Escuintla is a Guatemalan Department located in the Southern Region of the country with the capital of the Department being the city of the same name, Escuintla city. While Escuintla department may not be one of the top tourist attractions in Guatemala, it’s definitely a great place to visit to experience natural beauty including volcanoes, lush tropical forests and popular beaches along its Pacific coast.
Escuintla Department is also where you will find attractions like Puerto San Jose, a coastal town and popular beach area for locals and Puerto Quetzal a major seaport and cruise ship terminal that has developed tourist facilities to cater for cruise ship passengers and other visitors.
But of all the attractions in Escuintla Department, Pacaya Volcano is probably the most well known and most visited. And for good reason, as it is one of Guatemala’s most active and also most accessible volcanoes.
I’m an expat living in Guatemala for the past several years, and I have traveled around this country a lot. I know Escuintla well, that’s why I decided to write the best things to do in Escuintla, Guatemala, and share a lot more information for travelers thinking of visiting.
Should You Visit Escuintla, Guatemala?
In this post below we will cover the best things to do in Escuintla Department and the major attractions and sights. But just know that there is no need to stay in or visit the capital of Escuintla City in order to experience the majority of the suggested activities and sights to see in this post.
In fact, thanks to the location of Escuintla City on the Pacific Coast Highway halfway between Guatemala City and Puerto de San José and a bypass, there is really no need to even pass through the city of Escuintla unless you really want to or it is really necessary.
A four-lane highway runs south from Escuintla to Puerto San José, Puerto Quetzal (called like that after the national bird in Guatemala: El Quetzal), and Iztapa. And as stated, a bypass means you don’t need to even pass through the town of Escuintla at all.
And while the city does have some nice accommodations and a variety of restaurants, I still think it is a better option to skip it and pass the northbound toll booths.
Given its proximity to Guatemala City, you don’t really need to stay in the city, since most of the activities in Escuintla are related to the Pacaya Volcano, the beach at Puerto San Jose, and some other activities close to the port, and heading to Sipacate Naranjo National Park. All of that stuff can be done without actually staying in the city.
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Things to Do in Escuintla Department
1. Visit Auto Safari Chapin
This is easily one of the most unusual attractions in Guatemala and indeed all of Central America and it’s located in Escuintla, the Auto Safari Chapin, where you can drive through grounds harboring a variety of animals, including zebras, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, and a lion.
There are also local species such as macaws and monkeys, which you can see in a small zoo, and an aviary. There is a rest area partway through the drive where you can get up close and personal with the park’s giraffes. A swimming pool and restaurant round out the list of amenities.
And one of those hidden gems in my opinion would have to be Finca el Barretal, a family owned coffee farm and ecotourism site. Here you can experience a private tour to a beautiful Coffee Farm and learn more about the cultivation and processing of coffee, which is one of the main products of Guatemala.
Apart from the coffee farm there is also a lot of natural beauty to experience including a garden site for special events, waterfall and trails as well as picnic sites to relax and enjoy nature.
And you can also try another exciting activity at Finca el Barretal that you can read about below at #8 on this list of things to do in Escuintla.
3. The Beaches
The beaches in Escuintla may not be the most beautiful in the country, but the Pacific coast of Guatemala is known for being a good place for surfers.
In Escuintla, you can visit Puerto San Jose which is just a couple of hours from Guatemala City and is a popular beach for locals and tourists thanks to its close proximity to the capital. But it isn’t the best or safest place unless you stay at a large resort.
Instead, I’d suggest you go to El Paredon, near Sipacate. El Paredon is well known for its waves and as being a surfer’s town and also it’s a lot cleaner and safer than Puerto San Jose. It’s also easy to get there by tourist bus which is one of the safer ways to travel around Guatemala.
A great thing about El Paredon is that it is not as developed with tourist facilities like other beaches in Guatemala which means it really isn’t too crowded at all.
4. Water Parks
Along the highway that leads to the beaches, you will find a number of waterparks with decent slides and pools that you can visit for fun family time in Escuintla. There are a few, but at the moment, Finca el Zapote might be your best choice.
Finca el Zapote’s main attractions are the large botanical garden, natural pool that is fed from a natural water source as well as lakes, trails, and other fun things to do. Here you can enjoy walking in the gardens, swimming in the pool, fishing in the lake and other activities such as birdwatching.
In addition to the natural water parks there is the Parque Acuatico Aquaventura, the largest water park in the area with giant slides, interactive water games and a wave pool among other attractions, making it great for young families.
5. Pacaya Volcano
Without a doubt Pacaya Volcano is one of the more well-known attractions in Escuintla. This is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. It is always active at low levels. There are tours in many places of Escuintla where you can walk up almost to the crater and walk among the lava rivers.
There are a number of Pacaya Volcano tours and day trips you can take. Some tour companies even offer marshmallow roasting in small holes on the ground that is still extremely hot.
6. Dolphin and Whale Watching
While dolphin and whale watching may be more associated with places like Costa Rica or California it is still possible to observe these marine mammals in their natural environment off the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.
Dolphin and whale watching tours usually leave from Marina Pez Vela and usually take place between January and mid-April, which are the warmer months of the year in Guatemala. You will be taken on board a yacht off of the Guatemalan coast to search for these huge mammals, making it one of the best things to do in Escuintla.
7. Sipacate Naranjo National Park
Sipacate Naranjo National Park can be found between the coastal towns of Sipacate and El Naranjo in Escuintla. The park is naturally diverse and includes mangrove forests, lagoons and sandy beaches
This is a protected area where locals are trying to preserve mangroves. To explore them you will be able to rent kayaks and do some kayaking in mangroves. The place also serves as a protected and safe area for sea turtles and some kinds of iguanas to lay their eggs without the danger of poachers stealing them.
8. Waterfall Rappelling
Finca el Barretal is a relatively new attraction, a privately owned water park where some travel agencies have started to offer waterfall rappelling tours.
And many visitors have called this the best rappel in Guatemala where you can rappel down a 40 meter plus natural waterfall! But there is much more than just that, things like glamping and coffee tours are also available at Finca el Barretal.
9. Archaeological Sites
While not as famous as other ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala like Tikal and El Mirador, there are definitely noteworthy and interesting archaeological sites in Escuintla worth checking out. La Democracia archaeological site is one such site in Escuintla and is an ancient Mayan ruin dating back over 2,000 years.
Here you can get a glimpse of ancient Mayan civilization through its preserved pyramids and structures. And the town of La Democracia where the ruins are located also has a small archeological museum that has pottery, sculptures, grinding stones, stone heads, and an impressive jade mask.
How to Get to Escuintla, Guatemala
Escuintla is 64.6 km from Guatemala City, since it’s the third-largest city in the country, it is fairly easy to get there. You can rent a car and head down to Escuintla using the CA-9 which will take you there in around 1h and 35 min approximately.
There are buses too if you are a risky adventurer and want to travel like a local, which I don’t recommend. Another option is using a taxi, quick, easy and comfy.
Best Things to Do in Escuintla Department, Guatemala
Overall Escuintla department, aside from Pacaya volcano, is not very popular among travelers, but Guatemalans visit it all the time in search of pools and warmer climates. Also, surfers should definitely take some time to experience what surfing in Guatemala can be like.
And as highlighted above in this post, there are definitely some hidden gems worth taking the time to check out. A great advantage to visiting lesser known places like Escuintla is the chance to experience a less crowded and touristy side to Guatemala and for many visitors this alone can make it worth a visit!
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Last Updated on March 3, 2024