The Black Sands of Monterrico
I spent a few days back at the beach, because, well, I missed the beach and the heat. I know, I know. I complained a lot about the heat for the first two months here, but at one point it dropped below 60 degrees in Antigua, so I needed my heat fix again.
Monterrico is a very small town on the southwest coast of Guatemala. Two and a half hours from Antigua, it is very accessible and is a popular destination for Guatemalans who would like to escape the city for the weekends. A number of beautiful hotels dot the shoreline, each with their own restaurants and pools. The town itself is small, with one road running perpendicular to the beach, and only two streets running parallel between the shore and the mangroves. The black sand beach is long, wide, quiet, and can be steep in parts, but its southwest-facing orientation provides a great view of the setting sun.
There are a small number things to do in Monterrico besides enjoy the ocean (which at times can be fraught with strong rip currents so use caution when swimming): a mangrove tour, a visit to the sea turtle conservation area, or a boat trip for fishing or whale watching, all of which vary by season. These tour options will be offered to you minutes after you disembark the shuttle bus. Wait a bit, and visit the tour operator yourself in order to get a good price. I ended up paying 50% of the initial price that was offered to me.
At 5am, I took a tour of the mangroves for the sunrise. They suggest you go early in order to be present when the wildlife awakens, and to take a non-motorized boat so as not to create loud noises that disturb the natural setting. You can see quite a number of different species of birds, and caiman. Although we were not so lucky on our early morning quest for wildlife, it was a beautiful, clear day and as the sun rose, I realized you could see four of Guatemala’s famous volcanoes from the lagoon. It was breathtaking, quiet, and peaceful. Depending on the season and how deep the lagoon is, you can also travel by small boat through the “tunnels” that have been carved through the mangroves.
Later in the day I visited the Tortugario, which does sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation, and collects the eggs from nesting turtles and places them in a hatchery on the beach. Each evening, the hatchlings are released into the sea. For a 10Q “sponsorship” ($1.50USD), you are able to release a hatchling of your own, while rooting for it during its 50ft journey into the tide. The donations, along with money paid to go on a guided night-time walk looking for turtles who have emerged from the sea to nest, are put back into the center to care for the turtles and other wildlife. During my stay, they released an adult female turtle who had been rehabilitated after an injury (likely a boat strike). Later that night, while on a guided walk with an employee of the Tortugario, we found another adult with a serious injury, and sat with the turtle until we received confirmation someone was coming to pick him up to bring him to the center.
Although Guatemala’s Pacific coast is extremely underdeveloped, there are a few places to visit, and Monterrico is the most popular. If you are interested in seeing sea turtle hatchlings, August through December is the best time to go. For a whale watching trip (Humpbacks pass by annually), December through April is prime time. The mangroves are best visited during the rainy season, May through October. Overall, a great escape from the mountains for a few days of beach life.