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En Route to Cobán: Baja Verapaz & Biotopo del Quetzal

South of Cobán spreads the region known as Baja Verapaz, which gets its name from its slightly lower ("baja") elevation. The principal attraction in this region is the Biotopo del Quetzal, a small natural reserve protecting an area of tropical cloud forest that's one of the few remaining habitats of the resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.

Baja Verapaz is also home to a few small towns and villages renowned for their art and craftworks. Most notable of these are Salamá and Rabinal. For tours around Salamá or Rabinal, contact Ecocenter Tours (tel. 502/7940-0459) or Ecoverapaz (tel. 502/7940-0146), two long-standing, local guide companies.

Salamá is the provincial capital and largest city in the Baja Verapaces. At the center of Salamá is a beautiful colonial-era church with an ornately carved altar adorned with 18-karat gold. The city also has an interesting temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Minerva. This temple, built in 1916, is perhaps partly responsible for the region's renown in the realm of arts and craftworks. Salamá's market day on Monday is the biggest and best in the Verapaces.

The smaller village of Rabinal is named after the Rabinaleb' Maya of this region. It was founded as a Spanish colonial town by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in 1537. The market here is held on Sunday, and in addition to beautiful huipiles and woodcarvings, the artisans of this town are famous for their low-fired pottery.

If you do visit Rabinal, be sure to stop in at the Museo Rabinal Achí, 2a Calle and 4a Avenida, Zona 3 (tel. 502/7979-7820), a small museum with a collection of Maya historical and cultural displays. The museum is open daily from 9am to 4pm. Admission is Q10 ($1.35/70p).

There are no hotels or posadas of note in Salamá or Rabinal. If you find yourself needing or wanting to stay here, try the Hotel Real Legendario, 8a Av. 3-57, Zona 1 (tel. 502/7940-0504), a simple and tidy option in the heart of Salamá.

Salamá and Rabinal are located off the main Ruta Las Verapaces, which runs from El Rancho north to Cobán. Marked as both CA-14 and CA-17 at El Rancho crossroads, it forks at Km 47, where CA-17 heads toward Salamá and Rabinal, while CA-14 continues on to Cobán. Salamá is another 17km (10 miles) from the fork, Rabinal another 8km (5 miles) west of Salamá.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.