The Alto Verapaz and the Petén, Guatemala

Km 20 990

In Cobán we park the bikes for a day, but not to rest. The alarm clock rings even earlier than usual. We get up at 5 am to catch the bus to Semuc Champey. We arrive at 9 and after a second breakfast we enter the national park. We first hike to the viewpoint, but as it is a bit cloudy and rainy, we don’t expect much. The surprise is all the bigger when we see the pools with the turquoise water below us. It is simply super beautiful and after a short photo session we just want to jump in. When we reach the bottom, we first marvel at how the Río Cahabón disappears under the pools. The crystal-clear pools are fed by a small separate spring, while the Río Cahabón, all brown from the rainwater, disappears under the limestone plateau and reappears 500 m further on. Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t show itself today, but the short hike to the viewpoint has warmed us up and we are ready to go swimming in the crystal clear water despite the bad weather. We put on swimming suits and – surprise – the water is not even cold. There are only about ten people in the water and we take the opportunity to take some nice pictures. We walk around the other pools and admire the power of the Río Cahabón, which flows out of the natural tunnel. Back at the entrance, we eat the picnic we brought with us. After eating, we climb into the back of a pick-up truck (the public transport in rural Guatemala) and drive back to Lanquín, the nearest village. Before we return to Cobán, we want to visit the caves of Lanquín. We walk the 2 km to the entrance. Below the entrance a river comes out of the mountain, which is beautiful to see. We climb a few steps and get inside the cave. It is huge, luckily there are light bulbs to light our way. We go from one cavity to the next. Sometimes the ceiling height is more than 10 m, sometimes the path narrows and leaves only a small passage. We climb up and down super slippery stairs, the air in here is humid but warm. After almost an hour of hiking, the path becomes more and more difficult. It leads over rocks and disappears into a new hole. The bulbs continue, but we don’t really see a way anymore, so we decide to turn back. Besides, after an hour’s hike we’ve had enough of all the same cave scenery. Outside, we stand at the side of the road to catch the next bus, but unfortunately the bus leaves just before we get there. Fortunately, after half an hour of waiting, the next bus comes and takes us back to Cobán.

The next day we get back on our bikes, unfortunately in the rain. We were looking forward to the last long descent of our trip, but everything is slippery and we are just happy to arrive at the bottom without an accident. In the valley, the rain finally stops and even the sun comes out. It is also very warm, we had already forgotten about the heat in the jungle! We enter the department of Petén, which covers the entire north of the country. We start to cycle on long straights, but like everywhere in Guatemala it is always uphill and downhill. Shortly before Sayaxché, we cross the El Rosario National Park. We hear the howler monkeys near us, but the jungle is so dense that we cannot see them. In Sayaxché we spend the night in a beautiful park on the Río de la Pasión, where there are small pavilions and a bathing place. This is pure bliss after a day on the bike in the sun! In the morning we take a lancha (a small wooden boat) to cross the river and then ride kilometre after kilometre to Flores, a small town on an island in Lake Petén-Itza. It is still early in the afternoon and we take the opportunity to relax a little on the beautiful balcony of our Airbnb flat overlooking the lake. It’s also the town’s patron saint’s day and there’s a procession with the cross of Christ on an altar full of roses and lots of firecrackers. We take a tour of the town and end the day with a beer by the lake to admire the sunset over the lake. These are the beautiful and relaxing moments of the trip!

The next morning we take the time to work a little (for once we have a good internet connection) and then set off for Tikal. Unfortunately, the weather is not on our side today and we get caught in a heavy downpour. We pass the end of Lake Petén-Itza in El Remate before driving up onto a plateau and entering the vast jungle that covers the entire north of the country. Twice we see monkeys in the branches above us before we reach the archaeological site of Tikal. It’s 5pm, the perfect time to settle down under a palapa (straw hut) at the campsite. This was clearly the right plan: we spent a very good night in the middle of the jungle and were the first to enter the archaeological site in the morning. We get up at 6am and hear the cries of howler monkeys. We immediately make our way to the central square of the archaeological site, where we are all alone. The sun is just rising and we climb on one of the pyramids so we can admire the sunrise over the jungle. Everything is bathed in an orange light. It is beautiful and we can’t believe we are all alone. Only the sounds of the jungle can be heard. When the first other tourists arrive, we start the tour to the other pyramids. Some are still buried under trees, others are beautifully preserved. On two of the largest pyramids it is allowed to climb up and we have an incredible view of the tops of some other pyramids and the whole jungle around us. In the car park at the entrance to the site, we encounter several more bands of monkeys and some coatis. We have a late breakfast (we were already too impatient to go exploring this morning), then clean up and drive back down from the plateau to the main road. There is only one more day on the bikecycling before we arrive in Belize.

To see all photos, please click here:
The Alto Verapaz and the Petén

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