Explore More and Go Deeper [part 2]
Welcome back to my final five recommendations for deep travel adventures. Take advantage of the dry season and sunny skies to get out and explore. The reward for seeing and experiencing incredible locations that most will miss will be worth it!
Las Guacamayas Biological Station
This is an unforgettable trip deep into the jungles of the Petén, along the San Pedro River, in the biodiverse Laguna del Tigre National Park. A bird-watcher’s dream, this Guatemalan treasure is home to howler and spider monkeys, tapirs, crocodiles, jaguars and more. The Spanish word guacamaya means scarlet macaw, and this park holds the largest count in Guatemala.
Given the park’s remote location, a private tour with a guide is highly recommended, as you’ll be traveling in a 4×4, boat and on foot to reach the biological station in the heart of the jungle. In addition to learning about the station’s important work, you can trek through the jungle to a viewpoint where you might spy the rare scarlet macaw in its natural habitat. Seeing a flock of these magnificent birds soaring through the sky will remain in your memory for years.
In the Ixil region of Quiche, high in the Cuchumatán Mountains at 2,000 meters, is the indigenous town of Nebaj. This town is known for its talented weavers, evidenced by the beautiful huipiles (blouses) the local women proudly wear. Much time can be spent at the local artisan market. Not only are the weavings beautiful; in addition the surrounding mountain majesty makes it a hiker’s paradise.
The Guias Ixiles (www.nebaj.com) offer some excellent hiking tours throughout the trail system. Shorter options include a half-day walk to the waterfalls and a tour of the sacred sites where the local Maya still practice their religious traditions. For the most hardy, those who really want to get off the beaten path, take the three-day guided hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos Cuchumatán. This 35-55 kilometer trek is mostly through the mountains and highland plains at an altitude of over 3,000 meters. Getting there can be up to an 18-hour hike. The scenery, overnight stays with local families and stories from the guide will make it a memorable experience.
Laguna Lachuá National Park, Alta Verapaz
This beautiful national park, highlighted by a turquoise and emerald lagoon surrounded by lush jungle, is just two hours from Cobán. It is easy to set up a guided tour with a local agency, such as Cobán Travels, or explore on your own. If you take the bus from Cobán, just tell the ayudante (helper) to let you off at the park entrance. If you don’t arrange a private tour, remember to pack everything you would need for one or two nights camping.
From the road, it’s a 4-kilometer hike to the eco-lodge perched at the edge of this spectacular lagoon. For a nominal fee, you can stay in one of the bunks with a mosquito net or camp nearby if you bring your tent.
Due to the remote location, you’ll have a chance to see a range of wildlife, including parrots, toucans, and howler monkeys. There is a dock at the lake but swim at your own risk – crocodiles are common. This is one of those few places where you can really relax and get away from it all.
Cuevas de Candelaria, Alta Verapaz
While you’re in the area, using Co-bán as a starting point, be sure to continue the adventure at Cuevas de Candelaria National Park, located between Chisec and Raxruhá on Km. 309. You can take a bus directly from Cobán (approximately 2.5 hours) or drive to the site, with convenient parking right off the highway.
This rarely visited national gem offers one of the largest and most impressive cave systems in all of Latin America. An ecological hotspot, it is also a sacred ceremony site of the local Q’eqchi Maya. Guides can set you up on a scenic float through the caves using an inner tube and headlamp. You can also explore the formations on foot.
The best place for lodging is in nearby Chisec, especially the beloved “dinosaur” hotel, which boasts a dinosaur statue out front. Relax in the pool and enjoy air-conditioned rooms. Tours can be arranged locally at Puerta al Mundo Maya (www.puertaalmundomaya.com.gt), a member of the local community- based tourism organization Viviente Verapaz (www.vivienteverapaz.com).
Las Conchas, Chahal, Alta Verapaz
If you’re looking for a diverse jungle, river and cave experience, this is the trip for you. The Salazar family has opened a beautiful eco-hotel and farm called El Oasis Chiyu. Overlooking the Chiyu River, this lovely hotel features four private rooms and a dormitory and serves yummy vegetarian meals with ingredients grown at the farm.
The hotel can also arrange your guided tours. Enjoy swimming—and, depending on the water level, of course, maybe leap off the 10-meter Las Conchas waterfall. While exploring the surrounding jungle, visit the Setzol Caves, a huge complex of impressive formations and natural windows looking out over the enormous ceiling and river below. To turn it up a few notches, try overnight cave and jungle trekking. You’ll hit all the highlights of the Petén jungle with the unique experience of sleeping in the cave.