Why Guatemala Is the New Best Place to Ride Mountain Bikes
Guatemala isn’t known for its mountain biking. And that’s a good thing. This yet-to-be-overrun spot is littered with great riding on everything from mountainous Mayan footpaths to carefully placed flow trails that run through lush jungles. Last month, photographer Max Whittaker followed Diamondback rider Eric Porter and a couple of guests as they sampled the goods.
PHOTO: Eric Porter wheelies across a suspension bridge during a 12-mile flow-trail descent through dense cloud forest at the private El Zur Mountain Bike Park outside the city of Antigua. The trail took more than four years to build.
Matt Hartell, owner of Old Town Outfitters, an Antigua-based guiding service, slaloms through massive trees on the El Zur flow trail. Hartell has been guiding rides in Guatemala since 1998 and has exclusive access to the private El Zur bike park, which also features a Whistler-esque jump trail built by Gravity Logic. Tours are $195 for one person, $95 per person if you have a group of two or three, and $80 per person for a group of four to six.
Eric Porter enjoys post-ride beers at the Porque No restaurant in Antigua. A Unesco World Heritage site, the city was founded in the 1500s and is surrounded by picturesque hills and volcanoes.
The occasional Mayan wood gatherer is the only traffic on the trails above Antigua. The chances of running into another mountain biker are almost zero.
Berne Broudy, a freelance journalist, rides the Cielo Grande Trail back into Antigua. The trail drops 2,500 feet for more than eight miles through working avocado, tomato, and flower farms. Halfway down, Earth Lodge, a tourist-friendly retreat, provides hamburgers and beer, and even a treehouse if you want to stay longer.
Eric Porter rides the rugged Slickrock Trail in the highlands above Antigua. Slickrock drops more than 3,000 feet over ten miles on some raw and rowdy Mayan footpaths. No sustainable trail building here, just thousands of years of foot traffic between small villages.
Here, Eric Porter rides the Santa Cat Trail into Santa Catarina de Palopo, on the shores of Lake Atitlán. The trail weaves through small farms before dropping down a series of staircases directly through town.
Lake Atitlán, a volcanic caldera that filled with water 84,000 years ago, is the deepest lake in Central America.
A sunset boat shuttle across Lake Atitlán brings the crew to
La Casa del Mundo, an environmentally friendly hotel perched above the lake.
Eric Porter rides above Lake Atitlán, which is surrounded by 33 volcanoes, including three that are currently active.