Bicycling Adventures in the Mountains of Guanajuato
Over the last day and a half I had received a great introduction to the city of Guanajuato. From the beautiful downtown of Guanajuato, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the historic Alhóndiga building which played a major role in the Mexican War of Independence against Spain, to the Mercado Hidalgo, and an evening street serenade by a local “Estudiantina”
student minstrel group – I had developed a little taste of this colourful city that owes its colonial architectural jewels and interesting history to the rich silver deposits in the surrounding mountains.
But this Sunday morning, a different adventure was on tap: a drive to the countryside to go mountain biking and to explore the rugged outdoor adventures that the region around Guanajuato has to offer. So early at around 8 am I had a meeting scheduled with my local tourism expert Sujei who was coming to pick me up with a local adventure travel specialist, Gerardo Diaz.
Gerardo Diaz and my expert guide Sujei
My two friends arrived in a pick-up truck with three bicycles in the back, and we started our scenic drive up into the mountains above Guanajuato. Being located in the central Mexican highlands, the city is already at an altitude of about 2,000 m (about 6,500 feet) above sea level, and we started climbing up even higher into the surrounding mountain region near Santa Rosa. We turned left off the highway that leads to the historic town of Dolores Hidalgo and started driving on a narrow country road that, as we went further, turned into a bumpy forest road. Finally, we had reached the eco-touristic adventure park of Parque Xumu.
Sujei explained that the Santa Rosa area is very popular with all sorts of outdoor lovers and offers a variety of activities such as motocross, hiking, biking and horseback riding. The landscape itself is rather stony; deforestation and soil erosion are issues that Central Mexico has been battling with for a long time. Local people cut down trees for heating and sell the wood, and this has contributed to the deforestation issue. But in the gorgeous bright sun the mountains that stretched in front of us were a beautiful sight.
I also thought that when most Canadians and Americans think of Mexico, images of Mexico’s gorgeous beach destinations tend to automatically come to mind. I would imagine that relatively few people think of Mexico as a destination for outdoor adventure, and indeed this type of tourism is still fairly recent here. Gerardo Diaz is part of a group of people who are ardent outdoor adventurers, and he particularly loves mountain biking. He even takes it a step further and has become an expert in doing jumps with his mountain bike.
Together with a group of friends he has created an outdoor adventure area called Parque Xumu which offers a variety of outdoor activities. Most of his friends were away today at a mountain biking competition, but he had kindly taken the time to show me around his favourite place.
Parque Xumu itself offers camping facilities, and Gerardo showed me the common washroom and shower facilities that were still being built. A common area with palapas offers shade and an opportunity for relaxation, and recently built cabanas provide a more solid roof for sleeping. Camping is also possible.
Gerardo at the base camp before we head off
Many kilometers of bicycling, hiking and horseback riding trails surround the camp and some of the steep mountain faces offer opportunities for mountain climbing. One area of the park has been dedicated to a mountain bike park with a series of ramps and jumps that will provoke an adrenalin rush in extreme mountain bikers.
To get to know the area first hand Gerardo equipped me with a comfortable mountain bike and we started riding uphill towards the mountain bike park. Once there, Gerardo started showing off his talent, riding down the steep trails, jumping over the wooden drops and slowing down his bike from full speed to standstill after just a few metres behind the jump. Obviously he and his friends have been hard at work building countless wooden ramps and drops over the last few years.
Gerardo after his successful jumps
Now I love mountain biking myself, but I think we had a slightly different definition of mountain biking. There was no way I was going to jump over any of these wooden contraptions, my 40+ year old bones would just not be able to handle the certain crash that would follow. So I played it safe, watched Gerardo go up and down the steep slope, and was in awe of his jumps. Contrary to my guide, I enjoyed the safety of walking my bicycle down the steepest portions of the mountain. I know my limits and I wanted to get back to Toronto in one piece. (As much as I love exploring, I don’t need to explore the insides of a Mexican emergency room…).
Gerardo next to the waterfall
After Gerardo’s talented performance we rode further down the mountain where he showed me the ruins of an old house. Obviously someone must have been living here in the remote woods of Central Mexico a long time ago. Further down the mountain we reached an area with a river and a steep rock face where Gerardo indicated that this area is used for rappelling and rock climbing.
We slowly made our way back to the base camp at Parque Xumu where we packed the bicycles away for a short drive to a great picnic spot where we would have our lunch. After a short drive over roots and rocks in the forest we arrived at a clearing called “Las Palomas” which offers a phenomenal view of the surrounding mountains.
Gerardo sets up our picnic
Now really hungry from this morning’s activities, we set up a picnic table and chairs and Gerardo started unpacking a great picnic lunch. We enjoyed our sunny spot, surrounded by the Central Mexican mountains. The only thing you could hear was a slight breeze stroking the tops of the forest. After our adrenalin-packed morning this was perfect serenity.
But as this was my last day in Guanajuato I would have to get to the bus station this afternoon to go back to Guadalajara. So we had to end our lovely mountain picnic and drive back down into the city. I had just a few hours left before I had to catch the bus, so Sujei took me to the Diego Rivera Museum, one of Guanajuato’s many interesting museums.
The beautiful mountains of Guanajuato