Off the Gringo Trail

Mountain biking smoking volcanoes

Pyroblast: bombing down one of Guatemala's 33 volcanos     Photo: Lloyd Ziff




WITH AT LEAST ONE of its 33 volcanoes constantly coughing out ash or lava, Guatemala has more eruptions than a Fiona Apple concert. And there are so many miles of old Indian trails and precipitous farmers' footpaths crisscrossing the cones that surround Antigua that you could ride for a month without greasing the same singletrack. The best of the bunch is a 19-mile traverse of Agua Volcano that starts with a climb up a forest road from the village of Santa Maria de Jesús to the trailhead. From there it's all singletrack slicing through cornfields and avocado and coffee plantations seemingly glued to the sides of steep slopes. Or take a jeep with Guatemala Ventures to about 9,000 feet and then hike-a-bike two hours to Acatenango's rim. The ride down—nearly five miles from the summit, dropping about 5,300 feet—is a sheer howl. You'll have to work the brakes down Wile E. Coyote pitches but still pedal fast enough to avoid washing out in the ash. The ride's upper section could be termed "dirt road" only in the strict Central American sense; one rider bent a rim, and another got tossed into the brush on the roadside—all before we filed onto the singletrack that makes up the ride's latter half. Wild boars and mountain lions roam the woods below the tree line—not that you'll have time to look.

Old Town Outfitters (703-855-3058, www.bikeguatemala.com), in Antigua, runs the Agua trip for $35 per person, including bike rental; Guatemala Ventures' Acatenango outing (866-733-5904, www.guatemalaventures.com) costs $69 per person, including bike rental and the jeep ascent.

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