UPDATED December 4, 2023

BY Guest Author

IN Ruta Maya

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UPDATED December 4, 2023

BY Guest Author

IN Ruta Maya

no comments

A Staff Day Out: Mountain Biking On Volcán de Agua

 

Becky Timbers is the Content Creator on the 2023 Ruta Maya. In this report, she answers the question – what do the staff do on a rest day?

Rest days on TDA Tours can go one of two ways for the riders: spend the day relaxing (and recovering) with a walk or two around town or opt for a full-day adventure that showcases the area’s best sights and experiences. More often than not the tour field staff are busy preparing for the next stage of the tour but every now and then they have the opportunity to take a day off and experience the surrounding area.

For the Ruta Maya staff, mountain biking down the side of a volcano was one of those experiences! On our recent rest day in Antigua, Guatemala, five of us signed up for the El Zur Mountain Bike Tour with Old Town Outfitters, an adventure tour company based in the city. We got shuttled up the slopes of Volcán de Agua in 4×4 trucks and then rode 20km back down with a guide leading the way.

Spoiler alert: It was a blast! Here’s a recap of our staff day out exploring the purpose-built single track on Volcán de Agua.

Retracing Our Ruta Maya Route

After getting picked up early in the morning from our hotel by Joel, our guide for the day, we headed out of the city with rental mountain bikes loaded on top of the van. We actually retraced the route our Ruta Maya riders rode coming into Antigua, which featured incredible views of the surrounding volcanoes (one was even emitting smoke from its crater), hillside farms, and mountain ridges. After about a 45 minute drive, we turned off into a private preserve, which is home to El Zur Mountain Bike Park with over 20km of purpose-built mountain bike trails. From there, we transferred our bikes and gear to two 4×4 trucks with local drivers and our adventure began!

Making our approach to Volcán de Agua

Getting To The Top Was Half The Fun

The drive up the slopes of Volcán de Agua was an experience in and of itself. We stood in the back of the pickup trucks, holding tight to the crossbars and ducking frequently to avoid branches and vines. To say that the ‘road’ was in poor condition is an understatement. It was rutted, steep, narrow, and undriveable unless you were the two local drivers who knew their way around this terrain. We got bumped, jostled, and tossed about in the back of the trucks, but the grins on all our faces proved we were up for such an adventure. After almost an hour of rough going, switchbacking up the volcano on an increasingly questionable track, we finally reached the start of our downhill mountain bike trail. We were at 7,200 ft with over 2,500 ft to descend.

Driving up the rugged dirt road to the start of the mountain bike trail was half the fun!

The Descent

As an avid mountain biker, I was excited to see what the El Zur trails had to offer. I’ve mountain biked in a lot of places – and even down a few other volcanoes around the world – but never in Guatemala. After our bikes were unloaded and helmets donned, we pushed off in a line and slowly disappeared into the thick forest, leaving our 4×4 driver friends behind to make the rough journey back down. In hindsight, I think we had an easier descent than they did. The trail started off with some downhill switchbacks on leaf-strewn single track. In fact, this was the theme for much of the ride – narrow sidehill followed by tight corners through beautiful, lush forest. It had been awhile since any of us had ridden a mountain bike, so we took our time getting warmed up and comfortable on our rental bikes. But soon each of us found our flow and we cruised down the volcano, making plenty of stops for photos.

The staff of the Ruta Maya on a rest day adventure

Misfortune Strikes

Almost halfway down the mountain, we had a bit of a mishap. Kenny, our bike mechanic, managed to shear off his derailleur, leaving him with no way to pedal. Despite it being a downhill ride, there were actually quite a few short climbs. He was left to ‘strider’ his bike on the flat sections and push it up the steeper hills for the remainder of the ride. At least it was the bike mechanic who broke the bike…

The Final Stretch

While the whole ride down Volcán de Agua was pretty epic, it was really the last stretch that was the most memorable. The trail opened up into a series of meadows covered with a thick layer of vines. The mountain bike trail was cut through these vines to create a path through the sea of vegetation. It was super cool and nothing like anything I’d seen before on my mountain bike travels. There were even tunnels through the vines!

The final stretch of the ride was on a path cut out of a sea of vines

Then, after 4 hours of descending (with a fair bit of climbing and stopping for photos), we rolled back to the start where we filled up on a delicious lunch and cold beverages. I think all five of us all agree that this was one of the best staff rest days in the history of TDA tours!

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