If you’re coming from the west, you might want to make a quick visit of Quetzaltenango’s downtown before returning to the detour. Conversely, if you’re coming from the east, then get through the Quetzaltenango (Xela) congestion as best as you can and this will be your reward.
At San Juan Ostuncalco, which might be hard to distinguish from the Xela sprawl, the Inter-American Hwy entangles with the city center and the maze of one-way streets can quickly become frustrating. Follow the obligatory Inter-American Hwy detour and then veer south on Ruta 12. Within a couple kilometers you will reach San Martín Sacatepéquez and thereafter you’ll really begin to feel the freedom of this route.
Continue for 21 km until you reach a large break in the rarely-broken forest that lines both sides of the highway. Here you will see a large bus stop shelter with large cobblestones paving either side in a descent that quickly disappears from view. If you’ve reached the town of Colomba, you’ve gone too far.
Throw yourself onto this cobblestone pathway and you’ll immediately pass the outskirts of a small town. You approach another town, Candelaria Xolwitz, in a couple km and after that there’s only the occasional home or cluster of homes until you reach the Parque Arqueológico Nacional Tak’alik Ab’aj about 7 km further on.
A bit deteriorated towards the end of the end of the rainy season, this road is well-compacted, if rocky, unpaved descent through beautiful, forested countryside. Watch your speed for dogs and children and you’ll still arrive at the national park much, much too soon. If you want lodging in the area, Takalik Maya Lodge offers lovely, rustic grounds, horseback riding, and a short hike to a small bathing hole, although the accommodations leave much to be desired.
Below the national park, the road is paved, passing through the town of El Asintal and then joining the international CA-2 Hwy. From here you might head to the coast around El Paredon or over to Lake Atitlán through Chicacao. But if you need to go back north to Xela, at least you can enjoy blowing through that all-too-brief dirt section once more!