While I’ve lived in Guatemala for a while and had previously visited many other times, I hadn’t found a chance to visit any of its beaches. Guatemala rarely figures in any guidebook as a beach-worthy destination. Part of it I think is that other fantastic attractions tend to overshadow perfectly serviceable beaches, like El Paredon Guatemala. Did you know you could surf in Guatemala? See my review below of Paredon Surf House.
The closest beaches to Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala are those on the Pacific Coast, located about 2 hours away. Monterrico beach gets top billing, due to being more developed and having more amenities, although it’s not necessarily the best beach on the west coast.
While looking up info about possible beach destinations, I found out about El Paredon Beach, located inside Sipacate-El Naranjo national park. This area is known as Guatemala’s best surf spot and featured in El Paredon Surf Report.
Heading to Paredon Surf House
I found online a neat little hotel on El Paredon beach, Paredon Surf House. I decided to drive there one Saturday morning to check it out.
If you don’t have access to a vehicle, there are now some travel agencies offering shuttles to and from El Paredon. A one-way shuttle costs about $12USD. Plan to spend the night, as shuttle schedules allow for a 2-3 hour stay if you want to come back the same-day – far too little time.
From Antigua Guatemala, you need to head towards Escuintla, the road that goes through Ciudad Vieja. We were barely on our way, and we were already looking forward to sucking in some clean sea breeze.
Smoke from chicken bus
Keep following the signs to Escuintla as you head out of Ciudad Vieja. This road is also known as CA-14.
Bear left on CA-14, towards Escuintla
As you continue heading towards Escuintla, you’ll pass by the town of Alotenango and La Reunion Golf Resort, a five-star hotel and planned community. Designed by Peter Dye, it is said to be one of the best golf courses in all of Guatemala. The place looks magnificent inside, even if it doesn’t look like much from the outside and its location is in the middle of nowhere.
Overloaded pickup truck – a common transportation mode in Guatemala
As you drive past Alotenango, around the bend, you’ll notice a striking hill dominating the landscape. Known to locals as “Pikachu Mountain,” it’s a popular rock climbing destination. Why the name? Not sure, but I have a theory.
For a Q10 ($1.25) fee per person, you can enter the small park and climb to the top. There’s also a shallow river, safe for kids. Street vendors gather here to sell food on the weekends. The entrance to the small parking lot can be easy to miss. Look for a turnoff on your right.
Striking Guatemalan landscape
As you get closer to the mountain (a hill, really), you’ll notice a distinctive boulder. I guess if you squint your eyes, you might confuse the rock with Pikachu, of Pokemon fame. That’s my theory on the name.
After experiencing cooler temperatures at the start of the trip, it warmed up considerably once we reached Escuintla.
Driving past the Pikachu, you’ll come to a fork in the road allowing you to enter the Escuintla bypass. Otherwise, you’ll have to drive through the city of Escuintla and find your way to CA-9, the new highway that leads to the coast. Bear right at the fork.
Entrance to CA-2 Highway
After a short drive on the bypass road, you’ll see signs for Puerto Quetzal, which is on the coast. The Mazatenango/Retalhuleu (Reu) exit is CA-2, which takes you all the way to the Mexican border. From here on, follow signs for Puerto Quetzal.
Head to the coast, toward Puerto Quetzal
Antigua Guatemala road to the coast
The drive down CA-9 is fairly nice, as the road is in great shape. This is the same road that leads to Monterrico and Iztapa, another popular beach. El Paredon beach is further up north, so you need to drive through Puerto San Jose and away from Puerto Quetzal.
Highway to the Pacific Coast
Puerto Quetzal is Guatemala’s main shipping port, so it makes sense that the Guatemalan Naval Base is located nearby.
Guatemalan Naval Base
Keep following the signs for Puerto San Jose.
Follow turnoff to Puerto San José
Puerto San Jose is a familiar town with visitors from Guatemala City, because of its accessible public beach. It was at the very least interesting to drive through.
Small church, Puerto San José
Left shark hanging out in Guatemala
If you continue on the main road, you’ll come to a 4-way intersection. Continue straight and follow the coast to exit Puerto San Jose.
Drive past Puerto San José, away from Puerto Quetzal
You’ll see a sign for Masagua, the direction in which you’re headed. You’ll also see signs for Escuintla, which can be a little confusing since Escuintla is where you came from originally.
It turns out that CA-9 is U-shaped, and makes its way to Escuintla. This means you can head to El Paredon from either end, from Escuintla. I guess we missed the exit for the old CA-9 while on the Escuintla bypass.
