Cumbre al mar

Exploring a new route from the high mountains of Tecpán to the Coast

It’s summer in Guatemala, a time to break from the routine and get out and explore new routes. Cumbre al mar has been a dream of mine for a while. It’s a ride you can only do in Guatemala with nearly 3000m (10,000ft) of descent from the mountains to the sea! We got to test it out with a few adventurous riders and a healthy dose of the unknown.

MTB Guatemala Adventures.

A new goal of ours is to create some new itineraries that are accessible to a beginner riders as well as being interesting enough for the advanced to enjoy too. We are calling the new trips MTB Guatemala Adventures. We are scouting the country for old jeep roads, rough two track  connecting far out sights like active volcanoes and hidden rain forests. To maximize fun they are all shuttle assisted and primarily downhill. Want to join us on our next adventure – get in touch!

Question: will the van make it?

The biggest doubt for us logistically on this trip was weather the van was going to make it. Amarillo Baby – Erick’s new pride and joy fresh off the boat from Korea – thrown into the steep unknown: a 4×4 descent on washed out roads. September in Guatemala is considered the rainy season and going into this trip we had no idea what kind of weather we would encounter.

Crossing Lava Fields

9 years ago an enormous eruption opened a new crater on the Pacaya volcano sending rivers of lava dangerously close to the farm. New roads have been bulldozed through the lava providing access.

Antigua

It’s 6:30am we prepare the bikes in Antigua. The weather is unusually clear for October in Guatemala. Golden light spills through the cobblestone streets of the colonial capital. We load up 14 bikes on two vehicles dividing camping gear and supplies for our two day trip. Much of our route will be on 4×4 roads impassable by the bus so erick will be driving the long way around the volcano to meet us with the gear days end. Andres will follow us in the pickup providing mechanical and emergency support.

Tecpán

We begin in Tecpan: diary country Guatemala. We are on an early start, the nine of us chatting away on the drive as the sun illuminates the land. It’s a murky September morning: Fertile pastures hold low a fog which clings like cobwebs to the air. Its chilly. At breakfast the waiter pulls up a heater to keep us warm. We cup hot coffee in our hands.

We still have a bit farther to drive. Fields wizz past the window as we careen up tight switchbacks. We get high enough that we clear the clouds. We can’t wait to get on the bikes.

Outside in the fields the farmers are busy. They move large loads on their bikes and back. The original mountain bikers: campesinos in Guatemala load bikes with tools and burlap sacks. They make the commute to work navigating steep trails gaining remote plots of land in the mountains.

 

Rider Giovanni Gomez is psyched to get on the road!

We shuttle up the flanks of the Agua Volcano. At 2600 (8,500ft) this will be the highest point of our trip. Below are views across coastal plains of the Pacific. Our first descent follows washed out roads interrupted by morning horse traffic as campesinos make their way to the fields. In the distance glimmers guatemala’s wind farm – smoke rises from Pacaya.

The group is eager to go and takes off quickly. I stay back fixing flat tires as they arise – who runs tubes in 2019 anyways? We dip through subtropical forests and coffee plantations down to heat that leaves our skin sticky with sweat. In our haste we have beaten the bus for our rendezvous and shuttle. We divide the group and the stronger riders make the 5km climb to San Vicente Pacaya.

A Route of Rock

Linking together rough 4×4 roads we navigate the rocky slopes of the volcano its flanks shrouded in mist.

Green and Grand

At the top we get a rare view to the south. On the edge of the horizon is a broken line  -the Pacific coast. Grand views are plentiful in Guatemala but it is rare to get views all the way to the ocean, especially in the rainy season. The group rejoices at our luck and commences taking selfies and hero shots with the bikes. We made it – time to go home now :D.

It’s all downhill right?

One of the most pressing questions I receive as a guide. Sure.. Around each corner are impressive views of mountains and forest. We have a long way to go and enjoy the descent. Over the radio I hear one of the riders has taken a fall. The road is broken and rocky with steep corners and loose gravel. A bit shaken up but okay, they decide to continue in the van – at least until the steep part is over.

At the bottom of the descent we came to a sharp hook in the road and a ravine. There is a rustic bridge across fashioned from two felled logs and some loose boards. It’s a bit unnerving to with a steep drop to the river below. “How the hell is Erick going to get over this with the van?” I say to myself. We wait until he arrives.

Fuego volcano lets off some steam.

