Monday, December 9, 2013

Volcano Bashing in El Salvador

Our neighbor to the East, El Salvador doesnt seem to get the tourism focused on the outdoors quite like we do here in Guatemala.  So we decided to head over and check things out.

I must say we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.  Only a few short hours from La Antigua, Guatemala you can be cruising the "Ruta de las Flores", an old back-roads Salvador feel with cool little colonial and artisan towns with quaint B&B's and fun bars.

But crusing Salvadors backroads wasnt why we went.  We wanted to check out the rarely visited interior of the country with her National Parks, caves, waterfalls and volcanic peaks.  We headed first for the sulfuric crater lake volcano of Santa Ana.  Its an hour or so hike up to the cone where you are looking down on this super cool blue crater lake.  Its not a super hard hike but is very different from the Guatemalan peaks that we normally hike.

Its an easy 4 hour drive to Santa Ana from Antigua and after your hike its only a bit further to the Ruta de Las Flores where you can find food festivals, outdoor beer gardens, scenic lakes, caves and waterfalls.  We headed to Juayua first and caught up with the street-side feast that was going on.  It was like a little piece of Guatemalan Europe.  Folks drinking beers and eating food in the streets.

Just outside town is a waterfall with a system of caves that you can swim through.  Each tunnel takes you further into the mountainside and into a larger chamber.  Pretty sweet! After lounging in the pools we headed back to town for beers and a night out before we headed over to Lago de Coatepeque, the Salvadoran version of Guate's Atitlan.  It wasn't as big but it sure was pretty, we had seen it from the tops of Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes and knew we wanted to head over and check it out.

Funny how after so much time here in Guatemala that I had neglected our Central American neighbor.  She's so close and offers so much to do than just hanging on the beach and surfing.  Dont get me wrong, Zonte and the rest of the beaches are pretty stellar.  But this highlands "Ruta de las Flores" side of Salvador was a great change from my normal trip.
We'll most likely be adding this to the long list of amazing trips on the Old Town Outfitters website.  Stop in and get yourself booked up on our next adventure!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Surfing the Pacific Coast

We have teamed up with our good friends down at the Paredon Surf House on the sleepy but up and coming surf beach of El Paredon.

Unlike many other Guatemalan beaches Paredon as its known, has a good surf break and super fun waves even if your not a surfer.  Our new trip will be sea-kayaking and surfing focused.  Like our kayak trips to Monterrico we will spend some time exploring the back waterways and mangroves before heading out to the beach for a fish lunch.

We'll overnight in ocean front thatch bungalows.   We'll have an afternoon surf lesson as well as one the following morning before breakfast.

Get in touch with us at Old Town Outfitters for more information on this new great trip down to Guatemala's Pacific coast

Friday, November 8, 2013

An Exploratory trip to Guate's Green Heart

This past weekend we took off and headed north from Antigua the the lush green department of Alta Verapaz to the hidden travelers hang out near Las conchas.  This is a place that we had heard about for years but just hadnt for whatever reason found the time to get out and check it out.  It had always be rumored to be what Semuc Champey was before the tourist crowds had taken it over and made it a mainstream Guatemalan dstination of the "Gringo Trail."

No, no, this place is legit!  It is a bit far removed from Antigua but perfected placed in the middle of the country to become THE stopover spot on an overland trip between Antigua and Tikal or the Rio Dulce.
Las Conchas definitely lived up to all the hype that had been circulating  about the remote jungle river and cave system.

We loaded up the 4x4 and rolled out to our friends hostal on the Rio Chiyu just downstream from Las Conchas.  We set out not only to take advantage of cold beers, jungle swimholes and jumping off the staircased waterfalls but to create an all-in-one tour of this area of Guatemala that is not focused on Semuc Champey and the overrun town of Lanquin.

What we found was pretty amazing!  A short pick up truck ride away from the lodge is the trail head to the Setzol caves system.  Its an hour hike through the lush forest to the entrance of Setzol where a beautiful river emerges from the cave.  We spend an hour or so exploring this cave before heading further down the trail to yet another cave that seemingly no one knows the name of!  This cave still has Mayan artifacts inside, making it a truly special place.

Our recee trip has turned into a new classic Old Town Outfitters tour called the  "caves and waterfalls"  tour.  Get in touch with us and join onto our next adventure to Las Conchas before it gets turned into another Semcu Champey!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Opening new routes

We're always looking to find that special trip, something that hits the bucket list of every person who comes to Guatemala. The must do, must see and for us at Old Town, must ride.

We've certainly found our version if it! There's a sweet cross country ride from the cobblestone streets of colonial Antigua to the amazingly picturesque blue waters of Lake Atitlan. Not to mention all the views, culture and glory lines in between.

Called the Atitlan XC this ride takes two or three days depending on how hard and long you want to go. We hit all our favorite pieces of trail in between and add as much highlands culture to the mix as possible.

