In planning our route into the Guatemalan Highlands, I underestimated just how big these mountains are. The Cuchumatanes are the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America with the highest peak, La Torre, reaching over 3800m. We climbed at total of 4517m in four days before a breathtaking 1500m descent into Huehuetenango.
After recovering from our recent battle with intestinal parasites, we set off from the nondescript pitstop town of Nentón and began our first 1000m climb through Los Cuchumatanes. This was the longest and most technical climbing we had done so far. Whilst we faced steeper and longer sections in later days, the rugged, washed out terrain on this climb had us both pushing our bikes in a few sections.
In addition to the punishing climbs and breathtaking views, we also experienced some amusing scenarios along these mountain roads. Jenny has written about these in a separate post here.
For those interested in the routes and stats, you can see maps on Strava at the links below. Our daily distances are unusually low, owing to the difficult terrain and higher elevation gain.
Day 1: Nentón to Cojnal (14.4km, 1115m climb) — map
Day 2: Cojnal to San Miguel Acatan (20km, 855m climb) — map
Day 3: San Miguel Acatan to San Juan Ixcoy (33km, 1375m climb) — map
Day 4: San Juan Ixcoy into Los Cuchumatanes (25km, 1321m climb) — map
Day 5: Los Cuchumatanes to Huehuetenango (37km, 366m climb, 1500m descent) — map
Day 1: Nentón to Cojnal
As we started climbing east of Nentón, we realised it was just the beginning of five long days of climbing.
Unique terrain of the foothills to the Guatemalan Highlands
Even after daily rain showers, this is the only mud we saw riding up from Nentón.
Day 2: Cojnal to San Miguel Acatán
Back on the road towards San Miguel Acatán
One of many stream crossings, this one had a mysterious fog rolling through
At the top of a 500m descent down to the river before the last big climb to San Miguel Acatán
View of the impending climb from above, before heading down into the valley
close up of the final climb to San Miguel, 500m elevation gain in about 3km
tight switchbacks reinforced with stones and cement to withstand the heavy rain showers
halfway down with some very hot disc rotors
We were both thankful for our hydro disc brakes going down these switchbacks
If you squint you can see Jenny cruising down the final switchback before the river crossing, our designated lunch spot – the big climb towers imposingly on the other side.
And the climb began, with countless switchbacks, each one seeming steeper than the one before
Jenny put on a brave face; this was only 20% of the way to the top
And she managed to ride a fair bit of it!
The perilous winding road, about 40% into the climb
I managed to ride the entire climb without any pushing, but the extra touring weight required several stops to catch my breath.
Jenny tackling another spaghetti turn, the switchbacks of the earlier descent visible in the background
Wow, we came down that (top), and up that (bottom) and now we’re here?! No wonder I am hungry again!
Finally, we made it to a hotel in San Miguel Acatán. What better way to dry off than with a cockfight towel.
Okay, maybe this one is even better.
Best hotel blanket ever.
Day 3: San Miguel Acatán to San Juan Ixcoy
The first hairpin after a long, straight 600m climb
Completely destroyed, yet equally satisfied upon reaching the summit at 2915m, after 1100m dirt road climbing
Little does she know I’ve just checked the GPS and realised there’s an annoying final 50m climb around the corner.
The sun tried to break through on the hill, but then it went back to the drizzle
Day 4: San Juan Ixcoy to Los Cuchucatanes
Cooking some quick noodles whilst trying to keep warm and out of the rain at 2900m
We escaped this massive downpour in the nick of time about half way up the 1250m climb
Buckets of rain falling on lonely tiendas
We started our trip with fairly extravagant homemade sauces and stirfrys, but more recently we’ve been resorting to quick noodles and plain pasta with salsa.
Reaching the 3400m summit of the 1250m climb – Los Cuchumatanes, Huehuetenango
We ducked into this tiny comedor at the summit for some caldo de pollo and coffee to warm up our frozen digits.
The inside of Flor Esmeralda is even more rustic than the outside.
Day 5: Los Cuchucatanes to Huehuetenango
The sunshine was a warm welcome after pitching the tent in bitter cold pouring rain the night before.
Sunrise at 3400m in Los Cuchumatanes
Stealth camping sunrise at 3400m in Los Cuchumatanes, Guatemala
Thanks to Lucas for the Seal Skins which kept my feet warm and dry in my otherwise wet shoes.
Back on the road and rolling over the plateau before the descent into Huehuetenango
The turnoff heading up to La Torre, the highest peak of Los Cuchumatanes at over 3800m; we decided to give it a miss after all the climbing in the past 5 days.
At the top of the 1700m descent into Huehuetenango, a blanket of clouds awaits us.
Just before going down into the clouds at around 2700m
After passing down through the clouds we were still almost 1000m above Huehuetenango.