In any case, it is just more convenient, and faster, if you drive on the new road that goes through Puerto San Jose (unless you’re going to the beach during Easter Week: Puerto San Jose gets super crowded, and it’s best to avoid driving through).
If you’re coming from the new CA-9 section, via Puerto San Jose, you won’t have the benefit of certain landmarks. There’s a sign for “Linda Mar,” but only viewable when you’re heading TO Puerto San Jose from the old CA-9 that winds through the town of Masagua. There’s also a giant billboard with a girl in a bikini, which is the only thing I recall from it.
The entrance to Linda Mar is around Kilometer marker 98.5. Below is what the turn off to the road looks like, on your left, if coming from Puerto San Jose.
If coming from Puerto San José, you won’t see signs for Linda Mar
And if you’re coming from Masagua, on old CA-9.
If you missed turn off, go back – Turn off will now be on the right
Head down the road until you see signs for “Parc. Los Angeles”. Turn right at the Pepsi shrine and head towards Juan Gaviota.
Follow signs to Juan Gaviota village
After a few miles, you’ll find Carrizal Gas Station on your left. Turn left shortly after you drive past the gas station.
Carrizal Gas Station
After driving over a small bridge, you’ll see a rural school. Turn right.
Juan Gaviota Public School
This road used to be all dirt until a new development was built on the coast, Juan Gaviota Marina del Sur. Now it’s partially paved, at least until you drive past the resort. You’ll see the high-rise condos in the distance, to your left.
As you drive further down the road, the paved road ends. You’ll have to stay on that dirt road for almost 10 miles.
Road to El Paredón
The landscape is gorgeous and peaceful.
Coastal landscape Guatemala
At some point, the road winds through a private lot. Slow down, as there are cows, horses, and other livestock on the road. They’ll slowly move out of the way – hopefully.
Watch out for cows
Arriving at Paredon Surf House
After driving for what seems like forever, you’ll see the signs for Paredon Surf House (PSH). Turn left and park in the lot behind the hotel.
Entrance to Paredon Surf House
Paredon Surf House parking lot
PSH is laid back, as you’d expect for a hotel built by surfers, for surfers.
PSH accommodates visitors of all budgets. There are separate bungalows with private, open-air showers, to cheap sleeping cots above the main building and other options in between. It pays to book ahead, as all the private rooms were fully booked and only a few beds remained when I called ahead the morning of my trip.
Dorms are upstairs
There’s a Q25 fee, per adult, if you just want to spend the day and make full use of the facilities. There are more than a few options, besides surfboard rentals and lessons. You can go kayaking, take a horseback ride on the beach, get yourself a massage, take Spanish lessons, among other things. Lots of options at very reasonable prices (listed in quetzals below).
Note: Only dollars and quetzals accepted.
Paredon Surf House prices
There’s also a restaurant that serves very reasonably priced a la carte meals during lunch hours. At night, the restaurant offers a communal meal, and all guests share in the dining experience.
While it took forever to get our meals (we arrived close to the restaurant’s closing time for lunch), the food (grilled fish) was very fresh and quite tasty. Each meal cost about Q50 (~$6.15), plus drinks. Not bad at all.
The pool, while small, is in a shaded area and nice.
Paredon Surf House pool
The pool came in handy, as Guatemala’s Pacific Coast beaches are of the black, volcanic sand variety. This type of sand gets super-hot between midday and 4 p.m., making that a very good time to have lunch and lounge by the pool.
It’s best to enjoy the beach during the morning hours, before the sun heats up, or after the sun starts setting down a bit, giving the sand a chance to cool down.
Pacific Coast breezes
The surf was producing waves 3-feet high when we arrived, but by the time we left, before sundown, waves were picking up and getting to about 5-feet high. I would recommend children stay at the pool, even when the waves are not that high.
Paredon Beach is not treacherous like Monterrico’s
Even though the hotel was almost near capacity, we had the beach all to ourselves.
You’ll have the beach to yourself
After hanging out most of the afternoon, it was time to hit the hammocks for some relaxation time.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to watch the sunset. It was time to leave as I didn’t want to get caught driving back at night on a dirt road with livestock roaming around.
Hammocks, Paredon Surf House
One last look as we headed out at sundown.
Sunset on the Pacific Coast
El Paredon beach was a pleasant surprise after what I’d heard about Guatemalan beaches. I enjoyed it, even though I’m used to gentler, white-sand beaches. I’ll make plans to go back and visit other beaches.
If you want to visit Paredon Surf House, book online ahead of time or call Amy, the English-speaking hotel administrator. Definitely worth the trip.
Have you visited El Paredon Beach?