Guatemala's North

FINCA IXOBEL


Description :
An ecological & touristy farm, 5km south of dusty Poptun, run by American Carole DeVine.

Comments : This farm is a place to relax and explore the surroundings. Most people are delighted but, truly, I was not too impressed. I stayed only one hour however...

What to do ? Like I have said, relax and explore the surroundings ! / More precisely : swim in a pond or the river, trek the jungle, horse ride, explore caves, observe parrots, read books, play various ball games, tube the river, meet people, stuff yourself with food, etc.

What you may not like ? The cost of the accommodations / The cost of the food / The cost of the excursions / The cost of the 'extra' like the 10% service charge / This place is actually a big money-making machine and many leave happy but broke / The electricity up to 11pm only / The murder of Carole's husband on June 8, 1990 by the army. / The safety issues, apparently, in the area (indeed, there are tourists with money here !)

How long ? One hours (me) or a couple of days (others)

Where to stay ? It cost Q17 for camping (lovely setting), Q24 for nice dorm (7 or 9 beds), Q90 for smaller dorm (2 or 3), 50(1) or 65(2) for basic overpriced tree house, 55(1) or 75(2) for OK room, 110(1) or 150(2) w. shower, 130(1) or 175(2) for private bungalow and 150(1) or 200(2) for suite. Showers have HW. It was globally clean but the common parts were not spotless. 

Where to eat ? You guess ? Still at the Finca ! There is a la carte menu (breakfast 15 to 22, sandwiches 16 to 25, until 4pm only) and a dinner buffet for Q20 (salads), Q35 (main dish) or Q40 (everything). Globally, this is therefore expensive and you have little choice ! The cheapest item, the banana cost Q1, which is 4 times the normal price ! The water purified locally is free (what a nice word !) but bottles cost 5 (small) or 9 (big). 

The tours ? Plenty of excursions are on offer : the cost range from Q25 for a jungle trek to Q150 for a full day on horses. It even cost Q55 (incl. lunch) to swim at the river ! Bikes can be rented for Q20 per hour (cheaper for a day). 

Internet ? At Poptun for Q15 for 15mn ! The record in costs so far !

Why did I not like it ? Am I mad or what ? Well, to start, I did not find the setting much impressive : it is big and isolated in the countryside but there are plenty of barbed wire, fences, cages (to help the animals, monkeys or birds, not to escape) and houses all around. Only the camping site with pine trees is really lovely. The surroundings must be great as well... Secondly, the welcome from the staff or management was, well, quite inexistent (unusual in Guatemala) : I waited 10mn before somebody would pay attention to me and show me around. From this time onward, it was fine : I joined a tour in Spanish explaining me precisely how the finca works and at what costs (you can not say you were not aware of them !). There is little way for negotiation. You write down all your spending and pay at the end only. Thirdly, the costs ! This was clearly a deterrent. Not so much the fact that a dorm here cost the usual price of a room (it is actually quite nice) but the fact that you are stuck and have little choice but to fork out for the dinner buffet. Being used to spend Q15 maximum for a correct dinner, this was a pill difficult to swallow. Also, I thought before coming that most of the activities (like swimming in the river or trekking around) were free and easy to do on your own. Actually, it cost Q55 to swim in the river and the staff does not make you feel like it is safe to do it on your own... You could of course swim in the nice pond but you may bring something back from the stagnant water... Not really recommended...

So, altogether, I would still recommend it for the camping or the dorm, for people who have been traveling a long time and need to rest and eat good natural food. Most people do enjoy it after all ! But you have definitively better places for backpackers around, like this lovely Finca in Lanquin that will cost you Q20 for a bed and where swimming or tubing the river (that you can see from your room) is free ! 

Backpacker's Tips : Daina, USA (September 03)
 I went to the finca ixobel with 2 other backpackers only because we wanted to see this huge river cave travelers were talking about. i didn't know of any other place to stay that was safe. And turns out i didn't feel too safe here either after hearing the story of the murder. As being young budget travellers cooking for ourselves most of the time we found everything way too pricey. We only stayed one night to do our cave mission, so we didn't feel bad when we found some underdog guys/locals who agreed to take 3 people for 70q rather than 70q each and plus we got 2 guides to help instead of one! they really helped me and my friend through the slippery mud. I would of fallen a few times if we didn't have them. I believe they were farmhands or sometimes were given work from the finca at times. Some of the workers there were very upset when the found out they took us and we argued with the staff for some time that we were sorry and that our guides shouldn't loose any job opportunities on the farm because of this. They made me feel like a criminal for helping out some locals on land they are turning a huge profit on! I feel they were charging too much to go wander on the grounds to this cave. I didn't like the amusement park vibe. To read up on the details of the tragic murder: http://www-personal.engin.umich.edu/~pavr/harbury/devine.html

How to reach ? It is 15mn walk from the main road, between Poptun and San Luis. 

How to leave ? The pick-up to Poptun is recommended by the staff as it cost another Q20 (to split). Actually, during daytime, you are better off walking and waiting at the road (safety permitting). There is a table with the bus schedules, also not perfectly accurate as usual. There are buses about every hour from 8:30 to Rio Dulce (Q30). The same in the other direction to Flores (Q20). There is also one bus a day from Poptun to Semuc Champney & Coban at 11:30.

Add. info ? Tel 410-4307, fincaixobel@conexion.com.gt 

Another alternative ? Finca El Tapir in Poptun (3rd street #4-74, tel : 9277327) has a dorm for Q15 and rooms for Q20 per person. The reason to go there however would be to join one of their 6 tours inside a virgin tropical rain forest of 1200 hectares, visiting Mayan caves along the way. Tours cost from Q135 (1 day horse tour) to Q530 (4 days tour by foot & horse, Q450 foot only). Did not tested them but sound interesting and reasonably priced. 

The trip to Rio Dulce : SS / L&R / Q30 / 2 hrs
The 11:30 bus showed up at the Finca's intersection at 11:45. I sat by the girls who had just left the Finca but had been driven to Poptun (Q20 to split). They had paid their ticket Q40 and were therefore quite disgusted to learn that the normal price was Q30 ! Another proof, if necessary, that this 'Fuente Del Norte' Bus Company is really a shit one ! They tried to complain to the ticket guy but he did not even look at them !
Half an hour later, all the locals got off : police inspection of the bus ! What they are looking for and why Peten is the only place in Guatemala where this kind of controls take place remains a mystery. Maybe because the people living in this province (less than 3% of the population) are looked upon by other Guatemalans as poor and uncultivated peasants...
There was also a 5mn break at 1pm, 45mn before arriving. The scenery must have been OK but I was not strategically located to really appreciate it. 

See also the trip from Santa Elena (Flores)