November 7, 2009

Sipacate’s beauty, despite the rain

We met Carlos on the boat ride from San Pedro to Santiago de Atitlan. A tall man with a big, bushy, white beard, he was hard to miss. Carlos, a Guatemalan American retired mathemetician in his sixties, was planning to go to Sipacate with some friends of his. We had not made up our mind if we would stay in Santiago de Atitlan or keep on moving. Nando played some music on the boat and chatted with Carlos most of the 45 minute trip across the lake. Once we got to Santiago de Atitlan, Carlos invited us to have a beer with him.

When we got off the boat in Santiago, several children approached us, offering their trinkets. Tatiana, Soraya, and Raymi were very interested in the colorful bracelets, rings and key chains. We gave the girls five quetzales and let them choose. Turns out Santiago is filled with things to buy. The three blocks that lead from the dock to the main street are lined with vendors, selling brightly colored necklaces, fabrics, and bags. Tempting, but I did not stop to browse.

While chatting with Carlos, we decided that we would accompany them to Sipacate, on the Pacific coast. Santiago was pretty enough, but the algae filled lake is just not the same. Granted, the lake is cleaner in Santiago, but, it is a larger town, and less of the natural wonderland I was seeking.

From Santiago, we took a chicken bus all the way to La Gomera, where we got another bus to Sipacate. Well, that was the original plan. But, the bus driver on the first bus learned of our plans to go to Sipacate and called the driver of another bus headed to Sipacate and asked him to wait for us. We met up at a gas station before the entrance to Sipacate, and were lucky to get good seats on the second bus. It was raining outside, so we were glad to not have to wait for the second bus in the rain. The drivers of the second bus were nice enough to drop us off right in front of the restaurant we planned to eat at in Sipacate, Mary's.

The food at Mary's was delicious. Nando and I shared a generous portion of seafood soup, with fish, shrimp and mussels. The girls shared a huge plate of steak, rice, salad, and tortillas. All that for about US$10. Fully satiated, we headed to our hotel, the Rancho Carrillo.

To get to Rancho Carrillo, you have to take a boat across the river, as the hotel is on the opposite side of a river that separates the town from the beach. We walked to the dock, and were able to find a boatman willing to take us across. When we got to the hotel, it was dark and raining, and only a night watchman was there.

He told us the rooms have a fixed price – Q200 each. We had hoped to bargain, but there was no bargaining with him. When I saw the room, I decided it was a good deal. For $25, we got a nice, clean room with fresh sheets and comfortable beds. I went straight to sleep, anxious to see the place in the light of day.

In the morning, we woke up to find that the hotel was quite impressive – three salt water swimming pools, a play set for kids, and miles of black sand beaches. It was cloudy and drizzling, but warm enough to get in the water. The ocean water is lukewarm. And, although the Pacific coast of Guatemala is known for its strong undercurrents, the beach at Rancho Carrillo was relatively calm.

It was too bad that it was cloudy. However, the beach was beautiful nonetheless. In each direction, you could see nothing but sand and more sand. Behind the beach is thick, green mangrove. And, the black volcanic sand has its own charm.

Overall, I was pleased we decided to go to Rancho Carrillo, even if we could only stay one night, and even if it was cloudy. The girls definitely did not want to leave the beach. But, I had to go back to Guatemala City, so we packed up after lunch and headed back.

We found a bus that went from Sipacate all the way to Guatemala City. It was a slow bus, making all the stops in between. But, it was daytime, and we got to see each of the towns along the way. Overall, with all the stops, the trip took three and a half hours. The bus driver let us off on the main road, just a few blocks from where we are staying in San Jose de Villanueva.


  1. I think 'carlos' was my professor at the uni were I did my undergrad. I knew he had moved to the lake, but its very funny to find him here!

  2. He might have been - he does have a professorial look - of the mad professor type!

    We were lucky to meet him, as we would not have made it to Sipacate otherwise. Maybe one day we'll make it back when it's sunny outside!