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Alta Verapaz


Alta Verapaz

Por: Alfonso Arrivillaga Cortés y Máximo Bá Tiul

There is no doubt that nature holds secrets. Although there are marvelous sites in different locations in Guatemala, the Department of Alta Verapaz holds unique mysterious enchantment. In this region, we find not only the habitat of the quetzal but also the forests richest in orchids and precious species. The delicate artisanry, its works in silver and its excellent cuisine are part of the rich cultural reserves of this beautiful land.

General data
Name: Alta Verapaz.
First city: Cobán.
Population: approximately 782,515.
Cities: Cobán, Cahabón, Chahal, Chisec, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Lanquín, Panzós, San Cristóbal Verapaz, San Pedro Carchá, San Juan Chamelco, Santa Cruz Verapaz, Senahú, Tactic, Tamahú y Tucurú.
Weather: Cold.
Language: Spanish, q'eqchi' and poqomchi'.
Altitude: 1,316 meters above sea level.
Territorial limits: It bounds to the north with Petén, to the south with Zacapa, Baja Verapaz and El Progreso, to the east with Izabal and to the west with Quiché.
Territorial extension: 8,686 square kilometers.
Main festivity: August 4, in honor to Saint Domingo of Guzmán.
Foundation: 1543.
Temperature: Maximum: 24 degrees Celsius
Minimum: 13 degrees Celsius

From the land of war to the prosperity of coffee

By: Alfonso Arrivillaga Cortés and Máximo Bá Tiul

During the post-Classic era, the Mayan poqom people developed diverse urban centers such as the cities of Mogote, Choloxcoc, Panprisión, Kajyup and Chuitinamit or Tzaq Poqoma. The violent presence of the k'iche' people, now known as the achi'es, was the principal cause of the dispersion of the Mayan poqom people and of the division into two populations: the poqomchi'es and the poqomames. At the time of the conquest the Spanish, because of the aggressiveness of the inhabitants, called this territory Tezulutlán, or Land of War. Brother Bartolomé del Casas obtained from Governor Alonso de Maldonado, in 1537, jurisdiction over the territory to begin a peaceful conquest of the q'eqchi' population. The region was converted through the domination of the Dominicans through all of the colonial times and the style of life changed until the 19th century when the consolidation of the liberal governments of the region created an important German migration to the region. Many families from Germany came to this region and to other parts of the country with an objective dedicated to the cultivation of exports. With the aid of the government, which granted a series of concessions and assistance in providing cheap native labor, they developed large coffee plantations that brought improvements in the infrastructure, an increase in the population, and the importation of foreign customs such as inter-marriage to the region. Mono-linguistics is the principle characteristic of the these populations and over the years they acquired and utilized the q'eqchi' language in daily use.


A land sculpted by water

By: Luis Villar Anleu

This is a wet and mountainous country, without being diluvial and without spectacular elevations. It is varied and beautiful, endowed with treasures like the Quetzal and the Monja Blanca orchid. The most renowned natural attractions are the Grutas de Lanquín National Park, Laguna de Lachuá, Las Victorias National Park, the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, the Candelaria Caverns and river, Semuc Champey, El Pozo Vivo, Laguna Chichoj, Valle alto del Río Cahabón, and Balneario Las Islas.

Alta Verapaz is the most humid region in the country. As a result of the action of water, a multitude of ravines, river drainage, springs and waterfalls have been created. These geographic features, created by the erosion of soils and subsoil, are called karst.

The largest part of the forests pertain to the Selva de Montaña bioma, that is composed of a conjoining of ecosystems in which is a mixture of species that thrive in the temperate climates of the north and in the hot tropics of the south. In this type of forest one finds mountain lions, coyotes and foxes. The deer, ferrets and seraguate monkeys all make good use of these habitats.

The amazing Chol Mountains that contribute to the formation of the Department are made up of the Sierras de Chamá, Chuacús, Las Minas, Santa Cruz and Montañas Mayas.



By: Francisco Rodríguez Rouanet and Aracely Esquivel


The fabrics of Alta Verapaz are very colorful and elaborated solely by the women on small looms in three special techniques. The first is picb'il, which in the q'eqchi' idiom means "pricked" or "perforated". The second is Tzu'lbil which means "braided" or "twisted" and is very common in San Pedro Carchá and San Juan Chamelco. The third, called qu'embil, which in the poqomchi' idiom is "woven", is specific to Tactic and Tamahú. They create the traditional costumes called güipiles and skirts in the municipalities of Chisec, Cobán, San Cristóbal Verapaz, Santa Cruz Verapaz, Tactic, Tamahú, San Juan Chamelco, Tucurú, Panzós, Senahú and Lanquín. Fabrics of sheep's wool are made in the municipality of Lanquín.


This craft is found principally in Cobán, Carchá, Chamelco and Tactic. The items mainly produced are trinkets or toys, necklaces, rings, earrings, medallions and religious medals.

Traditional ceramics

Using premium materials, such as the clay of the region, they produce pots, pestles for making tamales and kaq ik, dishes for baking tortillas, jars, containers and vessels for liquids. They work in ceramics in the of municipalities of Chisec, Cobán, San Cristóbal Verapaz, Santa Cruz Verapaz, Tactic, San Juan Chamelco, San Pedro Carchá, Lanquín, Senahú, Cahabón and Panzós.

Wood products

In the municipalities of San Pedro Carchá, Cahabón and Senahú they create masks. They also make furniture such as beds, tables and wardrobes in the municipalities of Cobán, San Cristóbal Verapaz, Tactic, San Juan Chamelco, San Pedro Carchá, Senahú, Cahabón and Lanquín. Musical instruments are crafted in Chisec, San Pedro Carchá, San Juan Chamelco, San Cristóbal Verapaz, Tucurú, Senahú, Lanquín and Cahabón.

Metal products

Artistry of forged iron is crafted in Cobán, San Pedro Carchá, Senahú and Cahabón. Works of copper are made in Cobán, Tactic, San Juan Chamelco, San Pedro Carchá, Senahú and Cahabón.

One also finds fireworks, woven baskets, rope, products made of palm, candles, tulle, leather goods and items made of gourds.



By: Carlos René García Escobar

Cofradías and Hermandades

The cofradía strongest in number and cohesive structure is Santo Domingo de Guzmán, in the departmental principality. Other strong cofradías are San Pedro Apóstol in Carchá, San Juan Bautista in Chamelco, the Virgen de la Asunción in Tactic, San Pablo Apóstol in Tamahú and San Miguel Arcángel in Tucurú.

The hermandades prove to be weak in contrast to the cofradías, in their responsibilities to perform their own "paabanc". (Paabanc refers to the specific ritual of petition and gratitude before a cult image of an ancestral religious faith syncretized with sacred Catholic food and drink). The largest paabanc in the Department is offered by the cofradía of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, whose chapel can accommodate up to two hundred people and is designed with specific places within it for the consumption of food.


The traditional dances of the Department are abundant. Some relate the characteristics of the pre-Hispanic ritual dances and others represent rituals that have been blended with medieval colonial elements. All of these persist until today to represent the burden of the irreplaceable cultural identity of the people of Alta Verapaz.