El Estor is a pleasant, friendly lakeside town on the western shores that is becoming a gateway to some natural attractions in its vicinity. The town supposedly gets its name from a corruption of the English word “store,” as it was referred to in the days of old when British pirates sailing up the Río Dulce and across the lake would come here to buy supplies.
The town is also home to a nickel mine, which functioned here in the 1970s but was later closed. Under the current government’s push to exploit Guatemala’s mineral wealth, the mine has been revived and there was debate on whether or not to allow minerals and heavy equipment to be transported up the Río Dulce between Lake Izabal and the port of Santo Tomás de Castilla.
It’s all rather reminiscent of a similar push some years back to log the Río Dulce and float the wood downstream on large boats. The loggers failed in their attempt to gain approval for their plans, and at last check the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MARN) had not decided what approach to take in this latest case based on the National Protected Areas Council’s (CONAP) assessment of the activities as not in compliance with the park’s management plan. It remains to be seen what effect the renewal of strip mining will have on the environment in the region surrounding El Estor. The mine was expected to resume production in 2008.
In any case, locals have spent some time working to make El Estor a viable ecotourism destination. Nearby natural attractions include an impressive canyon, the Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge, and the eastern end of the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve. There is a tourism information office (tel. 5415-1516 or 5818-0843) right on the main plaza.
Getting to El Estor
There are buses from Río Dulce to El Estor leaving every 90 minutes or so from the north end of the bridge. The dirt road continues west from here to Panzós, Tucurú, and Tactic, just south of Cobán, though it is not recommended because it’s notorious for highway holdups. Check on the situation if you choose this route by inquiring at Hugo’s Restaurant. If driving your own vehicle, you’ll need a 4WD for this road.
A better option for getting to Las Verapaces is to take a truck leaving the town’s central plaza at 9 a.m. daily for the village of Cahabón ($2, five hours). From there, you can take a pickup or bus to Lanquín, all the while being careful not to get stranded in Cahabón because it’s not the safest place after dark.
There are no public boat routes between El Estor and any other of the lakeside settlements, but local lancheros would be happy to take you anywhere you like. Bargain hard.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com