People say Guatemala isn’t known for its beaches. They must have overlooked El Paredón, Guatemala’s best beach and possibly one of its best kept secrets. Sure, other Central American countries beat out Guatemala in number and quality of beaches, but the experience of visiting El Paredón is too unique to compare. A rural fishing village on a black sand beach with palm trees, hammocks, and surf boards galore? You’ll be shocked you didn’t know about it sooner.
A Town on the Brink of Tourism
If you’re planning your trip to Guatemala or are lucky enough to be there already, pack a swimsuit, a good book, and some extra money to donate to the local sea turtle hatchery and book a shuttle to this tranquil paradise. Why the urgency? This sleepy fishing village, with one dirt road through town that dead ends at a river full of lush mangroves, just made it on the tourist map… and with its beautiful black sand beach, firing surf break, magnificent sea turtles, and slowed down pace of life, it won’t remain hidden from the tourist eye for much longer. Just three years ago, the only way to get to El Paredón was by taking a series of public buses, called chicken buses around Central America, totaling around 6 hours of travel time. Confusing transportation combined with the overshadowing of Guatemala’s beaches by those of nearby countries has sheltered this tropical paradise from the touch of tourism and modernization. The few “restaurants” in town consist of picnic tables in a local’s front yard with a small whiteboard indicating the menu of the day and at what hour the palm frond hut transforms from family home to village eatery. There are no ATMs (bring local currency!), no supermarkets, and no souvenir shops. What you will find here is natural beauty, a relaxing atmosphere, and a unique local community.
What To Do
Perhaps the best part of El Paredón is that you don’t have to do anything. Every accommodation has a laid back beach vibe with plenty of hammocks to lounge in while spending the afternoon reading a book and watching the waves. Take a break from your busy travel schedule and slow down on this black sand beach, but don’t forget that there is a local community just down the road. Take a walk down the single dirt road leading into town and see the school buildings, local businesses, and family life that make up the unique culture of this village.
Take a Chula Tour
As tourism begins to hit El Paredón, the one non-profit in the town- La Choza Chula (The Cool Shack)- works to ensure that the members of the local community are the ones benefiting from tourism. One way they do this is by training local guides, with years of knowledge growing up in the town, to run various tours. With Chula tours, you can go fishing in the lush green mangroves of El Naranjo National Park, visit a sea turtle feeding ground, learn to cook traditional Guatemalan dishes in a local family’s kitchen, or learn to make the vibrant colored bracelets that started the organization. All of these tours are led by locals and the price you pay supports a fair wage for the guides and the profit goes back into La Choza Chula to fund their projects.
Release Baby Sea Turtles
Yes, you can release your very own, freshly hatched sea turtle into the great blue ocean. Harvesting sea turtle eggs is not illegal in Guatemala, but the harvesters must give 20% of the eggs they collect to local hatcheries in order to maintain the population. In addition, many hostels and hotels in the area donate to the local hatchery so that they are able to buy more eggs from the harvesters, a great example of tourism working with the local community. At 6AM every morning, if you take a stroll down the beach to the local hatchery you can participate in the release of the newly hatched sea turtles. Every participant gets to hold their own sea turtle and let it go as it races with up to hundreds of its peers down the black sand towards the bright light of the ocean. Before you stroll back to your accommodation with the sunrise, consider donating to the hatchery to help return more sea turtles to the wild.
El Paredón is the best surfing beach in all of Guatemala, so grab your board and paddle out to this steep beach break. The break here is steep and heavy, and when the wind picks up it can become borderline unsurfable. Your best bet is to go out in the morning, before the wind, and you might just catch some seriously beautiful sets. And when in doubt, look for the locals. These guys know the waves, and while you’re trying to paddle out of no man’s land they’ll already be on the big outside sets throwing aerials like John John Florence. This beach does have rip currents, so if you’re not an experienced surfer, stick to low tide for your salty sessions. If your board didn’t make the luggage cut, no problem. Most all of the accommodations have a big ol’ quiver of rentals for you to choose from, usually around 100 quetzales (or about $14) for 24 hours.
Where to Stay
There are only a few lodging options in El Paredón, a testimony to its nonexistent crowds. Each option boasts positive reviews and you really can’t go wrong. Are you looking for a party hostel with a good time crowd? A rustic hut with just the basics? A higher end bungalow? Read on to see which option best fits your travel.
The first hostel to open in El Paredón, Surf Camp has a rustic, homey feel. It’s located right on the beach and has dormitory and private room options. Bonus for those truly traveling on the cheap, you can pitch your own tent at Surf Camp for an even cheaper rate. They have board rentals, surf lessons, and kayaks for rent that you can paddle around the mangroves.
Price: $3.75 camping / $8.50 dorm / $27 private room / apartment $35-60 depending on # of guests
On the more upscale end (well, as upscale as this beach town gets), Surf House is a beach hotel made up of thatched roof beachfront bungalows and casitas. Along with surf and boogie board rentals, they have surf lessons, beach volleyball, table games, and a pool. Free breakfast is included and every evening they host a 3-course family style dinner with a vegetarian option.
Price: $28 group loft / $75 bungalow / $105 suite / $116 casita
The Driftwood Surfer
Looking for a classic backpackers’ hostel? Look no further than the always-a-good-time Driftwood Surfer. Started by three expats in Guatemala, The Driftwood Surfer hits the balance of relaxed vibes and party antics. There is an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar, a beach volleyball court, beachfront hammocks, and a yoga platform where classes are held every morning. Every night there is a killer family style dinner, with a veggie option always available. The crew here is always up for a good time, but they are also community minded and help with the local nonprofit and turtle hatchery. Oh, and they have a permanent guest… a micro pig named Potato.
Price: $10 dorm / $34 private room
La Choza Chula Homestay
Looking for a more immersive cultural experience? Through La Choza Chula, you can stay with a local family in town and learn what daily life is like for the locals in El Paredón. A traditional breakfast is included each morning of your stay. This option is not only a unique cultural experience, but also a great way to ensure that your tourist dollar is benefiting members of the local community.
Price: $13.75 for one person / $20.50 for two people
How to Get Here
Located just two hours from both Guatemala City and Antigua, getting to El Paredón is a cinch. Simply book a shuttle through any of the numerous travel agencies that line the streets. While some agencies have their own micro-buses and drivers, many of the agencies are merely third parties that utilize the same shuttles, so it doesn’t make a huge difference which you book through. A shuttle one way to El Paredón should cost you between $12-$15 and reservations can be made even the day of, although booking at least the day before is generally safer. Shuttles leave twice daily, 9am and 2pm. Depending on where you are staying in El Paredón , you may be able to book a shuttle through your accommodation that has more time options, although this option is often pricier. My suggestion? Don’t book your return shuttle yet. Once you experience the entrancing vibe of this beach town, you’ll want to stay longer than you planned.
As tourists in this town on a precipice, we have a responsibility. The enticing nature of this place bodes the possibility for development and ugly side affects of tourism. If we want to keep El Paredón the tranquil hideaway that it is, we must respect and appreciate the community and the culture. Buy a t-shirt from La Choza Chula to support their education projects. Wake up extra early to help with the sea turtle release. Throw up a shaka to fellow surfers. These community-minded actions help support this unique place for others to enjoy, just as you will.