“I thought you said we’d be able to find a hostel,” Chris said, a hint of anger in his voice.
We were currently in Guatemala, in Lake Atitlan’s famous San Pedro to be more exact, baking in the sun as we wandered the narrow streets for over an hour trying to find accommodation. I’d promised him we didn’t need to pre-book a hostel because, you know, I’m a pro and I do this all the time.
While at first we had a particular budget we were trying to stick to, we were getting to the point where we just wanted a bed, any bed. When we finally came to the opposite edge of town from where we’d started, we found a beautiful hotel right on the water. While they were charging more than we’d planned for, it appeared to be a worthy splurge.
“We have availability,” the desk staff said.
“Yayy!” I cheered, dropping my backpack in relief.
“Well, no, wait. We have availability tomorrow. Tonight you’ll need to stay somewhere else.”
I sulked. “But we can’t find anywhere else.”
She smiled. “Follow me. I know somewhere you can stay.”
We veered off the main road of the village — San Pedro is relatively small and compact — with a main trail and snaking side streets extending off — following the woman down a desolate path, through an unkempt yard of weeds and chickens, and to a “hotel” that seemed more like the dirtiest homestay I’d ever seen. Worst of all, it wasn’t even that cheap, despite the smell of funky cheese permeating from the mattress in our room.
There would be no bubble baths, bath robes or chocolate cherries on this trip. Chris, my boyfriend, and I were backpacking through Guatemala — something I highly recommend you add to your list of romantic trip ideas. Here’s why:
A Hostel In Heaven
I don’t want you to get the idea that our whole trip was all nasty rooms and nearly dying of dehydration looking for a place to sleep. We were actually fortunate enough to find a few hostels with some ambient touches — a hot tub here, a rooftop breakfast terrace there. Our most romantic accommodation came just outside of Antigua in a pueblo called Hato.
We weren’t sure what to expect at first, especially when our driver dropped us off in the middle of a road in the mountains.
“It’s that way,” he pointed, no hostel in sight. “Just follow these kids.”
Suddenly two children appeared, big smiles on their face (especially after the driver slipped them some money).
We slung our backpacks on our shoulders and made our way through unknown territory, first hopping over a giant split in the road (yikes!) and then ambling down a steep mountain path, until we eventually reached…the closest I’ve ever come to heaven on Earth.
It’s a 40-acre avocado farm-slash-accommodation, offering delicious (mainly vegetarian) food, cheap drinks, hiking trails, an outdoor sauna and Sunday barbecues with live music. While they offer dorms, we decided to splurge on their Treehouse, which was, in fact, an actual treehouse.
The room itself was small, large enough to only fit a bed and our backpacks; however, we weren’t actually paying for the room, but for the amazing view over the valley, a backdrop of volcanoes and bird life enhancing the experience. While we enjoyed the vista at all times, typically with beers in hand, we especially loved waking up to it together in the morning. Cuddling in bed, sunlight streaming through the enormous picture window, rays streaked with colors painted by the lush landscape, was an unforgettable experience we were able to share, together.
Riding The Chicken Bus
Not only did small hostel touches offer romance, but as we weren’t staying in the Ritz-Carlton Honeymoon Suite we made sure to tack on a few novel experiences, starting with riding the Chicken Bus to a trailhead.
Let me preface this by saying there were two things we were told when arriving into Guatemala by our driver: One, stay out of Guatemala City, and Two, don’t ride the Chicken Bus. The reasoning for the latter was vague, but after seeing a dozen or so of them broken down on the side of the road — sometimes with the entire ront axle and body on the ground — my guess was safety reasons.
Bumping and sputtering, yet still somehow racing, our way to our destination was anything but comfortable. There were times when we needed to grip each other to not go flying onto the other side of the vehicle — of course, there were no seat belts. The journey was indeed an adventure in itself. Despite it being 5am, we felt wide awake from adrenaline by the time we reached the trailhead.
Here, a guide led us on a steep trek up Indian’s Nose, flashlights illuminating the dark path. The hike itself was challenging but short, the perfect workout we’d needed to burn off all the guacamole and nachos we’d been devouring on a meal-ly basis. When we finally stopped at a viewpoint, I was unimpressed. Albeit, there were a few splashes of color, but nothing worth waking up at the crack of dawn for.
After about 10 minutes the guide beckoned for us to follow him some more. Ah, we were continuing up. The hike wasn’t complete.
