13 Oct Our Top Three Picks for Off the Beaten Path Places in Guatemala
Less-Frequented Places in Guatemala
I’m always looking for hidden spots, rural stretches with incredible scenery or little towns full of culture and life, which have been minimally touched by tourism. It’s not that tourism is bad, but it lends itself to a different travel experience – one populated with more encounters with other travelers, creature comforts, and often higher prices. Off the beaten path destinations are often host to natural landscapes, less synchronized cultural traditions, and a local social atmosphere.
Here are our top 3.
1. Playa Tilapita
Accessible only by boat, Playa Tilapita shouldn’t be confused with its ugly step-cousin Tilapa. Since adding “ito/ita” to the end of a word in Latin American Spanish indicates a diminutive form of the original word, it’s easy to think they are the same. We certainly did. We started making the best of a so-so situation. It wasn’t until the next afternoon when, roaming be damned, we checked Hotel Tilapita’s website.
“Accessible only by boat?” Eureka moment.
We took a small boat through the mangroves with Josue, a local fisherman, at 10 Quetzal a piece to the lovely island of Tilapita, a place heralded for its surf potential but relatively unvisited. It was just perfect. Not another tourist on the island. A long, black-sand coastline teeming with fish from the brackish mangroves, fresh water streams and salt water shallows. A wealth of local Gallo beer. And to top it all off, the owner of the only hotel on the island and his family were delightful, preparing us delicious seafood and superb, Guatemalan coffee (which is surprisingly hard to find!)
The beach itself isn’t as picturesque as the Caribbean side, but we loved its serenity. No one selling anything, bothering you why you try to relax. No expectations or limitations. Just you, the beach and a handful of Guatemalan fisherman casting nets. One thing we didn’t love was the sea-trash that the waves left strewn along the shore.
2. Mountain towns around Los Encuentros and Chimaltenango
Between Chichicastenengo and Antigua, RN1 winds through the misty mountains of the Western Highlands of Guatemala, boasting of primordial landscapes that can be compared to few. I found it astoundingly beautiful and well-worth the drive, as both destinations are common on the tourist trail. The highway is dotted in sweet camping spots, and local restaurants with truly amazing views.
We chose this route in order to avoid the capital, Guatemala City, and any of its outlying areas due to safety concerns. We were delighted to stumble upon such a gorgeous scene and interested to learn that its tourism is almost exclusively national.
The lush and verdant Verapaz region receives very little tourism despite being one of the most beautiful jungle paradises I’ve ever seen. Humid mist encourages the growth of unique exotic flowers and sanctuary for birds, including the quetzal.
We stayed in Chisec, a small town a short distance from some amazing caves, waterways and sites of archeological discoveries. Bom bil pek, about 1 km north of Chisec, just off the highway, is known for the artifacts discovered in these water-filled caves. You pay your entrance fee, get a flashlight and an innertube and depart with a guide to see the “painted caves.” Many ceramics have been found there and they’re still in use for Mayan ceremonies. Candelaria and Los Nacimientos are exquisite caves as well, characteristically white, sometimes transparent, covered in stalactites and stalagmites.
If visiting Guatemala, these are some great selections for a different cultural and natural experience. What do you think? Have you been to these places? Would you like to go? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.