Much of the ride passes through places that most tourist will never get to see or if they do at all it's from the inside of a turismo van. This ride gets you out there in the "real" Guatemalan outback crossing ravines the Maya have been hiking across for hundreds of years.

The ride is a mix of terrain. Anything from sweet technical single track to jeep track and a bit of pavement. There's a bunch of up and down, some long tough climbs but to crest over the rim and see Lake Atitlan for the first time and then drop in in some of Guatemala's sweetest trail seems to equalize all the effort it took to get there.

If you're looking for something unique and have a few days to spend in the back country get in touch with us at the shop and let us show you the goods.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tis the season

The rains have stopped and the trials are open for business and better than ever!

We fight through the rainy season because we are cyclist and to be a cyclist here in Guatemala means that you have to ride during the rainy season too.

 However, every year about this time, just as you are about at your wits end with muddy bikes, rutted trails and soggy shoes the clouds break and the sun comes out.  The days are crisp and warm and afternoons turn gloriously golden and the temps start to give way to evening.

This is when the single-track in Guatemala is just right.  The trails are technical, tacky and everything is green.  Now we drop the wet lube for dry, leave the rain coats behind and  get out as much as possible.  You shouldnt take my word for how nice it is though, grab your steed and head down to Guatemala and join us on the trail.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nebaj to Todos Santos Trekking

This past weekend we headed out to the Ixil triangle town of Nebal to start a pilgrimage to the western highland indigenous town of Todos Santos.  Every November 1st there is an enormous celebration honoring those loved ones that have moved on to greener pastures.  The "Dia de los Muertos" as its called is a a day to fly kites, party at the cemetery and remember loved ones.

 Depending on what route you take you can make the journey in 3-5 days.  We always take the path less traveled and opted for a route that not many tourist take.  It is harder and takes a couple days longer but the vistas and trails are absolutely stunning.  We extended our trip with a cushy start hanging out at the "Finca San Antonio" the day we arrived to the area.  It was a great chance to tour the pueblo of Acul, one of the first military "model villages" during the civil war.

The Finca has a few guest houses where you can chill out and enjoy the Swiss-like surroundings.  We got dropped off at the trailhead and started our 3+ hour grinder up into the mountains.  It was tough but the views made it all worth while.  We stayed the night a cool community hostal high up on the plateau and enjoyed an afternoon swinging in hammocks.

The rest of the days push further into the Guatemalan back-country on a myriad of braided trails criss-crossing the rocky plains of the alti-plano.  The trek takes you through lush green valleys, steep ravines, plenty of remote villages into a place where time seems to stand still.

 It is a truly unique experience, one that should not be missed.  If you make it to Guatemala and are looking for something different, something that feels connected to the people and places that you see, this is your trek.  It really is a once in a lifetime experience.  Peg it during the right time of year and you can stop in at Todos Santos in time for the fabled horse race.  For more information on this walk and many more visit our website.

See ya on the trail!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Xela Climbing Trip

This past weekend there was a break in the rain and we were able to sneak in a trip out to Quetzaltenango to go climbing.  "La Muela" as its called or the "molar"  much like Devil's Tower, Wyoming or the infamous "half dome" is the core of an eroded volcanic complex.  
Whats left now is a jagged out crop of rocks with hundreds of trad and sport routes all over it.  Most of the routes are 5.10 or higher which makes for some advanced climbing.  Old Town Outfitters offers trips out to La Muela normally as a two day experience.  There's certainly enough rock there to keep you occupied.
La Muela is a pretty unique place to climb.  Not only because its in Guatemala, but as many of the volcanoes are Mayan sacred sites there are always groups of Mayan priests performing rituals and the base of the walls.  The sounds of the chanting resonates on the walls and adds an interesting almost erie aspect to the climb.  
We've got a similar rock climbing trip going out this weekend.  This one is head to Lake Amatitlan just to the northeast of Pacaya Volcano.  Its a super cool spot over looking the lake and with smoking pacaya in the distance its a pretty cool place to climb.  We'll be giving a bit of a sport leading seminar so stop on in the Old Town Outfitters office or get in touch via email us for more info.
Stay tuned to our online calendar on the Old Town website for more upcoming climb trips.  We have all the gear and more than 15 years experience guiding climbing trips here in Guatemala.
See ya on the rock!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another successful Phoenix Fund raiser trip done.  

We got back yesterday from our annual Beast of the East Rail Trail ride from Guatemala City out to the Mayan ruins of Copan, Honduras.  The ride was a huge success and The Phoenix Projects was able to raise $10,000!  That is enough to cover about 5 of the 15 or so teacher salaries for the whole year!  So as you can see, there is still plenty of need for more donations.

Old Town will be pitching in again this fall in October when we will be operating the Phoenix Volcano Challenge.  This is a grueling trip that takes participants across Guatemala climbing 4 volcanoes in 4 days.

We'll climb Guatemala's and Central American's largest volcano, Tajumulco, San Pedro at lake atitlan, Chicabal and Santa Maria outside the town of Quetlzaltenango.

