Lanquin - Lanquin is a small town located 64 kilometers west of Cobán (3 ½ hour's bus ride). Just off the central park is a 400 year-old church containing an original silver altar and many religious relics. Located 1 km. from town is the cave of Lanquin through which flows the Rio Lanquin (take your own flashlight; it has happened that the lights in the cave go off unexpectedly, in which case you are trapped until someone decides to turn them on again). The first night in Lanquin, whether you explore the cave or not, you should go out to the river's edge at dusk to watch the bats fly out of the cave. It is most definitely an impressive sight to watch several millions of bats swarm out of the cave and fly down the river. You can swim in the river that flows out of the cave (if you like). If you have a tent, you can camp at the mouth of the cave.
Services: Hotel El Recreo is very nice ($15); cheaper hotels without private baths include Hogar del Turista (Q12), Divina Providencia (Q15), and El Retiro (beautifully situated next to the Cahabon river 300 meters from town on the road to Cahabon - Q20). It's not a bad idea to buy some cheese and snacks in the supertienda in Cobán before you leave so you have something good to eat during the journey. Also, the last bank and ATM until Peten are in Cobán, so you'd better get all the cash you need there.
How to get there: you will need a minimum of 3 days (unless you take the one-day tour: it's a long drive, 8 hours on the road to and from - see the "Tours" section of the Lodging and Services page for details of the one-day tour. Cost = about $35 / person, 3-person minimum). Buses for Lanquin leave Cobán a block from the terminal de buses market at 6 and 11 am and 1 and 3 pm, and get you into Lanquin about 3 hours later. The cost is Q8.
Semuc Champey - This is a series of Travertine pools and waterfalls in virgin rainforest, located 11 kilometers from Lanquin. The place is incredible; you have to see it to believe it. Also it's a really fun and beautiful place to swim in and explore. When the water (which is rich in calcite) passes over the lip of a dam, it is agitated, which causes the water to evaporate and deposit calcite on the top of the dam. Thus the dams are being built up faster than normal erosion can wear them down. The pools and waterfalls occur on top of a huge cave through which flows the Rio Cahabon.
Services: Entrance fee is Q20; parking fee is Q5. You can buy cold beer and soft drinks from the government commissary at the entrance, but not food. There is a dressing room to change into bathing suits. There are places to picnic and barbecue. If you have a tent, there is a place to camp. The latrines leave something to be desired.
How to get there: Leave your heavy belongings in the hotel in Lanquin - just take a day pack with swimming suit, towel, and food. EARLY in the morning, get yourself out on the road to Champey. There's lots of coffee / cardamom fincas on that road, and the finqueros will give you free rides. You can also rent a pickup truck in Lanquin to take you and bring you back for about Q 120 (ask around). Or, you can walk: it's a 3-hour walk down, and a 3-hour walk back (through tremendous heat - 11 km up and down the mountain from Lanquin).
Traveling From Lanquin to Points West and North:
To go to Rio Dulce: Buses leave from Cahabon to Rio Dulce at 6 am, therefore it is necessary to spend the night in Cahabon (2 hour bus ride from Lanquin).
Heading north from Lanquin: Take the 5 am or 7 am bus from Lanquin to Pajal (the crossroads). The buses from Cobán to Sebol pass Pajal at roughly 7:30, 8:30, and 8:45 am. From Sebol, you can take a bus to Raxruja. You can either hitch a ride with a pick-up or ride a bus to Sayaxche. From Sayaxche you can catch a bus to Flores, Peten. A good place to stay in Raxruja is Hospedaje Agua Verde.
To go to Poptun: Take the 5 am or 7 am bus from Lanquin to Pajal (the crossroads). Flag a bus or truck going to Fray Bartolomeo Las Casas (known locally as "Fray" or "Las Casas"). In Las Casas take a truck going to Poptun. There is a bus from Las Casas to Poptun, but it leaves at 3:00 am, arriving in Poptun at 8:00 am.
