If you still don’t know where to go in Guatemala for your next vacation, you should consider a national park. Guatemala has 92 protected areas, making up over 28% of its national territory. Most of these protected areas were created 1990. Here are even more reasons for nature lovers to go on a vacation in Guatemala. This is the list of the national parks and national nature reserves that you can visit in Guatemala to learn about local flora and fauna, as well as support them.
One of the things, why people visit this country, is for eco friendly travels where you can explore the forests and jungles, searching for the exotic wildlife of Guatemala. But where is the best place to do this? Well, there are many national parks, volcanos, and reserves that you can visit.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Guatemala, read my full blog post about it!
Table of Contents
- Guatemala’s Environmental Problems and Protection
- 7 National Parks and Nature Reserves in Guatemala:
- List of Parks, Reserves and Nature Enviroments in Guatemala
Guatemala’s Environmental Problems and Protection
All volcanoes in Guatemala are protected areas, including biosphere reserves, national parks, biotopes, natural monuments, wildlife refuges, and private nature reserves. CONAP (The National Protected Areas Council), created in 1990, is fully in charge of administering all of Guatemala’s protected areas along with CONAMA (National Environmental Commission). Unfortunately, with so many issues at hand, the Guatemalan government doesn’t put enough emphasis on preserving and protecting these areas the way it should. CONAP is extremely underfunded and understaffed. Logging, sewage runoff, and trash disposal are still huge problems. However, the largest problem these parks face, especially the Petén is deforestation.
Nowadays, a lot of the protection comes from private organizations and since 2005 the Guatemalan government is stepping up to the plate by training a special police force designated for the protected areas, mainly the Maya Biosphere Reserve where the majority of the logging and wildlife poaching still exists.
Thanks to tourism and environmental interest, the park system is able to build ranger stations with excellent facilities, well-marked trails, and comfortable guest accommodations.
With this in mind, please visit as many of these National Parks in Guatemala as you can and contribute by not collecting any of the natural materials: animals, plants, rocks, shells, etc… Just think, if everyone who visited Guatemala collected something, there would be nothing left!
Make sure to dispose of your garbage properly!
7 National Parks and Nature Reserves in Guatemala:
Chelemhá Cloud Forest Preserve
This privately managed protected area comprises 500 hectares of primary cloud forest and is part of the Sierra Yalijux mountain range, said to harbor Guatemala’s highest density of quetzal populations. The reserve forms part of an important migratory corridor to and from the Sierra de las Minas. Need I say more?
Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera
Also known as the Quetzal Biotope, this 1,044-hectare protected area is one of several biotopes administered by San Carlos University’s Department of Conservation Studies (CECON) and is conveniently situated along Highway CA-14 at Km. 160.5, about an hour from Cobán. Though quetzal birds are easier to spot in the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, the elusive creatures are said to frequent the yard of some local eating establishments, where they like to feast on the fruits of the aguacatillo tree.
The Quetzal Biotope’s convenient roadside location means that if you’re on your way to or from Cobán, you should at least stop in for a look. You might just get lucky and see one of Guatemala’s most beloved national symbols, with its exotic green plumage, long tail feathers, and bright red breast. Your best chances are between February and September. Plan on being up early if you want to see them.
Only a small part of the reserve is open to visitors, though there is plenty to keep you busy.
Candelaria Caves National Park
The cave system, discovered in 1974 by Frenchman Daniel Dreux, is composed of seven separate caves interconnected by the Río Candelaria and spanning about 22 kilometers. The caves are 20–30 meters wide in places with ceilings typically 10–60 meters high.
Caves were sacred to the Mayans, and it is thought that nearby cities such as Cancuén lacked the substantial temple-pyramids found elsewhere in the Mayan world because of the proximity of the Candelaria caves, which were used as a center for worship.
In Mayan lore, caves are thought to be entrances to the underworld, known as Xibalba. The Candelaria caves are one possible location for the mythical Xibalba; the Chiquibul caves running east-west from the northern Petén department into Belize are another.
The most convenient gateway for exploring one of Central America’s largest cave systems is a stop at the Complejo Cultural y Ecoturístico Cuevas de Candelaria. Entrance to the complex costs $3.50 (two-person minimum), including a guide and a two-hour tour.
Laguna Lachuá National Park
This almost perfectly circular turquoise lagoon is its own ecological island, like a square patch of forest floating on a surrounding sea of deforestation. To see it from the air is to get a crash course in tropical forest management and the significance of ecological islands.
The 14,500-hectare Laguna Lachuá National Park is still one of the most beautiful places on earth, despite its challenges. Here you can enjoy the refreshing waters and the dense forest all around in an atmosphere of utter tranquility. There are more than 300 species of birds found here, including mealy parrots and keel-billed toucans. Jaguars still roam the park, and you can sometimes see footprints.
The lake lies partially below sea level, at an altitude of 173 meters above sea level, but also 222 meters deep. One of the more exciting theories concerning the lake’s formation contends the lakebed is an old meteor crater, with the rest of the meteor that created it had fallen near Cobán Guatemala in an area known as the Nim Tak’a depression.
