Backroads to Xela and a border run

I’m now en route to the Mexican border, with the plan of acquiring myself a new 3 month visa to cover me for Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua (these countries, along with El Salvador, all share the same entry stamp). There’s just time to post a few photos from what turned out to be an epic journey from San Pedro La Laguna to Quetzaltenango – aka Xela.

From San Pedro, there are two ways to reach Xela. A paved main road hurdles the busy Panamericano’s highest point in Central America, a settlement known by the quirky name of Alaska, right up at 3200m. Closer scrutiny of the map, however, revealed a dirt backroad, shown only with dotted lines – the details of which seemed as vague to anyone we met locally as the faintness of its markings.

Inevitably, we chose the latter… It was tough. The profile read something like: 1500m to 2000m to 800m to 3000m, and back down to 2300m. All in the space of just 90, slippery, rutted kilometres, a short distance that ended up taking us almost three days! To date, I’m not sure if either Cara or I have ever cycled such steep roads, anywhere…


The climb out up to Santa Clara from Lago Atitlan: incredible views just about detract the mind and muscles from ridiculously steep switchbacks.


Once we reached Santa Clara, we were told the track down to Santo Tomas La Union was ‘peligroso’ – dangerous. Not for thieves, but for the steep gradients, rough surfaces and massive drop offs.


Perhaps luckily for us, those drop offs were generally lost behind a veil of mist…


Down, down, down we went…


To the land of coffee beans and giant banana leaves.


No sooner had we dropped to 800m or so, than it was time to climb once more towards Cantel and a wall of mountains – right up to over 3000m.


Incredibly lush countryside.

A lot of pushing. It was often as steep going up as it was going down.


Helmets are useful for stray rockfall.


There goes the road…


Finger-sized bananas, and some fingers: the market seller’s, and Cara’s. Recognise which is which?


Only pickups plied these tracks. Good use of space!


Definitely the road less travelled…


Arrival in Xela. Muddy bikes and tired riders…

12 thoughts on “Backroads to Xela and a border run

  1. Gyatsola

    wow! amazing pictures Cass. incredible trip. makes me feel such a wimp for staying in Polebridge another day just because it’s raining and the pastries here are soooo nice….

  2. Simon

    Steeper than Northern Laos? Look forward to trying to catch you both later in the week…will send you the news sometime late on Wednesday UK time…take care…S

    1. otbiking Post author

      They’re from Speedway cycles in Anchorage, made by the folks who also build FatBack cycles. Really nice stuff, and considering what it is (titanium and very niche) really well priced. Much cheaper than H bars, for instance.

      I swapped them out for one point for Scott’s Groovy bars, similar shape albeit narrower and less sweep. Now I’m back on these though, I’m really liking the way they take pressure of the wrists, and make handling feel super stable.

    1. otbiking Post author

      this road was something else! we must have pushed on and off (mainly on) for 4 hours at least. And we’re both travelling really light! incredible, it just kept corkscrewing ever upwards! still, nothing has come close since, so at least it gives everything some newfound perspective…


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