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So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
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Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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As the titles says, we are two motorcycle tour guides at CATours in Antigua, Guatemala. We had the week off between Christmas and New Year's, of course we took off to explore the lesser known spots in this awesome country. If you like enduro style riding, this is one of the best routes I could imagine in Guatemala. We got a few suggestions from fellow riders here in Guatemala - GuateRider and RichSuz, besides that we just took a map and figured it out along the way.
Me (Chris), southern boy from GA with 3 years of guiding in Guatemala under his belt. Riding a 2007 Yamaha TTR250.
"Frenchy" (David), our guide from Quebec, riding his 2007 Suzuki DR200. By the way, he found out his mono shock was shot just before this trip. We priced one in the capital and Suzuki wants Q5,000 (~$650), what the f*#K. I found one on ebay for $50 and he decided to continue on the trip anyways, while it was in transit down here. Ever ridden on just the spring, Frenchy can tell you more.
We run a lot of trips out of Antigua to popular tourist destinations, mostly around the black circles - see below. We decided to check out a new area, NW from Antigua, crossing through the HueHue, Quiche, and Alta Verapaz regions - red circle.
Day 1, Christmas Eve. We got an early start and hit the road at 6am from Antigua with Lanquin (Semuc Champey) as our destination. Here was the general plan:
About 30 minutes into the ride we knew that leaving that early was a questionable decision, too damn cold that early in the morning. We stopped just before San Raymundo to warm up a bit and let the sun show itself.
Just after San Raymundo we started hitting a great dirt road that twisted along the Rio Motagua. I knew the bridge in La Canoa had washed out a few years back but we decided to check out this route anyways and take our chances.
So about 100 kms into the day, we find our first obstacle.. Rio Motagua. I'll let the videos and pictures tell the story:
Of course we found this guy after we both crossed... apparently he heard from some of our local audience that the crazy gringos were crossing on their motos and he showed up with his "barge" to offer his services. The locals lay their bikes on the side and let him take them across, I like our way better!
From their we continued on to Salama and then checked out a great 27 km dirt pass that wound up the mountain and then back down the other side to Pantin. A much better option than the tarmac round about way if you ask me. We only saw one car during the whole pass, beautiful views up there. This is where you pop out, on the highway heading to Coban.
Frenchy is known for his flats and he didn't disapoint on day 1. Just outside of Coban we were using our skills once again. Nothing two guides can't handle, back on the road in 30 minutes.
great views in Alta Verapaz
We made it to Lanquin in the afternoon and went to my favorit lodge, El Retiro. This was a great place to spend Christmas Eve and the next morning becuase I knew there would be lots of travelers and a good time to be had. They are known for their all you can eat buffet dinners, perfect for the moto traveler. We stuffed our faces and then taught all the Europeans how to play flip cup... just your average Christmas holiday.
Day 1 Stats:
- Q53 gas in Salama
- Q68 food
- Q100 room
TOTAL: Q296, ~$38
For those of you that aren't familiar with Guatemala, or Lanquin more specifically - this should be near the top of your places to see if you come to Guatemala. It is a natural wonder that combines amazing rivers, waterfalls, caves, rope swings, tubing, and of course great mountain riding! We passed through this time so we could continue to unknown spots but I'm going to give you some pictures from past rides we've done to this area.
view from the mirador down to the cascading Semuc pools
No rest for the weary, even on Christmas morning. We were up early in Lanquin and hit the road by 8am to head towards Laguna Lachua. From here on we were heading to new territory for both of us. Nothing better to me than that feeling of riding into the unknown, so much fun! Here was our planned route for the day:
After the 12 km climb from Lanquin back to the highway for Coban, we turned right towards Pajal instead of going back towards Coban. The stretch of dirt road from Pajal heading North lasts about 40 kms and has awesome views and climbs.
