Famed for its soaring volcanoes, ancient Mayan sites, and Spanish colonial cities, Guatemala is one of Central America’s most popular tourist destinations. But few visitors consider it for a beach holiday, despite it having a long stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline and hugging the Caribbean Sea. In fact, Guatemala offers the best of both worlds – black sand beaches subjected to Pacific Ocean swells and palm-fringed white sands for that quintessential Caribbean getaway. 

In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the best beaches in Guatemala and where to head after you’ve had your fix of highland adventure and city culture. Whether you want to ride barreling waves, watch as newly hatched turtles make a beeline for the sea or discover the region’s Afro-Caribbean roots, there’s a Guatemala beach destination for you.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Calm waters, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, umbrella rentals, restaurants

RENOWNED FOR

Idyllic scenery, Afro-Caribbean culture

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Sunbathing, swimming, and relaxation

Originally established as a Garifuna community on the Caribbean coast, the beachside town of Livingston is now a cultural melting pot and the gateway to some of the most picturesque beaches Guatemala has to offer. Think white sands and coconut palms where you can while away your days, with a distinct Afro-Caribbean atmosphere thrown in. Playa Blanca is the most popular Guatemalan beaches in the area, but you can find lesser-known stretches of sand if you want to escape the crowds.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Gentle waves, intermediate surf

FACILITIES

Toilets, restaurants, guesthouses

RENOWNED FOR

Secluded setting, authentic village atmosphere

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Surfing, swimming, boat excursions

guatemala caribbean coast

Situated near the Mexican border on the Pacific coast, Playa Tilapa is one of Guatemala’s most secluded beaches and has garnered a reputation amongst surfers. It has a distinctly relaxed, rural vibe, with fishermen selling the morning’s catch each day and a sense of peace. It’s ideal for travelers wanting to get away from it all and surf the gentle waves or explore the surrounding coastal preserve by boat.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Big waves (seasonal) and gentle beginner surf

FACILITIES

Toilets, restaurants, guesthouses

RENOWNED FOR

Historic pier, seafood restaurants

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Surfing, swimming

Also, on the Pacific Coast is Champerico, which is famed for its historic wooden pier that’s long served the port’s shipping industry. It lures surfers from near and far thanks to its challenging waves, with others drawn by its excellent seafood restaurants and laid-back atmosphere. Champerico is just a few hours down the mountain from Quetzaltenango, making it ideal for highland travelers craving a beach escape.

pictures of guatemala beaches

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Calm waters, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, umbrella rentals, restaurants

RENOWNED FOR

Black sand, turtle conservation

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Turtle watching, sunbathing, swimming

Wildly popular with locals thanks to its proximity to Guatemala City, Monterrico is a black sand beach in Guatemala on the Pacific Coast. It was once just a sleepy fishing village and has transformed into the country’s most developed stretch of sands. Backed by volcanoes, Monterrico beach in Guatemala serves as a breeding ground for four species of sea turtles and seeing them lumber to the shore is a reason to visit in itself. Swimmers should beware that there are strong riptides here and no lifeguards!

guatemala pacific coast beaches

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Calm waters, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, umbrella rentals, restaurants

RENOWNED FOR

Black sand, fishing

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Sportfishing, sunbathing, swimming

Just around the bend from Monterrico is Puerto San Jose, which is an important fishing port and Guatemalan beach resort. It’s another popular weekend destination for city slickers, with sport fishing one of the main activities here. Whether you want to lure sailfish or marlin, there are outfits who’ll get you out onto the water in this Guatemalan beach town. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the atmosphere of locals splashing in the water, then feast at one of the thatched-roof restaurants that line the black sands.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Intermediate surf conditions, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, restaurants, surfboard rentals

RENOWNED FOR

Black sand, surfing

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Surfing, sport fishing, swimming

A short hop south of Puerto San Jose is Itzapa, which served as Guatemala’s 16th-century Pacific port, only to be taken over by its more prominent neighbor in 1853. It now exudes languorous appeal where the Rio Maria Linda empties into the Pacific Ocean and is renowned for its sport fishing. Jump aboard a boat and cross the river to the sandbar that stretches along the coast where you’ll find thatched-roof restaurants and great surf when the conditions are right.