Sometimes the adventure isn’t on the bike

A rickety toyota pickup with swaying suspension creaks down the road lumbering over the rocks- a man and his daughter are in the front seat. The man taps the horn and the girl hangs out the window waving, a lolipop in her mouth. Without slowing they make their way across the bridge in question: the loose lumber lifts and bangs under the tires. Well they didn’t die – good sign.

Erick steps out of the van to asses the situation with the bridge: no rails, no iron, no nails! He coaxes the bus gently across -logs creaking. 

Jungle Riding

The group makes its way down the steep road in a tunnel of green. Huge trees tower above us. Concrete which was put in for traction is slick with moss. 

Rider: Julio Axpuac

Green and Grand

At the top we get a rare view to the south. On the edge of the horizon is a broken line  -the Pacific coast. Grand views are plentiful in Guatemala but it is rare to get views all the way to the ocean, especially in the rainy season. The group rejoices at our luck and commences taking selfies and hero shots with the bikes. We made it – time to go home now :D.

It’s all downhill right?

One of the most pressing questions I receive as a guide. Sure.. Around each corner are impressive views of mountains and forest. We have a long way to go and enjoy the descent. Over the radio I hear one of the riders has taken a fall. The road is broken and rocky with steep corners and loose gravel. A bit shaken up but okay, they decide to continue in the van – at least until the steep part is over.

At the bottom of the descent we came to a sharp hook in the road, with a ravine and rustic bridge consisting of two felled logs and some loose boards. It’s a bit unnerving to cross by bike with a steep drop to the river below. “How the hell is Erick going to get over this with the van?” I say to myself. We wait at the river until he arrives.

Fuego volcano lets off some steam.

Swapping stories and scouting lines in the lava fields below Pacaya Volcano.

Sometimes the adventure isn’t on the bike

A rickety toyota pickup with swaying suspension creaks down the road lumbering over the rocks- a man and his daughter are in the front seat. The man taps the horn and the girl hangs out the window waving, a lolipop in her mouth. Without slowing they make their way across the bridge in question: the loose lumber lifts and bangs under the tires. Well they didn’t die – good sign.

Erick steps out of the van to asses the situation with the bridge: no rails, no iron, no nails! He coaxes the bus gently across -logs creaking. 

Massive terrain

Views of the smoking Pacaya volcano from lava fields below. 

Pochuta

Gilber, the owner welcomes us to Finca el Amate with flurry of handshakes and photos. He is ecstatic as we are the first group to reach the finca by bike, all the way from Antigua. Gilber grew up on the finca in his childhood, moving to Thailand for several years before returning to Guatemala after the eruption to secure the future of the property. Gilber is an avid birdwatcher and is excited to name the various species you can see in the forests on the Finca.

Gilber shows us to our campsite, the rain comes in gusts. For the most part we have dodged the weather on the bikes today – and we are all thankful. Camping is unfamiliar to most Guatemalans and the atmosphere is abuzz with talk of equipment as well as show and tell.

Much of the descent was on loose rock with several river crossings.

Savannah like lowland grassland climate of Escuintla.

Cocos in Cocales

The group today is much more tranquil, stopping to take photos along the descent. No es carrera – es tourismo! Besides a few farmers we se no one along the route which descends through remote vallys – all around us is green. We battle a few more flat tires and river crossings with the truck.

Emerging from the forest into the sugarcane I get my first message from Erick over the radio – Estoy circa! We push across rutted roads of mud to reach the van for lunch. The heat has caught up with us and everytime we stop beads of sweat form on our faces. We all can’t wait for lunch.

At the van the sandwiches and guacamole are served. Everyone is all smiles – tired from the rocky descent.  In our two days we had traveled a mere 60km around the volcano dodging rain and flat tires. 14 Guatemalans and one forigner got to see Pacaya for the first time – from the seat of the bike.

As Guatemala grows as an international mountain bike destination my goal is to promote routes like these as a sustainable way to experience the rich cultural and biodiversity that the country has to offer. Getting people outside and discovering one of the gems of the Americas.

-Brendan James

Mountain Bike Guatemala is privileged to be at the forefront of a growing sport and ecotourism revolution the country. Our tours pass through small towns and new sights relieving the strain that traditional tourism puts on the environment.

Mountain biking is sustainable tourism — placing a value on the land beyond resource extraction. Mountain biking can also provide an alternative revenue stream for isolated communities that are struggling to adapt in a changing world.

Get in touch and let us show you the real Guatemala.

Some slow down to cross rivers – others speed up! Rider: José Ignacio Ochoa Del Busto

Pacaya Volcano is one of our new itineraries for 2020!

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