31 January 2017
San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
I had a really hard time writing this blog. For some reason I just can’t describe my experience correctly and anything I write just feels shallow and doesn’t give justice to just how amazing everything was. I’ve tried very hard to capture that feeling of serenity and rightfulness but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’ve done my best to recapture that joy. If you plan on visiting Central America, don’t miss this place.
I had no real plans for Guatemala and admittedly I knew nothing about the country so a couple days ago I decided to take a stroll on google and see what there was to offer. I found only 2 places where I could kiteboard so I made a rough plan of action. I would go to San Pedro La Laguna first, check out the scene and kiteboarding, and move on if it lacked to the next place.
My very first impression of Guatemala honestly wasn’t that great. The roads near the border were pretty terrible compared to Mexico so I wasn’t looking forward to the roads through the mountains to San Pedro. Luckily, the further I travelled away from the border, the better the roads got. I was shocked by just how beautiful and how modern Guatemala really is. As I drove through Quetzaltenango I saw all of the modern conveniences like Pizza Hut, Walmart, Burger King, and yes even Taco Bell.
After a quick stop at a Walmart for an ATM, I left Quetzaltenango for the mountains. As I started driving into the mountains, I kept expecting the roads to get worse. I was dreading dirt mountain roads because last time I had to do that I had tons of problems with my back break failing. The gorgeous views kept me distracted though and while the road did turn very steep, it stayed pavement to my delight.
I got my first view of the lake as I crossed the last mountain pass and was just blown away. Looking down I had a bird’s eye view of everything and I instantly fell in love. Lake Atitlán was formed by a volcano eruption 84,000 years ago and is the deepest lake in Central America. Deemed “the most beautiful lake in the world” by many explorers, it is surrounded by 3 volcanos to the south and has 7 small villages resting on its shores which are reachable only by water taxis.
My first impression of San Pedro la laguna was that it was a very quiet and traditional town with most of the women wearing Mayan clothing and very few foreigners to be seen. The roads are mostly made of cobblestones running very randomly through the village with little tuk-tuks racing up and down the steep hills. I instantly liked the village and knew at the very least this would be a great place to rest and relax for a couple days before moving on.
I found a little place named Joyas Hotel Del Sol nestled in a small alley that had a nice lake view and also offered a secure place for my motorcycle. I had the option for either a single room for 20 Quetzals (about $2.75 USD) or a double with a lake view for 30 Quetzals (just under $3.50 USD). I decided to splurge the extra 75 cents and get the lake view and booked for 2 days. They also offered extremely cheap Spanish lessons and other services like guides to horse rentals and were extremely friendly and helpful with all of my questions. I highly recommend the place.
After getting settled in I wanted to do some more exploring. I read that this town was actually the “party” spot on the lake but it just felt too quiet and since including myself I could count the number of foreigners I’ve seen on one hand, I had a hard time believing it. First priority though was to check out the like so I started down the hill to the shore.
In 2005, Guatemala was hit by a hurricane which caused horrible damage killing over 1000 people and leaving over 5000 homeless. A couple years later the lake was hit by a tropical storm causing even more damage. All of this rain resulted in the water rising over 30 feet, drowning everyone near the shore and leaving an eerie but strangely beautiful site. I knew that kiteboarding wasn’t going to be easy around San Pedro.
After checking out the lake I decided to explore some of the alleys and completely by accident ran into the “tourist” section of town. Hidden away from the rest of the village, there are two main “strips” filled with little cafes, restaurants, and hotels. The variety of restaurants ranged from very traditional Guatemalan food to sushi to even falafels. There were little cafes surrounded by flowers that only served breakfasts to party clubs with live music every night. Basically whatever you are looking for, you could find there.
After a fantastic $2 dollar traditional Guatemalan lunch and a little people watching I knew I was going to want to stay longer than 2 days even if I didn’t get to kiteboard. So I paid my $12 bucks for another 4 nights and spent the rest of the evening on the hotel roof just taking in the views while the sun set. I was in love.
The first three days I basically just relaxed and wandered through the village. I was able to get some of the little jobs that needed done on my motorcycle. Changing my rear tire cost me a whole $2 dollars. I also flushed my brake fluids hoping to prevent another brake failure. I talked with both the locals and other tourists, hearing their stories and journeys. Mostly though I just relaxed, read, and explored.
On the fourth day I woke up thinking that it was time to kiteboard. There is so much water everywhere that I just must, especially with the epic back views. I previously read that there was much kiteboarding around Santiago, the village to the south of me. I jumped on a water taxi to Santiago to do a little exploring and to see what I could find kiteboarding wise.
As a tourist spot, I was really disappointed in Santiago. There are more little shops selling local shit compared to San Pedro, but after about 45 minutes I was bored. I started thinking about going back to San Pedro when I decided that I couldn’t leave until I found a good kiteboarding launch since there was so much wind. While I never did find a great kiteboarding launch, I got to explore some amazing places around the village, mostly walking on the little paths that follow the water.
So after 4 hours of exploring the shoreline I had gotten no further in finding a place to kiteboard than I did starting out that morning. Defeated but not unhappy, I caught a boat home. On the way back, to just tease me, I passed someone who was kiteboarding and it was driving me nuts trying to find out where he launched from. I asked some of the locals and the captain on the boat but no one knew or couldn’t understand me.
That night as I watched the sunset over the water, I was determined to find that kiteboarder and with the help of google I had a contact with the local kite school who then directed me to get ahold of Luis Pedro. Apparently he was the guy kiteboarding earlier and owns the property on the point which is a fantastic launch site. On top of that he offers a boat service (which you will need) and runs an Airbnb. It really the best spot on the lake and I will be spending some time there on the way north with Melissa. To read my kiteboard report on Lake Atitlan, check out this link.
After getting my fill with kiteboarding I decided sadly that it was time to move on. I spent a week here with the initial plan of just two days and really I could have stayed so much longer. I’ve read that many people get stuck here in San Pedro and after spending some time I can easily see how that could happen. Everything is just so surreal and peaceful and everyone I have met has been extremely pleasant and happy. I could stay a month and still not get enough but I have places to be and things to do so I guess I’ll be moving on.
The plan tomorrow is to drive around the lake to Santiago and then find somewhere to crash near the border so I can do the crossing nice and early. Apparently the road between San Pedro and Santiago is pretty dangerous though. A couple days ago I was going to drive there and was told by many people to be very careful, don’t bring anything valuable, and good luck. I guess there’s a small section of the road which is pretty bad and bandits like to hang out there and rob people. I’ve looked at the map and there is no other way so I guess I’ll risk it. It’s hard to believe that there are bandits here when you look around.
This has been by far my most favorite spot on the trip and I think it will be a long time before I find something to top it.
Best Part:Finding this paradise!
Worst Part: Leaving this paradise.