Then as it seems to happen fairly often in Guatemala, we hit perfect tarmac and ride mountain twisties all the way to Sebol. There you turn left and take a quick detour to get on the Transversal del Norte heading West. You'll cross this river on the quick detour:
The TDN is a wide freshly laid road that is quite boring if you ask me... very straight and smooth. Although I guess its a nice break for our bodies and Frenchy's suspension-less DR. That made for a quick ride to Raxruja and lunch at Pamela's diner. Pretty good food for being in the middle of nowhere, just hope you don't have 5 year old Pamela throwing a tantrum for her TV show/Pizza like we did. Kids can be spoiled anywhere in the world, this one definitely was.
From here you could continue on the boring pavement West to get to Laguna Lachua, but that's not we were after. So we turned left at the fork and headed South to Chisec. Stopped in a little market to buy dinner rations (no restaurant in the Laguna Lachua park) and then 35 kms after Chisec found the interestion to head North again. We asked a few collectivo drivers to confirm the turn and they said "si, pero muy mal camino"... music to our ears! We ended up on this "bad road" for about 70 kms until getting back to the dead end at the TDN. The scenery was great but the road was really rocky and a bit rough late in the day. The local kids liked our bikes so we let them play around a bit.
Once we hit the dead end, turn right and only a few kms to get to the entrance of Laguna Lachua. This is a scientific reserve and they are pretty strict on rules, no alcohol!? So we buy a few s and enjoy them in the parking lot. From there its about an hour, hour and a half hike into the lake. We arrived at the perfect time in the afternoon and were rewarded with the famous sunset we'd heard about.
The lodging out here was surprisingly really well situated. They have a good lodge, full kitchen, space for camping, and latrines. Carlos who has been working 15 days on and 15 off for 17 years at the park was interesting to talk to (when he was awake) and he helped stir the fire to boil our water.
Day 2 Stats:
- Q55 gas in Lanquin
- Q49 food
- Q45 gas in Chisec
- Q190 total for park entry & lodging
TOTAL: Q339, ~$44
The sunset was priceless last night in Laguna Lachua, the sunrise wasn't bad either. We were told there were fish up to 2-3 meters in the lake. We hung out on the dock and watched in disbelief as the Sabalo fish were feeding, coming up to the surface showing their dorsal and tail fins.
example of a Sabalo
Between the fish, local ducks, and then the howler monkeys yelling in the background, it was a pretty sureal morning experience. I guess this is why they are really trying hard to protect this precious nature reserve. Here was our planned route for the day:
We hiked back to the bikes, funny how you miss 2 wheels when you have to hike a few kilometers. From the park entry we started heading West on the main road.
Leaving Laguna Lachua park
A quick breakfast in the middle of nowhere and then we started hitting gravel/dirt for a while.
We hit Rio Espiritu and ended up taking a "wrong" turn - turned out to be one of the best sections of riding in a long time. We continued on dirt along a beautiful river and then hit 25 kms of super new tarmac that twisted among the mountains, we had the whole place to ourselves! Eventually we came upon a deadend made up of a pile of boulders. Naturally we ride around that and decide to continue on. That lasted for a few kilometers of fun dirt until we were flagged down by some locals yelling "no hay paso" (you can't pass). Usually I would want to keep going, they seem to underestimate enduro motos here. But we were in the middle of thick, slushy mud and it looked like they were right! It took some effort to turn around, butit made the locals laugh and at least we got the bikes nice and dirty.
We backtracked about 30 kms to our wrong turn and took the correct fork towards Barillas. More steep climbs to high elevations and really small windy mountain roads. This is when we started to realize we were in Land Cruiser country, literally every truck was a cool Toyo Land Cruiser.
1988 Land Cruiser, the guy was asking Q44,000 (~$5600)
We found a nice little hotel on the edge of town called "Santa Cruz" and unloaded our dirty gear. Nice rooms and secure parking next door in the garage, perfect for Q45.
Barillas is nothing spectacular, just a typical Guatemalan mountain town. We did find Q5 s and a great Q20 burrito, we were happy campers!
