by Cristóbal Ramírez
When it comes to Central America, most people think of ecotourism as the bailiwick of, say, Costa Rica, while Guatemala is thought of more in terms of archaeology, history and Mayan culture. But one of the remarkable things about this country is that it has all that as well as an impressive wealth of ecological treasures, combining the best of the Caribbean, the tropical jungles, and the cool mountain highlands. It’s a heady mix indeed – here are some highlights:
- Playa Blanca de Izabal This beach near the mellow coastal town of Livingston is a slice of the old-time, barefoot Caribbean, with luscious palm trees and a 600 metres (1,970 feet) lapped by absolutely crystalline water. No hotels or restaurants (though there is a beach shack that sells coconut and water), so all you have to do is luxuriate in the sunshine, splash around in the water, and drink in the unspoiled views. A definite cure for the winter blues if ever there was one.
- Pacaya Volcano At Central America’s most active volcano (one of three active ones in Guatemala), just 48 kilometres (30 miles) from Guatemala City, you can truly feel the heat of the lava and the power of mother earth, a power which has affected the course of this country’s history with its eruptions since the 16th century. Towering 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) and surrounded by 1,800 hectáreas (7 square miles) of reserve, you can do part of the climb by mule, marvel at Caldera Lagoon, and be blown away by the spectacular views of surrounding volcanoes such as Volcán del Agua, Volcán del Fuego, and Acatenango.
- Lachuá Lake In the middle of a tropical rain forest near Cobán, in the Verapaces region around the centre of the country, this round, clear karstic lake is the centrepiece of a national park where the cries of monkey resound. The park is wonderful for hiking, stopping every once in a while to take in breaktaking natural views, often wreathed in mist that lends everything a slightly mysterious flavour. There’s a campsite for overnighting, including showers and places to picnic and barbecue. A highlight is taking a dip in the lake’s waters, whose fish, unafraid of humans, try to nibble at skin freckles because they think they’re edible. Sunsets hereabouts are another treat.
- Semuc Champey “Sacred Water”, an extraordinary limestone formation (top) also located in the Verapaces, is a natural bridge with a series of turquoise pools and waterfalls beneath it, all surrounded by a riot of wildlife – more than 100 specifies of birds, 34 types of mammals, and more. The beauty is compounded by the sheer joy of splashing around the pools, waterfalls, and the natural slides amid the verdant forest – nature’s playground if ever there was one.
More information: VisitGuatemala.com.