Proyecto Eco-Quetzal (PEQ) - PEQ takes tourists to remote areas of the rainforest which are only accessible on foot. The guides are rural Q'eqchi' Mayans who sometimes know very little Spanish, but who know the forest intimately and have received thorough training as guides. They take visitors by bus, launch, and on foot to the heart of the rainforest. The visitor stays in the guides' homes (which have been outfitted with beds, mattresses, latrines, bathing facilities, and boiled drinking water). You share in daily k'ekchi life, hear the stories of the aldeas, and with luck might participate in Q'eqchi' rituals and celebrations. In addition you will experience beauty of the subtropical rainforest, and in all likelihood will see the resplendent quetzal bird in its natural habitat. Participation in this project is not only a unique cross-cultural exchange opportunity, but also helps protect the vanishing rainforest.
Services: For Q 330 you get a guide for three days, lodging for two nights, 6 meals, registration fee. Q 110 for each additional night. The PEQ office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm and from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm. It is located at 2a Calle 14-36 Zone 1, Cobán . Tel/fax: 952-1047. Detailed descriptions of available tours are available by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This 10 year old NGO is dedicated to conserving and protecting the rainforests by offering economic alternatives to the indigenous occupants such as agricultural projects, candle manufacture using wax from the arrayan tree, and ecotourism. PEQ has lowered the deforestation rate to a 0.1% in the 70 square km area in which it operates.
Candelaria Caverns - The Candelaria Caverns are sacred to the K'ekchi Mayans. French explorer and current operator of the local eco-lodge, Daniel Dreux, claims that the caves and the subterranean river that runs through the nearly thirty kilometer extension are the home of Xibalbá, the Mayan Underworld depicted in the creation epic, Popul Vuh. In 1998, the cave complex was declared a national park. The Candelaria River passes through a series of mountains via a subterranean network of grottos. The principle gallery is monumental, with a width of 20 to 30 meters and a height of up to 60 meters, and it is filled with large blocks of breakdown and is graced by gigantic stalagmites. It is 200 meters long and has occasional natural windows to the outside world piercing its walls and ceiling, which create a light show on the rocks and water from the sunlight which filters through the jungle outside the cavern. Some of the caverns have carved ladders or platforms constructed by the Mayans. It is possible to swim in the river and sunbathe on the banks near the eco-camp.
Services: Tours of the caverns cost Q25, which includes a guide fluent in Spanish and French. It is also possible to rent boots and flashlights. The tour of the smallest cave takes 2 hours. It's also possible to tour the caverns in a boat; this tour takes two days and enables you to see parts of the caverns inaccessible by foot. This expedition costs Q250 and includes overnight accommodations. Make your reservation at least two days in advance with Sergio Sierra at Tel: 710-8753. Accommodations: At the eco-camp the French have built first-class bungalows and kitchens, with beautiful and peaceful gardens. The cost is US$ 50 per person per day, which includes all services and a tour of the cave. It is also possible to camp at the entrance at Doña America's in the Rancho Rios Escondidos: in this case you should hire a guide at the Cooperativa Sechaj (see below).
How to get there: Two day (+ one night) tours are available which include food, lodging, and guided foot tour of the caverns; see the "Tours" section of the Lodging and Services page. If you are on your own: from Chisec take any microbus going to Raxruja or Fray Bartolome de las Casas for 25 kms. to the signs saying "Cuevas de Candelaria, Entrada a 100 metros". Enter here and go past the oil pipeline for 5 minutes to the eco-camp.
Laguna Lachua - Lake Lachua is like a little Caribbean sea set down in the tropical rainforest of Alta Verapaz. The lake is surrounded by lush vegetation including mahogany and cedar trees, and fauna such as jaguars (whose footprints can often be seen around the lake), giant shad which frequently pop out of the crystalline waters, and abundant birds such as parrots and toucans. In the distance - reflected in the mirror of the lake - you can see the wooded peaks El Peyan and La Sultana. The water of the lake contains so much calcium that the northern rim, where the water leaves the lake, has rock formations which appear like shells of calcite; and trees which fall into the water quickly turn into calcite skeletons. The water also has a high level of sulphur, which is where the name "Lachua" comes from (in Q'eqchi' "Li chu ha" means "the fetid water"). The sulphur indicates the probable presence of petroleum beneath the lake. If you cross the lake in a launch, what looks to be a white beach is actually a mire, so be careful not to sink into it.
