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Close your eyes and picture a beautiful beach. A hundred people will have a hundred different visions of exactly what that paradise would look like. One thing the majority will probably have in common? Silky white sand. And believe me, I love those picture perfect paradises as much as the next daydreamer. But over the years, I’ve occasionally become enticed by something a little more exotic: a black, volcanic beach.

Which is what brought me to Monterrico, Guatemala.

Monterrico, Guatemala

Well, that, and the promise of a sweltering lowland heat. See that big selfie smile below? That’s the smile of a girl who’s back in her happy place. I know I harp on being cold sometimes. Put me in a sub-tropic swamp or an oven-like desert any day — I promise I’ll take it like a champ! But I’m the first to admit I have zero tolerance for being even the slightest bit chilly.

I know not everyone is programmed the same way, but I do want to caution those that are Guatemala bound not to fall into the same trap I did and fill their backpack with nothing but bikinis and summer skirts. Those were perfect for Nicaragua and El Salvador but completely inadequate for the highlands of Guatemala in March. Thank goodness for the one pair of jeans and one long sleeve top I’d packed (items I’d previously considered wasted space), which I wore every single day of my three weeks in Antigua and Atitlán! I was bundled up in both the morning I departed from Antigua, and quickly drifted off to sleep huddled across an empty row in the back of my shuttle. When I awoke two hours later, I felt a line of sweat rolling off my forehead and blinked awake to the sight of palm trees passing by through the window overhead. I peeled off that long sleeve shirt and smiled. I was going to the beach.

Monterrico, Guatemala

Monterrico, Guatemala

Back to that black sand. Many visitors to the country never see so much of a glance of either coast of Guatemala — it doesn’t have an internationally known beach town on par with San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua or Bocas del Toro in Panama. The closest it does have is Monterrico, a tiny speck of a beach town along the Pacific slope of the country, not far from either Guatemala City or Antigua.

From the moment I read about Monterrico, I knew I’d eventually be digging my toes into its black sandy shores. I’m a sucker for dark sand everywhere from Santorini to Hawaii, and I was craving the ocean something fierce after a few weeks of being landlocked.

Black Sand Beach Guatemala

Monterrico, Guatemala

Monterrico, Guatemala

I arrived in Monterrico on a Thursday and was surprised to find I had it more or less to myself. The town was quiet during the day, the beach was almost abandoned when I went for a run at sunset and when I jumped in my hotel pool to cool off after, I floated on my back and stared at the stars in total seclusion.

“Mid-week, and no turtles,” the manager at my hotel explained. The weekend, she warned, would be chaotic, though not as bad as July through October, when tourists flock to watch baby turtles be released into the ocean every evening. In all my travels, I’ve yet to overlap with turtle season anywhere — I really need to work that into a future trip someday.

Tortugario, Monterrico, Guatemala

Still, I wasn’t to be alone for long. Early Saturday morning, three of my dear friends from Brooklyn unloaded onto the beach. The masterminds behind Equilibrio, they had recently relocated to Guatemala City and we’d settled on Monterrico as the perfect meeting place for a nomadic reunion.

Smoothies on the beach, Monterrico, Guatemala

Black Sand Beach Guatemala

As promised, the beach quickly flooded with weekenders. Though there were few foreign travelers to be found, Monterrico is a popular hotspot for domestic tourists, leading to a much-appreciated local vibe.

One thing we quickly noticed? There weren’t very many people actually in the water. I’d read endless warnings about the strong waves and tides in Monterrico, but hadn’t been particularly concerned. I was on swim team, after all! Then, not long after my first venture into the surf, I was knocked straight on my bum in about calf-deep water. Suddenly, the warnings that swimmers die here every year didn’t seem so abstract. And the number of people cooling their heels in the hot sand seemed a bit more understandable.

Monterrico, Guatemala

Luckily, with the crowds concentrated on the beach, there were still plenty of quiet corners of town to explore.

Cemetary in Monterrico, Guatemala

Cemetary in Monterrico, Guatemala

Coconuts for sale, Monterrico, Guatemala

Coconuts for sale, Monterrico, Guatemala

Coconuts for sale, Monterrico, Guatemala

I debated between two lodging options with dorm-style accommodation for us: and . Both have pools, beach restaurants, and terrible but existent wifi. We went with Hotel El Delfin and I was grateful, because Johnny’s Place is also a popular late-night drinking spot on the weekends and we were in bed by the time the bar closed at Delfin at 10:00pm.

So depending on what you’re looking for — peace and quiet or a party — the decision is pretty much made up for you.

