One thing that most people think of when they think of Latin America is miles and miles of pristine, tropical beaches. If this is your main purpose for traveling, Guatemala might not be the best place. Guatemala does have extensive beaches on the Pacific side, although depending on why you go to the beach, they may or may not be what you are looking for. I lived in the beach town of Monterrico for a week, and had a great time.

Monterrico is the most accessible and touristy beach town in Guatemala. It is easily reached from Antigua in a few hours, and has many affordable beachfront hotels, restaurants, and bars. If you are looking to relax in a hammock, meet interesting people, and drink ice cold beer while watching breathtaking sunsets, Monterrico is paradise.

The entire Pacific Coast of Guatemala consists of black volcanic sand. The surf is the main problem in Guatemala. It is extremely violent, and very difficult to swim in. Unless you are a very strong swimmer, it's difficult to go in more than waist deep without waves completely engulfing you and pulling you out. It is not good for surfing either, due to the way the waves break. That said, it is an incredibly refreshing escape from the blazing sun.

This beach expanse is actually a large island surrounded by a canal, which can be accessed at the edge of Monterrico. One of the highlights of my stay there was an early morning canoe ride through the canal. The canal is a large mangrove swamp abundant with wildlife, including waterfowl, aquatic plants, dense forest, and a fish that can jump out of the water. Most tours leave before dawn, and as the sun rises, a spectacular view of Volcan Pacaya and the volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango in Antigua presents itself.

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