 Its  a fast paced trip and has to be to cover as much ground as we do.  If you missed out on the last opportunity to get involved now is your chance.  Get in touch with us at Old Town if you are interested in joining the group.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beast of the East Rail Trail Fundraiser ride

Its that time of year again...time for one of my favorite mountain bike tours!  Each year we set out with the good lads at the Phoenix Project to help them raise funds to support their educational programs, teacher salaries and schools for the under privileged rural Guatemalan youth.  It really is a quite cool program.  Check 'em out online for more info.
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The ride follows the old United Fruit Company railroad line that connected the Capital with the banana plantations of the East to the Atlantic Coast port.  It is definitely a throw back to a time long past.  We ride through cool old tunnels, across big steel trestles and through dilapidated train stations.  It really is a rolling tour through Guatemala's history.

We ride 5 days from the outskirts of Guatemala City camping each night along the line passing through terrain that doesn't see too much in the way of tourism.  Being a rail trail the ride itself is pretty non technical as there are no huge climbs or descents and the terrain is pretty moderately graded at %5.  Most of the rails and ties have been pulled up long ago leaving behind a beautiful single track that traces the rolling hills and remote river canyon and valleys of the Eastern deserts of Guatemala.  The bird life is pretty stunning and you might even get a glimpse of a rare Gila monster.

Our support van meets us for lunch each afternoon and at the end of the day to haul luggage, hand out cold beers, set up the horseshoe set and cook up tasty food at camp.  The rides are about 50 kms on average but the heat can make them feel longer.  We have found a couple sweet campsites, a couple along rivers and another in a very cool old Farmstead house.  It even has a pool!

If you're looking to do something new, see a unique side to Guatemala and are interested in helping us help the locals, this is your trip!  It combines an amazing mountain bike tour that has cool and quirky cultural and historical components to it with some quality opportunities to get involved and give back with an amazing grass roots NGO program.  It is tourism with a moral compass !

It's probably too late to get involved in this years ride, but you can still DONATE or sign up for next years ride.
Hope to see ya on the trail.
-Matt Hartell

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Here's some footage from a recent trip out to some of our favorite riding.  We've spent a lot of time rolling across the altiplano in search of some of Guate's best singletrack.  Here is a short video of some of it.
Enjoy and hope to see you out on the trail.  Get in touch with us at or come by the shop in Antigua and we'll get ya out on the trail.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The OTO Underground

Its not every weekend that we are lucky enough to make it out to the sleepy mountain town of Lanquin, but when we do, it certainly always puts a smile on our faces.  This past weekend was that weekend.

The drive to get there is long, but once you leave the congestion of Guatemala City behind the scenery changes and so does your mood.  Along the way we stopped off to break up the drive with a cool hike to a remote waterfall for a picnic lunch and a swim.  This part of Guatemala is incredible!  Full of rivers, waterfalls, big hills and more shades of green that you thought was possible,and the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the elusive Quetzal.

After an hour at the swim hole, we loaded up and pushed further into the back-country and finally made it to Lanquin just in time to pull into the local cave system to watch thousands of bats come pouring out at sunset.
After checking into our digs for the night at El Retiro  we had a drink down by the river and then headed over to pour friends place at  The Zephyr Lodge for good eats and and some quality time overlooking the river.

This being a 4 day trip we are definitely able to take advantage of all the amazing things there are to do in the this adventure travelers play ground.  The limestone geology of the Lanquin area means that rivers and caves abound.  We stopped into the Lanquin caves and crawled our way past where the lights end and tourist trail stops.  Here we found ourselves at the edge of a dark cliff.  Our headlamps just barely making out the stalagmites at the bottom some 50 feet below.  We set up the repel and headed down into that dark cavern below.  There's something special about lowering off tierra firma and dropping into the unknown.

Our next objective was the cave system of Can Ba.  Can Ba is a water cave so we pull on wetsuits to be able to go well past the candle holding bikini clad tourists and push deep inside the mountain.  Up and over waterfalls, swimming dark channels, and scaling around rock formations we plunged some 3 hours into this seemingly never ending cave until we came to our turn around time at "La Playa" a nice sandy beach inside the cave where we had lunch.

Emerging back out into the warm sunlight we strolled across the Cahabon River to the pools of Semuch Champey.  This is a place like no other!  A raging river disappears under a limestone mesa formed by multiple creeks that have dropped their mineral loads forming the terraced pools of Semuc Champey.  Each pool cascades into the next before returning to the raging torrent of the Cahabon exiting the cave formed by la mesa.

This place is worthy of a National Geographic cover!  We soaked up the warm sun and lounged on the rocks separating the pools until thoroughly water-logged.  We headed back over the bumpy road to Lanquin for a huge Mexican BBQ feast at the lodge and fell into hammocks for the rest of the evening.

If you got a few days and want to see a unique part of Guatemala, a world away, underground, floating rivers, and chasing the Quetzal, this is your place.  Get in touch with us at the shop and we'll pull a trip together for you.

See ya out on the trail or perhaps under it...