SECRET GUATEMALA: THE BLACK BEACHES OF EL PAREDÓN
Off the Beaten Path Adventures: Guatemala
Guatemala offered us our very first opportunity to ‘can the plan’. When we crossed the land border from Mexico we had 12 days allocated to explore this small Central American country. We had flights to Costa Rica booked in. We had a SCHEDULE. We had an IDEA.
Two days later, it all fell apart.
We fell head over heels in love with all things Guatemala.
From the vast expanse of glittering Lake Atitlan, to the rampant volcanism evident across the country, Guatemala is a back-packers paradise. Laid back attitudes and hopeless infrastructure (like roads) means you get to meet an intrepid sort of traveller, and many of the best sights, including Tikal, still offer opportunities to visit in relative solitude (provided you get up a little early).
As we started to talk with others exploring the country, an ever-growing list of ‘must-see’ spots & ‘can’t miss’ towns & villages started to materialise. It became painfully clear that we needed more time.
As a result our Guatemala itinerary became a little hectic. Cue many a 10 hour mini-bus ride, a couple of dodgy road-side sandwiches, and one god-awful night bus. By the time we came full circle, and found ourselves back in Antigua, we were in need of some much needed downtime.
Where better to go a little slow?
Of course, need you even ask…
And oh my days does Guatemala deliver.
We spent 4 dreamy days in the secret surf town of El Paredón. Falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves in a beach-side cabana, waking to fresh pineapple and coconut water, hot-footing down to the white-wash to swim, learning to surf during flaming sunsets. We met wonderful people. We ate beautiful food.
We stood up on our surfboards.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Where is El ParedÓn?
El Paredon is on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. Described as one of the Top 10 Surf Destinations in the World by The Guardian, this little fishing village is only around 2 hours from the well-known colonial city of Antigua. It boasts some of the most spectacularly unspoilt stretches of black-sand beach, dusty village roads, and endlessly diverse mangrove forests. Forget Monterrico or Livingstone, if you’re looking for some dreamy west-coast sunset and crowd-free surf, El Paredon should be firmly on your itinerary.
How to Get to El ParedÓn?
The only way to get to El Paredón is by Guatemala’s famously shoddy roads - as with visiting any other part of the country come to think of it…
If you don’t have your own wheels, your best bet is to catch a collectivo (otherwise known as the Chicken Bus) from Antigua. Alternatively you can arrange a slightly less flamboyant ride in a mini-bus which you should be able to organise via your hotel or hostel in town.
Be prepared for a bumpy ride along dirt & sand tracks in what is likely to be a pretty cramped van. The journey is roughly 2 hours… Maybe double check the air-conditioning situation.
One benefit of organised a shared mini-bus is that this type of journey is typically door-to-door. If you have booked somewhere in El Paredon the driver will be able to drop you off at your hostel - it’s not a big place so it won’t be too far out of his way!
Where to stay in El ParedÓn?
The million dollar question.
You have 3 real accommodation options in El Paredón. Each catering to 3 different types of traveller.
Good: the driftwood surfer
This is El Paredon’s most popular hostel. If you’re up for a party, this is 100% where you should stay. Regularly packed out with sociable travellers, the hostel boasts its own pool with a swim up bar, dorms & privates, food on onsite, surf lessons + board rental, a packed social calendar & group activities. Fair warning, if you’re after more of a chilled vibe, this might not be the spot for you, with parties often running till late.
Better: swell surf & lifestyle hotel
This brand new hotel offers some seriously elegant accommodation slightly set back from the beach. This is definitely on the ‘higher-end’ of the scale, but you get what you pay for; with gorgeous interiors, a beautiful pool, and plenty of pretty places to kick back and relax. Surf lessons ($25 per hour) & board rental ($20 per day) is also available.
Best: eL paREDON sURF HOUSE*
At a glance, Swell should probably top this list. Its sleek, and glam, and beautifully finished. But El Paredón Surf House got all the soul. This place offers a full scale of accommodation options; from a beautiful dorm under the eaves, to private beach cabanas with decks & en-suites, you can choose how luxe you want to go (luxe in a Swiss-Family-Robinson kinda way…)
As a result, the array of people you are likely to meet is also wonderfully diverse, and mixing is massively facilitated by glorious 3 course family dinners served under the stars. Dinner & breakfast is included with you room rate (package dependent), and everyone eats together on long tables. You’re just as likely to rub shoulders with surf-mad teens as with the countries most sought after architects.
The guys here have Guatemala’s top surfers on speed dial who make themselves available to give lessons ($25 per hour) and also offer board rental ($20 per day). We loved learning to surf at low-tide here, just as the sun was setting, and our instructors were patient, encouraging, and celebrated with heaps of enthusiasm whenever we managed NOT to wipe out.
We cannot recommend this place enough.
*Note: Not to be confused with El Paredon Surf CAMP. Which is a little different.
Top things to do in El Paredon
Lean to surf
In case we hadn’t made it clear, El Paredón is one of Central America’s top surf spots… in fact, it’s one of the planet’s best surf beaches. All the accommodations options listed above can help you organise surf-lessons from local instructors and rent boards (from ‘foamies’ or soft-tops for true beginners, to 5ft blades).
The best thing about the surf in El Paredon is the variety of waves the swell produces. From massively steep sets at the back, to the 400m or so white-wash during low-tide that offers the perfect set-up for those still learning to play on.
If you’re committed to learning to surf, an hour of instruction 2 days in a row is really all you need to get the basics (i.e. standing up and riding a wave forward). For anything more advanced you’d need at least 5 days of instruction having completed & a good upper-body fitness regime in advance!
Be warned, if you're heading to the beach in the middle of the day, take flip-flops. That black sand get’s mighty, mighty hot.
Visit the Turtle Reservation Centre
One of the most special things about the glittering black coasts of El Paredon, is that as well as being home to Guatemala’s national surf team, they also serve as one of only 7 year-round sea-turtle feeding grounds. A short boat trip on a local lancha allows you to spot their many little heads popping through the surface for air and swimming in clear waters below.
You have 2 options to get out to the right spot. Either find a local with a lancha and negotiate e a fair price for the trip, or book onto a tour with La Choza Chula, the local sustainable tour company. The latter advertise through both the Driftwood Surfer and El Paredon Surf House.
Tour the Mangrove Forest
The river running along the edge of the Sipacate El Naranjo National Park, not far from El Paredon village, is lined with dense Mangrove forests. Around 10% of all the Mangrove in Guatemala is located right here. The long gnarled roots of these water bathing trees support some of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Hire a lancha to slowly paddle you up river and spot some of the regions wildlife on the way. La Choza Chula also offer this tour, more information can be found here: https://lachozachula.org/tours/
Watch the footie
Double check when the local 5-a-side football evening is and you can pop into the village to watch. The best games are those that are part of the annual tournament, finishing in November. You can pick your favourite team, grab a few corona and tacos and cheer along with the locals.
We arrived in El Paredon after 6 weeks of non-stop travel and we couldn’t have found a better spot to slow down. Our memories of our sprints along the beach, our euphoria at learning to surf, and balmy evenings meeting pleasant strangers, are some of our favourites. It felt like heaven and home, and we could have stayed there for months.
One not to miss.
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