The lake is 173 meters above sea level, and is 222 meters deep (thus beneath sea level), which is major puzzle for geologists. One theory holds that the lake was formed from a large salt deposit; another theory is that the lake is a meteorite crater, and the rest of the meteorite which formed the lakebed fell near Cobán in the Nim Tak'a depression, where one also finds meteoritic rocks of the same age as those around Lachua. Lachua is a National Park with a total area of 14,500 hectares (the lake itself occupies 400 hectares). The Peyan river empties into the lake, and the Lachua, Tzetoc and Del Altar rivers drain it. The climate is hot and extremely humid, with an average temperature of 26° C, rainfall of 3.3 meters, and humidity of 91%. The abundance of mahogany in the park has caused problems between conservationists and illicit loggers, who can earn up to ten times the going wages of a laborer by cutting down mahogany trees. The governmental authorities (UICN and INAB) who administer the park have adopted strategies of vigilance, and also seeking economic alternatives for the rural populations around the park. For example, UICN sells high-quality organic chile, chocolate, and honey made in the surrounding communities; by purchasing these products - as well as by visiting the lake - you can help the communities' sustainable economic projects.
Services: The park has a capacity of 84 day visitors and 21 overnight visitors, so it is not a good idea to visit during the Easter or Christmas holidays when it quickly becomes crowded. Admission costs Q40; boat rental Q7 per hour; and a guide costs Q30 (this must be arranged in advance at Tel: 7861-0086 / 87 or through Gregorio Guzman, grego2569@ yahoo.es). Dormitory beds with mosquito netting cost Q50, camping with your own tent costs Q25, tents can be rented for Q15 additional. There are showers, toilets, barbecue fireplaces, and a large round hut shelter. You must bring your own food and drinking water, and take your trash out when you leave.
How to get there: 2 day (+ 1 night) tours are available which include food, lodging, and guide; see the "Tours" section of the Lodging and Services page. If you're on your own: from the northern bus terminal in Coban (in front of INJAV) take a minibus going to Playa Grande and ask the driver to let you off at Laguna Lachua. It is a 4 km walk (1 hour) to the visitor's center.
Jungle hike to Río Ikbolay - This deep blue river winds its way through the jungle and disappears behind a mountain barrier, continuing its way below the surface in caves. The water reemerges in natural spring fountains and is so saturated with calcium that it cements its own path through the virgin forest. There is a beautiful cave, formerly also an underground arm of the river, with gorgeous white stalagmites. The Q´eqchi´ host community of Rokjá Pomptilá colonized this area twenty years ago. They are growing cardamom below primary forest shadow. They will guide you and share their everyday life in the jungle with you. The community is beautifully situated at the edge of the river, which is always inviting for a refreshing bath. The community of Rokjá sits right in one of the biggest tropical rainforest reserves of Guatemala in the vicinity of Laguna Lachuá. Your visit helps this community to keep on protecting their forest.
Services: A tour costs Q 330 for three days and two nights, guide, food and bed included. Every additional night Q 110. A motor boat round trip to the natural spring fountains costs an additional Q 100. See Proyecto Eco-Quetzal, above. You can contact your guide in Eco-Quetzal, Cobán, 2a Calle 14-36, Z 1, Tel: 952 1047, Email: email@example.com.
Rafting on the Cahabon River - Class IV river trips down the Cahabon and Polochic rivers pass through beautiful canyons and tropical rainforests. Top-notch physical condition is required.
Services: Maya Expeditions, 15 Calle 1-91 Zone 10, Guatemala City - local #104. Tel: 363-4955, Fax 337-4666, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, offers tours lasting from 1 to 4 days.