Guest contributor Kirsten Gallagher has been sharing tales from her recent Guatemalan adventures over the last few weeks. From practicing yoga in Lago Atitlán to hiking up an active volcano in Antigua, Kirsten is obviously a big fan of active travel. Today, she’s telling us about her most recent adventure, which included hiking in Guatemala and a nice relaxing stop at some idyllic hot springs.
Hiking in Guatemala
If you’re ever in a car in Central or South America, a good word to know in Spanish is “despacio”. This means “slow”. My driver is taking me and several others up the winding road to the local hot springs near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. We’re on the right-hand side of the road, the side closest to the precipitous edge. These waters, known as las Fuentes Georginas, are located about fifteen miles south of the Quetzaltenango and are frequented by locals and tourists alike. After half an hour of zig-zagging to the top, I’ll greatly appreciate a relaxing soak in one of the four sulfur-infused pools, all flowing from Zunil Volcano.
The day before, I had completed an arduous all-day trek to reach Santiaguito Mirador, a lookout point from I was able to see Santiaguito Volcano, which is still active. We started out before dawn: me, the guide and two other tourists. Judging from the terrain, it was going to be a long day. For the first three quarters of an hour, the path was fairly flat. After that, it quickly became steeper… a lot steeper.
We scrambled over large rocks of varying sizes and dimensions, trying to find our footing. Somewhere in the middle, I remembered that altitude doesn’t agree with me. The trek carried us to an impressive height of over nine thousand feet and I felt every inch it. Once I passed the half-way mark, I really started to move slowly and I had to keep telling myself to put one foot in front of the other. Thankfully, our guide, Carlos, encouraged us to stop every now and again for a “descanso” (a “rest”), and take in the spectacular views. From the path, we could look down through the clouds and see Quetzaltenango. It felt impossibly high.
Our timing was impeccable; we arrived at the summit just in time to witness a minor eruption of Santiaguito. Smoke billowed out of its cone in staggered, gasping puffs as the volcano rumbled. Exactly how active was this geological marvel? Carlos assured us it was safe and small-scale eruptions happen all the time. After nearly four hours steep climbing, we were pleased to be able to sit down and take in the timely natural spectacle.
Have we inspired you to break out those old hiking boots? Check out our favorite hiking adventures from around the world.
Hot Springs in Guatemala
My legs. I can never say whether it’s the way up or the way down that kills them but my legs were in desperate need of a hot soak. As sulfur is supposed to alleviate a host of aliments; I’m hoping muscle aches are one of them. I’ve been to a number of different hot springs in Central and South America so I harbor no illusions of fluffy white robes or inviolable quietude.
Hot springs here are informal and social; they are indeed places to relax, but also to chit-chat and laugh with others. Whole families go together. I pay the entrance fee of fifty quetzales (not quite seven US dollars) and another twenty for a wooden locker, and slip into what seem to me to be the most popular pools. The one that’s crowded with locals is always the hottest.
Although tourists visit las Fuentes Georginas, I’m in the minority. People are curious about the obvious foreigner among them. “¿De dónde eres?” someone asks (“Where are you from?”). “¿Cómo aprendiste español?” (“How did you learn Spanish?”). Indeed, for those of us who are working on the language, a place like this is ideal for practicing. As I bob up and down in the water, I enjoy several exchanges with friendly locals in this organic milieu. The pool is backed by a wall of plants, vines and flowers. Mist rises from the waters. There is so much greenery around me it’s hard to believe that such a secluded place was ever discovered.
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Indeed, Quetzaltenango is still undiscovered my many. It often gets left off travel itineraries despite having much to offer active tourists. The trek to Santiaguito Mirador is one of many exhilarating climbs, all of which can be easily organized a day or two in advance through various tour companies, such as Quetzaltrekkers. I recommend a day of trekking followed by a morning at las Fuentes Georginas, perfect for soothing what will surely be sore – but satisfied – muscles.
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