ArrivalFriday: Repeat day from Tajamulco Took a 25Qtaxi to the Linea Dorada station, got a direct ticket for Guat-City for 70Q. At the bus station in Guat City, called Manuel at the hostel—came to pick me up AND he even took me over the Monja Blanca bus station to get a ticket for my next journey into the Sierra de Las Minas for the next day. Stayed the night at the hostel and repacked. Left my other belongings there.
Saturday: Manuel took me to the Monja Blanca bus station. The bus was destined for Coban, but I told them where I was going, and paid only 35Q as my stop was “Chilasaco.” Tell the bus driver you want off at this road. It is NOT the Salama crossing stop.
At the road side where you get off, you will see a sign and a small road leading up the hill to Chilasco. Stay here, as there may be other people waiting to go there as well.
NOTE: Many people from Chialsco go to Salama for daily market sales and return in the afternoon. Try to get here in the AM as the buses get crowded in the PM.
From the road side, you may have to wait 30-40 minutes for a 12K ride up to Chilasco (5Q). I hopped in the back of a pick-up truck who offered to take me and a few others up. Tell your driver to let you off at the “Oficina de Turismo”—it’s at the beginning of town. The office is where you can either organize a hike to Salto Chilasco or make contact with the Defensores de Naturaleza to hike the Sierra de Las Minas Mountains.
The Hike:The manager’s son guided me down into town to the house of one ranger, but he wasn’t home, so his wife contacted another one who would be able to take me. I waited for him in the market area. When he came, he told me he couldn’t take me on a 2 day hike as he needed to return the next day for church. I asked him if we could hike as far as we could for the day-evening, so he agreed. For a one day-evening hike, he asked for 100Q. There is no set price with these guys, so depending on how many you are and how long you want to go, feel free to bargain.
NOTE: Guide name: Hermelindo Garcia. Cell number: 519-33745. If you want to contact his office, call 50515408 and ask for Eduardo Mayen. It may take a day or two to get a guide since they work in the mountains. If this is the case, and you don’t hike the first day there, the Oficina Turismo has a hostel type dwelling for tourists where you can bed for 50Q/night.
Here are the trail lengths in the Sierra Minas:
St Augustine--30K (3 day hike)
This hike required 2 hours of straight walking through farm and forest until you reach the mountain trail. These 2 hours lead you past and across trails that lead nowhere, and for that reason, a guide is necessary. There are a lot of locals here cutting wood for their own use. I often wondered how much illegal cutting was being allowed.
NOTE: If you do this hike in the rainy season, consider wearing rubber boots for the 2 hour hike through the farm-forest part. It is extremely muddy and wet. My boots, socks, and pants were soaked and caked. The hike up does not require the rubber boots, though, so you will need to consider how to manage this. The hike up, as I was told, may cause blisters. Ask the guide if there is a spot where you can ditch the boots until you come down, so you can use your hiking boots for the trek up. Then, on your return, you can retrieve the boots and change into them before you hit the mud and water you will have to trudge through.
We then spent the next 3 hours moving up the mountains. Beautiful virgin forest surrounds you. There is a lot of replanting of pine trees—the focus is on pine trees. When I asked about the native trees and shrubbery, he said they do that too, but I didn’t’ see it. I wondered if the over-planting of pine trees secures them work in the long run, as the pine will burn with lightening strikes, and this allows the Defensores the opportunity to work at replanting again----just a thought.
The paths we took were often wide enough for 1 person in most parts. Because of the rainy season, I did get to see many animal tracks—a few of the cat prints were huge---bigger than your average mountain lion—no exaggeration. We did hear the Quetzal bird, but never saw one. By 5PM, it was beginning to rain, and we were about an hour or so from the peak. The guide told me it would be too late to get to the peak and down to the shelter he wanted to stay at, so our hike ended here, in the middle of nowhere.
He took me off trail, and cut open an overgrown path for about 100 yards into the forest to a 1 room cabin hidden. It was unbelievable how this thing appeared out of nowhere. He told me that the original one was set on the main trail, but because of thieves who dismantled and stole the wood, the Defensores decided to hide their cabins. They have them so that in case they can’t make it back down the mountains to their towns, they have these places to overnight in. We had just enough daylight to start a fire in the cabin. I hung my hammock and he unraveled his bed roll on the ground. He heated his meal, I ate my trail mix. We chatted for a few hours before turning in for the evening. The cabin has a dirt floor, but the guide told me that there are no scorpions or snakes in the area, so sleeping on the ground is not a problem. There’s an old portable toilet just outside of the cabin for adventure seekers.
NOTE: Although Chilasco was the only town mentioned in reports to hire a Defensores guide, he told me there are 12 workers from the villages surrounding the Sierra park and that any one could take hikers, of course, depending on their schedule.
Sunday: Broke camp at 7AM and hiked on down. I was disappointed in not spending more time up there and not making it to the peak, but this was one place I want to go back to as it is still unmarked and offers a lot of hiking into virgin area. In the rain, we made it back by 11AM. After exchanging notes with him, I walked over to the center of town and ate at a stall selling hot soup, and then headed up to the Oficina de Turismo.
NOTE: 2 months before I arrived, I local Guatemalan guide decided to take a group of Guatemalan tourists up into the Sierra de Las Minas . . . . .He, the local guide, lost his way, and got the group lost. The Defensores and other agencies found the guide and tourists the next day- all of them unharmed, but the guide had a nervous breakdown….This place requires guides from the Defensores Naturalesas. Once up in the mountains, forget it--you don’t know the area because the paths are often overgrown and are not marked.
If I go back to Guatemala, I will come back here and go on a 2-day hike.
