Monterrico is the most popular beach in Guatemala and also the closest to Guatemala City and Antigua. The beaches are full of interesting but awkward steep angles due to the strength of the pounding surf. The ocean floor here drops off very steeply after only 20- 40 feet, making the undertow here very strong; only strong swimmers should venture out very far. This topography also provides some nice waves for surfing. There are lifeguards on duty during the weekend. Don't forget to bring some sandals as the sand is of the black volcanic variety. It is a stunning feature for the beauty of it, but it is too hot to walk on after 10am. The beach is 50 - 80 feet wide and stretches for miles. It is busiest(not crowded by any measure) on Sunday with mostly Guatemalans. Most local girls prefer to swim in sweat shorts and t-shirts although you will find a few who brave a bikini.
By public bus: From Guatemala City to Iztapa (from the bus terminal in zona 4, 05:00-18:00 more or less every hour, 1 hour and 45 min), boat across the canal of Chiquimulilla to Puerto Viejo, and from there by bus to Monterrico (four buses a day). Or by bus to Taxisco, another bus (or pickup truck) to La Avellana, and finally a lancha (boat) to Monterrico. If you don't want to boat you can now (as of Nov 2008 at least) take roads totally over-land in any combination of bus, mini-bus or mini-van all the way to the main intersection in Monterrico. There are also 3 direct buses from Guatemala City to La Avellana, leaving the bus terminal in zona 4 (may have moved as of Jan '08?) at 10:30, 12:30 and 14:30 (check the schedule with Transportes Cubanita). By shuttle: From Antigua you can take a direct mini-bus shuttle for US$18 round-trip which leaves at 8AM and returns at 3PM daily.
By car: Head for Escuintla - Puerto Quetzal - Iztapa - across the new bridge (opened October 2007) to Puerto Viejo - and then to Monterrico. Or you can take the Carretera al Pacífico from Escuintla - Taxisco - La Avellana and a ferry to Monterrico.
Walk, run, bike, mini-van, horseback ride, boat in the canals.
They also offer a package price for $9, which is the same as above, but includes a full meal. They have several food options, but a typical menu in this package consists of:
They open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. It's closed Mondays. For major holidays, you can expect the park to be open even if it is on a Monday. You can call their main office Monday through Fridays to confirm if they are open: +502 2363-1105 (English spoken). The park has a phone number as well, but no english is spoken: +502 5517-1705
You can also e-mail them. They answer to Spanish and English e-mails.
You should know that Monterrico is for relaxing, meeting people, having a meal or some drinks, and then relaxing some more. To put it plainly, there isn't much going on in Monterrico yet. The weekends-only night-life, internet cafe (1 only as of Nov. '08) and mangrove swamp is pretty much it. At times there is a lot of litter along the main street, but as the town grows more tourist-aware, the local businesses have a campaign of cleanliness, including new garbage cans in public. The beaches are mostly clean, and the hotels between the Dulce y Salado and the Eco Beach place generally keep it the best. You can take a 2 hour boat tour of the mangrove swamp for $5. The main road leads from the beach to the mangrove swamp dock and is a pleasant little 10 minute walk. There are a few mosquitos at night and you will get bitten so bring repellent. Some hotel rooms have mosquito netting covering the bed, but not all. The waves at the beach have a short and dangerous break.
There is an internet cafe with 2 terminals on the main road along the beach, and they charge Q12 an hour.
There is a Spanish language school.
Horses are available to ride on the beach.
Baby turtle release is one of the most fun activities. There are several places along the beach that collect eggs laid by sea turtles and when hatched, they will mass release all the turtles. Ask your hotel manager or locals for more information. Generally the laying and release season runs from June through March. You can watch some video of it Here.
Affluent Guatemalans drive their ATVs up and down the beach. So do the police. Be aware.
More affluent folk fly their single or twin propeller plane in for the weekend and often fly low along the beach. There is a grassy landing strip along the main road, owned by the Aeroclub de Guatemala. Helicopters also fly along the beach once in a while, usually the affluent folk touring around before landing at their beach houses. If possible take an ATV ride along the beach, (west or east for about 10 Km) you will see some fascinating houses.
Not much here in the way of local textiles as in other regions of Guatemala, but there are some local specialties worth noting; this region grows and dries massive loofas (they can be found drying hanging from most any surface in early November). There is also a profusion of coconuts here, so plentiful in fact that they sit in big piles at the base of trees scattered all over town, and local merchants gather them and put them in big coolers. For 2Q you can have a freshly opened coconut with cool natural coconut milk inside, and then you can pour other drinks into it or smash it open and eat the coconut meat, which is delicious.
You may want to bring all the cash you need for your stay. There is a new bank (as of Nov. '08) where you can cash traveler's checks, get credit card cash advances and other banking needs like change. There is one ATM in Monterrico in the local convenience store and when it runs out of cash or is shut down it can be days before it's in service again. Some of the more expensive hotels have been known to exchange American Express travelers checks e.g. Johnnys Place, but they will not give you the best of exchange rates. Similarly, a few hotels and restaurants accept VISA credit cards, though often with a 5% surcharge. Be warned VISA traveler's checks are not accepted anywhere in town.
Many of the hotels along the beach have restaurants. Some of the best are at the Hotels " El Delfin", "Cafe del Sol", "Pez de Oro", "Johnnys" http://johnnysplacehotel.com/restaurant.php and "Mañanitas Beach Lounge" (no hotel).
Food in most of the beach restaurants is more expensive, but dependable and you might feel much more comfortable depending on your level of travel exposure. The best part is, you get a great sunset almost everynight. Budget-food you get along Calle Principal. Here you will find a place selling chow mein tostadas for a bargain price. But be careful you can also get stomach problems. Vegetarian food is particularly hard to come by here with seafood being predominant on most menus.
On the main road from the beach to the mangrove dock street vendors sell chicken sandwiches for Q5 and fried chicken with fries for Q6. You can get a small slice of cake for Q2 at some of the local stores (tienda in Spanish). "'
El Caracol The best place for an ice cold beer and for watching the sunset. The food, drinks and the view are awesome! It´s a hotel also! If you want to see new pics go to: http://elcaracolmonterico.hi5.com for information call (502)78481645, (502)78481646 and (502)59781018 ask for Milton Ambrocio. "English Spoken"
A cold 600ml plastic bottle of Coca Cola cost Q5 at the local stores.
The beach hotels usually operate with different prices for weekends-weekdays. On the weekends it can be difficult to get a room at your hotel of choice. Book ahead, or be prepared to walk along the beach asking for available rooms. Children often will greet you as you arrive by bus and show you the way to a hotel but they do not know about the availability of the rooms and will expect a small tip of some kind.
There are at least two different shuttles to Antigua (mini-buses full of mostly young backpacking gringos) that leave at 1PM and 3PM every day. They can be booked along Calle Principal (the signs are fairly obvious) for Q75 or US$10. It is cheaper to buy a roundtrip in Antigua for US$18 (contrary to what Lonely Planet says - the locals caught on).