The 13,500-hectare private Manchón Guamuchal Wetland Preserve harbors the last remaining undisturbed mangrove swamps in the country. The Manchón Guamuchal is included in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, encompassing a list of globally important sites, particularly those that provide habitat for aquatic birds.
According to a recent study by a Brazilian biologist, the wetlands are an important stop along the path of migratory birds coming from Canada and the United States. Among the varied bird life are 14 duck species, 12 of which are migratory, sparrow hawks, buzzards, falcons, and 20 species of egrets. Birds arrive sometime in October to November, leaving in March after wintering in the lagoons. In addition to birds, there are crocodiles, iguanas, and an abundance of fish.
The reserve is just now being made accessible to tourism, though access to the park is fairly straightforward.
The only facilities are in the towns of Tilapa and neighboring Tilapita. You’ll find several simple comedores lining a pleasantly clean stretch of black-sand beach in Tilapa. You can catch a boat through the mangrove lagoons over to Tilapita for $0.50 or hire your own boat for about $3. In Tilapita you’ll find the wonderful El Pacífico beach hotel (in Tilapita village, tel. 5940-1524, $20 d) with large screened-in rooms with fan and private bath. There’s decent food on offer, including fresh seafood and cold beers.
For tours of the mangrove swamps, negotiate with one of the local boatmen found at the dock. Outfitter Reuxtreme (tel. 5202-8180 or 5205-1132, www.reuxtreme.com ) runs trips to the reserve for kayaking along the tranquil mangrove swamps and lagoons on the eastern side of the park from El Manchón, where there is also a wide sandy beach.
To get to Tilapa, take one of the hourly buses leaving from Coatepeque . It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Retalhuleu , if you’re driving. Take the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-2) west past Coatepeque and head south at the turnoff just past the town of Las Palmas.
To get to El Manchón, from Champerico  take the dirt road heading west 25 kilometers to the village. There is one daily bus leaving for Retalhuleu at 5 a.m. and making the return journey to El Manchón at 3 p.m.