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Alta Verapaz

By the time of the Spaniards' arrival, the Tezulutlan territory was being occupied by the Kekchi, Pocomchi, Achi and other groups. The conquest of this territory was carried out quite peacefully by the Dominican friars, led by Friar Bartolome de las Casas. During the first colonial years, Las Verapaces was run by the Cacique (prince) Don Juan Metalbatz, who managed the province as a governor. Besides the modern-day departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz the departments of Peten, Belice and part of Izabal were also part of this province.

By the end of the 19th century, both Englishmen and Germans started colonizing the area in order to settle their coffee plantations. Agricultural production grew considerably and an the development of cardamom crops was encouraged. In order to ship the coffee produced in the region, the Germans built the Verapaz Railroad which reached the lakeside of lake Izabal.

The climate is cold and there is a dense fog constantly covering the region, which causes the continuos so-called “chipi chipi”, a kind of constant fine-misted rain. Coban, previously know as Tezulutlan has a very steep landscape, with very fertile hills and mountains. The region is characterized by its changing features, different altitudes and several climates from the hot climate of Panzos to the cold of Tactic.

Its population is mixed, but the majority is of Kekchi and Pocomchi origin. The region’s main economic activity is agriculture, which has adapted to the different altitudes and latitudes and produces mostly coffee, corn, tea, cocoa, paper seed cardamom and other crops. Besides agriculture the mining industries and oil drilling industry are of certain importance in this area.

Coban’s vast cave system of the area, is not only interesting for international cave explorers, but also provides room to wildlife. One of the most interesting specimens of plants growing in the region is the Monja Blanca, the national flower. Additionally, its forests serve as a natural habitat for the Quetzal bird.

Alta Verapaz is a mountainous territory with no high elevations. It is located at the center of the national territory. The department of Alta Verapaz is a famous destination among birdwatchers.

Places to visit in Alta Verapaz

City of Coban

The City of Coban was founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, more precisely on August 4th, 1543. It is located in the Cahabon river basin along an irregular landscape combination of hills and plains. It has a temperate climate of around an average of 19 degrees Celsius.

The city is mixture of colonial architecture with some German influence. It is famous for its silver craftsmanship. There are several interesting sights and landmarks to visit:

The church of el Calvario

Located on a hill 5 blocks away from the central park this beautiful Mirador with a nice view over the city, can be reached by a 1355-step staircase. It was built nearly 150 years ago by the indigenous community under supervision of the Casique Francisco Pop. Next to the church you will find a cemetery which was closed due to its proximity to the city. The Cristo del Calvario is worshiped at this church and was sculpted by Quirio Cataño. There is a service every Sunday both in Kekchi tongue and Spanish.

The Cathedral

The cathedral was built in 1543 when the Verapaces bishopric was formed. It is known for its beautiful carvings. To the right on the altar, inside a glass showcase, there is silver jewelry on display that were sent from Spain right after the city was founded. There are also chandeliers, mass books and other religious articles.

Vero Verapaces

This is a peculiar complete collection of orchids, consisting of more than 60,000 specimens from 750 different varieties. While there you’ll also be able to admire a forest of giant ferns. Flower post are made out of this root-like bark which are later used to plant the orchids, and also provide shadow. You’ll also find a collection of bonsai trees. It is open to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. the most convenient time to visit the nursery is between October and February, months when the orchids bud.

Coban’s faires

Its main fair is celebrated from 31st July to 6th August honoring its patron saint Santo Domingo de Guzmân. Several activities take place, such as social, religious, cultural and sporting events. The most notable one is the Folkloric Festival Coban.

San Cristobal Verapaz

San Cristobal Verapaz is located 20 minutes from Coban. This villajge is located next to the chichoj lagoon. The church of San Cristobal was built in 1652. Its facade is well ornamented with lobe arches with a Mudejar influence. It still has its valuable silver carvings.

The local fair is celebrated from July 21st to July 26th. It honors Santiago Apostol, with several social, religious, cultural and sporting events and stages folkloric dances such as Moros, Diablos, Venados, samakety and coxol.

Lachua National Park

This park is located in the northwestern part of Altaverapaz. It covers an area of 10.0000 hectares. Its ecosystem is considered to be the best-kept in the country. Its vegetation is vast and is said to contain species that have not yet been documented by botanists.

