful view of the city. Cyclists navigating the city find the cobblestone streets painful, especially those on fully loaded bikes. Yet, we absolutely loved the city.
By far, our top highlight in Guatemala. Near Antigua, it’s possible to climb up Acatenango volcano with an organized tour for an overnight trip. About 5 kilometres away from Acatenango is Fuego volcano. The particularity about Fuego is that it erupts on average 13 times a minute, sometimes proposing lava high in the air. From Acatenango basecamp, as the night takes over, the red molten rock becomes a spectacle. On every explosion, the crowd goes wild. We spent the night in a tent on Acatenango and the following morning we rose at 4 am for a hike up to the crater and witness one of the most spectacular sunrises on Earth. With Fuego spitting out its lava, the sun comes up above the horizon with its hues of red, orange, pink and blue over the valley down below. Seeing an active volcano over sunrise would be a highlight in any place you’d go, wouldn’t it?
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More photos in my Guatemala Photo Gallery