Guatemala Uncovered

Already well known for its hot Pacific sailfish bite, Guatemala takes steps to further improve conservation and grow its off-season opportunities.
While anglers know that Pacific Guatemalan waters hold loads of sailfish, particularly during the peak season from November through June, many don’t realize this region hosts good numbers of blue marlin and plenty of mahi/dorado during the rainy-season (summer and early fall). Guatemala’s hydrogeological features and weather patterns make it unique to the Pacific Central American region. It features one 40-mile wide canyon offshore, but no predominant current. Its primary bait fish is ballyhoo. (Check out the video of fishing action!) Photo courtesy Casa Vieja Lodge. Casa Vieja Lodge

Flying In

Guatemala, which sits just south of Mexico, is a quick flight away from many American hubs. When I went, in late September, I spent just 2 hours and 42 minutes transiting from Miami to Guatemala City. Descending toward the airport, I could see the varied terrain and lakes surrounding this central-region city. Chris Woodward

Guatemala History

Even in the bustling downtown streets of Guatemala City, the country’s history is on display. Guatemala encompasses the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization, with ruins throughout its Peten region and living cultural experiences in the highlands. Chris Woodward

Guatemala Sailfish Commission

During my trip, I and several other journalists sat with Guatemalan officials at lunch to discuss the country’s new Comision Nacional Para La Proteccion Del Pez Vela — or National Commission for the Protection of Sailfish. The country outlawed the commercial take of sailfish in 2002, but it still deals with an illegal fishery and wants to further promote a sustainable recreational industry by becoming the Mecca for sailfish research and developing programs to ensure sailfish conservation. Guatemala sport-fishing leaders — such as Niels Erichsen from Pacific Fins Resort and Marina (far right at the back table) — also talked about coastal development projects such as a brand new inlet to the ocean — due to open next month — that will expand options for the offshore fleet, located in Puerto San Jose, the country’s only port. Photo courtesy of Norman Raxon. Norman Raxon

Casa Vieja Lodge

After a whirlwind tour of Guatemala City, we drove by van to Casa Vieja Lodge in Puerto San Jose/Iztapa on the coast. The entrance to this oasis is along a busy port street. But once inside the gates, the grounds are quiet and tropically lush. With other anglers talking tales at the bar, it’s easy to start getting your fish on. Photo courtesy of Casa Vieja Lodge. Casa Vieja Lodge
The calm water in Marina Pez Vela, a few minutes away from Casa Vieja by van, belied the offshore conditions. But the stiff breezes and rolling seas we ran through our first morning would stir up a solid blue marlin, sailfish and dorado bite. Chris Woodward

Circle Hooks

Sport-fishing operators here advocate circle-hook use and catch-and release for all billfish. Chris Woodward

Ballyhoo on Ice

Natural ballyhoo is the bait of choice for sails. The crew of Piragua, one of the charter vessels for Pacific Fins, prepared these choice morsels for the first day. (Not only did they feed the fish well, they prepared some awesome on-water taste treats for the anglers too!) Chris Woodward

A New Fishing Day

Small- to medium-size, inboard sport-fishers, like this 31 Bertram, dominate the local charter fleet. However, Casa Vieja recently took ownership of two Contender 35ST center consoles. Chris Woodward

Marlin Bait

A mate sews and bridles a larger mackerel bait for marlin. In two days, we raised at least half-a-dozen blue marlin and caught/released two. Chris Woodward

Hooked Up!

Ozzy Delgado, director of sales and marketing for Guy Harvey magazine, puts his back into a fight with the first blue marlin of the trip. September and October comprise the best blue marlin months for the region. Chris Woodward

Billfish Mania

Delgado’s marlin showed itself as it neared the boat. The mate was leadering the fish when it broke off — before we could shoot more photos. Chris Woodward

Wiring the Blue

A mate aboard Piragua wires Delgado’s blue marlin. Chris Woodward

Dropping Back

Long-time angler and conservationist Julio Mansylla drops back to a fish after seeing it in the spread. Chris Woodward

A Sail for Bill

Freelance writer Bill Kearney hooked into a Pacific sailfish, his first, on day one. While they’re generally larger than their Atlantic counterparts, Pacific sails can run hot and cold when hooked. Some provide wonderful aerial displays while others barely show themselves. Photo courtesy of Casa Vieja Lodge. Casa Vieja Lodge

At the Boat

Kearney’s Pacific sailfish decided to pose for a few photographs before release. Chris Woodward

Casa Vieja Lodge Room

Casa Vieja’s rooms are large with good air conditioning and welcome hot showers. Photo courtesy of Casa Vieja Lodge. Casa Vieja Lodge

Dinner at Pacific Fins

Our co-host for this fishing trip — Pacific Fins — hosted a dinner after our first day of fishing. The weather during our late September trip was perfectly comfortable and very conducive to outdoor dining. Chris Woodward

Smothered Snapper

Smothered snapper (pargo) was my choice for the evening. Guatemala doesn’t have the reefs and rocks that some of its neighbors ply for bottomfish, but it does have artificial reefs, and the newly appointed sailfish commission plans to expand that program. Chris Woodward

Day Two

We boarded the 32-foot Blackfin Maverick, owned by Pacific Fins, for day two of offshore fishing. Photo courtesy of Norman Raxon. Norman Raxon

Dorado Central

Our tour guide, Norman Raxon, with one of the many dorado caught (and on occasion eaten fresh). Chris Woodward

Fresh Fish Tacos

A mate aboard Maverick heats up some homemade tortillas for fresh dorado tacos. Chris Woodward

First: Appetizers!