Salto Chilasco:I went back up the hill to the Oficina de Turismo and inquired about hiking to Salto Chilasco. They have prices listed—the park entrance to hike and camp overnight was 35Q. Rubber boots = 5Q. This is one of the tallest waterfalls in Central America and requires a moderate 1 hour hike to get to. Sr. Martinez told me his son, Willie, could lead me to the camp site. So I paid him 25Q to walk along. The kid wants to be a guide, so he was fine company, although he wouldn't shut up most of the way, but I was working against time, and was tired. It’s not necessary to pay for a guide for this hike, and the trail is straightforward.
1PM--The path starts off behind the Oficina and leads east out of town. You walk about 2K on the gravel road until it ends in a parking area with the signs directing you forward. The next part leads over a few foot bridges and over some small hills. The third part leads up, over, and down into the forest. It takes a good 90 minutes to reach. Although not far of a hike, you are definitely cut off from all civilization, so take any and all emergency things with you—there’s no one around for assistance.
2PM--Arriving at the camp area, you’ll find a palapa-shelter where you can camp. It is an open-air covering with no sides. It will keep the rain off, but skeeters and other things that wish to sniff you during the night are free to approach you. There is a dilapidated shed with a plastic toilet nearby, and there is a pipe with running water from the small waterfall.
NOTE: You’re in the middle of a rain forest and cut off from anything dry, so building a fire can be challenging. Before you leave, tell them you want fire-starter wood (pine splints). Get a lot as there is not much that is dry in the forest. Also, inquire about firewood at the palapa. There was already some wood left over from a previous camper, but I don’t know if that is always the case. It was quite cold and moist, so the manager’s son stayed around and helped me collect some dry vine and get a fire going before he left.
The small waterfall is a 5 minute hike above and before the palapa. This waterfall was fun as you can wade into it, bathe if you wish, or just sit enjoying the scenery. I waded in and washed off my boots and pants for a nice break. You can just barely look over the waterfall, but I could not get close enough to see just how far down it fell off—it’s quite a sight! I would definitely bring a 6-pack of beer for this setting next time.
The large waterfall is about a 20 minute hike down past the palapa. This trail is slippery, and in some spots rocky, so take your time. Once I reached the end of the trail, I sat on the large rocks and enjoyed the view and environment for 30 minutes. Although I didn’t do it, you could hike further down to the base and access the falling water on the bottom, but there is no marked trail to do this, so I didn’t want to risk an injury in the middle of nowhere with no one around.
5PM--It was drizzling by now, so I didn’t do much except get my things ordered, sit a round and munch, and keep the fire going. By 6PM, things were getting dark because the rain-forest covers and surrounds the area. I was getting tired again from being constantly on the move for the day, so I decided to lay in the hammock for the night. I like to listen to the night sounds in the forest, but it was impossible as both waterfalls and the running water pipe made it feel as if it was constantly raining. Nonetheless, the water and fire reflection made for a comfortable night.
Monday: Woke up at 7AM, ate, changed, and stopped at the small waterfall to get some water before heading up the trail again. The trail is well-marked with a few rest stops along the way. Made it back to the Oficina de Turismo at about 8:30AM. Collected my things I left behind, and asked about the bus to Guat City.
Return to Guat City:To get back to Guat City, I was told the mini bus to Salama would pick me up right in front of the food stalls where I ate the previous day. So I went down into town to eat from the same lady and had some hot soup and tamales. 20 minutes later, a minibus drove up. I got in, Tell him you want to go to to "la cumbre de clilasco" (THIS RIDE COST 7Q). The bus does not go directly to the main road. It first continues on into the next community before turning around and heading up and out of Chilasco. Once on the main road, the bus drove down to "La Cumbre de Chilasco.” Tell him to leave you in front of the police station. This is where you need to flag down a Monja Blanca bus going to Guat City. There are many Monja Roja buses going by to Guat City, so don’t worry. The first two were packed, so I waited for the third and got on. It takes about 2 hours to Guat City (35Q). It will stop 30 minutes later for a meal break.
Once at the Monja Blanca bus station, I called the hostel and they picked me up. Because my hiking got cut short, I stayed one night and decided to travel to El Salvador for a day.
El Salvador and Home:Tuesday: I took nothing with me except my passport, rain gear, hat, and enough money to get me there and back. Got a ride to the TICA bus station and paid 70Q for a 7AM direct ride to San Salvador. With border checks and all, it took about 4-5 hours. Got off and asked a taxi driver to take me to a cheap hotel (El Paraiso10US/night). I also told him I needed a ride to the same station the next morning, so he agreed to pick me up then. I walked to a small market and had lunch. It started to rain, so I went back to the hotel and rested for 2 hours. When the rain broke, I took a 4US taxi to the big malls. I walked around and shopped for a few hours, then took off walking toward the city center. I was looking for local bars and could not find any, so I kept walking until I ran into “Fridays” of all places. I sat, drank, and chatted with a Mexican guy for a few hours, then took a 4US taxi back the hotel where I chatted with the night workers for another hour before going to bed.
Wednesday: The next morning, I took a 4US taxi to the bus station and bought a 15US bus ticket for Guatemala City. Called the hostel to pick me up and spent the night there. I walked around Zona Viva for the evening and went to Zona 1 for a bit with Alex.
Thursday: Boarded my Mexicana flight for 2:30PM to Cancun and then connected to the U.S.
Guatemala is a great place to visit. The people are very friendly, even though everyone said to stay off the streets after midnight. . . . I felt safe though and got the impression that the locals just didn’t want tourists to get in harms way. The prices are still low. Don’t tip taxi’s as they are already charging you double the price for locals. Always ask for “costs” up front. I would definitely go back and even do these hikes again, especially the Sierra de Las Minas, as the guide said they could take you on 1, 2, or 3 day hikes. E-mail me if you have any questions.