What I saw at the real summit is hard to put into words. It began as a black pool of twinkling stars and dots of village lights. Then slowly, the cloud cover over Lake Atitlan separated, and began taking on fairy tale shapes: dragons, horses, monsters. Volcanoes and mountain peaks soon showed their curves, slowly becoming gowned in pinks, reds, oranges, greens, blues and purples.
I don’t usually use words like “unbelievable” and “breathtaking,” but the sunrise we saw at the top of this mountain warrants the adjectives: Indian’s Nose was the most unbelievably breathtaking sunrise we’d ever seen. I’m glad we were able to experience it together.
Not all our adventures together were sexy, although these became stories to throw into our shared anecdote jar for later. For example, the time I was covered in nasty blisters.
It was our second day in Guatemala, and as we’re both outdoor enthusiasts — a plus for going backpacking together — we decided to go for a hike. The trails around the above-mentioned Earth Lodge were beautiful, taking us through cornfields, through woodland and villages, and along the perimeters of mountain farms.
After three hours of exploring we were heading back to the lodge, when Chris saw a steep dirt slope.
“I want to know what’s up there,” he said, walking toward the path.
My palms started sweating. “I don’t think I can make it up that hill. It’s like a sheer ascent.”
Not to Chris. Like a monkey, he scrambled up the path without issue, stopping in the middle to wait for me as I shakily tried to get my footing behind him. Slowly…slowly…slowly.
I lost my footing, grabbing onto a nearby bush to catch myself as my balance caved. Phew, face plant averted. But…
“Chris, my hand is burning.”
“I’m sure you just scratched it on a thorn or something,” he said, looking down at my red skin, which suddenly started growing blisters at an alarmingly rapid pace. “Ahh! Ahh!” I screamed, starting to freak out that I possibly contracted Poison Ivy at the beginning of our trip.
Now Chris, who has wilderness training and was once an outdoor guide, was in rescue mode. “Don’t touch it. And especially don’t touch your eyes. We don’t know if it will spread. Hop in the shower as soon as we get back and gently wash the rash — don’t scrub — and I’ll go see if the desk has ointment.”
We hurried back, again hopping over the break in the road and scrambling downhill. I ran past reception, across the property lawn and the guests sipping “Cuba Libres” at picnic tables, past the badminton court and swing set, and into our shower. Miraculously, the rash seemed to disappear as I slathered it with soap, almost as if washing away.
Chris came in soon after. “How’s it look?”
“It’s gone!” I shouted, elated.
“The girl at the front desk gave me itch cream, but said there are no poisonous plants around here. Just certain ones that cause a temporary rash as a defense mechanism. Oh yea, and I brought you a cookie to cheer you up.”
Lesson 1: Always trust your gut.
Lesson 2: These mishaps often turn into stories you’ll tell for a long time.
Lesson 3: My boyfriend is so hot when he takes care of me.
When Britney Spears Gets In The Middle Of Things
That being said, our trip wasn’t all cuddling and chocolate chips.
I think traveling with a significant other can be both harder and easier than traveling with strangers or friends. Easier because your comfort level with each other usually allows for you to speak your minds without holding back. And harder because your comfort level with each other usually allows for you to speak your minds without holding back.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
While we had no major arguments, there were a number of disputes that naturally arise when you’re spending literally every second together:
Me: Who with a brain throws wet towels on a television set? Can you throw your garbage in the basket instead of on the floor? Stop running the tap when you brush your teeth! Do you need to check sport scores on your phone every chance you get?
Him: None. I was an angel.
His complaints went something like: Why are you being so cheap? Do you need to take 101 photos of every meal? We don’t need to share every single dish we order. Stop blasting Britney Spears when we’re getting ready!
In the end, these annoyances became more of a joke than anything serious, not to mention helped prepare us for the day when we might live together. Overall the trip was a success, with us wanting similar experiences and sharing the same goals for our trip (in this case, do a lot of hiking and drink copious amounts of local rum).
We also were able to see the best and worst of each other. As my dad likes to say, “Everyone brushes their teeth in the beginning of the relationship.” Okay, hopefully everyone brushes their teeth throughout the entire relationship, but I get what he’s saying. During the first few weeks of dating people tend to show their best selves, slowly opening up with the less desirable aspects of their personalities as time goes on.
Backpacking together is a great way to dive right in and really get to know the person you’re dating. If you can enjoy your time together and still love each other at the end, that’s a good sign of a healthy future, at least in my opinion.
Featured image courtesy of rabiem22
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