Getting Oriented

Guatemala's mountainous highlands front the Pacific lowlands on the north, with the landscape tumbling down to the ocean in less than two hours. The small cities of Retalhuleu and Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa anchor the western part of this region. The old port city of Puerto San José and the lively beach town of Monterrico sit on the far eastern end of the coast, not far from the border with El Salvador. In the middle of the lowlands sits the not-so-interesting city of Escuintla, the region's economic hub, a place you may pass through but likely not stay in.

Retalhuleu. Guatemalans best know the western gateway to the Pacific lowlands for its two large amusement parks just outside of town.

Takalik Abaj. Olmec met Maya at this lesser-known but well-preserved Preclassic site of granite stelae and pyramids near Retalhuleu.

Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa. The country’s sugar capital and white-water center is also home to the ruins of El Baúl, a Mayan site showing considerable influence from the Pipil people of Mexico.

Escuintla. An outdoor safari zoo east of town just might transport you in your mind to far-off East Africa.

Puerto San José. The oldest port city in Guatemala, and the center of its fishing industry, will be your first glimpse of the country if you arrive on a Pacific cruise.

Monterrico. Guatemala’s only real beach town, slightly ramshackle Monterrico is the perfect kick-off-your-shoes destination, still little known and on the cusp of its own Jimmy Buffet era.

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