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Las Conchas de Chahal - National Park - Guatemala

A bit like Semuc Champey but with a fraction of the tourists, Parque Natural Las Conchas is a set of waterfalls on the Río Chiyú tumbling into tranquil green pools amid tropical rainforest. While the highest of the waterfalls forms a white curtain several meters high, the currents beneath are not so strong and you can swim across the pools. A series of boardwalks lead off to viewpoints above the whole river and if you climb all the way up the final ladder to the mirador atop a tree on a small island, you will find that it was worth every minute of the long, bone-jarring ride. Indeed, one of the reasons that the balneario is such a great uncrowded getaway is that it is out of the way, where the hills of Alta Verapaz roll into the Petén and Izabal. The park itself is fitted with picnic tables, BBQs, changing rooms and bathrooms, but there is nowhere to buy food (except during Semana Santa) and if you come on a weekday, there might not even be anyone manning the ticket booth (in which case you can just walk right in).

To reach the park, you need to get to Chahal, an hour and a half from either Fray Bartolomé de las Casas or Río Dulce on bumpy dirt roads (the trip costs about $2), then from the market in Chahal, catch a microbus to Las Conchas (1h, $1). The park entrance is marked.

Because microbuses to Las Conchas only go every hour and a half and service ends early (3 p.m.), you want to get an early start. While you could go on a day trip from Fray, Río Dulce or Chahal (where the infrastructure is very basic), a better plan is to spend the night at Oasis Chiyú, a rustic hostel in the community of Las Conchas, and a 30-minute walk from the park on a jungle path. The spacious wooden hostel, built and operated by a friendly American-Japanese couple, offers basic rooms for $7 and home-cooked meals for $5 to $6; there is a huge deck with hammocks, a good book exchange, you can dip in the Río Chiyú at the bottom of the garden, and the owners offer adventure tours to caves and Maya communities starting at $10. While “rustic” here means no electricity and compost toilets, it is truly an oasis of quiet, perfect for the most nature-oriented souls. E-mail: tierramadretours@yahoo.com, URL: www.naturetoursguatemala.com.

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