It feels like everyone we've met in Mexico & Guatemala has been carrying the same Lonely Planet Central America travel guide that we are. Maybe the reason we keep meeting these people is because we're all using the same guide book... and we are all on the Lonely Planet trail. Anyways, I've got a crazy place for you that you won't find in the book. And it's definitely worth a visit. Ready? Are you sure? Because we weren't.
About an hour and a half from Quetzaltenango (Xela), in the middle of nowhere, there's a magical
little enormous place called Xocomil. Xocomil is a water park of North-American style epic proportions that no one would ever expect in the middle of Guatemala. By the way, Josh... thanks for giving us the heads up about this place!
The park was created by the Guatemalan Recreation Institute for Private Sector Employees, IRTRA, whose mission is to develop recreation projects for the employees of the companies affiliated with the Institute. By Guatemalan standards, the admission fee is a hefty 100 Q (about $12.50 CAD... cheap at home, but crazy expensive here). Employees of the IRTRA get in free.
To get there, we took a chicken bus from Xela to Retalhueu (known locally as Reu) and asked the driver to stop at Xocomil. He dropped us off on the side of the highway. As we got of the bus, we were thinking that we had once again ended up in the wrong spot. But once the bus pulled away, we saw this giant sign emerge across the highway:
As we walked through the endless concrete parking lot towards the entrance, we found ourselves giggling uncontrollably from a new sort of culture shock. So far, I had been busy coping with the daily struggle of dealing with an unfamiliar culture with an unfamiliar language and an entire population that was in a very different economic situation than I have ever known. Now my brain had to reconcile the fact that I was experiencing a very North-American style oversized and colourful monstrosity in the middle of one of the poorest nations in Central America.
The inner kid inside of me took over. I spent the entire day giddy with excitement. It was hot and sunny, and we felt like we were coming out of hibernation after two months in the cool highlands.
After changing into our bathing suits and paying for a locker, we walked around the park once to get our bearings. This took the better part of an hour (the park spans 832 000 square feet)! We spent the rest of the day at the park, and it was definitely worth every centavo of the entrance fee.
I still don't know how this park didn't make it into the Lonely Planet, but you can consider it to be a pretty authentic Guatemalan experience... we were the only Gringos there! The water was the cleanest I think I've ever seen (maybe because of all of the "no orinar" signs) and unlike the rides at the Xela fair (which I'm pretty sure were once used to torture prisoners), I had no doubts about the engineering and safety of these slides. And if the water park isn't enough entertainment for you, there's a theme park next door called Xetulul. It has a rollercoaster with eight inversions, among other things.
Here's some of our Xocomil highlights in pictures: