The departmental capital of Escuintla is a sweltering, busy place and mainly a pit stop along the road to the coast from Guatemala City, or if you’re heading east–west along the Pacific Coast Highway. A four-lane autopista starts just outside of Guatemala City and leads from Palín to Escuintla, with inspiring views of Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango Volcanoes along the way.
Your best bet for a decent cheap hotel is along 4a Avenida. Otherwise, try Hotel La Villa (3a Avenida 3-21 Zona 1, tel. 7888-0395, $20 d), containing adequate rooms with fan or air- conditioning, cable TV, and private bathroom. There are also a swimming pool and restaurant.
Nicer accommodations with swimming pools popular on weekends with Guatemalan families can be found along Avenida Centro América in Zona 3. The best of these is Hotel Sarita (Avenida Centro América 15-32 Zona 3, tel. 7888-1959, $50 d), offering some of the usual amenities such as ceiling fan, cable TV, air-conditioning, and private hot-water bathroom centered around the swimming pools. The restaurant here is a favorite with Guatemalan families and has opened other locations throughout the country. Its menu is similar to that of U.S.-based Denny’s and includes burgers, sandwiches, and grilled meats. There is another one in Escuintla on the autopista heading back toward Guatemala City, just past the northbound toll booths.
As for banks, Banco Industrial has a Visa ATM in its branch office at 4a Avenida 6-14 Zona 1. The main bus depot is on the southern end of town, at the end of 4a Avenida, from where there are half-hourly buses to Guatemala City, Puerto San José, and east toward El Salvador as well as hourly departures for Antigua. Buses coming into Escuintla sometimes leave you at the north end of town along 2a Avenida, meaning a long walk through the sweltering town center. Splurge for a cab ride if you need to get to the bus terminal.
East on the road to Taxisco is one of the most unusual attractions in Guatemala and indeed all of Central America, the Auto Safari Chapin (Km. 87.5 Carretera a Taxisco, tel. 5517-1705, www.autosafarichapin.org, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $7 adults, $6 children), 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.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com