Go There: Guatemala
Ballin' like a Guatemalan
Words and Photos: Carl Steindler
Where: Sandwiched between Mainland Mexico and El Salvador, Guatemala lies in the northern part of Central America and is bordered by both the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans.
What: One of the most beautiful and underexposed countries in Central America, Guatemala is often overlooked on the surfer's radar due to its lack of points and reefs like you'd find in neighboring countries. However, this should not deter you from visiting, as Guatemala is the most technologically advanced nation in Central America, boasting beautiful cities, wonderful people, excellent food, and some of the finest beachbreaks around. With plenty of river mouths, piers, and jetties thrown in the mix, the barrels will make you forget all about the crowded reefs and points in the neighboring countries to the north and south.
When: With so much of its coast open to all types of south and north swells, Guatemala rarely drops below waist high, with chest-high surf consistent at many breaks. March through June is generally the time to score the best combination of waves and weather, as the rainy season is just coming to an end. That's when the sandbars are groomed, offshore winds are frequent, and the river mouths and beachbreaks really turn on. During the rainy season (July through February) bigger waves can be had and you can still find yourself surfing alone--just remember that it's also tourist season in the U.S. so you may have to share (a little).
Why: Because everybody likes to surf alone, eat great food, chat with friendly locals, and stare at attractive members of the opposite sex. Guatemala boasts more than 30 volcanoes, Mayan ruins poised to leave you breathless, and cities like Antigua and Likin with cobblestone streets and canal systems that will remind you of old Europe. Waves are consistent, crowds are minimal, and if you do some research beforehand, you can have the trip of a lifetime. And with the current exchange rate giving you eight quetzals per American dollar, your money will go a long way.
How: Many international airports offer nonstop flights to Guatemala City (GUA) for less than $500. Once there, you can take the bus to the beach (three hours), rent a car, hire a shuttle, or, if all else fails, hitchhike--which is quite common within the city. Your best bet, though, is to rent a car and buy a good driving map at the airport. A 4×4 will come in very handy during the rainy season and for drives on the beach to check the surf, but is not always necessary. Also, in Iztapa, a short boat ride ($1 pp) is mandatory to cross saltwater channels that separate the beach and the town from the waves at the jetties and La Barra. However, once across, you won't be disappointed.
Where To Stay: You can find cheap hotels just about everywhere, just make sure to ask to see the room beforehand. Areas in San Jose and Iztapa are the best places to stay to be closest to the surf. However, you can go up the coast to areas like Champerico and Tulate if the swells have some west in them to score some really fun waves and even cheaper accommodations. If surf camps are more your style, you can check out Tuboloco in Likin, El Paredon surf camp, or contact Maya Extreme surf shop in Guatemala City and ask for Pedro Pablo if you want to rent a house or bungalow on the beaches of Iztapa.
Places To Eat: In Guatemala it's hard not to find excellent, cheap eating. Look out for Tortillerias on the sides of the roads and treat your taste glands to ultra fresh corn tortillas. Add some meats and cheeses, and you've got one of the best after-surf snacks ever--all for under $3. The tourism infrastructure isn't nearly as developed on the coast as it is in the city, so don't expect TGI Friday or McDonald's (thankfully). Still, it's very plausible--and very cool--to find a restaurant beneath someone's house whose pride, joy, and lifelong mission is to make the best food possible. If you're not a culinary explorer, then ceviche, fresh snapper, and rice dishes are available at most eateries.
Dudes And Babes: If you're looking for a one-night fling with the opposite sex, the coastal areas of Guatemala are not for you, unless you're looking for a Central American sweetheart to marry and take home to mother. If you really want to be a superstar, then visit Antigua, where tourists flock from all over the world to come and learn Spanish and party their sweet asses off. Just don't expect a ride back to the coast in the morning.
Crowd Factor: What crowd? Guatemala has so many waves and places to surf that whenever you do encounter a crowd (or person) they are usually cool locals, happy to be sharing waves with others. Greet them with a warm smile and wave of the hand and there's no telling what secret spots they might show you.
Stuff To Bring: Take everything including your favorite beachbreak boards and a solid step-up. Surf shops are nonexistent along the coast, so a ding-repair kit, lots of warm water wax, and a few pairs of trunks will do the trick. Also, the local kids love stickers and any Spanish you can muster will be invaluable. Don't forget the sunscreen!
If The Surf Is Flat: Although it's rarely flat here, it can happen, and if that's the case, then no worries. You are literally surrounded with options that will make you forget all about the waves and Mother Nature's stubbornness to cooperate, at least for a short while. Take your pick between the Mayan ruins of Tikal to the northeast, the volcano Pacaya to the west, or the cities of Guatemala, Antigua, and Likin, all within a 45-mile radius. You can also go wakeboarding in Guatemala's massive lake Atitlan or visit one of the country's amazing water parks if you really need to get wet.