Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A 5,000,000,000 Star Experience

Antigua to Atitlan Safari Trek

Our sister company Trek Guatemala has just returned from its first customer trip, trekking from Antigua to Lake Atitlan.  A vision that was crafted from a couple nights drinking bourbon around the campfire out in the back country, brought the idea to connect the two tourist centers together via a well thought out, carefully planned, community/culturally based trekking route.  While the walking itself is pretty spectacular the well-appointed safari style tent camps are down right mind blowing. Trek Guatemala wanted to create a rewarding and engaging trekking route while at the same time offering all the creature comforts that are typically forgotten about on an ordinary trekking holiday. Think hot showers and queen size beds with down duvets! 

The current trek is a three day two night experience starting just a few kilometers outside of Antigua.  It was carefully hand crafted to combine scenic trail passing through culturally interesting areas with rich community interactions and stunning campsite placements.  Day one has the group cresting out high above the Antigua valley before dropping in the Acatenango valley well known for its great coffee. The group walks through working coffee farms and then climbs up to a seemingly forgotten Mayan village at the end of a dirt road directly facing Acatenango and active Fuego volcanoes.  This is the “Fuego” camp, fittingly named after one of the two volcanoes that dominate the view.  With a little luck sipping wine around the campfire you will get a front row seat to one of Fuego’s famous lava eruptions. 

Employing locals from the villages along the route ensures that there is always an opportunity to gain some insight into the lives of those who live in the area but to also give back to the communities in which they pass through.  The group is always accompanied by a local guide who along the trek can point out and share their personal experiences in the area, be it the hardships of 35 years of civil war to peasant subsistence farming life.  They have also trained women and men from neighboring villages at each campsite as cooks, guides and camp helpers.

Day two of the trek takes you through lush cloud forest and up high on a ridge that separates the more arid highland plateau and the lush Pacific slope.  Traversing the ridge there are amble opportunities to see bird life and other animals.  After a full day of walking the group walks into the second overnight camp called the “Agua”, named for its huge views over the distant Lake Atitlan, your next and final objective.  The campsite is nestled in a hill top forest just outside a small village. Part of the philosophy with Trek Guatemala’s vision was to create a rewarding cultural experience with the people of Guatemala.  In this village there is a women’s weaving cooperative that create textiles on the centuries old fashion back strap looms.  These textiles are then gathered together and taken to such places as Antigua or Panajachel where they are sold to tourists.  Here you will be able to see first-hand how these wonderful textiles are made and have an opportunity to buy direct from the weavers themselves leaving a greater economic impact.

Leaving “Agua” camp on the morning of day three, the trail dives down through beet, corn, broccoli and bean fields and into shaded coffee and avocado farms on its way down to the Madre Vieja river.  It’s a steep climb up and out of the river valley to the top of the shelf overlooking Lake Atitlan.  The reward of nearly three full days of walking is evident as the group crests out over the lake and starts making its descent to the water’s edge.  Moving now through a distinctly different landscape the group drops steeply and steadily on the rocky trails overlooking Lake Atitlan.  There is an opportunity for a stop off at a Mayan Altar in a cave above the town of San Antonio.  Continuing down here the trail as it winds closer to town begins to weave through terraced onion and flower fields where local farmers channel the limited water into their terraces based on an age old water sharing practice.

Arriving to the lake trekkers can decide to either pack it in the bus and head back to Antigua or stay out on the lake at one of the many hotels there.  Trek Guatemala is in process to continue the trek from Atitlan across the altiplano to Quetzaltenango locally known as Xela.  For now however, they are offering extensions to the Hotel La Casa del Mundo in Jaibalito where trekkers can kayak or relax in a swinging in a hammock lakeside. 

For about $150 per person per day, the trek is all inclusive.  All you have to do is show up, lace up the ole boots and take in the sites of the trail.  The well-oiled machine of Trek Guatemala will do all the heavy lifting and logistical planning from getting you in from the airport to setting up the camps to keeping the beers cold. 

Old Town Outfitters is excited to be partnering with Trek Guatemala to help travelers find this unique, handcrafted trekking one-of-a-kind cultural trekking experience.