Due to the nature of bicycle touring, we regularly find ourselves sacrificing one or two tourism highlights on our trip, and Guatemala was no exception. That being said, our route through Guatemala exceeded all expectations. Although we didn’t go to Tikal, we did ride some rugged roads, met wonderful people and still managed to tick off a couple of tourist destinations in between.
The border crossing was a highlight in itself, not to mention the craziest off road riding I had ever experienced at that point in time. Avoiding the bureaucracy and cycling across as illegal aliens was really exciting but that soon faded after hearing numerous scaremongering tales. We bit the bullet two weeks later and spent a day on a chicken bus going to and from La Mesilla border to sort out the paperwork – admittedly, a pain in the ass, but would we do it again? Without a doubt!
Tiny Roads, Big Climbs And Local People
We struck gold taking this route through the Cuchumatanes. Yes, we were forced to eat a lot of quick noodles (we didn’t bring enough food). However, what we missed in wholesome meals was made up for by the curious indigenous mountain communities offering a glimpse into their daily lives and traditions. The generosity we received from the family on the summit was as heart warming as a steaming cup of atol they gave us in the pouring rain.
San Cristobal Totonicapan
Here we stayed with our Warmshowers host Carl and his family. The town’s July festival had just started and we were lucky to arrive just in time for a massive family lunch twenty people strong. This set the theme for our visit, food and fiesta!
Carl is an avid gardener and has the most impressive organic vegetable garden I’ve ever seen. We ate a plethora of greens and were constantly enjoying traditional Guatemala food prepared by his wife Marta. For nearly two weeks, we enjoyed far more than our five a day!
Between climbing up volcanoes and visiting natural hot springs, we ate and enjoyed the local festivities. We were even lucky enough to attend a traditional quince años birthday party. The family organised a party for 50 guests, great food, delicious cake and I even played a few tunes for the birthday girl.
The peaceful tranquillity of San Pedro allowed us to spend a few days soaking in the view and drinking a lot of coffee – the perfect spot to rejuvenate (cheaply).
Here we found Spanish colonial architecture at its finest. La Antigua is a beautiful and vibrant city, but unfortunately a bit heavy on our humble wallets. While Lars took himself off for a bike ride in the nearby mountains, I visited the La Casa Del Jade. I was given a free tour of the little museum where my guide talked me through the history of Jade, the beautiful artefacts, interesting ancient Mayan stories, a glimpse into the factory, followed by five tonnes of pressure to buy something in the shop. Luckily, I was on strict instruction to only buy coffee.
Maya Pedal, Ixtapa
Maya Pedal designs and creates bicycle powered machines. Although we didn’t have the time to volunteer, it was great to meet the people behind it and get a tour of the workshop.
The Lake where tourists rarely visit. Luckily for us we were curb crawled by a Guatemalan Olympic sailor who offered us a place to camp, a sailing lesson, a trip to the coast to surf, hot springs and friendship.
The Round Up
Guatemala has an incredibly rich culture that nestles into the landscapes of an intrepid travellers dream. Thankfully, it is not yet ‘fully globalised’ like its neighbour Mexico, but the same love affair with fast food is evident. That being said, the Guatemalans take extra special care and attention to all things sweet. Their licuados (fruit smoothies) are the best you’ve ever tasted, and their ice cream brand Sarita is deliciously addictive.