Izabal is still an immaculate and unknown destination in Guatemala and I discovered it thanks to Carolina, a 25-year-old girl from my lovely village Vernazza and now a novice solo traveler.
For several weeks she has been in Guatemala, as a volunteer in a local NGO, and I asked her to tell me about this hidden paradise called Izabal.
Izabal, the Caribbean side of Guatemala
I have to say I was pretty scared by the idea of launching myself into this adventure on my own, but seeing the photos of the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, the nearby Lake Atitlan, the Mayan site of Tikal and the splendid natural pools of Semuc Champey, I gathered some courage and I left! What I found here was much more than nice pictures spots: Guatemala turned out to be a rich country with different cultures and a natural landscape that changes within a few kilometers.
What struck me most about the trip was to discover an area that is mostly unknown to tourists and that is not taken into much consideration as a destination, – except for the cities of Rio Dulce and Livingston – the area of Izabal, the Caribbean side of the country. An incredibly green region, rich in rainforests, hidden rivers and pools and woods that open majestically over the Atlantic Ocean.
A large part of this region is part of a program of protected areas, managed by an indigenous environmental foundation, FUNDAECO, a non-profit association, which in the last 30 years has promoted the creation of protected areas, set up nature reserves, supported local communities and created extraordinary programs to support women in rural locations across the country. Upon learning of this association, I offered myself as a volunteer, and this is how I was lucky enough to visit some of the lesser known points of this Conservation Coast.
Thanks to them, I also learned that the region has a network of 11 protected areas, which cover 35% of the total territory of the Caribbean part of Guatemala, forming the biological corridor of the country’s Caribbean rainforest. This area connects the forests from Belize to Honduras, making it the most important and most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, and therefore a truly unique place to visit. Eco-sustainable tourism is fundamental in the conservation of these areas and FUNDAECO has created a range of different ecotourism sites, which still remain, as I said, relatively unexplored. These, together with the Q’echi Maya and the Garifuna culture, make Caribbean Guatemala an incredible destination to discover not only the biodiversity of the country, but also its cultural diversity.
Among these sites I visited I would like to describe the two that I think are among the most beautiful, those of Las Escobas and Ensenada Verde.
Las Escobas – Sendero de Bosque Tropical is the perfect place for nature lovers but also for families or anyone who wants to relax in a magical place like the tropical forest.
It consists of three different paths, which join together in a circuit of a total length of 1.7 km, in a network of waterfalls, small rivers and transparent natural pools where you can swim and cool off after the walk. The whole complex is dotted with meditation platforms, small wooden bridges and observation points for the 400 different species of birds that you can find.
Las Escobas also offers a local guide service that can help you recognize the local fauna and flora. And don’t forget to visit the Center de Diversidad “El Arca de la Vida” and the Herpentarium at the entrance of the site, for a deeper awareness!
The site is accessible by land, and is only 20 minutes from Santo Tomas de Castilla or Puerto Barrios.
Ensenada Verde, on the other hand, is a spectacular marine coastal site. Upon arrival, with a typical local spear, you can already see small islets of rocks where the forest seems to come directly from the sea.
This site is perfect for spending time swimming, kayaking or simply sunbathing on the wonderful deck made available in the area. Equally interesting are the paths that enter into the forest and reach the observation points, which offer breathtaking views of the green Caribbean area.
Ecotourism in Guatemala
To make it short, whether you are an intrepid backpacker, on a family trip or a nature enthusiast, the Conservation Coast ecotourism can offer:
- the opportunity to get off the beaten track and see a part of Guatemala that many visitors don’t see
- a close contact with nature
- a wide variety of sites, easily accessible from one another – from interactive trails with birdwatching points to secret green caves where the forest meets the ocean
- the opportunity to directly benefit the region and its communities through sustainable tourism
I really wanted to share my experience of this unspoiled place and I would like many more people to enjoy it! I also think it is very important nowadays to travel with an eye on the environment and sustainability and always try to support local communities in some way.
I invite you to contact FUNDACO to find out more about all the 8 sites that are part of the protected area and finally be able to visit one of the areas of the planet where nature is still the master and where man’s imprint loses itself between the blue of the crystal clear water and the green of the tropical forest.