Riding west through the Mountains of Guatemala


As we ride west out of Rio Dulce, taking a left in town to follow the signs out to the Castillo de San Felipe and El Estor, the next town up the road, the heat isn’t bad and I’m really glad we are getting an early start so we can take advantage of the coolest part of the day. The fence posts are interspersed with sapling trees so that eventually the trees become part of the fence.
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The road looks brand new and runs for about 20 miles west of Rio Dulce toward Aguas Clientes and on. There are crops, palm farms, cane fields and pastures with livestock on both sides of the road. Horses are often seen in the pasture grazing with full tack on.
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We see the sign for the Aguas Calientes bridge but not the turning to go into the hot water falls, so we keep riding west. According to the map of Central America I bought in the United States this road is the equivalent of the main highway, as far as quality and size. So I expect it to be paved all the way to Coban and further west toward Chichicastenengo. And with this in mind we plan to be able to ride perhaps 200 miles or a bit more today on our way to Panajachel to meet up with a friend…but you know what they say about the best laid plans.
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Now as much as I say I’m out having an “adventure”, I’m not really having an adventure by perhaps a lot of people’s standards. I’m well-fed and comfortable, picking up souvenirs and staying in pretty safe places whether I camp or stay in a hotel. And seriously, what kind of real adventure includes a hotel? I know this and respect the real meaning of adventure. But me going out and riding and traveling the way I have been is an adventure for me, so I hope the real die hards will indulge me here. Anyway, after my wreck last summer I’ve become a bit of a gravel-averse rider and when I see asphalt end on the path in front of me, I feel a sense of dread wash over me. Such was the case on this road. Luckily, it turned out to be almost more dirt than gravel and there wasn’t much loose gravel on the surface to worry about. But there were some steep slopes, washboards and lots of traffic and dust. It made for a rough ride over about 80 miles or so and a very dusty girl at the end of the day.
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It’s a well-traveled road with lots of trucks and buses and people walking to and fro. Men pushed carts filled with big bags of corn and seeds to take hoome. Women collected firewood along the road.
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The road kept heading west through the mountains and it really was beautiful.
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And in the end I was glad we had come this way regardless of the gravel. It wasn’t a bad road, just super bumpy and dusty.
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After taking nearly 7 hours to ride about 120 miles we make it to the tarmac highway and turn and head in a few miles toward Coban. We stop for the night at beautiful spot in the mountains just south of the town at San Rafael Restaurant and Hotel. I splurged for a big pasta dinner and beer and they were incredible. The next morning we carried on toward Panajachel and headed west along this same road through mountains, although today most of it was paved. We headed west to San Cristobal and just the other side the road turns to dirt again.
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But we lost in quantity of miles of gravel today, we also lost in quality of the gravel roads…they were steep and twisty and there was a lot of it running downhill. Steep descents on gravel with blind corners are not my favorite.
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I didn’t really get any shots of the scariest bits (scary for me may not be scary for a lot of other riders) because I couldn’t stop. But when I could the view was incredible.
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After about 20 miles of gravel we make it back to asphalt and wind our way through lots of small town on our way toward Chichicastenango and on to Panajachel. I still cross a lot of gravel sections on this road though in places where the road has washed away in landslides and mudslides over the years. The road is a series of steep inclines and steep declines and by the end of the day as I ride down the steep descent into Panajachel I boil my rear brakes rendering them useless. Not the best feeling in the world to go use them and not have them work. Lesson learned for me that day, even will all my engine braking I still used my brakes too much.

There are lots of locals always walking along the edges of the road. And today I notice the Mayan wearing traditional clothing and packing their babies on their backs. Guatemala is so incredibly beautiful.
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2 comments

  1. Lake Atitlan and the communities around it are wonderful. I stayed there for three months. There is an expat community in San Pedro that I joined. Do not attempt to ride from Santiago to San Pedro…it is unsafe. One is very likely to be robbed or worse. Enjoy Lake Atitlan….I surely did. Johnny Hubbard @jjhubbard51

    • Thanks, Johnny. My blog is always a couple weeks behind. We are in El Salvador now. We used the lanchas to get around Lago Atitlan and felt pretty good the whole time and really enjoyed Guatemala. Headed to Honduras and Nicaragua soon so if you have any pointers I’d love them. Wishing you well.

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