Work had finally turned into vacation. But a site-selection event managed to find me, even at Lake Atitlán, in southern Guatemala, following a conference I spoke at in Guatemala City. I awoke at the lakefront house of my friend and Site Selection International contributor Estuardo Robles to find that some of the other houseguests had already made their way the short walk to the lakefront, across the rocks, around a school soccer field and onto the property of the gorgeous Hotel Villa Santa Catarina. The helicopters buzzing around that morning – transporting VIPs to the opening of a waste-water treatment plant for the community of Santa Catarina, and the fireworks going off at a crazy-early hour – should have tipped me off that something important was happening nearby.
In due course, I made my way with the other straggling houseguests to the nearby hotel and was treated to a wonderful lunch with the mayor of Santa Catarina and other local dignitaries. En route back to the house, I snapped a photo of the plant – a public-private partnership, near as I can tell, which will benefit the locals and the lake. And I made a mental note to keep the quaint, exquisitely decorated hotel in mind for future visits to Lake Atitlán (in the event Estuardo’s family is at the lake house – heck, even if they’re there, they’ll expect me to stay. Estuardo is that hospitable.)
The lake, surrounded by three volcanoes, is itself a “calderon” or basin created by a super-volcano – about 60,000 years ago, in this case, I believe. Put it on your must-see vacation-spot list, and much of the rest of Guatemala, too. Aldous Huxley said this of the lake: “[Italy’s] 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.”
The only thing that could have made our time here more memorable would have been the active volcano acting, which it does with some regularity, apparently. But dormancy has its benefits. I would point to our next stop on this post-conference trip with Estuardo, his lovely wife Angie and our new travel companions (friends of Estuardo from his days at the University of Texas in Austin), as the best place in which to be inactive – Monterrico, on the Pacific Coast. If you go, be active long enough to body surf and to visit the sea turtle sanctuary near town, but you’ll want to relax here for as long as you can.
Monterrico is at the end of a two-hour drive from Guatemala City (three from Antigua, the touristy but engaging former capital city and our origin on this leg), so the volcanoes are back north, in the rear-view mirror. But the beach sand is volcanic – black sand (brownish, actually) and must be where firewalkers practice. It is crazy hot, so wear sandals if you venture on to it. Here is the place where I found my new, favorite beach on the planet, as I told Angie in front of the pounding surf – and I mean pounding surf. These waves are the kind you hear a half-mile from the shore. Estuardo had already headed back to Guatemala City for meetings and more entrepreneurship, leaving me and the other houseguests to enjoy another of his family’s properties, which I fully intend to visit again in due course. It was all I could do to get me and my luggage out of there on time to make my flight home.
I was in Guatemala to participate in the Americas IT Forum, a conference at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (if you’re a Mayan buff, do yourself a favor and visit www.ufm.edu for a wealth of information on Mayan history and artifacts) organized by Estuardo and Angie aimed at raising the prospect of Guatemala being a location for IT enterprises – a prospect that is not outside its reach.
If you’re a site selector, visit this beautiful country and its many high-tech and other business resources – Estuardo will point you in the right direction. If you’re a travel reader, may you find as many reasons, and more, than I did to visit and revisit this remarkable country.
Oh, for the other conference and non-conference companions on this amazing trip who happen to see this blog, I have not yet made “DiegOOOOOO!!” my ringtone. But I will.