Planning Your Time
You could easily spend your entire Guatemalan holiday in Las Verapaces and it would be entirely worth it. But, time being the finite entity that it is, you’ll probably have to narrow your stay to your particular interests.
If you’re entering the region from the south along Highway CA-14, you might want to take a detour west to Salamá if your visit coincides with its annual fiesta during September. The nearby town of San Jerónimo is certainly worth a stop for its pleasant atmosphere and an excellent museum dedicated to the history of sugar production, of which it was the first center in Central America.
North along Highway CA-14, the newly established Cloud Forest Biological Corridor is shaping up as a wonderful spot to explore a variety of natural attractions along the road to Cobán. Among these are some of the highest waterfalls in Central America at El Salto de Chilascó, on the border of the well-preserved cloud forests of the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve.
Cobán still serves as the most convenient base for exploring all that the region has to offer and has some wonderful restaurants and hotels in addition to a pleasing mountain atmosphere. East of Cobán are the must-see turquoise pools and waterfalls of Semuc Champey Natural Monument and the nearby caves of Lanquín.
Lovers of cave exploration will want to spend some time in the area around Chisec, north of Cobán, where there are numerous cave formations, including the sinkhole of B’omb’il Pek and the spectacular Candelaria Caves National Park just a little farther north. Archaeology buffs will not be left wanting for attractions here, as the Mayan site of Cancuén, still being excavated and restored, lies north of here just across the border of Petén.
Last but certainly not least is the almost perfectly circular turquoise lake in Laguna Lachuá National Park; a magnificent azure lagoon in the flat jungles of northwestern Alta Verapaz.
Baja (Lower) Verapaz is the name given to the southernmost of the two departments. It is fringed by semiarid plains at its southern extremes before mountains, most notably the impressive Sierra de las Minas, rise and give way to lush cloud forests. The department is bisected by a number of flat valleys, the most important being the lush river valley that is home to its departmental capital of Salamá. A number of other interesting towns can be found along this corridor extending west toward the department of El Quiché.
To the east, the Sierra de las Minas extends into Alta (Upper) Verapaz before descending into the neighboring flatlands of Izabal department. The two regions’ unique ecosystems together comprise the bulk of all biodiversity found in Guatemala.
To the north, Baja Verapaz again meets the department of Alta Verapaz. Its departmental capital, Cobán, lies north of this boundary in a lush valley flanked by green hills and coffee farms at a comfortable altitude of 1,500 meters (5,000 feet). To the north, the mountains give way to smaller limestone hills and flatlands pockmarked by a variety of caves and sinkholes. The jungle flatlands extend west into the Ixcán region of Quiché and northward into Petén.
The entry point for most travelers making their way into this region is from the south via highway CA-14, which branches off from the semiarid plains west of Guatemala City at El Rancho Junction and climbs its way northward into the mountains of Baja Verapaz. An excellent paved highway also leads south from Petén into Alta Verapaz, from where you can see the rugged limestone peaks off in the distance. It is one of Guatemala’s most wonderfully scenic stretches of highway.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com