Hotel El Delfin, Monterrico, Guatemala

Hotel El Delfin, Monterrico, Guatemala

Hotel El Delfin, Monterrico, Guatemala

Salad at Hotel Delfin, Monterrico

Hotel El Delfin, Monterrico, Guatemala

There’s not too much to do in Monterrico, outside turtle season. There are early morning mangrove tours and there is a Spanish school tucked away somewhere, but the main items on our agenda were sunbathing, strolling lazily through town taking photos, and spending time together.

I stayed three nights in Monterrico, which was the perfect amount of time — even two would probably be adequate for the average traveler who just wants a quick hit of beach before moving on. However, for those with time to burn, you might as well make it four — Delfin has a stay three nights, get one free deal going on that never expires.

Beach Days in Monterrico

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala

Coming to or from Antigua? No problem — hop on the $15, 2.5 hour shuttle that departs the city each morning at 8:00am and returns at 4:00pm. Getting back to Guatemala City via public transportation was a little more complicated, but certainly not short on adventure. A boat ride through the mangroves followed by three chicken buses (in which I shared my seat with a pulsating bag of live crabs) and a taxi ride later, we were back in a big bad city, and the quiet beach town of Monterrico seemed worlds away.

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala

Monterrico Beach, Guatemala

Is Monterrico the best beach town in Central America? Not by a long shot. Was it a lovely few days in the sun? Indeed. Did it break up what would otherwise be a few weeks of landlocked travel? Yup. Was it a conveniently located getaway with friends? Heck yes. When we left Monterrico, I didn’t feel anything pulling me to stay. But as I picked grains of black sand out of my toes later that evening, I was ever so grateful that I’d been.

Next stop, Flores!

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41 Comments...
  • Caity
    June 19 2015

    I can totally relate to the appeal of black sand beaches. I’ve only been to one, Vik beach in Iceland and it was absolutely stunning.

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      Ah yes, I saw some black sand beaches in Iceland too! They were indeed stunning. What an island!

  • What a colorful little town, and agree with the awesomeness of black sand beaches! Monterrico may not be pulling you to stay, but If you were to find yourself moving to Central America where do you think you’d want to live? Curious minds want to know 😉
    Shelly I Norway to Nowhere recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      San Juan del Sur or Panama City. It would be hard to pick between them!

  • Kacy
    June 19 2015

    I’m the same way about cold. In an ideal world I would never be cold unless it was absolutely necessary (but I have to be honest, Antarctica isn’t at the top of my bucket list – I mean I see the appeal and in the right circumstances, but there are so many warm places…). I’m glad you got your warm weather fix and some beach time 🙂
    Kacy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      I did enjoy Iceland, but I had a panic about a week before we left about whether or not I’d spend the whole time uncomfortably cold! We really lucked out with the weather there though, and I was very prepared for the chill. (Unlike Guatemala, where I was caught totally off guard.) So I am reassured that I at least have the ability to enjoy non-tropic destinations occasionally 🙂

  • Justine
    June 19 2015

    I have such fond memories of Monterrico, so it’s really fun to look at all of your photos. It hasn’t really changed, except when I was there in 2009 the beach road wasn’t paved. I remember Monterrico being a bit of a ghost town. I must have been there during the week because I felt like I had the entire beach all to myself. I think that beach is stunning (although the waves are brutal!) and I would love to go back one day.
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      It was crazy how it flipped from ghost town to party central starting Friday night! Definitely a weekend town with most visitors being from Guatemala City and Antigua 🙂 It’s nice because different travelers will enjoy the vibe at different times in the week.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    June 19 2015

    My memories of Monterrico? FLEAS. Oh yeah, and releasing baby turtles into the ocean! That WAS one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      Luckily my stay was flea-free! Sadly, it was turtle free too 🙁

    • Hilary
      October 20 2015

      Both were my experiences there too!! And a super terrible sunburn on my back that itched me for days when I returned to Antigua. I was surprised to see the picture of the paved street, but my visit there was more than 20 years ago, so I guess things change!
      The one thing to note if you do return Meihoukai to Monterrico during turtle season, we ended up having to buy the eggs from the locals because they found them first…we took them back to the sanctuary where they were buried so they could hatch. We even got to catch the eggs as she was laying them…seriously one of the neatest experiences I’ve ever had!!

      • Meihoukai
        October 23 2015

        I would have loved to have been there during turtle season. I’m still waiting to hit one somewhere around the world!

  • Dave
    June 19 2015

    The pictures are amazing. I love the picture of the black sand beach. We went to one in Martinique that had crystal blue waters. Couleuvre beach in Martinique. Few tourists, hidden away and backs onto a dormant volcano.
    Dave recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      Oh wow, that sounds amazing! You sold me… might have to add Martinique to my list.

