Guatemala's Center

COBAN

Global Mark : 14.11

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
 3 5 3 3 2 4 3 3 13.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
19 100% 79%(15) 100% 10 to 20 15.21


Description :
A relaxed & green provincial capital with everything you need to recharge your batteries after your ecotourism adventures.

Comments : Considered by most as a travel hub, Coban is actually a great base for visiting the amazing surroundings. 

What to do ? Relax in a superb flowery park, smelling pine trees and spotting butterflies (Q6) / Discover 750 species of orchids (free, Q10 if tour) / Tour a coffee plantation & taste coffee (Q15) / Learn about the Maya Culture (Q10) / With a lot of luck, spot a Quetzal, Guatemala's national symbol bird (Quetzal Biotope, Q20) / Visit various churches / Crawl various caves / Swim at various 'Balneario' Centers / Admire various waterfalls / Trek the rainforest (Q320 for 3 days) / Drink some more of coffee : some of the world's finest are produced in the area ! / Eat well / Have an ice cream ! / Learn Spanish ? 

What you may not like ? The dirty & smelly market & bus terminal / The lack of tourist office / The expensive internet / Some remote & tricky to reach attractions 

How long ? A few hours for the town, a few days for the area, all your life for the coffee ?

Where to stay ? I was in Coban during Santa Semana and most of the places were fully booked. This did not help me to check the rooms... In my quest for an acceptable and possible place to stay, I encountered the followings : 

- North-East of the Cathedral :

  • Hotel Central, central indeed by the Cathedral on 1C. / Room w. HW shower 54(1) or 97(2) / Was full but should be nice with those prices !
  • ® Hospedaje Maya (9522380), 1C 2-33, Zona 4, just east of the Cathedral / Sgl 20, Dbl 24, Trpl 36 / No HW / A good setting a bit off the road but it was full, the keeper already had a few drinks and I was obviously annoying him with my questions...
  • Hotel Aleman, 2C, west of 2Av, 3mn from the above / Room 25 per person, w. shower 35 per person / HW / Very basic cheaper rooms but the ones with shower are acceptable. 
  • Pension Elsita, 3a Av, 3 C, 2-47, east of market / Sgl 15, Dbl 25 / No HW / Correct & cheap but basic rooms and so so environment at night (do not go via the market)
  • Hotelito Maria Elisa, going east on 3 C. / Sgl 20, Dbl 40 / HW / Tiny and rather depressing rooms
  • ® Pension Norte, pink house, a bit after the above, west of 5 Av / Sgl 23 first night then 18 / No HW / Go there for the nice setting, good prices and acceptable rooms / What you may not like : the approximate cleanliness and the size of the place (noisy if full).
  • Hotel Villa Imelda, South on 4 Av / 60 per person for HW and local TV. Was full so could not check the rooms. 

- At other locations, 5mn from the Plaza :

  • ® Hotel La Paz (9521358), 6 Av 2-19, N-W of Plaza / 30 per person, Sgl w. shower 42, Dbl 72 / Go there for the nice & spotless setting & rooms at good prices
  • ® Pension Monja Blanca (9522214), Diagonale 4, Zona 3, S-W of Plaza / Q50 per person, w. shower & local TV Q100 per person / Go there for the charming old-style rooms around a beautiful tiny garden and the quietness / What you may not like : the price maybe...
  • ® Hostal D'Acuna (9521547, uisa@amigo.net.gt), 4 C. 3-17, South of Plaza / Dorm (4) $5, Dbl $10 / Lovely, classy & relaxed restaurant / Local delicacies on sale / Go there (if possible with someone) for the cleanliness, the info, the great setting in a superbly furnished colonial house around a garden and the classical music / What you may not like : it is expensive for a bunk bed !

