San Juan Chamelco
Seven kilometers southeast of Cobán, San Juan Chamelco is a Q’eqchi’ town whose women are known for their traditional costume, which includes the wearing of earrings made from a layered series of old coins. The church here sits on a small hill and provides wonderful views of surrounding areas. There are paintings inside depicting the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. Outside, it is interestingly decorated with Mayan adaptations of the Hapsburg double eagle, providing further evidence of the historic German influence in this region. The church’s bell was a gift to local villager Juan Matalbatz from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Mass here is held in Spanish and Q’eqchi’.
In nearby Aldea Chajaneb is the wonderful Don Jeronimo’s (tel. 5301-3191, www.dearbrutus.com/donjeronimo), run by amiable expat Jerry Makransky, where you can get away from it all and enjoy a relaxing stay at a working blueberry farm. There are rooms in the main house with fabulous balcony views of the surrounding countryside as well as quaint bungalows with private bathroom. For $25 you get a room and three delicious vegetarian meals daily. There are guided hikes available to a mountain with commanding views of the highlands as well as inner tubing on a pretty stretch of the Río Sotzil. A series of paths winds its way through the property and around the river to two swimming holes.
Don Jeronimo’s lies five kilometers outside of Chamelco down a signposted road 150 meters west of the plaza. You can walk or take a bus headed for the village of Chamil and ask the driver to let you off at the turnoff for Don Jeronimo’s. From there it’s a short walk for 300 meters along a path. You’ll see the farmhouse after you cross the bridge and walk into a clearing.
Half a kilometer from Don Jeronimo’s are the Grutas del Rey Marcos (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $3 including guide and hard-hat and boot rental), worth a look for some interesting stalagmites reached by wading across an underground river. Though the caves are a kilometer long, you’ll see only a small part of the complex on the tour.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com