Cobán is located in the cool, humid mountains of northern Guatemala. Its lush, subtropical cloud forests are perched on top of the watershed dividing the Yucatán Peninsula: the pristine rivers of Alta Verapaz feed into the Chixoy-Usumacinta system (Gulf of Mexico) to the west, and into Lake Izabal-Rio Dulce (Caribbean Sea) to the east. Cobán is the center of Guatemala's gourmet coffee-growing region, and also produces cardamom and allspice for export. Cobán is often called the Imperial City because it was chartered by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (hence the churches in Alta Verapaz exhibit Mayan versions of the Hapsburg double-eagle on their facades).
What to see: The Verapaces harbor some of the greatest attractions in Guatemala: Semuc Champey, a place where one river flows over another in a series of natural pools and waterfalls; Lake Lachua, like a little Caribbean sea set down in the tropical rainforest of Alta Verapaz; Candelaria, a cave big enough to build a cathedral inside. There are huge coffee fincas (plantations) and cloud forest where you can see the famous feathered serpent, the Quetzal. You can go trekking, caving, and white water rafting, and see Mayan holy places and ceremonies.
The people: Because of its unique history (Alta Verapaz was never "conquered"; rather, Juan Matalbatz, the chieftain of the warlike K´ekchi Maya, voluntarily converted to Christianity and allied himself with the Dominican priests), the indigenous people of Alta Verapaz have preserved their language and customs to a remarkable degree. The dominant language of the Alta Verapaz remains K'ekchi, and Pocomchí, not Spanish. The K´ekchi´s and Pocomchís are shy and wary of strangers, but if you can say a few words in their language, they become warm and friendly ("en-kwan-bee" means "hello"; "ban-tee-osh" means "thank-you"). From the late nineteenth century to the second world war Alta Verapaz was colonized by German coffee finqueros, and Cobán became a cosmopolitan outpost of European civilization.
The climate: The elevation of Cobán is 5000 feet and the average temperature is 70 degrees. Annual rainfall of 70 inches makes the countryside green and lush. The dry season (March through May) can be quite hot; the winter months (December - January) very cold and damp. There are no particular health hazards in highland Verapaz, so no special precautions are necessary (however it is advisable to avoid eating street food).
How to get to Cobán: Buses from Guatemala City leave hourly from Transportes Escobar (8 Avenida 15-16 Zone 1 - Tel: 2251-1878) every day except Christmas. During holidays (Easter week, September 15th, Christmas - New Years) it is advisable to purchase tickets a day in advance.
Note: The trip from Cobán to Peten can be accomplished by regular scheduled buses from Transportes Fuentes del Norte. See also: ( BUS SCHEDULES page). This offers the ambitious traveler a chance to see the striking beauty of the Alta Verapaz usually only seen by the local inhabitants.
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