Day 3 Stats:
- Q50 gas in Playa Grande
- Q30 breakfast
- Q65 gas just before Barillas
- Q45 hotel
- Q50 food/
I doubt our starting point and destination mean much to most readers, but if you look on a map they are only about 25 kms away from each other. Of course we didn't take the direct route! Here is the route we generally followed, you can see that we were very close to the Mexican border for parts of the day:
It ended up being one of our longer days, but trust me the riding was well worth it! First, a quick update on Santa Cruz hotel. The promised hot water didn't work, oh well I'm not that spoiled. We left town and continued West towards San Mateo Ixtatán and then onto Patalcal. This area is filled with mountain climbs, descents, and then more climbs - all the time with beautiful views.
In Patalcal we found ourselves at a split in the road, to the right we could see a blanket of fluffy white clouds above Mexico, so we decided to go for it.
Mexican clouds in the distance
This is the road towards Bulej and then to Aguacate. After a snack stop in Yalambojoch, Frenchy noticed another flat tire. This guy has some luck, I tell you. He thought he was lucky to find a pinchazo just down the road but it turned out to be manned by a teenager who had no clue how to change a tire. Instead we used his air compressor and took care of it ourselves, tough life eh?
After we sorted the tire we got back on the road and happened to see a sign for Finca Chaculá (see RichSuz's recommendation in another post) and decided to pop in to check it out.
That worked out well and we got some really good advice on the local area and based on the guardian's tip we headed to El Cimmaron. Cimmaron is a deep hole in the middle of nowhere, perfectly round with 172 meters diameter and 180 meters deep. There is a fertile, fresh, and green forest at the bottom that is protected by the walls with no trails to go down. At the trail head from the highway, we decided to go as far as we could on the bikes. This was a fun rocky single track trial until we hit a really steep section that screamed "park the bikes and walk from here". We reluctantly obliged and started hoofing it on foot to the hole. It was more impressive than we expected but very difficult to capture in pictures. Hopefully these do it some justice.
From Cimarron we headed south on nice tarmac to Nenton. This is when our day took a turn for the better as we headed East on some amazing mountain passes. At one point we got to a "T", looked around and decided to go left. Once again this was technically the "wrong turn" but it turned out to be one of the best sections of riding in our whole ride. Essentially climbing up to ~4,000 meters, going back down, back up, over and over on small dirt roads. There was also some great Pine forest with really deep silty sand, fun for me but maybe not as much for Frenchy trailing behind sans rear suspension. We ended passing through San Sebastian Cuatonm, then Pet, and finally to Soloma. We had to agree that was one of our best days of riding ever!! Again, as the crow flies - Barillas to Soloma is only 25 kms but I can't imagine a better route than today's 208 kms! Unfortunately we don't have a lot of pictures, but trust me it was an amazing section of riding! We were too busy enjoying it.
this gives you a glimpse of the road, you can see a few sections:
Day 4 Stats:
- Q9 snack
- Q30 lunch
- Q65 gas just past Nenton
- Q40 gas in Soloma
- Q65 hotel
- Q15 tacos
- Q2 internet
- Q18 dinner
TOTAL: Q244, ~$31
Day 5: Soloma to Nebaj via Cuchumatanes and Laguna Magdalena
We got up this morning excited for the days ride. We were out of the door for an 8am start and started heading South towards the infamous Cuchumatane mountains. Here was the approximate route for the day:
The Cuchumatanes are the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America with altitudes ranging from 1600 feet to 13,000 feet. About 30 kms outside of Soloma we took a quick break at Piedras de Captzin:
From here we continued down to the turnoff for La Torre and Puerta de Cielo as recommended by GuateRider. This turned out to be a great morning of riding, basically just exploring the big park and turning down roads until we reached the end. Great views, big elevation climbs and lots of space all to ourselves! The ride up to the La Torre lookout was especially nice and we were treated with a view of at least 4 volcanoes including Tajumulco, highest peak in Central America.
