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Antigua and Acatenango

The GS riders had advised us that from the ring road to Guatemala city onwards to Antigua that there were two options, the main road which would be jammed on a Sunday or a special secret side road which car drivers avoid as it is so steep. Alex had visions of the ski-jump roads of La Paz and Quito and felt a chill in her spine but steeled up for the journey regardless. The road ended up being almost flat compared to the Andes and wound its way gently through woods and small villages before placing us straight into the cobbled streets of Antigua. Alex found her cousin in his restaurant and he kindly offered to host us for our time in Antigua.

Antigua is nestled in the foothills of volcanoes making it perfect for growing coffee. Also making it ideal for volcano hiking. We decided on Acatenango – opting for a two day hike so that we could see the fires of Fuego (neighbouring active volcano) in the night and at dawn. Our guide, Agripino, met us in the morning and armed with walking poles and our camping gear we set off through the clouded jungles of Acatenango.


Simon : jungle walker

The first two hours were tough as the going was steep through heavy vegetation but we were surprised to find a coffee stop complete with chocolate bars and hot noodle soup and the ubiquitous hungry stray dogs in the midst of the jungle. We stopped for lunch and a coffee and it felt amazing to sit down and give our thumping hearts a break. We set back off again, the path zig-zagged perilously steeply through rocks and soft ash and soon all vegetation stopped (at about 4000m). We reached the clearing, only 200m from the peak, where we would camp only to find a cloud has stubbornly settled on the volcano making setting up the tent quite challenging but worse, lowering the temperature to less than 5degC. Covered in sweat and exhausted from the five hour trek, we soon felt the cold and our legs cramped almost immediately. Our guide said it was too dangerous to climb in the night-time cloud as visibility was reduced to less than 30cm and the path to the peak was steep and slippery. After a short sleep, we woke just before the dawn to climb the last thirty minutes to the peak. The cloud was still present although it had thinned a little since the night.


Climbing the ash tops of Acatenango


A very cold Alex

The last thirty minutes were tough thanks to the cold, the previous night’s cramps and general exhaustion but we slipped and waded our way through the thick ash to the summit. We were rewarded with a stunning vista of Lake Atitlan, the volcanoes surrounding it, Fuego belching smoke and ash and almost the Pacific coastline. The whole land was covered in a creamy layer of cloud which rolled and snaked around the peaks.


A sea of clouds and volcano peaks towards the Pacific coast


A fine reward for a cold start


Pino showing Alex Lake Atitlan and its volcanoes


Fuego in the daytime

Soon, the wind picked up and it became too cold on the peak to admire the view any longer. Pino, who was well organised, prepared a fire and made some coffee which was very welcome! Refreshed and a little warmer, the descent began and despite the steepness took less than three hours although Alex had trouble with the cramp from the previous night which made the last hour slow and painful going.


Coffee in the volcano


the Descent (easier than the ascent)


Downtown Antigua


We survived the volcano hike and spent some time relaxing in Antigua which offered a completely different environment to the rest of central America with its colonial streets and architecture being preserved and its plethora of restaurants and cafes, very often run by Europeans tired of the expense and regulation of Europe. The central plaza is filled with locals selling wares, hand woven scarves and bags and one particular whiz-kid who tried to convince us a small bag of cashews was worth his suggested $40 price.  Despite the tempting offer we continued our stroll, nut-less, searching for good coffee.


A courtyard revealed in Antigua


Plaza central, Antigua


Some scenes, frozen in time













Caters for all your mask needs


a sandwich – Guata style

Our walk took us to a covered market which sold artesanal goods ranging from clothes to paintings to carved masks. The selection was particularly terrifying and despite the the amusing idea of wearing one of them on the bike and scaring everyone we left them behind and continued towards the park.

We walked up to the apex of the park and admired the vista of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz having filled up on a sandwich topped with guacamole, onion, salsa and cheese. From the park you can easily see the colonial grid of the town and see its many churches (4 of which are Catholic).


Cerro de la Cruz and Antigua

We noticed on entering Antigua that there were many ex-US school buses working as legitimate public transport. With their colourful paintjobs and often garish light systems they look more like party buses. These were explained to be Chicken buses and the buses are owned by two powerful families who often settle scores between themselves by shooting the driver of the opposing family’s bus. This makes the driver’s job one of the most dangerous one can do and in fact, it makes riding these buses perilous for the passenger too as often the shooter is on a scooter and is shooting at a moving target, it’s quite common for passengers to also be victims in these incidents.


A Chicken bus- deadly work


A rival chicken bus!


Colourful neighbourhoods of Antigua…


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