Tucked away in the southern part of Guatemala is the small tourist town of Monterrico, known for its unique black sand beach. I say tourist town, but actually Monterrico is the closest beach to the capital, Guatemala City and it attracts a large number of local tourists looking to get away from the hectic city life. The town itself is not much more than a dead-end in the road, but hidden down the dirt side streets along the beach I found a plethora of hotels.
The hotels range in size and amenities, but most of them are designed for a party atmosphere, as that is what Guatemalans do when they go to the beach. I found a nice spot that had a big pool, a beachfront bar and restaurant and it seemed like a good fit, especially due to the fact they were dog-friendly and my 85-pound travel companion had four legs.
The beach stretched for as far as the eye could see, but as pretty as the black sand was it was way too hot for a stroll, especially for my dog Jack. Travelling with a dog is fun and keeps you company, but it also creates some challenges, such as long walks on a hot beach. People were splashing in the water; children were throwing sand at one another, others were snoozing under pink and green umbrellas on the beach. It was your typical day at any beach in the world, with the exception of the amazing dark black sand that sparkled as it reflected the bright sun above.
The hotel I chose, El Delfin, had a nice bar that sat in the shade on the beach and was cool enough for Jack to take a nap. So I found a book and plopped down to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. It was a holiday weekend and the hotel was swarming with partygoers in large groups of family and friends. Eventually, I got to talking to a guy named Sam, who I think was the only other single person around. He too was just passing through Monterrico for the first time. We traded life stories as any two strangers do and we laughed at the fact that the lifeguards were busy playing pool instead of watching the swimmers.
In the morning my new friend Sam and I headed off down the main road away from the party scene. We were hoping to find some coconut water in an attempt to do something about the headaches we were both suffering from due to a few too many Gallo beers the night before. We turned down a small tree lined lane that eventually led through ankle deep grass to some coconut trees. I had no idea at the time that this would turn into an all day affair, but as we attempted, rather clumsily, to get the coconuts out of the tree with a machete plans changed. The lady whose tree we were whacking at and machete we were using, Marta, offered to cook us a traditional fish lunch. With nothing else planned we accepted, not realizing this meant fish had to be found and Guatemalans take their time cooking.
After agreeing on a price for her efforts and the first attempt at buying fish unsuccessful, we headed out to the “other” fish market with Marta and her little girl, Rosa, who was just a touch taller than Jack. It was hot and as usual Jack was not enjoying being dragged down the sticky, hot pavement so we ducked into a street-side restaurant for some water and waited for the others to go find fish.
After successfully buying Tilapia from somewhere down the mangrove canal it was time to start cooking. I always find it interesting to see the different methods used throughout the world to accomplish the same tasks. In her open-air kitchen that stood away from the main house Marta caked the fish in salt and then let it sit, telling us that the salt “cooked” the fish before she put in on the fire.
I guess it is similar to ceviche, where the lime “cooks” the seafood. As the fish slowly cooked I could see smoke drift out from the palm fronds that substituted as walls in the kitchen. It took hours which we spent laughing, telling stories and playing with Rosa, but by the time we all sat down to eat the aromas filled the air and the fish crackled as its skin was broken. All together it was a magnificent meal, and making it that much better was the fact it was home-cooked and we had watched all the work involved making each and every bite.
So, I didn’t really swim at the beach, nor did I join in the raucous party that enveloped Monterrico, but the experience was once in a lifetime and I thank my friend for exploring the area with me, not just hanging at the hotel. It just goes to show that there are many roads in life and it isn’t just the main one that I want to party on.
If You Go to Monterrico, Guatemala
Be aware that the waters around Monterrico can be dangerous, with riptides, strong currents and a strong shore break. Even the strongest swimmers should be wary of the waters here.
There are a number of busses that head for Monterrico regularly, both from Antigua and Guatemala City. Check your local bus depot for hours of operation and expected travel time.
By car you may take the bridge (there is a small fee for passage) to Puerto Viejo and proceed to Monterrico or you can pass through Taxisco to La Avellana and take the car ferry to Monterrico. Be aware the car ferry is not for the faint of heart.
Lodging accommodations can be found on any number of websites or travel guides. Be aware weekends and holidays can be busy and it may be advantageous to book your accommodations in advance for such days.