Alta Verapaz is a region high up in the mountains in the middle of the country. Our second stop in Guatemala was the capital of that beautiful state, which is so rich in nature and doesn`t provide very good roads as of the mountainous landscape. Coming from Rio Dulce Town (click here), we weren`t able to go to Coban directly passing Lago Izabal on its north shore and going through El Estor. It had rained a lot in the past few days and the roads were completely muddy and way too dangerous to pass. Instead, we took a bus to the small town of El Rancho in the southwest of Lago Izabal and then changed to a collectivo going all the way up to Coban.
Changing buses in El Rancho sounded easy when getting the tickets for the first bus, so we weren`t too worried about the journey. Once in El Rancho, however, it first of all was really difficult to find the right spot to wait for the collectivo, as no bus terminal meant no clear sign where it would stop. Asking locals didn`t help much at first, no one seemed to clearly know the right place for us to wait. Finally, after about 20-30mins of walking in different directions in order to find people that knew, we made it and were then standing in front of a small kiosk with a few men waiting for the microbus to Coban. One had told us it would come in half an hour, which then turned out to be 2 hours. However, by then there were so many people waiting that the collectivo didn`t have enough space, which meant another 15 mins waiting for a Monja Blanca bus to arrive. When we finally sat down, I was majorly happy, exhausted and hungry. Even though the bus did stop for 15 mins in order for passenger to get some quick dinner at a local food court on the way, we didn`t want to rush it and rather enjoy a nice meal once in Coban.
The journey from El Rancho to Coban lasted another 3 hours and when arriving at our destination, no restaurant, nor supermarket was open anymore. We found the hostel that we had pre-booked online fairly quickly and were super excited about a cold beer and chilled evening at their rooftop terrace. The owners were super open and friendly and really good hosts. Such a warm welcome and nice chat.
The next morning we woke up early, ready for some huge and filling breakfast as we had been starving since 3pm the day before, when we had a pack of Oreos on the first bus. Our hosts recommended a very traditional place called “Xalabe” – just around the corner from the hostel. The place was very busy with locals and the waitresses were dressed in traditional Qètchi clothing. Their food menu was great offering a wide range of breakfasts and also lunch and dinner. Babe ordered bread rolls filled with cheese and beans and I opted for scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, which came with beans, cream, baked bananas and, of course, tortillas. Both options very typical for Guatemala and extremely filling. Together with coffee we paid around 45 Quetzales including tip. I personally love Guatemalan food for 3 obvious reasons: so tasty, very filling and incredibly cheap.
The town itself is rather quiet, you can walk pretty much everywhere and except a pretty impressive church, there is not much to see or do. Coban serves as a good base though, if you are planning on visiting Semuc Champey, close to Lanquin. There are a few tour operators that also offer coffee and tea plantation visits, however, there is no need to book a tour. You can easily go by collectivo to save yourself a lot of money. Visiting Semuc Champey, I do recommend a tour though, which will take you to the caves and the water basins and returns to Coban the same day, when buses have already stopped. Going by yourself you would have to book a hostel over there to actually have some time to enjoy the nature.
Fairly close to the town of Coban lies the small village of San Juan, very traditional and home to a beautiful market and turquoise water basins. There`s not much more to say than when being in Coban, definitely go for a day!
You can hike the surrounding area and frequent collectivos connect the towns for 3 Q one-way.
We ended up staying for only 3 nights enjoying our hostel`s roof terrace and the peacefulness. When leaving Coban though, we were confronted with another part of town, we had not yet known. Most buses leave from the Terminal del Norte, outside of town. You can easily walk, but I wouldn`t recommend doing so by dark. The area seemed pretty dodgy with a lot of men hanging around drinking, begging and giving us lots of unpleasant attention. Only Monja Blanca buses can be pre-booked, they have their office opposite the bus terminal. All chicken buses and collectivos don`t sell any tickets in advance, you just show up and hope to get a seat.
We were pretty lucky and got a ride by one of the hostel owners. He asked for the price before-hand to make sure we weren`t gonna be ripped off and took care of our luggage. The collectivo was still fairly empty when we arrived as we left really early, so we sat in there for another half hour before the journey began. During those 30 mins, many locals came in, one after the other, trying to sell basically everything. I`m not joking. Here is a list of what you were able to buy:
- cold fizzy drinks
- fresh fruits
- fried chicken
- chocolates, bicuits, tipical local candy
- moving plastic bunnies playing the drums
- various other plastic toys
- little handmade dolls
- toothpaste and toothbrushes
- golden necklaces
Most things just seemed ridiculous but who knows – I guess if they wouldn`t sell any, they wouldn`t be offering them anymore, right?
The fried chicken and all types of candy and chocolates were pretty popular amongst the locals on the bus.
Curious on where we were heading to? Click here to find out.
Love, Jo ♥