Coffee Plantation Tours
My bicycle jerked and bounced like a wild beast on Antigua's stone-paved streets. I dodged potholes, street vendors, chicken buses, soccer-playing kids, and oblivious pedestrians as I attempted to keep pace with my guide, who clearly felt completely comfortable pedalling through Antigua, a city of stone-paved streets, blind intersections, and maniac drivers. I was relieved when we emerged, 32 blocks later, into the green Guatemalan countryside and further soothed when the smell of coffee rushed up the road to meet us.
Coffee plantation tours are Central America's adventurous alternative to wine tasting weekends. Rather than sipping Syrah and discussing its fruity notes, cyclists in Guatemala get stoked on caffeine and work up a sweat. It's a more active trip and it draws the sort of people you would expect – hearty, well-traveled sorts – in increasing numbers. Old Town Outfitters in Antigua caters to this demand with Sip n Cycle, a bicycle tour of La Azotea, a private "finca" just outside the city, and the local coffee museum.
The ride was a revelation. Coffee has been grown in Guatemala since the early 1700s and on this farm for more than 50 years. The rich volcanic soil, low humidity, and near-constant heat yields astonishing beans and powerful brews. And the views aren't bad either, especially from the shady veranda where we ordered cup after cup. It was enough to make me want to keep drinking.
Turns out, that's not a problem. Guatemala is covered by a network of trails that once served as trade routes between fincas and markets. Many of these byways make great mountain bike rides and KE Adventure, a prominent local outfitter, offers a 15-day fully supported ride across the country. For bikers with a little less time on their hands, there is the rigorous Cielo Grande Ridge mountain bike ride, which ascends more than 2,300 feet, passes through a coffee farm, and winds past several fincas.
Rider looking to put down the kickstand and get involves can head to the San Miguel, where guides from As Green As It Gets lead the way up a nearby volcano to a working coffee grove and then teach visitors how to work the land. Visitors learn to plant, prune, weed, and harvest beans before heading to the farmer's house for a tutorial on roasting and grinding with a traditional grinding stone. The reward for your labor is a bag of beans and, of course, another cup of the dark stuff - fuel for your descent.
More infomation: Antigua is 30 miles outside Guatemala City, which is serviced by regular flights from Dallas and Miami. Get out of the unpleasant capital as quickly as possible in a hired car and head to one of Antigua's many small hotels.
Credit: Stefano Paterna / Alamy