Guatemala: Part I

On my way home from Peru I visited my aunt and uncle living in Cobán, Guatemala. I really enjoyed my time exploring some of the country and intend to revisit next year. Traveling can be tiring and I was definitely feeling it after nearly two months of being away from home. Luckily my aunt and uncle were very hospitable and welcomed me with open arms into their loving home.

Cobán

Cobán is a really nice small town located in the center of Guatemala. It still preserves its Mayan heritage – Q’eqchi’ is the Mayan dialect that is commonly spoken around town. My aunt and uncle have been living in Cobán for 20 years and they toured me around to some of the popular attractions while sharing a lot of interesting information.

I was lucky enough to be in town during the annual religious festival; there was also a fair and various food and souvenir vendors in action. I got to see and do a good amount of interesting things throughout my visit.

Biotopo de Quetzal

My uncle and I stopped by here on our way to his house from the airport. Visiting in August I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing the elusive Quetzal (Guatemala’s national bird) as the months it’s seen are March and June. The Biotopo is one of their natural habitats and they are best seen while the trees are bearing fruit and during the sunrise/ morning hours.

Guatemala is popular for eco-tourism – and the Biotopo de Quetzal is among the places to visit and only costs about 10 GTQ ($1.50) to enter. This cloud-forest has various species of trees, plants and animals. There are two walking trails to choose from with a varying level of difficulty. The Los Helechos (The Ferns) trail is 1.2 miles (2 km) long, while the Los Musgos (The Mosses) trail is about 2.5 miles (4 km) long. Either trail is relaxing and they both lead you to a few beautiful waterfalls.

Grutas del Rey Marcos

I love exploring caves – coming here was a real treat. The Grutas del Rey Marcos cave system goes very deep underground and even has a river that runs through it. The stalactites and stalagmites formations found after crossing the interior river are very impressive. They have been growing for many decades and are the biggest I have seen.

A local tour guide will escort you through the cave and tell you several facts regarding the cave system. Helmets with headlights and rubber boots are included with the 30 GTQ ($4) entrance fee. The safety equipment is totally necessary as there are a few tough areas that’ll have you crawl, crouch and keep your head down to avoid bumping against some of the cave’s low ceilings. The guide will take you to a quiet area and have you turn off your headlight to feel the cave’s energy and make a wish.  My uncle and I had a great time, but this experience may not be fun for everyone – especially if you are claustrophobic.

There are also hiking trails and swimming ponds available for visitors once done exploring the cave. It’s a beautiful area with a tranquil atmosphere. There are lodge cabins for guests wanting to stay overnight too. Locals crowd the swimming ponds during the warmer summer months.

Orquigonia

The Orchid Sanctuary found in Cobán is a fascinating place for anyone that appreciates flowers and nature. It’s a guided tour that costs about 40 GTQ ($5.50) – lasts about 1.5 hours and thoroughly informs you on the ins and outs of this unique species of plant. It’s a very relaxing stroll through a private forest reservation that features over 400 types of orchids. You’ll start the tour by watching a video about the sanctuary’s history and the tour ends with a complimentary tea. It was an overall nice experience. 

Ecocentro Chamché

Located just outside of Cobán is this neighborhood zoo/park found in the small town called Tactic . There is a public pool, children’s playground and covered BBQ areas but the highlight is the mini-zoo. Entrance cost is only 10 GTQ ($1.50) and while it is a somewhat run down zoo the animals they feature are pretty exotic. I was really surprised to see some of the animals they had, you can get really close to them actually – I had never gotten so close to a tiger before, its size is really intimidating. All the animals seemed to be approachable and well nourished which was nice to see. Overall I had a good time here and would say it’s worth the visit if you are in the area already. 

I didn’t get to check out any of the Coffee or Tea farms/tours this time because my focus was going to Tikal: Guatemala: Part II. But if I did have more time I would of loved to participate in the Chicoj Coffee Tour. There are many fun things to do in Guatemala, i’m already planning to come back next year to do some more exploration. Happy Travels!

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