The Atlantic Lowlands

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Atlantic Lowlands - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. El Boquerón

    Perhaps the most beautiful of Guatemala's natural wonders, El Boquerón is a narrow limestone canyon whose 180-meter (590-foot) walls are covered in foliage heavy with...

    Perhaps the most beautiful of Guatemala's natural wonders, El Boquerón is a narrow limestone canyon whose 180-meter (590-foot) walls are covered in foliage heavy with hanging moss. Hummingbirds dance around lavish blooms, blue morpho butterflies flutter between branches, and kingfishers dive at minnows. Sometimes howler monkeys visit the trees nearby—listen for their thunderous cries in the late afternoon. All along the canyon you can climb rocks and explore caves filled with clinging bats. Close to the entrance is a turnoff past a giant ceiba tree that leads to several thatch huts along the river; the proprietors, Antonio and Miguel, provide roughly fashioned kayukos (canoes) that you can rent for a ride through the canyon. The water is clean and cool, and great for swimming except after a heavy rain, when all the local rivers turn a muddy brown.

    El Estor, Izabal, 18003, Guatemala
  • 2. Biotopo Chocón Machacas

    The northern banks of the Golfete, an expansive body of water between Lago Izabal and Río Dulce, are covered by the 17,790-acre Biotopo Chocón Machacas....

    The northern banks of the Golfete, an expansive body of water between Lago Izabal and Río Dulce, are covered by the 17,790-acre Biotopo Chocón Machacas. Among the stretches of virgin rain forest and the extensive mangrove swamp here are gentle manatees—shy marine mammals also known as sea cows because of their enormous size. Manatees are as elusive as quetzals, so as you boat through the reserve you're more likely to see other animals such as sea otters. Some of the creeks go through thick forests where giant mahogany, ceiba, and mangrove trees hang over the water to form tunnels so thick they block out the sun. A tiny island surrounded by the park's dozens of creeks and lagoons has a well-maintained 1-km (.5-mi) nature trail that is easily walked by visitors with stiff boating legs. The trail has such interesting examples of old-growth trees as the San Juan, a tall, straight tree with yellow blossoms, and such exotic plants as orchids and bromeliads. The only way to get to the reserve is on a 45-minute boat trip from Río Dulce or Livingston. Most launches up and down the river will stop at the park entrance if requested, but they rarely enter the park. Most major hotels on the Río Dulce rent boats with guides for individual or group tours.

    Río Dulce, Huehuetenango, 18021, Guatemala
    No phone
  • 3. Castillo de San Felipe de Lara

    Once an important Maya trade route, the Río Dulce later became the route over which the conquistadores sent the gold and silver they plundered back...

    Once an important Maya trade route, the Río Dulce later became the route over which the conquistadores sent the gold and silver they plundered back to Spain. All this wealth attracted Dutch and English pirates, who attacked both the ships and the warehouses on shore. Spanish colonists constructed this fortress in 1595 to guard the inland waterway from pirate incursions. A 1999 earthquake in this region destroyed the river pier and damaged portions of the fort. If you wish to visit, rather than simply see the structure from the water, you'll need to approach the park overland (not upriver)—all best accomplished on an organized shore excursion.

    Río Dulce, Huehuetenango, 18021, Guatemala
    7947–0661

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $3 or Q25
  • 4. Finca El Paraíso

    Known for its steaming waterfall, think of Finca El Paraíso as a natural spa for the tired traveler. (The entire complex is technically a mixed-use...

    Known for its steaming waterfall, think of Finca El Paraíso as a natural spa for the tired traveler. (The entire complex is technically a mixed-use farm, with livestock and crops.) Don't be dissuaded from a trip here even if the weather is hot and humid, as the falls descend into an icy cold river. A trail from the front gate leads to a short yet somewhat bumpy climb to the falls—be careful, as the rocks can be slippery. Around the falls are small indentations in the rock that serve as natural saunas. You can also hike upstream to the narrow cave at the source of the river. The rock formations here are otherworldly. About 2 km (1 mi) downstream from the hot springs is a simple restaurant that serves hearty meals. From here you can also rent horses and ride to the springs.

    El Estor, Izabal, 18003, Guatemala
    7949–7122

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Q10
  • 5. Quiriguá

    Ruins

    Quiriguá, a Mayan city that dates from the Classic period, is famous for the amazingly well-preserved stelae, or carved pillars, which are the...

    Quiriguá, a Mayan city that dates from the Classic period, is famous for the amazingly well-preserved stelae, or carved pillars, which are the largest yet discovered, and dwarf those of Copán, Honduras, some 50 km (30 miles) south. The stelae depict Quiriguá's ruling dynasty, especially the powerful Cauac Chan (Jade Sky), whose visage appears on nine of the structures circling the Great Plaza. Stela E, the largest of these, towers 10 meters (33 feet) high and weighs 65 tons. Several monuments, covered with interesting zoomorphic figures, still stand. The most interesting of these depicts Cauac Chan's conquest of Copán and the subsequent beheading of its then-ruler, 18 Rabbit. The remains of an acropolis and other structures have been partially restored. The ruins are surrounded by a strand of rain forest—an untouched wilderness in the heart of banana country. A small museum here gives insight into Quiriguá's history.

    54 miles (90 km) southwest of Santo Tomás de Castilla, Los Amates, Izabal, 18009, Guatemala

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $4 or Q30
  • 6. Refugio de Vida Silvestre Bocas del Polochic

    Declared a protected area in 1997, Refugio de Vida Silvestre Bocas del Polochic is home to more than 250 species of birds, including blue herons,...

    Declared a protected area in 1997, Refugio de Vida Silvestre Bocas del Polochic is home to more than 250 species of birds, including blue herons, kingfishers, and snowy egrets. If you're lucky, you'll spot the blue-throated motmot. On the western end of Lago Izabal, the country's largest wetland encompasses more than 51,000 acres. The Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (Defenders of Nature Foundation) manages the private reserve. From the office in El Estor you can arrange a guided boat trip to the reserve and a visit to the Q'eqchí village of Selempín, with meals prepared by local women. The foundation also runs a remote ecolodge at the base of the Sierra de las Minas. The thatch-roof lodge has rooms with bunk beds and a full kitchen. A midnight thunderstorm is magical, but regardless of the weather you'll hear the roar of howler monkeys well into the evening.

    Defensores de la Naturaleza, El Estor, Izabal, 18003, Guatemala
    7949–7427

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