Mother Nature blessed Guatemala. From the heavenly bodies sprouted beautiful warm and humid forests. From cool, inner woods flew the most beautiful birds, with plumage impossible to describe. Enchanting turtles, playful manatees, felines in cosmic furs, and a gentle silver mirrors the wild flowers. Guatemala overflows with lianas and quetzals, orchids and toucans, bromeliads, ferns, crustaceans, howler monkeys? If earthly paradise is not in the Guatemalan jungles, then perhaps God came here for inspiration!
In Guatemala there are 14 varieties of subtropical forests and 450 types of trees. In Izabal, Petén, Alta Verapaz, Santa Rosa, Escuintla, Quiché and Quetzaltenango there are 80 species of native birds and some 300 migratory birds. One of the most beautiful birds is the quetzal, held sacred by the Mayas and also Guatemala´s national symbol. Today it inhabits the natural sanctuaries of Alta and Baja Verapaz, Jutiapa, Quiché and Huehuetenango.
A discreet loner, the quetzal, with its iridescent green plumage and long streaming tail, lives high amid tangled branches and climbers.
Explorers who venture into the imposing, leafy and humid shade of the mangrove swamps can see in Santa Rosa, Jutiapa, Izabal, Petén and Retalhuleu, long-forgotten insects, mysterious reptiles and strange mammals. With temperatures varying from 20 to 30 degrees centigrade, these forests of hot and dry climates and saline sand produce a wonderful abundance of fruits, herbs, medicinal plants and mushrooms.
All this and more can be found in Guatemala, land of a thousand colors, beautiful plumage and soft heat.
From the step rocky mountain paths to the depths of the gorges, where freshwater springs tumble down from the highest mountains, Guatemala’s pine forests rise impressively to meet the sky. In the pale, light of dawn, mist sinks softly over the volcanoes like a veil, enshrouding peaks and crags. Behind them, the sun’s first rays of light come filtering through, like golden spears behind sheer curtains. The mist drifts away to the shores of Lake Chicabal, in a volcanic crater, settling on the last white patch of moonlight, escaping the ardor of the pursuing sun. Age-cold winds in the highlands make carvings in the rocks, so that travelers may decipher the craggy formations of Momostenango.
The Pacific Coast
The Guatemalan Pacific coast is strangely beautiful. Its black volcanic beaches meet an excited wind which whips up white crests on the swelling waves, and crashes ashore in white foam. Up in the sierra, the teaming vegetation has left no space unfilled, no path, no crack, no chink. It simply spills out here, there and everywhere. Here a tree of succulent fruits; there a proud trunk, an aromatic weed; everywhere flowering herbs or bewitching climbers. As if that were not enough, the Escuintla region has gorgeous waterfalls to visit.
The jungle around Petén is a giant green wall rising up before your eyes. An organic wall of lush, woodpeckers drum their tom-tom rhythms into mahogany trees, disturbing the sleeping ocelots. The howler monkeys bicker over territory with the macaws who depart under protest, alerting the sleeper a top the ceiba tree. He is king of all creatures, as an ancient as the jungle itself. Knowing every path, every tree in Petén, he is a master of ambush. He is the sleek, fleet-footed spotted jaguar, prince of Tikal, the imposing city whose architecture defines cosmos. Here, ceremonial priests once named the stars of the universe. The lush green Usumacinta River also snakes through Petén, overflowing into small lakes like San Diego, Sacpuy, Petén Itzá and Sachab. These in turn are surrounded by more rivers: San Pedro, Santa Santa Isabel and La Pasión.
Many people confuse Alta and Baja Verapaz. Alta Verapaz is higher and traversed by abundant rivers flowing through rocky mountains, like the Cahabón, which tumbles into waterfalls and pools of Semuc Champey, close to a garden of orchids and bromeliads. There are also cool misty forests with green landscapes encouraging the growth of rare mushrooms. Pretty villages in emerald landscapes are tucked into hidden pockets of the forests.
In Baja Verapaz, on the other hand, the air is hotter and the hills less steep. A top one is the archaeological site of Cayhup, with an excellent view of the sinuous course of the Urram River. In Rabinal there is a spa called Los Charros, whose healing waters are well-known throughout the region. Baja Verapaz is full of lovely fertile valleys.
Like a turquoise mounted in a setting of mountainous green mantle and misty peaks of Tolimán, Atitlán, and San Pedro volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is a jewel of breath taking beauty.
Every year flocks of “chemo” and reddish colored ducks sit among the rushes on its banks while herons sink their feet into the sand and watch the smooth swimming of the black bass in the blue surface water. There is no bluer water than Lake Atitlán. No wonder it is called “the most beautiful lake in the world”.
The Guatemalan Caribbean Sea
The great lake of Izabal, Guatemala’s largest, covers 590 square kilometers, is bordered by orchards of mangoes, avocados, mameys and pineapples that perfume the air with exotic fragrances; Rio Dulce originates from its deep waters and flows quickly to plunge into the thick jungle. There, it winds gently through the tropical foliage to the sound of multicolored riverside inhabitants that shake the foliage. Rio Dulce continues its course to form the Golfete? It passes mangrove thickets seething with life, and flows out to meet the waters of Amatique Bay, in the Caribbean Sea. Here on the shore of the blue waters of the Guatemalan Caribbean Sea, among seductively coconut palms, lies the town of Livingston. The houses are full of the taste of the sea and coconut bread. Travelers feel the closeness of the sun and the rejuvenating caress of the sea. While they sink their bare feet into the sand amid broken shells and snails, to the lilting rhythm of Afro-Caribbean song under the palm groves.
A palm-lined road leads us to Siete Altares. There, in the middle of the jungle, we can see and hear the sound of extraordinarily transparent waterfalls and swim in its wild and cool waters, beneath a curtain of white foam.
Mario Dary´s Biotope of the Quetzal, Baja Verapaz – Nature Reserves
In the treetops of the rainforest in the protected area there are more than 50 different varieties of orchids and bromeliads. Amid the countless exotic colored macaws, toucans, frigate birds and spoonbills, the quetzal stands out. With timid arrogance, from its long tail, to the iridescent rays of its plumage, the quetzal reigns over its sacred sanctuary.
Cerro Cahuí – Nature Reserves
Cerro Cahuí is covered with great evergreen forests. It is a sanctuary for more than 50 species of butterflies and the reserve for sapodilla, mahogany, cedar, and indigo trees. Lianas, bell shaped vines, orchids and grassy plants also abound. The Petén turkey lives in the underbush of Cerro Cahuí, while the hooked-beak sparrow hawk soars aloft. From October to April, hundreds of migratory birds come here from remote areas it inhabit Cerro Cahuí. Twenty-eight different species of mammals live in the reserve, including white tailed deer, ocelots, armadillos and spider monkeys.
Chocón Machacas, IZABAL
The waterways of this reserve meander through a virgin tropical forest full of marvelous birds. Following the Rio Dulce there is a wild lacustrian ecosystem that is traversed in “Cayucos”. Under the green dome of mangrove branches, in the water covered by water lilies, we enter into the realm of myths, habitat of the manatee, a water mammal, one mistaken for a legendary mermaid by the early explorers of these virgin lands. Here the manatee, or sea cow, is a protected specie.