Some 60km north of Cobán, CHISEC is a quiet, agreeable little town spread out along the highway that’s grown quickly in the last few years as land-hungry migrants have moved into the region. It’s one of the very few places in Guatemala without a church on its huge central plaza – many of its population are former guerrillas and repatriados opposed to religious influence.
Chisec makes the perfect base for visiting two remarkable natural attractions, the nearest being the “painted cave” of Bombil Pek. There’s a community-run guide office a kilometre north of Chisec, right on the highway, where you pay your entrance fee and collect a flashlight; they also rent tubes (US$3; best July–Oct) for river exploration here. A guide leads you along a delightful forty-minute hike through the milpa fields and forest, and down a steep, slippery wooden staircase into the sinkhole and its vast 50m-high main cavern. Many ceramics have been found here, and the cave is still used for Maya religious ceremonies.
Your guide will then try to persuade you to squeeze through a tiny hole at the rear to a second, much smaller cave where the faded painted images of two monkeys, possibly representing the hero twins of the Popol Vuh, adorn the walls.
Lagunas de Sepalau
Lagunas de Sepalau
The three exquisite jade lakes of Lagunas de Sepalau, Chisec’s other outstanding attraction, are easily visited. You’ll be dropped off at the Q’eqchi’ village of Sepalau Cataltzul, where entrance fees are collected. While you’re here, ask to see the new secondary school which has been built from recycled plastic bottles and inorganic waste.
A local guide will accompany you to the lagoons, 1km further away, where there are lanchas for paddling across the water (and lifejackets). Laguna Paraíso, the first lake, is ringed by untouched dense jungle and has beautiful turquoise water; the second, Atsam’ja, is much smaller. The third and largest lake, Q’ekija, another kilometre down the track, is the most remarkable of all – a gorgeous blue-green colour, its near-vertical limestone sides backed by towering jungle. It’s perfect for swimming. You’ll almost certainly hear howler monkeys and see kingfishers and perhaps toucans, and there are jaguars in the region, too.