Baja Verapaz

The small region of Baja Verapaz is made up of a couple of Achi'-Maya speaking towns, namely Salamá, Rabinal, San Jerónimo and Cubulco. The department is known for the quetzal reserve, the large Dominican
finca
and aqueduct, and the weird decorative technique of the crafts in Rabinal.

Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve

www.defensores.org.gt.

Just north of El Rancho, in the Department of El Progreso, is
San Agustín Acasaguastlán
, an entrance for the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, one of Guatemala's largest conservation areas with peaks topping 3000 m and home to the quetzal, harpy eagle and peregrine falcon, puma, jaguar, spider monkey, howler monkey, tapir and pizote.

Biotopo del Quetzal

The Biotopo del Quetzal, or
Biosphere Mario Dary Rivera
, is between Cobán and Guatemala City at Km 160.5, 4 km south of Purulhá and 53 km from Cobán. There are two trails. Increasing numbers of quetzals have been reported in the Biotopo, but they are still very elusive. Ask for advice from the rangers.

Salamá, Rabinal and Cubulco

Just before Salamá is
San Jerónimo
, where there is a Dominican church and convent, from where friars tended vineyards, exported wine and cultivated sugar. There is an old sugar mill (
trapiche
) on display at the
finca
and a huge aqueduct of 124 arches to transport water to the sugar cane fields and the town. Salamá sits in a valley with a colonial cathedral, containing carved gilt altarpieces as its centrepiece. The town also has one of a few remaining
Templos de Minerva
in the country, built in 1916. Behind the Calvario church is the hill Cerro de la Santa Cruz, from where a view of the valley can be seen. Market day is Monday and is worth a visit. The village of
Rabinal
was founded in 1537 by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. It has a 16th-century church, and a busy Sunday market, where lacquered gourds, beautiful
huípiles
and embroidered napkins are sold. The glossy lacquer of the gourd is made from the body oil of a farmed scaly insect called the
niij
. The male
niij
is boiled in water to release its oil, which is then mixed with soot powder to create the lacquer. The
Museo Rabinal Achí
, displays historical exhibits and has recently produced bilingual books about the Achí culture. West of Rabinal, set amid maize fields and peach trees, Cubulco is known for its tradition of performing the pole dance,
Palo Volador,
which takes place every 20-25 July. Men, attached by rope, have to leap from the top of the pole and spiral down, accompanied by marimba music.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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