Monterrico, the most favored beach destination in Guatemala, is a world of it’s own. Located on the Pacific coast and two hours west of the old colonial capital known as Antigua and it’s three volcanoes, the elevation change from five thousand feet up is always hot and humid but it’s a tourist favorite. The soft gray sandy beaches are a famous attraction.
There are many small hotels but only one with a 100% occupancy rate and that’s the Hotel El Delfin (Spanish for dolphin). Originally purchased in November of 2010 by Juan Garcia and his American-born wife, Becky, they’ve gradually transformed from what was a slightly seedy beachfront hotel into a neat, clean and well-oiled machine. Thanks also are due to Oliver Heider, 23, from Germany who came as a guest three years ago. He stayed on as the manager and then became a partner. He and Juan, 36, rotate their duties weekly except on the weekends when both are present to handle the crowds and the operation.
They are a perfect team and it’s evident in that everything, so unlike Guatemala, works. There’s a staff of thirty, with a waiting list of four should any vacancies open. The room mix of 23 rooms has appeal for every kind of guest: eleven have private baths, three have air conditioning (with two more units scheduled). The so-called winter season here is the perfect time to visit but it’s still nice to have the option on an air-conditioned room. Their clientele? It’s a varied assortment, from frugal backpackers to the older international retired crowd.
What’s there to do other than lounge by the large and sparkling pool? There’s a beachfront bar with tables, chairs and hammocks and now that the free wi-fi signal has been boosted, smart phones and laptops are usable. Should one wish, there’s a foosball game and a blue felt covered pool table. Surfboards and lessons, plus ping-pong, darts, volleyball, TV and a small lending library round out the list.
The food? Simple, cheap, fresh and of huge proportions. I could neither finish the Hamburger Delfin, with cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce and perfect french fries nor the ‘Gringo breakfast’ of bacon, eggs, toast and fresh fruit. The ‘Nachos Supreme’ looked good as a dinner choice but twice I failed to get to the bottom of the avocado, sour cream and cheese covered fresh chips. I’m not complaining: everything was perfectly prepared and the service superb. Juan and Oliver have trained their staff better than one could hope for. For a country known for it’s lackadaisical service, even the better restaurants in Antigua could take lessons from this crew.
The rates are reasonable: the most expensive room, #7, sleeps five with AC and goes for 500q or $60 a night. The two other rooms with air-conditioning go for 300q or $36 a night and the shared dorm-style rooms are 40q or less than $5.
If you can get away from the pool, beach and the perfect margaritas, explore the small town of Monterrico. There’s a four block stretch of paved street, lined with open air restaurants and one decent convenience store. Everywhere else the ‘streets’ are sandy lanes, with the occasional wandering chicken or pig. It’s ‘beach front quaint’ but its slowly changing. Two new and larger hotels are under construction, indicative of the increased draw and lure of this sleepy beach resort.
Juan said that their only slow periods are from late September through part of October and he’s considering closing for a week or two then. What this implies for the traveler is to book reservations well in advance, via their web site, www.hotel-el-delfin.com or email the front desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you can, nail down a room with a private bath and air-conditioning. You won’t regret it. The rooms are simple, in bright colors and a dolphin motif. The sinks are decorated with local sea shells and there isn’t any hot water. Don’t worry. You won’t need it.
Transportation is available via small shuttle buses daily from Antigua per the many travel agencies there. Book a one way seat for around $12 and then the Del Fin will arrange your return for $10. Enjoy the clean dark sands of the beach, the pool and a cheeseburger in paradise. If you’re lucky the stars will be out and visible at night, when the hotel’s policy of ‘no noise after 10 pm’ takes over. It’s all easy, simple and cheap: what else is there to complain about? Expect to have a good time and you will.