Everyone has heard of Guatemala’s beautiful Lake Atitlán, the mysterious ruins of Tikal and colorful Lívingston, but can you imagine a Guatemalan destination overlooked enough to offer a tranquil getaway yet offering something for everyone? Welcome to the laid-back, friendly Pacific Coast of Retalhuleu, a destination that caters to everyone from beach bums and nature enthusiasts to budding historians and coffee connoisseurs.
In this month’s Revue, we present two destinations outside of Retalhuleu, both a gentle winding ascent up the coastal piedmont: Nueva Alianza, an organic, fair-trade coffee and macadamia farm; and Reserva Patrocinio, a privately owned nature reserve and bird-watching hotspot.
Nueva Alianza is a unique community and organic coffee/macadamia association, founded in 2004 by a group of 40 families who had worked the land together for five generations under a private plantation owner. The community has worked hard over the past seven years to improve its quality of life, increasing access to education and undertaking a major housing project. Spend the night or make it a day trip; the community is equipped with a comfortable eco-hotel (the old, refurbished casa patronal), staffed by local women who welcome visitors with smiles and plates of savory comida típica. Take a tour through the processing facilities, or hear from community founders about the community’s battle for legal title to their lands. Don’t miss the crystalline waters of the community’s two waterfalls or the magnificent views of Volcán Santiaguito and the Pacific sunset from the hotel’s rooftop terrace. And when you leave, remember to take home a package or two of smooth chocolaty organic coffee and tasty macadamia nuts.
From Nueva Alianza, continue over to neighboring Reserva Patrocinio, owned by the amiable Mario Aguilar. Patrocinio is a treasure for bird enthusiasts, who can climb the bird-watching tower as early as 5 a.m., greeted with fresh hot coffee, cookies and granola bars. Local guide Paulino is intimately familiar with flight patterns and birdcalls, and under his care you may just spot the elusive highland guan, among a variety of other species such as motmots, parrots, hummingbirds and woodpeckers. After your early morning, tuck in to a delicious three-course breakfast in the main lodge, then take a ride on the reserve’s four adventure canopy zip-lines, or simply relax and read a book in the well-appointed lodge. Take a guided tour of the property and the plantation’s diverse operations, including coffee, cacao, mangostán, bamboo and more. The attention to detail and service at Reserva Patrocinio will be something you’ll surely be telling your friends about back home, although you may have the urge to keep this piece of tranquility to yourself.
Comunidad Nueva Alianza and Reserva Patrocinio are just two of many special destinations just outside of Retalhuleu. Check future issues of Revue for more on the Pacific Coast, including the Pre-Classical Mayan archeological site of Takalik Abaj and Retalhuleu proper.