I took my first surfing lessons a few years ago in the pleasant, beginner-surfer friendly beaches of Hawaii. It did not go well. I flopped around like a fish out of water – except I was surrounded by water – and had a miserable time overall. Not only did I never manage to stand up on the surfboard, but I paid about $60USD for the pleasure.
Fast forward three years later. I’m now 40+ pounds lighter and in better shape than when I first attempted to surf. By the way, who knew laying off burgers and newborn-sized burritos and going out regularly for walks would do wonders for my health? And not a single magic weight-loss pill involved. Anyway, back to the story.
Guatemala doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a surfing destination. In fact, surfing Guatemala is akin to saying you’ll be bobsledding in Jamaica. I was pleasantly surprised to learn on my last visit to Guatemala’s Pacific Coast that there’s a small-but-growing surfing community here. The waves are not exactly world-class, but you can certainly have fun. In fact, you’ll pretty much have the entire beach to yourself when you do head out there, as the pics below will bear out.
The main beaches for surfing in Guatemala are El Paredon (where I went), Sipacate (a few miles north of El Paredon), and Champerico, further up north than the other two. Iztapa to the south rounds out the group. Since I was familiar with El Paredon and figured I wanted to give surfing another try, I decided to slow travel my way down there, wife and daughter in tow. Surfing lessons here are only Q120 ($15USD), which factored into the decision to try again.
Slow Traveling to El Paredon Beach
I’ll tell you up front that while it was an interesting experience to travel down to El Paredon Beach via chicken bus, it’s not for everyone. The quickest way to get from Antigua to El Paredon Beach is to take the shuttle that departs from the Toku Baru restaurant in Antigua, which drops you off roughly 2 1/2 hours later in front of El Paredon Surf House. This bus leaves every day at about 1:30 p.m.
Taking the chicken bus down, while much cheaper, takes a heck of a lot longer. Our first trip took about 5 hours, the return trip about 5 1/2 hours. To do this, you have to take two buses, a tuk-tuk, and a boat. Yes, a boat. Like I said, interesting trip, just time-consuming.
On the chicken bus to El Paredon
First, we took the bus down to Escuintla (Q6 per passenger, no charge for children under 9). This trip was about 50 minutes. In Escuintla, we took the bus to Sipacate (Q20 per person). This bus takes about three hours because of a few lengthy stops it makes along the way to wait for passengers. It stopped anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes in the towns of Siquinala and La Gomera. At La Gomera, you’ll have a chance to stretch your legs (never leave packages unattended on the bus) and buy fruit, drinks, or head to the restroom in the Mercado next to the bus stop. Eventually, the bus will reach Sipacate.
At Sipacate (you’ll see road signs), get off the bus at the gas station right at the entrance of town. Head towards the row of tuk-tuks and ask the driver to take you to El Escondite, a small pier about three miles away. The set rate for the trip is Q20, regardless of the number of passengers. Curiously, the rate is Q5 per passenger on the return journey.
Tuk-tuk stand at Sipacate
The road is paved and light on traffic.
Road to El Escondite
El Escondite (The Hiding Place)
After about five minutes, we arrived at El Escondite pier. According to local people we asked, it’s safe to leave cars parked here overnight for free, as there are people there at all hours. Don’t know how much I’d trust that, but there were cars parked there when we arrived.
El Escondite pier
The boat ride (Q5 per person – no charge for children) was enjoyable. It meandered through mangroves, and we were able to spot some of the local wildlife.
Boad ride through mangroves at Sipacate
After 10 minutes, we arrived at the other site, to the hamlet of El Paredon. According to a local, I talked to, about 2,000 people lived here full-time, and most live off fishing.
Arriving at El Paredon Village
It is a very laid-back beach town where everybody knows everybody.
Rustic beach shacks
Something I noticed was the abundance of Evangelical churches. I counted four, and a big one was being built on the main sandy road. Curiously, I never did see a Catholic church.
Main dock at El Paredon
We arrived just in time for sunset, which was delightful.
Sunset at El Paredon Beach
Most of the streets are covered in black sand. Every house I discreetly peered into seemed to be simple structures with no interior walls. Beds, kitchen, table, chairs… everything was in plain sight directly from the street.
