While the country's Pacific coast is popular with Guatemalans, it's often neglected -- or outright avoided -- by most tourists. Part of this is for good reason. Guatemala's Pacific beaches pale in comparison to those found in Mexico, the Caribbean, and the rest of Central America, and they also take a back seat to the country's cultural, historic, architectural, and natural attractions. This region is almost uniformly hot and humid, and the beaches are filled with dark, volcanic sand. The waters are often too rough for swimming, and the shores are unfortunately often strewn with garbage and other bits of jetsam. There are virtually no beach resorts and very few hotels of real comfort along the entire coast.

So why go? The beach towns of Monterrico and Puerto San José are fast and easy shots from Guatemala City and Antigua, and are brimming with Guatemalan revelers and families on weekends. This area is also quickly developing a reputation for some excellent deep-sea fishing, with record numbers of billfish being raised. And, while they are trying to keep the word from getting out, more and more surfers are heading this way to ride the many miles of beach breaks found here, especially those at Sipacate and Iztapa.

The Pacific coast can be easily included in a loop trip either to or from the highland city of Quetzaltenango, passing through the towns of Retalhuleu and Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa. The latter has several interesting archaeological sites nearby and a good museum. For its part, Retalhuleu serves as a base for visiting one of several nearby amusement parks, which are seeking to make the place a sort of mini-Orlando, at least in the minds of Guatemalans and other Central American visitors.