Where to eat ? Plenty of occidental restaurants & pizzeria but you love the local food so much that it would be a pity, isn't it ? Plenty of comedores as well offering set meals for Q12-14. A good one is Cafeteria Santa Rita, South of the Plaza near the Cathedral. The plaza is also full of stalls selling barbecued meat but, at Q10, I am not sure it can beat the above set meals... It is a popular option with locals anyway. For a large selection of Coffee and chocolates, head for Cafe El Tirol, West of the Plaza. Pastries and ice creams can be found at nearly every corner. 

Info ? As there is no Inguat Office, you have to rely on the private businesses : Internet Cafe, Hostal D'Acuna and Proyecto Eco-Quetzal (2a C. 14-36) are good places for info. There is a map of town & surroundings just west of the plaza. 

Internet ? Internet Cafe by Cafe El Tirol by the Plaza is the most obvious place but it unfortunately charges a ridiculous Q30 per hour (and Q10 for 15mn !). In theory, this is because one needs to call Guatemala City. In practice, the guy could not explain me why more remote Nebaj was only Q20... Hotel Dona Victoria (by the post office on 3 C.) is cheaper for 15mn at Q7.5 There is fortunately another option : Milenio Cafe on 3 Av, North 1 C. It was closed when I was there (Santa Semana !) but it charges Q20 per hour (Q5 for 15mn).

Banks ? Plentiful. No problem to change TC and cash. There is also a visa ATM at Bancafe (1 Av 2-66, Zone 2)

Supermarket ? Two place, East of the Cathedral on 1 C. Not too cheap however...

Spanish ? Coban could be a good option as there aren't too many tourists yet. The cheapest school (but maybe not the best) was also spotted here : Active Spanish (3a C. 6-12, Zona 1), $85 for 20 hours of private teaching and lodging in a family. There are other options. 

An half a day tour ? After walking the plaza and the ugly market, you could head to El Calvario, 15mn away (head west on 1 C. and turn right on 7 Av) : the view from the top of the stairs is OK but the Parque Nacional de Las Victorias in the back is the main attraction : this is one of the best park spotted (if not for the mosquitoes and some rubbish, it would be paradise !) and the numerous paths, the longest being 7.5 km, are great ways to relax (I spent half a day there, spotting wild orchids, ants at work and huge butterflies). One of the numerous entrance is by the basketball field (it cost Q6 for foreigners, Q1 for locals, but there isn't always someone at this gate, in particular late afternoon; the park closes at 5pm). If this gate is closed (it should be during WE), the main entrance is on 3C at the level of 11a Av. After the park, you could head to Vivero Verapaz, an orchid farm about 3km out of town (follow diagonal 4 and cross the bridge) : 60000 orchids belonging to 750 species are on display, including 200 miniatures species. On the way, you will see a big sign on the left for a Recreative Center : the area by the river is popular with locals who come here to swim, play football or picnic on the grass. You can walk the river for 10mn but the area further was reported dangerous. There is an admission of Q2.5 but you may be able to avoid it. 

A day out to the villages ? 
I first took a bus (Q1, 20mn) to San Pedro Carcha, a village which could actually be skipped if you are short of time: there is nothing special to see and the only cheap Hotel (Hotel La Reforma, Q25 or 40 w. cold water shower) would indeed need to be reformed. 
From there, I walked to San Juan Chamelco, on a pleasant enough road (take left when the road split in three and take water as it is hot) : you will pass a pineapple field, a river with a popular 'Balneario' Center and a lovely dump on top of a hill ! It should take 2 hours but you may be able to hitch your way. 
There aren't much to do in San Ruan Chamelco as well but the church, market and settings are nice enough for a stroll. Half an hour later, you could head for La Grutas Rey Marcos, the main attraction in the area : it is 6km away and you have regular transports (at least during WE, Q1) leaving behind the Cathedral on 0 C. 0 Av. This private area (Balneario Cecilinda) is actually another swimming & picnic spot : it cost Q10 to enter but you may get in for a bit cheaper if you argue that you came for the cave only. That would actually be a pity as the series of pools and waterfall are inviting, especially after crawling in the mug... The newly discovered 150m long cave cost another Q15 to visit : this includes the equipment (helmet w. torch) and the guide for the one hour tour. You need to register at the bottom of the path. Expect to exit real dirty as you need to crawl... Avoid WE for a more relaxing experience. In the near future, it may be possible to spend the night there as bungalows were being constructed. 
About 10mn before Cecilinda, a sign on the left points to Don's Jeronimo's (3082255, jeronimo@dearbrutus.com), a great place to naturally relax for a couple of days. It does not look too impressive on the outside but the rooms and bungalows w. kitchen & HW shower are superb ! The American farmer that run the place intimately knows the area and will happily show you around. Prices at $25 per day ($45 for couple) may scare backpackers but include everything (lodging, vegetarian food, excursions, tube for the river & blueberries !). 
Back in San Juan, regular buses (Q1) do the trip to Bagan, passing another popular swimming area. 