Path to the beach
Paredon Surf Camp vs. Paredon Surf House
We arrived at Paredon Surf Camp, our chosen lodging spot. We stayed here because they allowed camping and use of facilities for a modest fee (Q30 per person – no charge for children). It’s less than a quarter-mile from the fancier Paredon Surf House and definitely had a more down-to-earth vibe than Paredon Surf House. This is not to disparage either. We chose Surf Camp because it allowed the use of our tent (for Q10 per person daily they’ll offer one). You could pitch a tent at Surf Camp and spend the day at Surf House (Q25 per person for use of Surf House’s pool and facilities) if you wanted to do both. The Surf Camp also happens to be closer to the village.
We were starving when we arrived, so we set out to look for a place to eat other than at Surf Camp. This proved difficult, as the options were slim. We found a local who advised that the best food we were likely to find was from a little street shack where we could buy some ticucas, a dish local to El Paredon.
We found the spot without any trouble. We tentatively ordered some ticucas – fried corn dough stuffed with cheese and chicken – and sat on sun-baked plastic chairs, hoping for the best.
Street food at El Paredon
The ticucas did not look bad at all. The vendor put a helping of cabbage and tomato salsa on top and we were ready to dive in.
Ticucas are very similar to pupusas
I’m glad to report they were great. They were pretty much identical to Salvadoran pupusas, albeit a bit thinner and smaller overall. At Q3 each, we didn’t hesitate to order a second round.
Next, we headed to the local tienda – convenience store – for some snacks. Thanks to a poster on the wall I discovered I’d just missed the busiest time of the year for this remote village. Turns out they have a lot going on September 15th, Guatemala’s Independence Day. Apparently, they have scheduled horse races, boat races, a torch run – an independence day tradition here – and a greasy pole competition. I’m seriously thinking of heading back just to see the spectacle.
Sign up for the horse race (Q10), launch race (Q5), or to climb a greasy pole (Q5)
Because of the sparse population, there’s very little light pollution here. The stars were splendid and I had the night to stare in amazement at the Milky Way, which I don’t recall ever seeing in person before in my life.
The Milky Way
We also walked around the beach looking for sea turtles, which come to this beach to lay their eggs. We had no luck finding one, just a lot of startled crabs.
I don’t know if I broke any camping rules by pitching the tent under a palm tree, but it was great nonetheless.
Camping under a palm tree
I set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. to catch the sunset. I was not disappointed. We spent the dawn hours walking along the beach, never seeing more than three people in the hour and a half or so we were out there.
Sunrise at El Paredon Beach
Scooping up black sand
Crab walking on black sand beach
Black sand beach made from volcanic rocks
Paredon Surf Camp Facilities
While Paredon Surf Camp appears a bit basic compared to Paredon Surf House, the place grew on me. It helped that we were the only guests there, apart from two friendly surfers from Wales.
Paredon Surf Camp beachside hut
Dining room at Paredon Surf Camp
Garden at Paredon Surf Camp
Surfboards for rent
Path from hotel to the beach
Main bungalow at Surf Camp
Surfing Guatemala: Learning the Ropes
For those not familiar with black sand beaches, they get incredibly hot from the sun from about 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The instructor widely decided we should practice proper surfing technique under the shade.
Standing up on dry land is a heck of a lot easier, I was about to find out.
It’s much easier on land…
The resident pooch had seen her share of newbies come and go and I could tell she was not impressed by my form.
Practicing my technique
After about 10 minutes of instruction, it was time to hit the water.
I’d always heard that Guatemalan beaches on the Pacific side were dangerous, so I was a bit apprehensive going in. Fortunately, the waves were relatively calm and I really had nothing to worry about.
Ready for my lesson
Not only did I manage to stand up on the board and ride a wave all the way to the shore, but actually did it twice. Not bad for my first time and enough to get me hooked and come back to learn some more.
Managed to stand up a couple times
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and taking pictures.
Taking a break from surfing
We returned the next day, mosquito-bitten, but glad to have made the trip. And I also picked up a new hobby along the way. Not bad for a weekend trip.
Have you ever surfed before? Did you enjoy it?
Share your tips below.