I’d heard lots of good things about Xela before getting to Guatemala, but wasn’t that impressed. It’s apparently a really nice place to study Spanish, but the centre seemed so small without much to do and even our lovely hosts didn’t make up for it.

After the previous few days of steep long climbs, the climb out of Xela hardly felt like we were doing anything. It was a well graded road which almost seemed flat as we climbed for a couple of hours being passed by a few road cyclists out enjoying their Sunday training rides, and going past lots of people with wood strapped on their backs.

At the top, we could see a few interesting looking volcanoes, and then had a glorious descent to Nahuala with it’s Sunday market. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived it had mainly finished and the best thing we found was a Mexican food stand serving ‘super burritos’ with the only thing super about them being the amount of grease.

We continued along the highway until we got to the turning off for Lago Atitlán. The only thing between us and our first view of the lake was a few kilometres of unpaved road which was a little bumpy, but nothing compared with what was to come.

When we got to the mirador (viewpoint) we saw it, and I thought of a quote I’d read earlier on Wikipedia in which Aldous Huxley said “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.” Lago Atitlán is just stunning. The 3 large volcanoes around it make it so majestic and we sat at the viewpoint for the best part of an hour just enjoying the beauty.

Leaving the viewpoint 20 minutes before the sun went down seemed a good idea knowing it was about 10km to go, it turned out to be a terrible one. The drop to the lake was incredibly steep and after hurtling down roads with constant braking trying to avoid the potholes that covered the majority of the road, we got to a series of hairpin turns (switchbacks/curva peligrosas) that you can see if you zoom in near the end of the route, it was complete madness. I tried taking a timelapse video, but the lack of light and not taking pictures frequently enough meant it looks like it does. Oh well, I’m learning.

Getting down to San Pablo we noticed a couple of flaws in our usual plan to ask at a restaurant to be able to camp next door. Being on the side of very steep volcanoes, the buildings were incredibly tightly packed so there wasn’t much space of any space next to any of the buildings. There was also a rather concerning lack of places to eat food. Thankfully I spotted a policeman and went to talk to him about camping, he recommended that we asked at the town hall and they welcomed us straight in to a large room that seemed like it would be used for speeches or performances. The most confusing thing was somehow they had a disused pickup truck sat in the corner, but there was no way that it could have got through the doors. To me that means they built the town hall around the pickup, and that’s just bizarre.

We went out to find some food, and after lots of stalls selling pollo y papas (fried chicken and chips) we found one with some very small tacos, and then another with rice and beans. Not quite what we were aiming for, but still better than the Guatemalan delicacy of fried chicken. The town basketball court is located by the town hall, and the kids were playing until past 11pm, but there was a power outlet and I was watching a Korean movie I’d downloaded until around midnight anyway.

Sunday market

Peter talks about lakes

Playing with timelapse… needs some work

Looking around San Pablo at night