Travel Tuesday (on a Monday): Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

First of all let me just clarify that I know today is Monday. However, I have failed to post a Travel Tuesday in about 2 weeks. There are completely viable reasons for this, but I promise to not bore you with excuses. I will just say that I am scheduled to work tomorrow, so, in order to avoid missing a third Travel Tuesday in a row, I decided to go ahead and post it on Monday.

This week's destination was a tough one to choose. There are so many places that I love that I want to visit and re-visit over and over again, but I finally concluded that I have neglected the place that first stole my heart for too long. Therefore, today we go to Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

Alta Verapaz is that large orange department kind of in the middle at the top of the map just below the largest department (pictured in green). Coban is where the big red dot is in aforesaid orange blob.

A long 4+ hour bus ride almost due north from Guatemala City (totally worth it as the bus stops for a bathroom break at a Sarita's Ice Cream parlor) will land you in the lush mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The main city in this department of Guatemala is Cobán, a bustling little city with a colorful street market and a city center fragrant and blooming with tropical flowers and jacaranda trees. If you follow the main street past the city center to where it bears a bit to the left you'll find a treat in the form of Casa d'Acuna. Check it out on Trip Advisor or just take my word for it and know that they have the best smoothies ever (except for maybe those made by Husband, who is the true King of Smoothies, if he had access to freshly grown, tree-ripened, local tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples, and bananas).

A group of us girls seated in the Cobán city center enjoying the view.

A view of Cobán.

Also worthy of note in Cobán (and Guatemala in general) are the wonderful panaderías (bread bakeries). They are everywhere, and the scents radiating from them are absolutely intoxicating. Warm sweet breads straight from the oven made by the loving and expert hands of Guatemalan women in their brightly-hued skirts and blouses--what could be better? I mean, my mouth is watering just thinking about one of the most glorious snacks I have ever put in my mouth: pan de queso. One time, my friend Sonnie brought one to me when she visited Guatemala while I had to stay in the USA, and she forever won a permanent place on my Top 5 Favorite People of All Time List. Normally my love cannot be won merely with baked goods, but pan de queso is a whole different matter entirely.

Note: The conchas that one can purchase in panaderías in Mexico, though incredibly delicious and beloved by many, myself included are not the same thing as pan de queso, or, if they are, they certainly taste different and have a different texture to me. Also, Sarita Joy is one of the nicest people on the planet, but pan de queso is so exciting that even the most warm-hearted of persons can become vicious in its presence. Don't judge.

Now that we've talked about treats for the taste buds let's move on to one of the most gorgeous places upon which I have ever feasted my eyes: Semuc Champey. If you take a bus from Cobán to Lanquin (still in Alta Verapaz) and then hire a truck to take you deeper into the jungle to a tucked away little gem known as Semuc Champey... you will thank me forever and may even bequeath me a permanent spot on your Top 5 Favorite People of All Time List. It's that lovely. The Cahabón River flows under this natural limestone bridge forming a 300 meter long series of waterfalls and swimming holes of varying sizes. The water is warm enough to be comfortable but still cool enough to be refreshing and perfectly clear turquoise. Be careful before jumping into any of the pools; the water is so clear, and you can see all the way to the bottom, so it is difficult to judge how deep they are; some are many feet deep, but others are only a few inches deep. Tropical flowers bloom everywhere, and a thousand bird choirs compete for the best song. Semuc Champey is truly heavenly. Don't let that birdsong confuse you, though. There is one pool which is at the base of the biggest waterfall that is prohibited for swimmers due to the potential for tricky currents. I didn't have any trouble swimming it in, but I later learned that the forceful tweet I kept hearing was not, in fact, a bird but was actually a whistle being blown by an irate park ranger trying to signal to us to get out of that particular pool. Live and learn, right? Also, don't go around fences to swim in the one prohibited pool that we encountered in the entirety of Semuc Champey. *Mom, don't freak out; everyone does something a little crazy on cross-cultural, and most of us live to tell about it; besides, every other pool was perfectly and completely safe for swimming and did not have dangerous currents--it's actually encouraged that people swim in those ones.

Enjoying the freedom of finally fulfilling our semester-long dream of riding in the back of a truck.

Enjoying the general splendor

Enjoying the general splendor

The general splendor

Looking downriver.

One of the beautiful plants growing along the path; I think this is a Bird of Paradise?

There are plenty of other reasons to visit Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, but these are a few of my favorites. If you're ever blessed enough to visit I recommend visiting the above locations as well as making time for a coffee tour (there are several farms that allow visitors to tour their grounds and sample their wares--Guatemalan coffee is fabulous), trying to catch a glimpse of the Guatemalan national bird: the ever-elusive quetzal, visiting the cloud forest, swimming in a lake with the crocodiles (I'm joking, for obvious reasons---but I did do that), and, if at all possible, staying with a host family. The K'ekchi people are beautiful and welcoming and put our southern hospitality to shame.

And, of course, there are many other places in Guatemala that are worthy of a visit. I'm sure we'll visit those some other Travel Tuesday.