Fresh guacamole and chips and succulent shrimp with cocktail sauce make for some delicious appetizers on board. Photo courtesy of Norman Raxon. Norman Raxon

Incoming Dorado

An incoming dorado picks up speed at the surface for one final run. Chris Woodward

Bigger Bull

Though we caught no giants, this bull dolphin — hoisted by Ozzy Delgado from Guy Harvey magazine — put on a spectacular show. Chris Woodward

Cooperative Sailfish

The mate leads a very cooperative sailfish to the boat before a few photos and release. Our second day on the water, we raised eight Pacific sails — not the multiple double-digit numbers this region produces during its high season, but plenty of action for our anglers. Chris Woodward

Great Day on the Water

Our Maverick crew was all smiles and thumbs-up after releasing multiple billfish and catching a cooler full of dorado on our second, and final, day of fishing off Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Manoel Jose Cifuentes Marckwordt. Manoel Jose Cifuentes Marckwordt

Colonial City

No fishing trip to Guatemala should be complete without a side excursion to Antigua, a short drive from the coast. When I posted to Facebook a photo of myself in one of the town’s boutique-hotel gardens, many fans responded about their love for Antigua. Surrounded by volcanoes, Antigua’s cobblestoned streets, quaint jade, coffee and chocolate shops, 16th century convent and other historic buildings create a colorful, relaxed experience. Chris Woodward

Hotel Camino Real

One of many beautiful boutique hotels in Antigua, Hotel Camino Real features a large, warm Jacuzzi-style pool in the courtyard between rooms. Chris Woodward

Coffee Time

A barista at ABC Del Cafe in Antigua brews a sample pot of coffee made from some locally grown and roasted beans. Chris Woodward

Tropical Time

On tour at Casa Santo Domingo, a hotel whose rooms blend with the ruins from a once highly grand Dominican convent. The grounds host lush gardens, spectacular art and antiques plus gourmet restaurants. Chris Woodward

Convent Ruins

On the grounds of the Casa Santo Domingo lie many ruins from the 16th century convent buildings. Chris Woodward

Garden Macaw

Among the gardens surrounding Casa Santo Domingo, a macaw perches near a crossroads of paths. He doesn’t say much, but he seems particularly interested in cameras. Chris Woodward

Rose Water

Low stone pots throughout the Casa Santo Domingo grounds that appear to gather rain water (or perhaps were once used for holy water?) now feature a bed of rose petals that adds a flash of color to the gray surroundings. Chris Woodward

On the Street

A horse-drawn cart carries tourists past Antigua’s Hermano Pedro Orphanage and Hospital near the center of town. Antigua is also known for its Spanish-language-immersion schools. Chris Woodward

Church of San Francisco

A group of students kneels to pray before a cross in a courtyard of the Church of San Francisco. Chris Woodward

Ornate Doors

Like many historic cities, Antigua showcases unique and unusual architecture, such as this door at the Church of San Francisco. The giant door has a special cutout that is just big enough for a horse and rider to duck through. Chris Woodward

Courtyard Garden

The many small boutique hotels in Antigua often feature immaculate garden courtyards that create a very private, quiet, serene setting. Chris Woodward

Mansion de la Luz

The entrance to Mansion de la Luz (Mansion of the Light), the second Antigua boutique hotel at which we stayed. The chef at this hotel prepared some fresh dorado we brought from the coast. The dish was the absolute best preparation of dorado that I’ve ever eaten. Chris Woodward

Historic Models

In the lobby of Mansion de la Luz and along its courtyard wall, wire-mesh mannequins wear colorful costumes from a variety of periods in Guatemalan history. Chris Woodward

Volcano View

From the second floor of Mansion de la Luz, you can see one of the volcanoes that ring Antigua, which is set in a valley. Chris Woodward

Colors and Textures

Antigua architecture and design is reflected in this room at Mansion de la Luz, where muted colors, textures and patterns, along with historical touches create welcoming scenes. Chris Woodward

First Course

Casa Santo Domingo offers first-class dining worthy of any global foodie. Here’s the appetizer course for lunch — a black-corn tostada with shrimp, avocado and vegetables. Chris Woodward

Jade Sculpture

A reproduction Mayan jade funerary mask at the Casa del Jade store and museum in Antigua. Chris Woodward

Outdoor Market

An outdoor market in Antigua showcases the colorful fabrics and other products common in the region. Chris Woodward