The heart of this misty alpine land and the capital of the department is COBÁN, Guatemala’s principal centre for gourmet coffee production. Your initial impression of the town may not be that favourable – heavy traffic crawls past the central plaza and the main downtown shopping district is pretty nondescript – but away from here Cobán soon reveals its charms. It’s not a large place (the population is around 65,000) and suburbs fuse gently with outlying meadows and pine forests, giving the town the air of an overgrown mountain village.
If the rain sets in, Cobán’s atmosphere can become a bit subdued, and in the evenings the air is often damp and cool. The sun does put in an appearance most days, though, and the town certainly makes a useful base for a day or two. Sights include an excellent little Maya archeological museum, an orchid nursery, coffee and tea farms, and you’ll find genteel cafés where you can sample a cup made from the world-renowned Verapaz bean. Outside the town, the spectacular mountains and rivers hold all kinds of exciting ecotourism possibilities, many of which can be done as day-trips.
Like many other Guatemalan towns, Cobán is divided into a number of zonas, with the northeast corner of the plaza at 1 Calle and 1 Avenida the dividing point. Zona 1 is to the northwest, Zona 2 to the southwest, Zona 3 to the southeast and Zona 4 to the northeast.
For a closer look at Cobán’s principal crop, take the guided tour offered by the Finca Santa Margarita, a coffee plantation just south of the centre. The interesting tour (an English-speaking guide is usually available) covers the history of the finca, founded by the Dieseldorff family in 1888, and examines all the stages of cultivation and production, including a walk through the grounds. You also get a chance to sample different low-, middle- and high-altitude arabica coffee blends and, of course, purchase some beans.