guatemala black sand beaches

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Intermediate surf conditions, swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, restaurants, surfboard rentals

RENOWNED FOR

Black sand, surfing

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Surfing, sport fishing, swimming

black sand beach guatemala

Drive in the other direction from Puerto San Jose and you’ll arrive in El Paredon, a tiny Guatemalan coast village that’s famed for its surf breaks. There are plenty of surf schools where you can rent boards or book in for a lesson, although the waves aren’t the easiest for beginners to learn on. Aside from surfing and watching newly hatched turtles scuttle across the black sands, El Paredon is surrounded by lush mangroves that provide a refuge for native wildlife and are best explored by boat.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Intermediate surf conditions, swimming

FACILITIES

Toilets, restaurants, surfboard rentals

RENOWNED FOR

Black sand, surfing, nature reserve

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Surfing, paddle boarding, bird watching

guatemala beaches

Just a stone’s throw from El Paredon is Sipicate, another of Guatemala’s black sand beaches that’s popular with surfers. It lies adjacent to the Sipacate/Naranjo National Reserve whose network of canals and mangroves provide a refuge for birdlife and sea turtles. If you’re not ready to take on the world-class surfing and bodyboarding breaks, there are usually gentler waves for beginners on this stretch of Guatemalan Pacific coast.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Calm waters, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Basic lodges, research station

RENOWNED FOR

Wildlife, birdlife, eco-adventures

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Wildlife watching, swimming, snorkeling

guatemala caribbean coast

Just north of Puerto Barrios lie the Guatemala Caribbean beaches of Punta de Manabique, a wildlife reserve that comprises bird-filled rainforests and wetlands. It’s an ideal Guatemalan beach destination for nature lovers who want to combine wildlife watching with time spent relaxing on the white sands where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. Jaguars, howler monkeys and tapirs all call the wildlife reserve “home”, as do endangered yellow-headed parrots and more than 300 bird species. Punta de Manabique is also one of the best Guatemala snorkeling destinations for those wanting to experience the underwater world.

BLUE FLAG

No

SURF

Calm waters, ideal for swimming

FACILITIES

Restaurants, beach huts, jetty

RENOWNED FOR

Water sports, golden sands

POPULAR ACTIVITIES

Swimming, jet skiing, boating

Also known as “The Golden Beach”, Playa Dorada nestles on the southern shores of Lago de Izabal near Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast. It’s named after the tiny golden pebbles that cover the shore and glisten when the sun shines from just the right angle. Playa Dorada is a hub for water sports, with everything from jet skiing to banana boating on offer, as well as being one of the most beautiful Guatemalan beaches in the Caribbean. It’s particularly popular with locals during the annual Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations when it can get packed to the brim.

from antigua to guatemala beach

RAINFALL

Guatemala is a tropical country that experiences distinct wet and dry seasons, although the tourism board has dubbed it the “land of eternal spring”. The rainy season (or winter) extends from May through to October, with September and October usually experiencing the heaviest rains (around 18 inches/470mm) on the Pacific Coast. Precipitation is slightly lower on the Caribbean Coast, although the rainfall on the Guatemala beaches here extends throughout the year.

But if you’re planning a Guatemala beach vacation during the wet season, keep in mind that showers fall predominantly in the afternoon and don’t usually last for more than a couple of hours. Of more concern to travelers are the muddy trekking conditions and bad condition of unpaved roads, which can disrupt travel logistics in some regions.

The dry season (or summer) in Guatemala stretches from November to April and is considered by most people the best time to visit the country for a Guatemalan beach vacation. Clear, blue skies make it an ideal time to be trekking, exploring ruins or lazing on the beaches, with the Pacific Coast’s summer season extending a little longer into May. Rainfall is at its lowest on the Pacific Coast in January and February when almost no precipitation is recorded while the Caribbean Coast will still experience around 4 inches (95mm) throughout the summer months.

