The early morning Journey to Fuentes Georgina started from the Hotel Lar Antiqua beside the Parque Central. After a cool 20-minute power walk I was at La Rotonda and soon thereafter on a refurbished school bus bound for the town of Zunil.
A half hour later, I debarked in picturesque Zunil, close to 300 meters below Quetzaltenango, yet still greatly elevated in the gorgeously green Guatemalan highlands.
From there, the bus’ conductor and driver pointed me in the direction I needed to go, while telling me I had the option of a 10 km, one-hour walk, or take a jeep or car.
Shortly thereafter I purchased three big bananas for 3 Quetzales or $.39. This simple purchase would eventually prove to be a godsend. I questioned the clerk about the endeavor required to get to the termales. She recommended getting a ride after I climbed the steps (las piedras), which turned out to be a rocky and large-cobblestone street that led to a main road.
At the road I inquired with the first person I saw. I was pointed to a narrow road to the left. When I confirmed the way with another person, he offered me a ride for 50 Q or $6.50. I told him I preferred to walk. I would partly regret this around half way through the mostly uphill ramble. The inclined walk was time consuming and energy expending, while the nature was spectacular.
The original idea had been to get to the pools before potential crowds showed up. It was this past Tuesday; a weekday. That helped. I made it a point not to visit on the weekend.
Although the walk was tiring, the views, life and vegetation felt exhilarating. I was walking in a cloud or rain forest. It reminded me of learning about this natural phenomenon back in grade school. The terms tropical or subtropical rain forest or cloud forest sounded exotic. Now, many years later, I was living it while making my way towards Fuentes Georgina.
Stopping and taking photos, the journey took a bit over two hours. Power walking without stopping and talking photos may have taken an hour, although an hour and a half is probably closer to accurate.
Finally, I reached the impressive hot springs. Albeit, I was not in the best of spirits. I had used a ton of energy and one bottle of water and the three bananas to climb 10 km or 6.2 miles. I could have used more bio fuel. Had I not purchased the three bananas, the walk may have caused pain from dehydration. Not to mention, water would not have been enough. Fruit was perfect. The bananas provided just enough live energy to allow for the full ascent.
I paid the man at the gate the foreigner price of 60 Quetzales or $7.68. For Guatemalans, the cost is 40, or two-thirds the gringo price.
From there I walked up to the site and was fortunate to buy three red apples for 10 Q or $1.28. This would hold me over til after the hot springs. The nice woman selling these snacks explained what I needed to do and where I needed to go. Other than passing a big pool on the way, the lockers and three other pools were a few more minutes beyond.
I paid 15 Q or $1.93 for a towel rental and held off on the 15 for a locker. They provide the locks or you carry your stuff around. Exhausted, confused and disoriented, I headed up to the locker and pool area. Of the three pools, only one, the biggest one, was open, and there were about 10 people in it, while others seemed ready to get in. It wasn’t crowded per se, but it was far from sparsely populated.
I checked out the locker area where I thought I would change, but there were a good amount of people around. I did not see any good space to change into swim trunks.
Wiped out from the climb, I wondered why I had decided to make this excursion.
I walked back and told the woman at the concession stand about this first-world dilemma. She told me that if I paid the towel/restaurant guy 25 Q or $3.20 then I could have access to about five pools that were a five minute walk away in a different direction. She was sure I would have them all to myself.
I paid the additional 25 Quetzales and received my ticket. Then I made my way in the direction that the lady told me to go; to the left, then right and down a little bit. Still wiped out from the high-altitude walk up the mountain, I found the way to the fog-shrouded pools, and sure enough, no one was there.
I had the area for as long as my worn body could handle it. The farthest pool was the super-hot one, while the others were lukewarm at best. I went in and out of the hot one mostly, a few times. Heat submersion felt serene in the otherwise cool and foggy area that lacked sun.
To be out in that nature away from everyone and everything in a hot and secluded, naturally heated pool at a lofty altitude in the Guatemalan highlands felt surreal. The journey to get to Fuentes Georginas was worthwhile for the unique experience and the views.
Finally, I knew my body would not be able to handle any more heat. I pushed it as hard as I could and knew that I could not do any more my first and only time. The body would need to acclimate. Little by little. Poco a poco.
By that time I had no more water. I almost never buy water in Guatemala, instead I fill my bottle in guesthouses and restaurants.
Only wanting to collapse into a bed, I wearily made my way uphill to the main area of the site. I saw the same lady and told her what fantastic advice she had provided. She then sold me a veg tamale, hot chocolate and a makeshift packet of peanut and panela cookies. The latter I shared with her little son, who was forced to hang out with her all day up there. You see a lot of that in Guatemala.
Guatemala is said to have a 75% literacy rate. It’s easy to notice why.
It was midday, and getting darker from the rainy season in the high mountains. After conversations with the woman, about everything from the health benefits of cacao, to the pandemic and its lasting effects on travel and psychology worldwide. She mentioned that foreign tourism has not been close to what it was before la pandemia.
I bade her and her son adieu and left the hot springs area. I greeted the super-chilled out, friendly guy who had sold me the original entrance ticket. It was there, while I was taking photos of these coatis, that a car was leaving the site.
The kind man told the people in the car that I needed a ride down to Zunil. The driver got out of the car and said in English:
You need a ride?
Sure That’d be great.
In reality, It was more than great as I was in need of a nap more than another very long walk, even if was downhill.
Where are you from?
This elicited an instant smile on him. It turned out he was a Guatemalan who had been living in Dedham, MA for years after college in Boston. He was on a two-week vacation visiting his prior homeland. So we had endless things to talk about, before he dropped me right where the bus would take me back to Xelá or Quetzaltenango, the place of the Quetzal bird and Guatemala’s second largest city.
The bus came and dropped me back at la Rotonda. There I was able to get another colectivo to the center, and closer to my hotel. After telling one of the family members who run the hotel about my experience, she could not believe that I had walked all that way.
Drained, but happy for the morning I had managed, I filled my stainless steel bottle with a combination of hot and cold water, and forced myself up the three flights of stairs to my room with a view. I closed the door, kicked off my shoes, and pleasantly plopped into the comfy bed where a mandatory siesta was the only thing I could fathom.
|Colectivo aka Chicken Bus from Xelá to Zuhil||7 Q or $.90|
|Entrance to Fuentes Georgina||60 Q or $7.66|
|Entrance to the bonus pools||25 Q or $3.19|
|Towel rental||15 Q or $1.92|
|Bus back to Quezaltenango||7 Q or $.90|
|City bus back to el centro||3 Q or $.39|
|TOTAL||117 Q or $14.92|
After returning to the hotel, I was told that there is the option of a tourist shuttle for 150 Quetzales round trip. That includes the 60 Q entrance but not the 25 Q bonus pools or towel rental. In total, with the tourist shuttle, total expenditures would have been 190 Quetzales or $24.24. So for 10 extra dollars, you can avoid a lot of walking and get a shuttle from your hotel right to the hot springs and back again.
You can also take the local vintage US school bus and have a driver take you up just before the 8.3 Kilometers sign at the left turn from the main road.
For door-to-door shuttle info, ask at your accommodation or in a travel shop.
Have you visited any exotic natural hot springs? Did it feel medicinal and rejuvenating? Leave a comment below.
Here is the whole set of 34 photos from the journey to Fuentes Georgina in Zunil.