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Top Guatemala

The Verapaces

The geographical heart of Guatemala known as the Verapaces – in fact, the two departments of Alta Verapaz to the north and Baja Verapaz to the south – is a beautifully green area. From the drier valleys around Salamá, the land rises into low mountains covered with misty cloudforest, then north of Cobán, its only real city, evens out into cardamom-planted hills, from which bulge curious limestone bumps. It is a land of hidden waterfalls, gently rushing rivers, mysterious caves, and offers lots of outdoors adventures, from spelunking to underground river tubing and quetzal-spotting hikes.

If you like to know where your caffeine comes from, you can also visit one of the many coffee plantations, or even a tea plantation. Indeed the region is a very agricultural one; Alta Verapaz concentrates 80% of Guatemala's cardamom production, Guatemala being the number exporter of the aromatic seeds, and Baja Verapaz exports vegetable seeds and ornamental ferns around the world. The area is also an indigenous stronghold, where many people in the rural areas speak Qeqchi before Spanish and still practice ancient Maya rites. Although the region is home to one of Guatemala's major attractions, the spectacular pools of Semuc Champey, it is still not overly touristy. Enough visitors come that the infrastructure is there, from shuttles to hotels, but you are not swamped by touts as in Flores or Antigua. In fact, as a foreigner wandering the colorful small-town markets, you will more likely attract shy giggles and friendly smiles.

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
11 Dec 2009

Things to do in The Verapaces

Templo El Calvario

135116Built atop a hill overlooking Cobán, the temple is 137 steps away from the city center. At the start of the long stairway, visitors are greeted by a shrine where locals pray and leave offerings. ...
Historical Building
Cobán, Guatemala

Cuevas de B’ombi’l Peq

136640The cave of B’ombi’l Peq can be explored on a proper rappelling and speleological adventure, squeezing into the narrow holes that lead into a chamber with wall paintings. Organize through ...
Other Activity
Around Chisec, Chisec, Guatemala

Las Conchas de Chahal

136590A bit like Semuc Champey but with a fraction of the tourists, Parque Natural Las Conchas is a set of waterfalls on the RĂ­o ChiyĂş tumbling into tranquil green pools amid tropical rainforest. While ...
National Park


136564The market bubbles with life every day, and is a good place to stroll, taking in the smells, the colors and textures of all manners of fresh fruit and vegetables, weighed on hand-held scales, or ...
Salamá, Guatemala

Temple of Minerva

136560This slightly unimpressive replica of the structure of a Greek temple was built in 1916 by liberal president Manuel Estrada Cabrera in honor of Minerva, goddess of knowledge, in the hope to encourage ...
Historical Building
Salamá, Guatemala

Villa Deportiva

136558Once the Alcatraz of Guatemala, the former maximum-security prison of Salamá now serves as an area for football matches and other sports. There is not very much to see nowadays, but the impregnable ...
Historical Building
Salamá, Guatemala

Iglesia del Calvario

136557The neo-classical Calvario church, built in 1899 on the site of an ancient Mayan cemetery, is reached by a climb up 120 steps. It houses a Señor de Esquipulas or Black Christ, which is celebrated on ...
Historical Building
Salamá, Guatemala

Iglesia San Mateo

136556The 16th-century colonial church sits just on the parque central and its pretty baroque façade looks best at the end of the afternoon, as the rays of the setting sun hit it. Inside, there are a ...
Historical Building
Salamá, Guatemala

Vivero Verapaz

135120A visit to this orchid haven is interesting whether you are a plant-lover or not. The nursery is home to more than 400 of the 770 orchid species found in Guatemala. The best time to visit is between ...
Other Activity
Cobán, Guatemala

Museo El PrĂ­ncipe Maya

135118For history and culture buffs, this private museum is a must. Despite its small scale, it showcases an impressive display of Mayan artifacts, ceramic ritual plates, weapons and jade jewelry. With ...
Cobán, Guatemala

Parque Las Victorias

135117Further north of Templo El Calvario is a densely forested nature reserve that acts as a retreat from the city. This 84-hectare national park is close to the city center, and has extensive walking ...
Cobán, Guatemala
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