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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Guatemala Sea Turtle Release & Beach Town of Monterrico

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

The Guatemalan western coastline isn’t as famous as some of the beaches in Costa Rica or Mexico, but we decided to check it out for a few days; and we loved what we found! The Guatemalan beaches are black sand beaches, which make them uniquely beautiful. One of the most popular beach spots in Guatemala is the surf town of Paredon, Guatemala. However, we decided to go a little further south along the coastline to Monterrico. Here we enjoyed some days on the beach and swimming in the pool, but the highlight for us was witnessing the sea turtle release at Estacion Biologica El Banco nearby.

Monterrico Beach Town

This town along the Pacific Coast isn’t built up like other tourist beach destinations, but it still had a beach vacation vibe. In fact, it reminded us a lot of Varkala Beach in India and some of the beach towns in Southeast Asia. The town is only about 2.5 hours from Antigua or just over 3 hours from Guatemala City, so it is an easy getaway from the cities.

As with most places on the Pacific Coast in Central America, the waves can get quite large, which typically makes it popular for surfing. However, in the three days we were in Monterrico we didn’t see any surfers on the waves. Although we had small children, they still enjoyed playing on the shoreline, we just made sure to always have an adult with them and prohibited them from going too far. However, the beach was fairly shallow so they could just ride in the waves, which they thought was a ton of fun. We stayed at Hotel El Delfin which had a swimming pool as well, so they could get a good mix of swimming in. We really enjoyed just having a few days to enjoy the beach and pool. There are also several restaurant selections to choose from in Monterrico so lots of variety.

Guatemala Baby Turtle Release
Baby sea turtle heading out to sea with his little flipper prints behind him.
Baby sea turtle heading out to sea near Monterrico, Guatemala

One of the main reasons we choose to visit Monterrico was because we had found a baby sea turtle release that allowed the public to watch. I had been looking in El Salvador as well and had a hard time finding up-to-date information. However, Estacion Biologica El Banco is a privately funded organization that helps with the conservation of sea turtles, just about 10 minutes north of Monterrico – at kilometer marker 143. Typically, the season for the turtle releases is from September to January. However, Estacion Biologica El Banco releases turtles all year round and tend to just have higher numbers of turtles during the high season. We were there in mid-February and there were a couple hundred baby turtles released one day and the next day there was just over 100 released. However, they said that during the high season they could release as many as 4,000 baby turtles in one day.

As part of the conservation program, they buy turtle eggs from locals. Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy or aphrodisiac, so if they were not purchased then poachers would end up selling them elsewhere. Once the organization purchases the eggs they have huts where they bury the eggs in the sand. Turtle egg incubation is 45 days and then once hatched the baby turtles dig out from under the sand. Each day they collect these newly hatched turtles and then release them to the ocean. The natural survival rate isn’t very high for baby turtles, so they release them around sunset each day to help avoid predators such as birds, and hopefully help with their survival rate.

The turtle releases happen daily around 4:45 p.m. but on their website they recommend joining them on Fridays & Saturdays. We happened to be there on the weekend, so we attended both on Friday & Saturday afternoon.

Several baby turtles on the black sand beach almost at the water's edge near Monterrico, Guatemala.
A group of baby sea turtles about to reach the ocean water as part of the public turtle release at Estacion El Banco.

For 10 GQT ($1.30 USD/$1.66 CDN) per person you get the opportunity to release your own baby turtle to the sea. Because handling of the baby turtles and the oils from human skin may impact the survival of the baby turtle, we weren’t able to hold them. However, a baby turtle was placed inside a half coconut shell that we held, which we then put to the ground to release them safely out to sea. This is all due to the fact that the baby turtles have an imprinting process and rough handling of them as well could break the white dot on their belly that holds 3-days worth of food. The money for releasing the turtle also helps to fund the conservation of these special creatures.

After the people who have paid have released their turtles and witnessed them heading out to sea, they release the remaining baby sea turtles. You can stay as long as you like to witness the last little turtle reach the sea. The first evening we went there was one little guy that took a bit, but everyone cheered a bit once he finally made it and the wave engulfed them.

Baby sea turtles and foamy ocean waves on the black sand beach near Monterrico, Guatemala.
Baby sea turtles about to be engulfed in the ocean waves to begin their lives at Estacion El Banco.

Witnessing the turtles go out to sea was quite amazing. Those little creatures are completely on their own from the beginning and it is a tough go just getting out to sea – with predator birds hunting them and sometimes the waves pushing them back to shore. However, what is so incredible is that the females will come back to the same beach where they were hatched 15-20 years later when they are ready to lay their first eggs.

If you find yourselves in Guatemala, I highly recommend going out to witness this spectacular event and helping support this important conservation program. We found it totally worth the journey there!

The Guatemalan beaches may not be as famous as some of the others in Central America, but we found them enchanting. It wasn’t built up or super touristy – in fact most of the people visiting where Guatemalans from other parts of the country. Plus, the opportunity witness the baby turtles heading out to sea was something that we will never forget. This spot isn’t typically included on Guatemalan travel itineraries but we highly enjoyed it! To check out the other spots we explored in Guatemala, check out our blogs on Semuc Champey, Antigua & Lake Atitlan.

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