Lake Atitlan

It has been a long time that I had a really nice mountain bike ride. The last months circumstances were not favourable to do so. Of course I did ride a bit, but that had mainly to do with shopping or a simple back-and-forth trip.

One of the circumstances was that, in Mexico, and to a lesser extend in Guatamala, the main road is all there is: there are no side roads or diversions except the private roads leading to fincas and ranchos. That makes it hard (actually impossible) to ride anything else but the paved highway or the city streets.

But now we are in Guatamala, on the shores of the lake Atitlán. This is a popular destination for tourists, as well as Guatemalans. The lake is actually a caldera, and it is flanked by three volcanos. And after some google-ing (yes, internet is working here) I found out it is also a popular place for mountain biking. The climate is very good for cycling, because the lake is at an altitude of 1550 masl. Not too hot, never too cold on this latitude. I found some tracks on wikiloc, and from that I created a (in my opinion) nice loop to ride.

So off I went. clockwise, because I figured it was best to start with the long but easy asphalt climb on the RN-1. I think in general the paved roads in Central America have more of an incline compared to Europe, but unfortunately I cannot tell for sure because the cycling computer that I had was stolen during shipping. This cycling computer gave a fairly accurate value for the slope. Now it will remain a guess, because there are no road signs with such information. Anyway, it was doable all the way up. On the way up there were some nice pueblos and the road also offered some nice viewing points to oversee most the the lake.

Because Semana Santa (holy week before Easter) was getting closer, preparations were already taking place in the pueblos, in this case closing the main street to the church. With a bicycle that is almost never a real problem and tuk-tuk’s were waiting for people to take them around the closures.

The highest point on the route was about 2100 masl, and from there it was a (GPS) track that was not marked on the digital map. So, while creating the route, I speculated that it could be a narrow track of some kind. One wikiloc user categorized this route section “moderate”, another one stated it to be “for experts only”. So I decided that it would be somewhere in between and I should try it myself.

Close to Agua Escondida the GPS track made a sharp right off the pavement onto the expected narrow track between two corn fields. Nice. The track continued to be narrow and went down most of the time, through small agricultural fields and coffee plants.

On a regular interval the track crossed the usual gulleys that are carved into the steep slopes because of the water running down. But in this time of year there is almost no water, because it is the dry season. it makes the surroundings look a bit barren with mostly shades of brown. And the dried out remains of the corn, sticking out of the fields don’t help either.

The wet season apparently starts somewhere around May. The good thing would be that the slopes are then covered in green bushes and trees, but it could become muddy and slippery too. And there were some seriously steep sections that I would not like to do when wet. So perhaps that was why one says “moderate”, and the other says “expert”.
I enjoyed going down this stretch. It was mostly ridable, and there were some challenging switchbacks and great vistas.

The lower I got, the more houses and better maintained fields appeared. Finally I reached the very colourful town of Santa Catarina Palopó. Very narrow alleys with occasionally some stairs led down to the main street, the only street where cars can come here.

From here it was asphalt back home; only one steep but short climb to conquer. A local kid on a BMX accompanied me on the way up, showing that you can also do it without gears.

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