TEMPERATURE

Despite being a tropical country, temperates in Guatemala vary widely depending on elevation. Cities such as Antigua and Coban experience a temperate climate while frost is not uncommon at elevations above 11,500 feet (3,500 meters). The coastal areas and beaches in Guatemala tend to be hot throughout the year, hovering between 82°F (28°C) in the summer months of December and January up to around 91°F (33°C) in May and June. Humid and sticky conditions are experienced along the low-lying coastlines for much of the year, although refreshing sea breezes bring a welcome relief most evenings.

BEST BEACH MONTHS

The best time to visit the beach in Guatemala depends on what you want to do and how willing you are to brave the afternoon downpours. The dry season is the peak tourism period in Guatemala (particularly December and January), with large numbers of visitors from North America and Europe escaping the cold back home. There’s another spike in numbers during July and August when the summer vacations in these parts of the world are in full swing.

If you’re coming to surf on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast beaches, then the best conditions are usually from March through to June as the rainy season comes to an end. You can expect offshore winds and well-groomed sandbars that combine for perfect waves. If you want to see turtles laying and hatching, then January to June is generally the best time to visit. October through to May is the best time for luring sailfish, although sportfishing is possible throughout the year.

Travelers wanting to combine their beach vacation with a cultural festivity might want to visit the Caribbean Coast at the end of November when the Garinagu Festival takes place in Livingston. It honors the traditional culture of the Garifuna people through vibrant street parties, dancing, and feasting. November is also marked by the Day of the Dead festival when Guatemalans across the country celebrate the lives of their loved ones. To get a more in-depth feel for Guatemala’s vibrant culture, be sure to look through this comprehensive directory of all things travel.

resorts in guatemala by the ocean

TIME ZONE: Central Standard Time (GMT-6)

CURRENCY: Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ) $1USD = 7.5 GTQ

CALLING CODE: +502

ELECTRIC VOLT: 120V

PLUG TYPE: A and B

MAIN AIRPORT: La Aurora International Airport (GUA)

1. Is Guatemala in the Caribbean?

Guatemala is located in the middle of Central America, with a long stretch of Pacific Ocean on its western edge and a small bay along the Caribbean to the east. Mexico lies to its northwest, Belize to its northeast and Honduras directly east while El Salvador hugs the country’s southeastern corner. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, with a population of around 16.6 million people and centers around the capital, Guatemala City.

2. Does Guatemala have a coastline?

While Guatemala is a largely mountainous country, it also boasts around 250 miles (400 kilometers) of coastline that’s divided between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Pacific coastline stretches for around 190 miles (300 kilometers) between El Salvador and Mexico while the Caribbean coastline hugs Amatique Bay between Honduras and Belize.

Most Guatemala’s large cities are concentrated in the highlands and along the Pacific coast, with the Caribbean scattered with small villages and town. Short and shallow rivers drain into the Pacific Ocean while larger and deeper waterways, such as the Dulce River end their journey in the Caribbean. The best beaches in Guatemala for surfing are on the Pacific Coast while the most popular of Guatemala beaches for a tropical vacation are on the Caribbean side.

3. Are there beaches in Antigua Guatemala?

No, Antigua is a highland city in southern Guatemala that’s around 50 miles (85 kilometers) or two hours’ drive from the Pacific Coast city of Puerto San Jose. Rather than being a beachside destination, Antigua is renowned for its Spanish colonial architecture, with the majority of buildings restored or rebuilt following an earthquake in 1773. It was following this natural disaster that Guatemala’s capital was moved from Antigua to Guatemala City where it still lies today.

Antigua is a popular destination for travelers wanting to delve into the local culture, with everything from handicraft workshops to Spanish language classes and salsa lessons on offer. Surrounded by volcanoes, the city is also a popular base for venturing into the great outdoors. Hiking to the crater rim of Volcán Pacaya offers an incredible opportunity to peer into its steaming belly or you can attempt the summit of the highest peak in the region, Volcán Acatenango. Antigua is also famed for its annual Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades and rituals that ignite the city’s historic churches and plazas.