Sign for the Cuchumatanes park
Then we took a quick ride down to Laguna Magdalena. Easy to miss this turnoff since the sign is only facing the Northbound traffic, you'll be looking for the "Siete Pinos" sign. From there you have a nice 17 kms into the countryside and to the entry of the park. Frenchy remembered GuateRider telling him "be sure you ride around the lake" so we decided we should ride down the footpath towards the lake. We should have realized the strange looks from the locals but again we rode too far in on a path wasn't meant for motos (deja vu with Cimarron). After several sections of steps up and down, footbridges, and rocks, we decided to park bikes and continue on foot. This is where we met up with a local motorcycle club - "La Cofradia". They were a big group of local riders from Nebaj/Quiche region - a mix of big quads and dirt bikes. Always nice to meet up with fellow riders and compare routes, machines, and stories. They were good guys and gave us one the best quotes from the whole ride. The park guard tried to charge us the tourist price for entry (Q20) and as I was explaining to him that we always pay the national price (Q10) because we work here in Guatemala - our new friend said "ellos estan mas Chapin de marimba!" translated: They are more Guatemalan than Marimba (the national instrument of Guatemala)! Needless to say, we only paid the Q10 entry. We hiked the rest of the way into the lake and enjoyed the views of this aqua green wonder. I will let the pictures tell the story:
Sign at the turnoff for the lake
After the lake, the guys invited us to follow them back to their camp for some food and drinks. Another example of the great hospitality I have experienced in Guatemala over the years. We drank, ate, and answered a lot of curious questions before finally continuing back towards Nebaj with part of the group down a great route with lots of mud and really cool roads.
We were late in the day and rode the last hour in darkness with an awesome full orange moon in the distance. We followed Eric on the quad back to Nebaj and directly to his Shell gas station. He had his guys at the station wash our bikes for free and then we finally said goodnight to the guys and found a place to crash. The Villa Nebaj is a nice place in town with really comfortable rooms and wifi in the lobby.
p.s. Frenchy hit a dog, I hit a sheep. Everyone was okay.
Day 5 Stats:
- Q23 breakfast
- Q58 gas in Tres Caminos
- Q40 dinner
- Q140 hotel
TOTAL: Q261, ~$34
Then we took a quick ride down to Laguna Magdalena. Frenchy remembered GuateRider telling him "be sure you ride around the lake" so we decided we should ride down the footpath towards the lake. We should have realized the strange looks from the locals but again we rode too far in on a path wasn't meant for motos (deja vu with Cimarron).
Just for the record , I told Frenchy to hike around the lake
But I guess he figured that out pretty soon after riding into the park
First priority this morning was finding duct tape to "chapus" my riding boots. You would think any old hardware store would do, but apparently its a specialty item around here, finally got a roll after 5 or 6 spots. Boots patched, success. Then Frenchy and I made our way back to Eric's house for breakfast/show and tell with the club guys. His wife cooked a great chapin breakfast and the extra treat was an assortment of cheeses from the local farms. Nebaj is known for good cheese, check out Mil Amores farm for more info. We got some route advice from the guys and ended up with a nice back road plan to take the long way to Quiche. They mentioned hot springs along the route, more on that later. Here's the approximate route we followed:
We rode south to Sacapulas and then took a left after the cemetery to a steep dirt/stone climb and finally to a high plateau of open country riding.
The view down to Sacapulas
Frenchy coming up the dirt twisties
Lots of livestock including bulls, horses, sheep, dogs, etc.
The end of the road
The route continued to Canilla - San Andres - and then to the Aguas Calientes. Turned out to be a bit of a bust. The water was super hot, but the river was really dirty as it was the local laundromat, toilet, and whatnot all mixed together. So we got back on the dirt towards Quiche and enjoyed a fairly relaxed day in terms of kms and seat time.
Day 6 Stats:
- Q50 gas in Nebaj
- Q35 gas in Quiche
- Q70 hotel
- Q35 snack
TOTAL: Q190, ~$25
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