Fuentes Georginas, Guatemala

by Becky Squires, S/V Blue Moose

Sailors crave hot water more than your average tourist does. Especially enough hot water in which to immerse themselves – very few boats have bathtubs. Throw in a fireplace, again almost non-existent on a boat, and you’ve got true sailors’ paradise.

Guatemala has just such a spot: Fuentes Georginas, about 25 kilometers south of Quetzaltenango. Almost a mile and a half high, the place has three large pools fed by hot sulphur springs, varying in temperature from top-of-the-thermometer-health-club-whirlpool fiery to comfortably soakable all-day-long-with-a-book warm. If you visit during the week, when it’s not very crowded, all three pools are immaculate.

There are seven individual cabins, each equipped with a fireplace, wood, and three beds. You’ll need that fireplace, because it gets cold at night, even under the thick blankets the cabins provide. For just 54 quetzals per night for two people, rustic is to be expected: There’s electricity only from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. every day.

In the morning, the weather is almost always bright and clear, but by 1 p.m. the clouds have begun to fall from the surrounding mountain peaks, putting the steaming-hot pools in the midst of an eerie fog that lasts until a couple of hours after dark. The water stays as hot as ever, and sparkling dewdrops sprinkle the mosses around the springs.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., others can (and do) visit these magnificent waters for what has to be the best tourist bargain in Guatemala: a 5 Q admission fee. But from 5 p.m. on, if you stay in one of the cabins, the baths are all yours again. Waking up to a full moon at 5:30 a.m. and jumping into the biggest and hottest pool is better than any shower in the world.

There’s a very decent and affordable restaurant on site that lets cottage-stayers run a tab for the duration of their stay, and even offers rum and wine by the bottle (at twice the usual price) if you’ve forgotten to bring your own.

Best of all, like so many posadas throughout Guatemala, the guests come from all over the world. You’ll meet backpackers and travelers from all walks of life – great "sea story" listeners and a fount of information in their own right.

And if you get tired of just soaking your cares away in the hot springs, there’s a trail leading up to the top of Pico Zunil. It’s about three hours up and 45 minutes down, and the not-so-athletically inclined can content themselves with a manageable hour-long climb to the top of the ridge, where the village of Zunil can be glimpsed below. If you climb in the morning, you get the views. If you wait until afternoon, you’ll eventually rise above the cloud cover and can pretend you’re in an airplane looking at the marshmallow sky below.

Fuentes Georgina has no phone and takes no reservations, but if you show up early enough you’ll usually find a cottage available during the week. We stayed in Quetzeltenango the night before and walked to the corner of 10 calle and 9 avenida to catch a bus to Zunil, the nearest village. It lets you out at the church, where cabs await to take you up the 8 kilometers to Fuentes Georginas. The going rate was 25 - 30 quetzales no matter how many people you have in the cab.

Fuentes Georginas is probably not for everyone. The cottages are clean, but definitely spartan. Our toilet was missing its seat and the water from the shower is cold. They clearly haven’t heard of Serta Perfect-Sleepers up there, but the sheets and towels are clean. Next time we might cheat and bring a small bottle of charcoal fluid to get the fire started – the wood was a bit damp.

But these are minor caveats. You’re seconds away from 24-hour hot springs with chest-deep water. There’s no noise but the waterfall from the second to the third pool and the bubbling of the springs. Fuentes Georginas let you luxuriate in hot springs for which people in other parts of the world shell out hundreds of dollars a day. Enjoy!

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November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier