Baja Verapaz is located in the center of the country, with an altitude of 2617 m a.s.l. The region covers 3.124 square km, 2.9% of the overall country’s area. Baja Verapaz was instituted as a department on May 4th, 1877, when the Verapaces region was divided. 57% of the population is indigenous, with various sub-ethnic groups, such as the Achi, Pocomchi, Quiche and Cackchiquel. The region’s original name was Tucurtan, sometimes written Tuzulutlan or Tezulutlan.
The economy of Baja Verapaz is based on sugar cane plantations, vegetables, grains and cereals, as well as small industry of manufacture and commerce.
Places to visit in Baja Verapaz:
This is the department’s capital city. It covers an area of 776 square km and is located 147 km from Guatemala City in the Urran valley, with an altitude of 960 m. It has a warm climate. The region can be reached by a system of paved roads. In Quiche tongue, Salama means “River of wood planks” or “Wood planks on the Water”. The exact date of its foundation is not known. It is however known that Friar Pedro de Angulo, the first Bishop for the territory, died on Good Wednesday in 1562 in Salama.
The church with its baroque facade is located at the central plaza It is an example of the Spanish colonial architecture of the 16th century. Its main navel and masonry dome have several Rococo carvings, gold laminates and paintings that depict scenes of the period. The church’s pulpit is also carved and is the only one of that kind, aside from one found in Peru.
The church of El Calvario was built in a very special location. After climbing a 120-step stair up a hill, you reach the atrium, which serves as a natural Mirador from which the whole city can be seen.
There is a Temple of Minerva in Salama (an imitation of the classic Greek temples) , with its republican architecture of the 19th century. It was built during president Estrada Cabrera’s term in office, which stayed in power for three consecutive terms on an autocratic ticket. It celebrates the Minervalias of cultural feasts, honoring the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Rabinal is located in the Urran valley, in the western part of the region. It covers an area of 504 square km, with an altitude of 982 m a.s.l. It was formerly named Ropenal. In 1538, Friar Bartolome de las Casas and Friar Pedro de Angulo founded the town of Rabinal in a nearby location.
There are several archaeological sites in Rabinal. El Cajiu where religious festivities are still celebrated is certainly the most outstanding one.
San Pablo Rabinal is one of the three Maya-Achi municipal districts in Baja Verapaz. This village is considered one of the most important and popular traditional cultural centers of Guatemala.
Several religious, social cultural and sporting events take place in honor of San Pablo Apóstol between the January 17th and the 25th. Also people perform the folkloric dances of Venados, Negritos, Diablos, El Chico Mudo, La Conquista, Animales, el Costeño, Huastecos, Santa Catarina, Moros, Marineros, el Tun, Convite or Enmascarados and Rabinal Achi.
Santa Cruz el Chol
This village is located 52 km from Salama. It covers an area of 142 square km and has an altitude of 1008 m a.s.l.
This village was founded in the 17th Century. Among its most interesting features is the 50-by-15-meter vault, which in pre-Hispanic times was used as a burial place for priests and children. Its catholic temple boasts very old effigies of saints as well as carved wooden altars, using the “chirriguresque” style of the 18th Century.
This is a village with a historic legacy dating back from the 16th Century. It is located on a wide valley 154 km away from Guatemala City, with a nice climate and vegetation common in the tropical region. It is situated in an altitude of 990 m, surrounded by the Santa Cruz, La Laguna, and Pachalum mountains.
Market days are Thursday and Sunday. Its main industries are alcoholic beverages and brown sugar loaf manufacturing as well as sugar cane plantations.
The local church with its Baroque altars, rich with saint statuettes and oil paintings, is a true jewel. It shows a painting by Cristóbal de Villalpando’s titled the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is considered one of Mexican painter’s best works.
San Miguel Chicaj
The old village is located in 940 m altitude, 9 km from Salama. Most of the population works in agriculture, ceramics, textile manufacturing and hemp objects.
