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Introducing The Pacific Slope

Divided from the highlands by a chain of volcanoes, the flatlands that run down to the Pacific are known universally as La Costa. It’s a sultry region – hot and wet or hot and dry, depending on the time of year – with rich volcanic soil good for growing coffee at higher elevations and palm oil seeds and sugarcane lower down.

Archaeologically, the big draws here are Abaj Takalik and the sculptures left by pre-Olmec civilizations around Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa.

The culture is overwhelmingly ladino, and even the biggest towns are humble affairs, with low-rise wooden or concrete houses and the occasional palm thatched roof.

A fast highway, the Carretera al Pacífico (Hwy 2), roughly parallels the coast all the way from Ciudad Tecún Umán on the Mexican border to Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado on the El Salvador border. The 250km from Ciudad Tecún Umán to Guatemala City can be covered in five hours by bus – much less than the 345km of the Interamericana (Hwy 1) through the Highlands from La Mesilla.

Guatemalan beach tourism is seriously underdeveloped. Monterrico is the only real contender in this field, helped along by a nature reserve protecting mangroves and their inhabitants. Almost every town on the beach has places to stay, although more often than not they’re very basic affairs. Sipacate gets the best waves and is slowly developing as a surf resort, although serious surfers find much more joy in Mexico or El Salvador.