Southern Guatemala

The southern coastal plain of Guatemala supports many plantations of coffee, sugar and tropical fruit trees and its climate is unbearably hot and humid. Amid the fincas some of the most curious archaeological finds have been unearthed, a mixture of monument styles such as Maya and Olmec, including Abaj Takalik, the cane field stones at Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa and the big 'Buddhas' of Monte Alto.

On the coast are the black-sand beaches and nature reserves of the popular and laid-back Monterrico and Sipacate resorts, where nesting turtles burrow in the sand and masses of birds take to the skies around. Casting a shadow over the coast, the Central Highland volcanoes of Lake Atitlán, and the Antigua trio of Fuego, Acatenango and Agua, look spectacular, looming on the horizon above the lowlands.

Guatemala City to the Pacific coast

The main road from the capital heads to Escuintla, which connects Guatemala City with all the Pacific ports. There is also a direct route to Escuintla from Antigua. South of Guatemala City is
Amatitlán
on the banks of the lake of the same name. The lake is seriously polluted. The main reason for coming here would be for the
Day of the Cross
on 3 May, when the Christ figure is removed from the church and floated out of a boat amid candles and decorations. A
teleférico
has opened on the lake.
Palín
has a Sunday market in a plaza under an enormous ceiba tree. The textiles are exceptional, but are increasingly difficult to find. There are great views of Pacaya to the east as you head down to the coast, Volcán Agua to the northwest, and the Pacific lowlands to the west. An unpaved road runs northwest from here to Antigua via
Santa María de Jesús
. The town's fiesta is on 24-30 July.
Escuintla
is a large, unattractive provincial centre in a rich tropical valley. It is essentially a transport hub for travellers in the area.

Puerto San José, Chulamar and Iztapa

South of Escuintla the fast tarmacked highway heads to Puerto San José. Puerto San José used to be the country's second largest port and first opened for business (especially the coffee trade) in 1853. The climate is hot, the streets and most of the beaches dirty, and at weekends the town fills up with people from the capital. Fishing is available , and there are swimming beaches near by, but beware of the strong undercurrent. Some 5 km to the west of Puerto San José is Chulamar , a popular beach at weekends with good bathing. Iztapa is world-renowned for deep-sea fishing. Sail fish, bill fish, marlin, tuna, dorado, roosterfish, yellowfin and snapper are to be found in large numbers. The
Chiquimulilla Canal
runs either side of Puerto San José parallel to the coast, for close to 100 km. From here a trip can be taken through the canal by
lancha
to the old Spanish port of Iztapa, now a bathing resort, a short distance to the east.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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