The Verapaces

The geographical heart of Guatemala known as the Verapaces – in fact, the two departments of Alta Verapaz to the north and Baja Verapaz to the south – is a beautifully green area. From the drier valleys around Salamá, the land rises into low mountains covered with misty cloudforest, then north of Cobán, its only real city, evens out into cardamom-planted hills, from which bulge curious limestone bumps. It is a land of hidden waterfalls, gently rushing rivers, mysterious caves, and offers lots of outdoors adventures, from spelunking to underground river tubing and quetzal-spotting hikes.
If you like to know where your caffeine comes from, you can also visit one of the many coffee plantations, or even a tea plantation. Indeed the region is a very agricultural one; Alta Verapaz concentrates 80% of Guatemala’s cardamom production, Guatemala being the number exporter of the aromatic seeds, and Baja Verapaz exports vegetable seeds and ornamental ferns around the world. The area is also an indigenous stronghold, where many people in the rural areas speak Qeqchi before Spanish and still practice ancient Maya rites. Although the region is home to one of Guatemala’s major attractions, the spectacular pools of Semuc Champey, it is still not overly touristy. Enough visitors come that the infrastructure is there, from shuttles to hotels, but you are not swamped by touts as in Flores or Antigua. In fact, as a foreigner wandering the colorful small-town markets, you will more likely attract shy giggles and friendly smiles.