Pleasant Cobán sits amid evergreen forests and coffee-studded mountains, making an excellent gateway for exploring nearby natural attractions. It has good hotels and food, as well as a tranquil country atmosphere. A small national park lies square in the middle of town.
Though it is no stranger to urban sprawl and noise, the tranquility of this small town quickly reveals itself to you as you walk down its quieter side streets away from the noisy central area.
Cobán can sometimes feel a bit dreary, as much of the year sees the presence of a rainy mist known as chipi chipi, though it’s not nearly as prominent nowadays because of local climate change from deforestation.
Still, there’s something upbeat about this place and the abundance of nearby natural wonders gives it an entirely different feel from towns in the Western Highlands.
The town and its surroundings are an important gourmet coffee–growing center and also produce cardamom and allspice for export. The town is often referred to as the “Imperial City,” owing to its charter by Emperor Charles V in 1538. More recently, in the 19th century Cobán saw an influx of German families, who came to dominate the local culture and economy owing to their fortunes made growing coffee for export. The United States pressured the Guatemalan government to remove the Germans from the country during World War II. There are still bits of German influence here and there, giving the city its distinctive air.
Cobán is home to a yearly folklore festival taking place in late July or early August known as Rabin Ajau, in which a Mayan beauty queen is selected from among various hopefuls. Another important event is the annual orchid show held here in December.
A number of excellent outfitters have regular departures for the Lanquín caves and Semuc Champey Natural Monument as well as the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera and points farther afield. Cobán makes a great place to regroup and get information before heading out on deeper explorations of all that Las Verapaces have to offer.
An excellent resource for planning a trip can be found online at www.cobanav.net.
Getting to Cobán
The situation with public bus transport in Cobán is rather chaotic, as different buses heading for different places leave from various parts of town despite the presence of (in theory) a central bus terminal. You can find complete bus schedules for virtually any place you might want to go from Cobán at www.cobanav.net/bus.php. Check the Cobán map in this travel guide for pickup locations for the various destinations.
Casa D’Acuña (4a Calle 3-11 Zona 2, tel. 7951-0482 or 7951-0484, casadeacuna [at] yahoo [dot] com) runs daily shuttles to Tikal and Antigua leaving at 6 a.m. and costing $28 one-way. You can get off at intermediate points such as Chisec, Candelaria, Sayaxché, and Flores on the trip north, or at the Quetzal Biotope heading to Antigua.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com