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans
    June 20 2015

    Stunning part of the world, so colourful and vibrant.
    Im amazed you braved the ocean even though there were such heavy duty warnings about it, you so brave. 🙂
    Is that a grave yard? If yes, totally digging the bright colours and celebratory vibe.
    Anna @ shenANNAgans recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      It is indeed a grave yard! And yeah, I am a very strong swimmer so normally I more or less shrug off rough ocean warnings. But man, this one was seriously well-deserved!

  • Leah
    June 20 2015

    Aww, I was in Central America at the wrong time for turtles hatching too! Was so bummed! More reasons to go back, right?
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 21 2015

      Seriously. One of these days I need to get with it and actually actively plan a trip around that. I’d love to spend a few weeks volunteering somewhere on a project.

  • Katie
    June 20 2015

    I couldn’t be more with you on the cold. The past four months all of my friends back home made fun of me for complaining about the cold in Melbourne (seriously! it gets cold in Australia!), but ever since I got back to North Carolina for the month, I’ve been nothing but psyched for the heat and humidity everyone else is complaining about. No matter how hot my destination is, I always make sure to have at least some jeans and a light sweater in my pack– and they always get used!
    Katie recently posted..

  • Chris
    June 20 2015

    Oh how I do love Central American cemeteries, peaceful and colourful.

    Unlucky to miss the turtles here and in El Cuco!!
    Chris recently posted..

  • TammyOnTheMove
    June 21 2015

    It looks really cute, but so very different from the rest of Guatemala. Shame you cant swim in the ocean, but I recently had a similar experience surfing on a beach in Ghana and one wave was so strong that it washed me under the water and the strong current kept me under water for a few too many seconds. That shock me a little bit, so I am very cautious about strong currents now.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

  • Katie
    June 21 2015

    I also love a black sand beach and we have a lot of beautiful ones in NZ. I didn’t make it to the Pacific coast in Guatemala but we did have a few nights in Livingston on the Caribbean Coast. There weren’t any beaches around town but we did a half day tour to Playa Blanca which was reasonably nice. The best thing about the town was experiencing the Garifuna and Afro-Caribbean culture and food
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      I eventually made it to Livingston as well! Funky little town. I preferred Monterrico, but it was a nice gateway to Rio Dulce.

  • Naomi
    June 22 2015

    Ahhh these photos are so beautiful.
    Naomi recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      Thanks Naomi! I loved capturing this unique little town.

  • Camille
    June 22 2015

    I’m a lover of black beaches too! I found a pristine one when I got lost in Bali once and it made my day!
    Camille recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      Ah, I didn’t know Bali had any! I’ll have to look out for them when I return…

  • Ashley
    June 22 2015

    This looks like such lovely and colourful little town! I love black sand beaches – there’s something so striking about them. And I also love that sand hand print photo!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      Thanks! I was so nervous my ring was going to wash away, ha… almost lost it once!

  • Maxi
    June 23 2015

    Oh! Gautemala is really a great place to reckon. This place called Monterrico is bringing alive beach retreats that I always wanted. I would prefer to go there with my girlfriend. By the way, nice coconuts and natural mangroves everywhere.

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      The coconuts were delicious — and great to photograph!

  • Marni
    June 24 2015

    Black sand beaches are stunning, and I hope to one day spend a significant amount of time near one. Bummer you missed out on the turtles! That would have been a cool experience.

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      One of these days, those little turtles will be mine! One of these days…

  • Looks absolutely amazing!! And I love your bright, colorful pictures. xx
    Sarah Elizabeth || SEDiva Abroad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2015

      Thank you! That’s the way I remember this town… bright and sunny.

  • Chella
    July 9 2015

    No summer would be complete without happy times like going to a beach that has so much to enjoy. I am really happy having read this post because you just gave me a super idea of where I should be the next summer!!
    Chella recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 10 2015

      Every summer should include a beach visit or two 🙂 Glad you enjoyed, Chella.

  • Anthony Bentancourt
    October 30 2016

    Hello! My girlfriend and I stayed at Hotel El Delfin New Years weekend 2012. Does the middle-aged American man, his lovely Guatemalan wife and their baby still own and operate the hotel?

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2016

      Hey Anthony! I am not sure about that — I believe it was a young English-speaking couple who we spoke to, but perhaps they were interim managers. We had a great time!

  • Rachel
    February 6 2017

    Hi! I’m currently planning a trip to Guatemala and I was wondering what kind of transportation service you used to get around in Guatemala? Thank you! Really nice blog by the way:)

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2017

      Hey Rachel! To Monterrico I took the tourist shuttle from Antigua which was very convenient and easy. Then onward to Guatemala City we took public transit which I think consisted of three different buses which was pretty hectic and exhausting… but cheap! 🙂 I used tourist shuttles whenever they were available, just for convenience. You can book them at any hostel or accommodation. Hope that helps!