The main fair here is celebrated from September 25th to the 29th, honoring San Miguel Arcangel. Several social, cultural, religion and sporting events take place, as well as various dances such as the dance of the Moors and El Costeño.
The villages covers 444 sq. km and is located in an altitude of 900 m. 68% of its population is of indigenous origin (mainly Quiche and Achi). It sits on Cubulco valley, next to the Sierra de Chuacus and borders with Baja Verapaz and Quiche. This small Achi village has colonial architectural traits. One can see a very common element of religious architecture from the years after the Conquista such as the fortress-like way churches and convents were built at the time.
The women here wear dresses that are said to be the most beautiful of the whole region. Especially the ceremonial huipil which is made of natural cotton and spun locally is famous. It has three side stripes brocaded with geometrical figures. You will recognize it since the color red is the dominant color and contrasts beautifully with the natural cotton background.
The fair here is celebrated on July 25th and honors their patron Saint Santiago. It takes place at the plaza, where the famous “Palo Volador” ceremony, a pre-Hispanic ritual dance, is staged.
Purulha covers an area of 248 sq. km and lies in an altitude of 1737 m. Its main fair is celebrated from June 10th to the 13th honoring of San Antonio de Padua, with religious, cultural, social and sporting events.
Biotopo del Quetzal Mario Dary Rivera - Quetzal Bird Reserve
Located in Purulha this conservation unit with a size of 1175 hectares is dominated by cloudy jungle and its mountains reaching an altitude of 2300 m. It is the best example of a managed system out of all natural communities of sub-tropical mountain climates in the country. The Biotopo has more than 50 different tree species that reach up to 120 feet high, including some specimens that are more than 450 years old. Its mountains function as a natural barrier against the storm currents that drain onto the gulf and Caribbean basins.
The most notable species of vegetation include the pines, oak trees, cypress, eucalyptus, rubber, chipe or “shut” bark trees (giant ferns), lichens, mosses, orchids, bromeliads, algae and other arboreal plants and ferns. In the animal kingdom, the most common species are the squirrels, wild rabbits, foxes, monkeys, apes, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes (both arboreal and terrestrial) salamanders, etc. A very special place is reserved for the Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. It is one of the only places it can be seen, especially early in the morning.
There are two main trails within the reserve complex: Short trail (Los Helechos): 2000 m of walking distance, approximately, this can be done in 45 min.
Long trail (Los Musgos): 4000 m of walking distance, approximately, which can be done in 3 h.
Activities for visitors include observation strolls through the trails. There is a cold-water natural pool for swimming. Both trails are highly educational and one can learn everything related to the water cycle.
This reserve has the following facilities: multiple-purpose hall, camping area, small parking area, shop, rest rooms, cafeteria, huts with tables and grills, and a shelter for 20 people.
The Biotopo is located 165 km from Guatemala City. You will reach it taking CA-14, which leads to Coban. The facilities are open to the public from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sierra de las minas Biosphere Reserve
It is the best-kept biological corridor with the richest in bio-diversity. It is formed by a chain of mountains with altitudes that range from 150 to 3000 m a.s.l. of rugged and steep hills covered by a huge blanket of vegetation. It has many natural streams and water beds. There is a large amount of stratified types of forest here: cloudy, conifer, rainy, spiny, old, all full of life. 70% of all vertebrate species documented in Guatemala live in Sierra de las Minas, making it a very important place due to the large diversity of ecosystems and species that live there.
There are recent studies supporting the theory that there are several species that haven’t been discovered or documented. These mountains are so steep that, in some parts, there have never been any human beings. Its huge variety and inaccessibility are the main reasons for its richness. There is a great part of the Sierra that is still not known, because a large part of its territory has not even been visited by scientists.
There are several varieties of trees here, especially cedar trees, oak trees, liquidamber and a huge variety of pines (conifers). These forests are also a natural shelter for large mammals, including jaguars pumas, deer and birds like the quetzal, the pajuil and the harpy eagle.
For visitors who want to reach the Sierra by themselves, there are two places with good accessibility: Chilasco and Los Albores.