At the beginning of June we headed out with our friend, Mario, for the coast of Guatemala. We made the three-hour trip from Antigua by chicken bus and shuttle van and even passed the active volcano Pacaya puffing out smoke on the way. We had been away from the sea for over four months and when we crested a slight rise on the sidewalk and saw the surf of the Pacific ocean we felt like we were back where we belonged.
Monterico is a small, sleepy, resort community that until 2007 was not connected by road to the rest of the country. A ferry ride or water taxi was required to transport residents and visitors to the picturesque beach town and many locals still use it as an alternative to the more costly buses and shuttles. On our return trip to Antigua, we opted for the water option for the first leg of the journey (fee: 5 quetzales or $0.65 each).
The black sand beaches are still primarily the haunt of the citizens of Guatemala City who use it as a weekend get-away, although highway access has increased the expat tourist trade from Antigua, too. Even with this increase, the beaches are still are not crowded by western standards and, at times, appeared deserted. Beautiful as the beaches are they do have their drawbacks. The black, volcanic sand absorbs heat making barefoot beach-combing after midmorning all but impossible. At all points the beach slopes downward at awkward angles indicating strong rip currents. While the water is warm most visitors spend their time at the fringe of the surf; only strong swimmers venture out beyond the breaking surf.
But all of that belies the point. The main purpose of a visit to Monterrico is to relax, eat some fresh sea in the local restaurants, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the surf and the laid-back atmosphere of the town.
An embryonic sea turtle recovery program has increased the foreign tourist trade. A preserve, Tortuga Monterico, is located just a short walk from the town center. Here visitors are allowed to release young leatherback and ridley sea turtles into the Pacific; a practice unimaginable in the states whose approach is much more scientific. But the reality remains; the majority of the eggs laid by the sea turtles that nest on the miles of shoreline are still harvested and eaten by predators both human and animal. Eco-tourism has yet to make itself felt on these remote shores.
By Richard and Anita, June, 2013