Cloud Forest Biological Corridor
The Cloud Forest Biological Corridor (Corredor Biológico del Bosque Nuboso) is a relatively new creation that encompasses a forested area bisecting the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera and Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve. Its purpose is to provide an uninterrupted biological corridor for many species of animals living in these protected cloud forests.
The corridor covers 28,640 hectares and includes nine communities and eight private reserves. A number of these private reserves are part of local hotels and restaurants in Guatemala that have begun catering to visitors interested in exploring all that this exuberant highland forest ecosystem has to offer. The result is an emerging ecotourism development area, which may serve as a model for other areas in Guatemala with roads adjacent to protected areas.
There are several kilometers of nature trails, horseback riding, and inner tubing to keep you busy should you not want to just relax and unwind. The best of the cabins are set along the creek and there are plans for smaller cabins catering to independent travelers or people on vacation in Guatemala in the works. The restaurant here does barbecue meats and has some delicious smoothies you can enjoy on an open-air patio.
Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve
The Sierra de las Minas is a vast, 242,642-hectare mountain park harboring an astounding diversity of plant and animal life and encompassing a motley assortment of ecosystems, including cloud forests harboring several species of endemic conifers, as well as tropical moist forests and rainforests.
The park extends 130 kilometers eastward (it is 30 kilometers wide) into the neighboring department of Izabal in Guatemala, where it meets with the lowland forests and grasslands of the Río Polochic delta. The biosphere reserve ranges in elevation from 400 to 2,400 meters and is composed mainly of cloud forests throughout its mountainous core in Baja Verapaz.
Sixty-two permanent streams have their source in the upper slopes of the biosphere reserve, making it an important watershed supplying the Motagua and Polochic Rivers. It is home to healthy populations of quetzals and jaguars, among other exotic species. Together with the adjacent Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge, the parks account for 80 percent of Guatemala’s biodiversity.
The biosphere reserve is privately administered by Defensores de la Naturaleza, a well-known local conservation group with ties to The Nature Conservancy, among others.
El Salto de Chilascó
Local guides can take you is the spectacular El Salto de Chilascó, which they claim is the highest waterfall in Central America, at 130 meters. Other sources, however, place the falls at 70 meters and claim the highest waterfall in Guatemala is Tzuul Tak’a, recently discovered in a remote corner of the Sierra de las Minas, with a height of 115 meters. To the best of my knowledge, the highest waterfall in Central America is still Belize’s Thousand Foot Falls, at more than 450 meters.
In any case, the Chilascó falls are certainly one of the region’s highest and are well worth a visit. They can be reached via an excellent trail in about 1.25 hours. From the tourist information center in town (where you pay a $2 admission fee), it’s two kilometers to a parking lot and the trailhead. It’s another three kilometers from there to the falls.
List of Parks, Reserves and Nature Enviroments in Guatemala
National Parks in Guatemala
Lachua National Park
Laguna Del Tigre National Park
Mirador-Rio Azul National Park
Rio Dulce National Park
Sierra del Lacandon National Park
Tikal National Park
Lanquin Caves National Park
Candelaria Caves National Park
Cerro Cahuí Biotope
Chocón Machacas Biotope
Mario Dary Rivera Biotope (El Quetzal)
Punta de Manabique Biotope
Naachtún – Dos Lagunas Biotope
El Zotz-San Miguel La Palotada Biotope
San Buenaventura de Atitlan Biotope
Maya Biosphere Reserve
Sierra de las Minas Biosphere
Santa Maria Volcano
San Pedro Volcano
Santo Tomas Volcano
Bocas de Polochic Wildlife Refuge
Petexbatun Wildlife Refuge
Arcas Wiildlife Refuge
Private Nature Reserves
Chelemha Cloud Forest Preserve
Finca El Paraíso
Manchon Guamuchal Wetland
Parque Natural Ixpanpajul
Natural Reserve Atitlan
Other Protected Areas
Cerro San Gil and Rio Las Escobas
Cloud Forest Biological Corridor
Ak’Tun Kan Caves
Kan’ Ba Caves
Rey Marcos Caves
The Mine Caves (La Cueva de las Minas)
Cueva de Las Pinturas
Tres Entradas Caves
Hun Nal Ye
Cueva de las Chinches
San Miguel, Jobonché, Jovelte
Petexbatún Area Caves
I know there are a ton of things to do in Guatemala but I highly recommend for nature lovers to take their time in Guatemala and spend some time in at least a couple of these parks, reserves, or caves. You won’t regret it!
As you can see they are all great! So which of these parks or reserves are you going to choose to meet face to face with the wildlife of Guatemala?
You’ll be treated to wonderful vistas along the way and to an opportunity to see the gradual progression from agricultural fields dotted with potato, broccoli, and cabbage patches to dense cloud forest with wonderful bromeliads, orchids, and ferns. There are two lookout points from where there are fantastic views of the spectacular waterfall.
Parks and National Natural Reserves in Guatemala