The lagoon resembles an almost perfectly rounded mirror with a surface area of 5sq. kilometers and depths that reach up to 220 meters; its waters are pleasantly warm and sulphurous.

Currently the park houses almost 6 kilometers of informative trails. Its visitor center has sanitary booths, a circular shelter hut that for up to 25 people and a cooking place. It also has a park keeper house and a small parking area. The Lachua National Park is located 3 hours from Chisec. To reach the park take the highway that leads to Chisec and playa Grande from Coban. The entrance to the park is in Villa San Marcos, 414 kilometers from Guatemala city.

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is located in the Lank municipal district along the Cahabon river. It is characterized by a 500 meter long natural land bridge. The Cahabon river runs underneath these rock masses for about 300 meters. On top of the rock formation within a small canyon-like formation made of sedimentary and limestone rock (typical for the Polochic valley), there are several 1-3-meter-deep pools. Its warm, very humid and sub-tropical climate favor a wide variety of vegetation and tree canopies. The rich wildlife consists of birds, mammals, insects and crustaceans with a variety of no less than 20 sub-species in each genus.

How to get to the site: from Guatemala City to Coban, then take the road that leads to Lankin (65 kilometers) through an unpaved road (8 kilometers) in a 4X4 vehicle or walking.

Candelare Caves

This place is unique. Inside these caves you will find a river flowing until deep into the cave as well as many small streams - some of them even navigable. There are also some pre-Hispanic remains inside and a wide range of cave wildlife. This place is ideal for both cave explores and adventures.

Lanquin Caves National Park

These caves are some of the most known caves in the Republic of Guatemala. They formed a magnificent net of galleries of enigmatic beauty. Originating at the entrance Lanquin River runs for 12 kilometers and finally merges with Cahabon River.

The Cahabon River

Guatemala is a mountainous nation with an abundance of river and stream resources. So it should come as no surprise that rafting has taken off in recent years. Guatemala’s clear blue rapids range from Class II to Class V and in spite of Guatemala’s dry season running from December to May, there’s almost always a river open for rafting or kayaking. Not only are the drops spectacular, but especially on the Caribbean side rafters are likely to encounter monkeys, toucans, and parrots as they twist and turn their way down to sea level. It is becoming popular to combine biking with rafting tours and a recent British group celebrated in the Pacific crossing in ten days. Cahabon River is an ideal place to practice rafting and kayaking all year long and is surrounded of beautiful landscapes and places for camping, observe and explore nature or just for meditation.

Lachua Lagoon National Park

It has a length of approximately 4 km² of surface. The park is located in a very warm valley between the Icbolay and Chixoy Rivers, the Peyan and Nueve Cerros Mountains. It is a place surrounded by forests and wild fauna, in a tropical-raining environment.

Las Victorias National Park

This park is one of the most attractive and visited places in the department. It has an extension of 84 hectares and is an excellent destination for ecotourism, natural recreation, research and education. It is located inside the city perimeter of Coban.

Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve

It is located on the southeast side of the department and it reaches up to the Mululja, La Cucaracha and Raxon Mountains at the Sierra de las Minas Mountain Chain. A very beautiful place but difficult to access. It is an ideal place for mountain climbing.

Candelaria Caves and River

It is an extraordinary place where a river flows into a very big cave. The stream reaches a length of 19 kilometers before becoming a subterranean river.

El Pozo Vivo

El Pozo Vivo is a water renascence with an extremely low stream located in the Southern part of Tactic. It has a diameter of approximately 18 meters. Because of the soil’s conditions, the most even soft step around the site makes the waters move.

Las Islas Swimming Place

It is located 4 km from San Pedro Carcha and has an emerald stream. It is the ideal frame to receive visitors. There are ranchos (houses made of palms), broilers, and many places to swim.

Local fairs

Coban, August 4; Cahabon, September 6; Chahal, August 28; Chisec, June 29; Fray Bartolome de las Casas, September 30; Lanquin, August 26; Panzos, August 30; San Cristobal Verapaz, May 3; San Pedro Carcha, June 24; San Juan Chamelco, June 24; Santa Cruz Verapaz, May 3; Senahu, June 13; Tactic, August 15; Tamahu, January 25; Tucuru, May 8.

Map of Alta Verapaz


View Alta Verapaz Department - Coban in a larger map

Panoramic View of Semuc Champey