Must see attractions in The Pacific Slope

  • Sights in Monterrico

    Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii

    This reserve, administered by Cecon (Centro de Estudios Conservacionistas de la Universidad de San Carlos), is Monterrico's biggest attraction. The 20km-long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove swamps is bursting with avian and aquatic life. The reserve's most famous denizens are the endangered leatherback and ridley turtles, which lay their eggs on the beach in many places along the coast. The mangrove swamps are a network of 25 lagoons, all connected by mangrove canals. Boat tours of the reserve, passing through the mangrove swamps and visiting several lagoons, take 1½ to two hours and cost Q75 to Q100 per person. It's best to go just on sunrise, when you're likely to see the most wildlife. If you have binoculars, bring them along for birdwatching; January and February are the best months. Locals will approach you on the street (some with very impressive-looking ID cards) offering tours, and you can arrange tours through hotels, but if you want to support the tortugario arrange a tour directly through Tortugario Monterrico, which, incidentally, has the most environmentally knowledgeable guides. Some travelers have griped about the use of motorboats because the sound of the motor scares off the wildlife. If you're under no time pressure, ask about arranging a paddled tour of the canal.

  • Sights in Retalhuleu

    Parque Arqueológico Takalik Abaj

    This 6.5-sq-km archaeological site spreads over nine natural terraces. The rainforest-like grounds boast temple mounds, ball courts and flights of steps paved with rounded river stones, along with an impressive number of stone sculptures. These works include numerous representations of animals and aquatic creatures (some in a curious pot-bellied style known as barrigón), miniature versions of the characteristic Olmec colossal heads and early Maya-style monuments depicting finely adorned personages carrying out religious ceremonies. Some imagination is needed to picture how the site would have looked when occupied, though there are plenty of helpful (Spanish) information boards. Archaeological work is continuing outside the kernel of the site, which is the Grupo Central on terrace No 2, where the most important ceremonial and civic buildings were located. Classic-era baths and multicolored floors were discovered here in late 2005. The largest and tallest building is Estructura 5, a pyramid 16m high and 115m square on terrace No 3, above No 2. This may have formed one side of a ball court. Estructura 7, east of Estructura 5, is thought to have been an observatory. Animal lovers may want to give the site's small zoo of Guatemalan rainforest animals a miss.

  • Sights in Monterrico

    Tortugario Monterrico

    The Cecon-run Tortugario Monterrico is just a short walk east down the beach from the end of Calle Principal and then a block inland. Several endangered species of animals are raised here, including leatherback, olive ridley and green sea turtles, caimans and iguanas. There's an interesting interpretative trail and a little museum with pickled displays in bottles. The staff offer lagoon trips, and night walks (Q50) from August to December to look for turtle eggs. Around sunset nightly from September to January on the beach in front of the tortugario, workers help release baby turtles. You're welcome to observe, but despite what everybody else is doing, refrain from using flash cameras and flashlights.