One of the most popular destinations on the Pacific coast of Guatemala is the Monterrico Natural Reserve that offers beaches, boat tours, bird watching and an educational centre featuring live sea turtles and iguanas. The reserve covers 28 square kilometres, 65% of which are lakes, canals, mangroves and saltwater marshes, all teeming with birds, fish and other wildlife.
Most visitors stay in the beachfront town of Monterrico, one of five villages located within the reserve. A paved road leads to the town of La Avellana, and from there visitors take a boat which carries them about a kilometre along the mangrove-lined, Chiquimulilla canal to Monterrico and just recently a bridge was constructed which makes crossings much easier.
Facilities at Monterrico include several excellent hotels, seafood restaurants and an educational centre run by San Carlos University, which also administers the natural reserve. In the past ten years the number of hotels has increased tremendously with all classes available from one star to five. The amenities are first rate, the food is both local and international and the nightlife starts as soon as the sun drops below the horizon.
Local fishermen happily rent their boats for explorations of the reserve’s canals and lakes, where visitors may spot both green and black iguanas, caimans and many resident and migratory birds, including Boat-billed Herons and Lesser Yellow-Headed Vultures.
In all, more than 110 bird species have been identified at Monterrico. The reserve’s ecosystems include mangroves, with two species of mangrove trees, and dry, tropical forest. It receives about 1,500 mm of rain each year, mostly May and October.
One of the most memorable experiences for many visitors to Monterrico is watching baby sea turtles emerge from these protected nests and make their way to the ocean, where they will encounter many other dangers before growing to maturity and finding their way back to these same beaches to lay their own eggs. A visitors centre run by San Carlos University features exhibits about the life cycle of sea turtles, salt water tanks with live turtles and a small zoo with green iguanas and other local animals.
After a full morning of bird watching and natural history tours, there’s no better way to relax than by swimming and sunbathing on Monterrico’s beautiful volcanic sand beaches or just lying in a hammock strung beneath a palm-thatched roof, watching the Pacific surf. Monterrico provides the perfect, “tropical” touch to a vacation in Guatemala, with the requisite palm trees, coconuts, tropical drinks and laid back atmosphere. It offers fun activities for the entire family and is a highlight of any tour of the country.