GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala -- From the northern rain forests of El
Peten to the rugged mountains and volcanoes in the central region
and its coasts on two seas, Guatemala offers nature- and
adventure-loving clients a country full of outdoor vacation
The country protects its natural heritage in 30 biological
reserves and wildlife refuges. Guatemala tour operators feature
packages to the most accessible refuges, making it easy to take a
walk on the wild side.
Visitors find an exciting mix of wildlife viewing and
archaeological discovery in the Maya Biosphere reserve. Because of
its size as well as diverse altitudes ranging from cloud forest to
lowland jungle, it is an important refuge for many birds and large
Most accessible within the reserve is the Tikal National Park,
home to more than 200 species of birds as well as spider monkeys
and raccoons. Well-developed nature trails link easily with the
temple pyramids that distinguish Tikal's ancient city.
Lake Atitlan is Guatemala's most majestic natural wonder, framed
by three massive volcanoes: Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro. Volcano
climbing is a Guatemalan pastime here, although San Pedro (9,920
feet) is the only one of the three volcanoes that can be ascended
in one day.
North of Lake Atitlan is the Mario Dary Rivera Biotopo, one of
the best-preserved rain forests in the country, with three nature
trails -- one designed for people with limited mobility. This
reserve was created to protect the quetzal, Guatemala's national
On the Caribbean coast, the Rio Dulce flows out of Lake Izabal
at Livingston, departure port for riverboat trips taking passengers
inland through an impressive canyon whose vertical walls are draped
with dense vegetation.
River-trippers continue to Lake Izabal and its surrounding
ecosystem of mangroves and tropical forest, all part of the
80-square-mile Biotopo Chochon Machacas Reserve.
Staying at small lodges here, visitors can see manatees and
otters while exploring the reserve's waterways by kayak and
Other natural wonders provide different kinds of active travel
For example, at Las Grutas de Lanquin, a cave complex watered by
the Rio Lanquin, visitors can venture about 100 yards into
subterranean passageways decorated with the stone altars used by
the Mayan people in sacred ceremonial rites. (Advise clients to
bring their own flashlights.)
Five miles away is Semuc-Champey, where bathers can soak in
natural "bathtub" pools and enjoy jungle views.
With Class II and III rapids, the Rio Cahabon is also
Guatemala's most popular white-water river, offering about 30 miles
of navigable stream and a drop of about 1,600 feet.
To contact reporter Carla Hunt, send e-mail to [email protected].