Our unforgettable six-day trip from Nebaj to Todos Santos promises to take you well off the beaten path, through 3 Mayan language zones and far from the reaches of any guidebooks (or modern roads for that matter). The trek will see you traverse the far-flung Cuchamatanes Mountains that hug the seldom-visited North-Western corner of Guatemala and will bring you up close and personal with the area´s rich culture that has changed little since the arrival of Europeans (first with their guns, then with their cameras). The scenery along the way is also as unique as it is spectacular, from lush green valleys to pine forests to barren, other-worldly plateaus.
Local families will welcome you into their homes, share a home-cooked traditional meal, and provide a warm, dry space for you to get some well-deserved rest. Interactions with the people of the Cuchamatanes might be an even bigger draw than the stunning alpine scenery. The region was one of the hardest hit by the recent civil war and memories of massacres and disappearances still weigh heavy in the minds of the locals. Despite this, they warmly welcome us into their communities and will often find the occasion to share with us their stories of personal tragedy.
As one of the three main centres in the Ixil-Triangle region, the mountain-ringed town of Nebaj with its bright traditional dress and solemn history is, in many ways, the perfect starting point for our trek. We´ll bunker down for the first night at Popi´s Hostel, a not-for-profit hostel that supports the local Mayan Hope project. There, we will be served a filling home-made meal before chilling out in the common-area and taking advantage of the last hot shower we´ll see for the next 5 days.
After a sobering break in front of Acul’s church, we follow a rickety dirt road out of the village before taking a long break at a grassy, riverside clearing for a picnic lunch. The rest of the afternoon comprises a winding ascent through pasture, woodland and scattered villages. At about 4pm we arrive at a tiny village wedged at the bottom of a steep, pine-forested valley that we will call home for the night. After some time spent either relaxing or playing some soccer with curious young locals, we can wash the day’s sweat off in a temascal (Mayan sauna).Warm and clean, we are then invited into the home of one of the dozen or so K’iche’ families that make up the village to share in a traditional meal. We can then either sleep in the school-building or outside under a sky that, with the absence of any nearby electric lighting, shines incredibly brightly.
After breakfast, we continue climbing until we hit the altiplano (literally: the high-flat) and stop for a break while taking in the spectacular views of the entire chain of Guatemala´s volcanoes sitting on the Southern horizon. The martian landscape of the altiplano with its warped limestone boulders (that actually originated from the ocean floor...of Earth), is unique to Central America and is really something to behold. For the next few hours of hiking, we share this roadless, prehistoric plain with no-one apart from the few scattered goat-herders moving their flocks between highland hamlets. A lonely pocket of pine-trees serves as shelter from the intense, high-altitude sun while we eat a picnic lunch and rest our legs. At the edge of the altiplano we descend a beautiful valley to arrive in the K’iche’ village where we spend the third night. A family kindly provides us a shelter for the night and, after a filling meal, we slowly slink off to our sleeping bags for some well deserved rest.
What goes down, must go up and, after drying-off and letting our breakfast settle, we get started on a steep climb out of the other side of the valley. The winding ascent (aka: ‘Agony Hill’) takes us through corn-fields, green pastures, rustic villages and pine forests until we emerge from the trees onto the second desert-like altiplano. From here, the next few hours are mercifully flat as we pass highland swamps and one particularly eerie village-graveyard. When we reach a small village with road-access, we buy some provisions and have lunch under the shade of a lone tree.Towards the end of the day we arrive at the affectionately-named, ‘Hill of Terror’: the short, but very steep uphill section that ends the day´s hiking. Some hikers have got into the habit of racing up the hill – current record: 6 mins 56 secs. Wiping the sweat from our brows, we continue to a sealed road and take transport to the village of La Ventosa: our destination for Day 4. Arriving in La Ventosa, seemingly all the kids in town come out to greet us, as does the village-leader, Geronimo – who graciously invites us to wash up in his temascal, eat a hot meal and bed down in his family´s spare room.
Taking a long break at the top of La Torre, we are treated to expansive views of the distant chain of Guatemalan volcanoes – from Agua, Acatenango and Fuego to Atitlán and Santa María all the way to Tajumulco. The rest of the day is spent negotiating the slippery Western slope of La Torre. The mossy, temperate rainforest in this area makes for a beautiful descent and we stop at a swimming hole set into the side of the mountain for lunch overlooking the Todos Santos Valley. The trail flattens out once we start following a river which takes us through pastures and cornfields before finally leading us to Todos Santos itself.
In Todos Santos – a Mam-speaking town famed for it´s unique traditional dress and beautiful mountain-setting – we have enough time to wander around the town and maybe grab a celebratory beer before the local family that we stay with serves up dinner.
Quetzaltrekkers is the only trekking outfit that regularly runs this trek and it is bound to be remembered as the highlight of any trip to Guatemala
When: The trek is scheduled to take place every second Tuesday through Sunday (ie. once every two weeks). For details, check out our online schedule. If you have a group of people, an on-demand trek might be possible if you can contact us well in advance.
What to bring:*
*Don’t have all this stuff? No problem- we’ll lend you what you don’t have. Do have some of this stuff but don´t want to carry it anymore? Consider leaving it as an equipment donation! Quetzaltrekkers relies on the generosity of individuals and companies for equipment.