Guatemala's southern coast, a fertile plain about 30
miles wide nourished by sediment from the volcanic mountain range
that towers above it, is the country’s most important agricultural
area. Products from the coast include sugar cane, cotton, palm oil,
coffee, rubber and cattle. The pacific highway that traverses the
coast is lined with large, prosperous farms and plants from processing
cane into raw sugar.
As opposed to the cool climate of the highlands, where
visitors may forget they are in the tropics, the Pacific coast is
a tropical paradise and a popular weekend getaway for highlands
residents. Several fine, black-sand beaches dot the coastline, often
separated from the mainland by mangrove swamps teeming with bird
life. Puerto Quetzal, only about 30 minutes from Guatemala City,
is one of the busiest ports in Central America. Visitors to the
Pacific coast will find plenty of ways to occupy their time-rafting
the Naranjo River, bird watching, visiting archaeological sites,
observing tropical agriculture in action, or just watching terrific
sunsets over the Pacific ocean after a lazy day on the beach.
One of the most popular Pacific coast destinations,
this beach town offers several hotels and a volcanic, black sand
beach. To get to the town, visitors leave their cars in a parking
area and travel by boat for about 15 minutes through mangroves along
the Chiquimililla Canal.
The Monterrico Natural Reserve, a great place for bird
watching, includes mangrove swamps and lagoons that can be explored
by dugout canoe. It also has a center for protecting sea turtles
that come ashore to lay their eggs, and a small zoo featuring local
animals, like iguanas, that kids will enjoy. Monterrico is a great
place for relaxing is a hammock, drinking from chilled coconuts
through a straw, eating fresh seafood, and, naturally, swimming
This small town, just off the Pacific highway, is know
for a collection of twelve Olimec sculptures in its central Pack.
These “baby face” statures, carved by a pre-Hispanic Botero from
large boulders, depict rotund, human figures, many with flat faces
looking skywards. Pot bellies are grasped by short arms that do
not reach all the way around.
One day, whitewater rafting trips are offered during
the rainy season on the Naranjo River, which races from the volcanic
chain of the highlands down to the coast near Coatepeque. This thrilling
excursion, led by experienced professionals, passes through beautiful
scenery and offers the excitement of class II and III rapids. The
trip can be easily combined with a tour of coastal archaeological
Located near Retalhuleu, the archaeological site of
Abaj Takalik shows an interesting combination of Olmec and Maya
sculptural styles. The earliest inscription yet found in Guatemala,
from 235 BC, was discovered on Stela 2 at the site. Abaj Takalik
covers about 9 square kilometers, much of which is coffee farms.
Archaeologists believe the site was first occupied in about 800
BC and was inhabited for 1,400 years, until the city collapsed for
unknown reasons in 500 or 600 AD. Visitors will see several stelae,
monuments, small pyramids, and, in the site’s museum, ceramic figures,
grinding stones, jewelry and obsidian blades. Tree and plants names
are marked along the wooded trails that wind through the site.