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The coastal area around Monterrico is a totally different Guatemala. Life here is steeped with a sultry, tropical flavor, with rustic wooden-slat and thatched-roof architecture and awesome volcanoes that shimmer in the hinterland. It's fast becoming popular with foreigners as a beach break from Antigua or Guatemala City. On weekdays it's relatively quiet, but on weekends and holidays it teems with Guatemalan families.

Monterrico itself is a coastal village with a few small, inexpensive hotels right on the beach, a large wildlife reserve and two centers for the hatching and release of sea turtles and caimans. The beach here is dramatic, with powerful surf crashing onto black volcanic sand at odd angles. This wave-print signals that there are riptides; deaths have occurred at this beach, so swim with care. Behind the town is a large network of mangrove swamps and canals, part of the 118 mile (190km) Canal de Chiquimulilla.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Monterrico.