A Way Away in HueHue
Backpackers in Guatemala are a strange breed. Many come to the land of the Maya seeking an authentic adventure, claiming to be a different type of traveller to those that swarm into the likes of Cancun and Costa Rica‘s tourist traps on made-to-order package holidays. And yet, pretty much every single backpacker that you meet in Guatemala is on the same route, visiting the same places and staying at the same hostels (usually those hosting the best parties).
Don‘t get us wrong, we have nothing against the ?Top 10 Places to Visit in Guatemala? that are recommended by all guidebooks: Tikal, Semuc Champey, Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the likes are all epic spots that should be visited by anyone traversing the country. Nor do we have anything against Guatemala‘s infamous backpacker hostels: on more than one occasion the staff here at XelaWho have found themselves necking tequila late at night in their underwear at the bars of said hostels (sorry Mum).
Nonetheless, it is somewhat disappointing that in a country with as much to offer as Guatemala, so relatively few places are visited and so few backpackers get ?off the beaten track? to visit some of the country‘s less known, but equally jaw -dropping, spots.
Perhaps at the top of the list of the most underrated places in Guatemala is the department of Huehuetenango. So in this month‘s issue of XelaWho we‘re here to give you our top tips on getting to and travelling around what is frankly one of the most all-round beautiful areas in the country.
Unfortunately, there‘s still not much tourist infrastructure in Huehue which means that getting there and getting around can be a bit of a hassle. If you can, we recommend hitting up some locals with a car and suggesting that they travel with you (with their car of course, although you should tell them that it‘s their valuable company that you‘re really after). Just make sure that said car is in good condition and will not break down half way there, forcing you to hitch for the rest of the trip — as happened on XelaWho‘s fabled journey to Huehue earlier this year.
An excellent place to base yourself for travelling around is the remote town of Chacula?, which has lodgings called Posada Rural Finca Chacula?, offering a limited selection of private rooms and camping space next to a lake. If you can ?t access a car, then you can get there by taking a bus to Huehuetenango and from there you can either get a direct bus to Chacula? or you can take a bus to Nenton and then from there either get a micro or a pick-up to Chacula?. Once you‘re there, it‘s pretty easy to get to nearby spots, either in your own car, by hiring private transport from the local town (a rather expensive option) or by hitching on the back of pick-up trucks.
From Finca Chajula? there‘s a bunch of magical places nearby that you can visit. El Hoyo del Cimarro?n is an enormous sinkhole over 170 metres in diameter and 150 metres deep (certainly enough to give you the heebie jeebies when looking over the edge). At the bottom is a forest which supposedly harbours a completely unique ecosystem; however, this can only be reached by rappel or a long fall to certain death.
Close by you will also find the Rio Azu?l, which, as the name suggests, is a turquoise blue river flowing the region, as well as the Cenotes de Candelari?a, a series of huge natural wells surrounded by forests, filled with pristine water that is perfect for swimming in on a hot day.
Perhaps the most sublime spot in the region is the stunning Laguna Brahva, a lake that we would vouch as even more beautiful than Lake Atitlan. You can only get there by hiking and there are no human settlements in the immediate area surrounding the lake, which means that it is about as secluded and unspoiled as you can get. In fact it may the only natural water source that we‘ve visited in all of Guatemala that isn‘t spoiled by countless items of basura carelessly thrown into the water.
The lake is a gorgeous turquoise colour and in the surrounding areas you can also find a waterfall and another Cenote whose waters boast four different colours (hence its name Cenote de Cuatro Colores). You can camp on the shores of the lake, however if you are planning to do so,
be prepared for a gruelling 2-3 hour hike in the sweltering heat, straight down on the way there and straight up on the way back, with all your gear, food, water, tents and sleeping bags. We skipped the camping part and felt very smug about our decision when we encountered fellow travellers with heavy backpacks, sweating and swearing their way back up along the path up the mountain.
Visiting these beautiful places in Huehue took on a s
ense of urgency in June this year when it was revealed that another of the department‘s natural wonders, Laguna Magdalena — a lake nestled high up in the mountains of Los Cuchumatanes at a whopping 3,200 metres above sea level — had dried up for the first time ever due to the overly long summer that Guatemala experienced this year, leaving in its traces little more than muddy bog. Fortunately, the lake recovered when the rainy season finally came round in full force but the event nonetheless serves as a stark warning to the threat that climate change poses to many of the world‘s natural wonders that we hold so dear.
So whether you‘ve just arrived in Guatemala and are looking for a different experience away from all the packaged backpacker tours and naked tequila drinking or whether you‘re a seasoned Guatemalan veteran and are looking for a new place to explore — we can‘t recommend Huehue highly enough. So grab your backpack and your swimming trunks and hit the road!