4. How many beaches does Antigua Guatemala have?

Antigua doesn’t have any beaches as it’s a land-locked highland city. But it’s just under two hours’ drive from the Pacific Coast and some of the best beach resorts in Guatemala. Aside from the black sands of Puerto San Jose, you can also head to ever-popular Monterrico a short hop east. The surf beaches of Itzapa and El Paredon are also nearby and have a more laid-back atmosphere for travelers wanting to escape the crowds. If you travel further west along the Pacific Coast, you’ll arrive in the beach town of Champerico and eventually Playa Tilapa near the Mexican border.

5. What do the beaches look like in Guatemala?

When you look at pictures of Guatemala beaches, you’ll see that they contrast drastically between the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. The best Guatemala beaches along the Pacific Coast are mostly black and composed of volcanic minerals and lava fragments from the country’s active volcanoes. Black sand beaches tend to be heavier than light-colored sands and can become very hot on sunny days.

Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast beaches are generally composed of white sand, with swaying palms that give them a quintessential tropical feel. Most of the Caribbean beaches are located along a relatively protected bay while the Pacific beaches are exposed to ocean swells and renowned for their great surf.

6. Why are Guatemala beaches black?

Guatemala’s Pacific Coast beaches are mostly black due to the active volcanoes in the country. Black sand beaches are a result of dark-colored volcanic minerals and rocks (such as basalt), which have been transported over millennia from the highland regions to the coast. Most volcanic minerals are not very stable and decompose rapidly, resulting in the black sands of Monterrico and Champerico’s Guatemala beach resorts.

7. How safe is it travel to Guatemala’s beaches?

While Guatemala endured a bloody civil war from 1960 to 1996, the country is now a calm and relatively safe country to visit. Crime does still occur in both cities and coastal villages but the days of robbers targeting tourist buses and rental cars appear to be in the past.

Like much of Central America, high rates of poverty and the drug trade still impact the country and travelers should remain vigilant. Most crime revolves around pickpocketing, so avoid flaunting expensive cameras, jewelry or wallets. Traveler scams are also not uncommon, so be wary if you’re being asked for money or find yourself in a situation that doesn’t feel right.

ATM card cloning is also an issue in Guatemala, with card reading devices often attached to ATMs to collect your data, which is then used to empty your account. To be on the safe side, use ATMs inside shopping malls or supermarkets that are more difficult for criminals to tamper with.

Few (if any) beaches in Guatemala have lifeguards monitoring the water, so always swim with caution. Check at your hotel or guesthouse about rips or strong currents and never proceed into deep water unless you’re a competent swimmer who can handle the conditions. Some of Guatemala’s surf breaks are not for beginners, so never paddle out unless you’re accompanied by a guide or an experienced surfer.

While you are in the area, be sure to also check out the picturesque beaches in Dominica, Trinidad, and Tobago! Alternatively, if you are an adrenaline junkie like Bill and myself, and you need to properly get involved in the Caribbean waters, then check through this guide our experts put together on snorkeling in the Caribbean.

As always, we create our content with you – our fellow adventurers – in mind. So, how’d we do? Was this informative? Which beaches did we leave out? Got any golden nugget tips: share them with our happy, ocean-loving community?

We’d love to hear from you below. Thanks for reading and we hope your next adventure is a great one. Keep living Blue – Shaka & Cheers!

Heather Barbour

Heather is a product expert, a degreed communications and business professional, and an adventurous, entrepreneurial travel writing enthusiast originally from Raleigh, North Carolina. Heather is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) and holds a Silver Advanced Open Water Instructor certification from SSI, having logged more than 300 training classes over the last four years. Heather is a certified Travel Specialist and also holds a Day Captain's license qualifying her to skipper a boat up to 72 feet. She has extensive experience in specialty dive training, navigation, and booking travel accommodations. Her interests include writing, social media marketing, and serving her Virtual Assistant and Travel Clients from around the globe.

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