A spiritual trip ?
The first place where you could light a candle is Chicoy Cave, a very special place for the Maya. This natural cathedral, lighted by the sun, contains massive stalagmites. When I was there, it unfortunately also contained small fires making lots of fumes. It is muggy so good shoes are required. It is rather easy to reach : take a bus to Guatemala City (Q5, 45mn), get of at km 169 and walk for 1.5km. There is an entrance fee of Q5. 
From there, I went back to Tactic, 14km to the North (hitch your way). This small town is famous for its Chixim Church, overlooking the valley : its miracle Jesus (look for the 'thanks' plaques on the left of the altar) attracts candles from all over Guatemala. Beside, the view is great ! If you wish to stay, Pension Central (3a C. 4-10, no HW) offers correct rooms for Q18 per person. Other options available. There are frequent buses back to Coban : Q2.5, 45mn.
The above two should not take you more than half a day (except if very unlucky with your hitching). You could therefore add a visit to Quetzal Biotope (no need for a candle there), located at km 160. It cost Q20 to enter this beautiful 11 square-km cloud forest where, if very very lucky, you could spot a Quetzal ! For more chance of spotting one (sunrise during the dry season), you should sleep in one of the rustic bungalow of Hotel Los Ranchitos (3313579). 

 << Discover the area


>> Great additional information about Copan and the Verapaz


Leaving by bus ?

To Price Time Freq Hrs
Guatemala City (1) 20, 30 or 32 2 to 16, cheapest at 4,6,11 & 13 hour 4-5
Lanquin (2) 8 6,11,13,15 na 2.5
El Estor 18 4 to 15 60-90mn 6-7
Raxruja 20 5:30 to 13 x6 5
Sayaxche (Peten) 40 7 (3) na 8-9
Uspantan 15 ? 10 & 12 na 4-5
Carcha & Chamelco 1 day 15mn 20mn
Santa Cruz 2 day 20mn 40mn
Tactic 2.5 day 20mn 50mn

Notes : (1) From Escobar Buses, 2 C, West 4 Av. / (2) From 3 C, West Terminal / (3) more buses may also leave from San Pedro Carcha

 

The trip to Lanquin : SSSSS / Right / Q10 / 3 hrs
I eventually woke up on time for the 6am bus ! But, once at the station, a surprised : no bus there ! It was 5:35. Did it leave already ? I asked a local and was told that it was leaving from the supermarket Familiar Dispensar. Indeed, it was there. Only the later buses leave from the office...
The atmosphere inside the bus was like it should be inside an old school bus : most people were going to work and knew each other. They apparently also knew that the bus would not leave on time and took their time to show up : we left at 6:20
We stopped at San Pedro Carcha 15mn later and then reached the rocky but beautiful road, with some excellent panoramas on the right side. It was not straightforward however as the narrow road often did not allow for more than one vehicle to proceed... Going backward to advance is part of the game in Guatemala !

See also the trip from Sacapulas