Coban, Guatemala — there’s a good chance most people you know who have trekked to the country haven’t spent much time, if any, there.
Unlike the areas surrounding Lake Atitlán and Antigua, Coban really has no tourism infrastructure and therefore lacks the coffee shops/sightseeing guides/English speakers that you can find in those other places.
In fact, when travelers do pass through, it’s almost always with the intention of getting to Semuc Champey, a breathtaking natural limestone feature creating stepped pools and waterfalls in the Cahabón River.
That’s why I showed up in late October, and it’s a worthy reason.
But as I found, over two weeks in town, there is much to love about Cobán itself — from its stellar coffee sourced from the surrounding hills to its massive commercial district full of vibrant markets to the beautiful national park within walking distance of the center.
Check out these 12 places when you go:
Chapultepec Hostal and Cafe
This charming double feature offers a handful of cozy rooms with hot water in the bathrooms (!) and TVs to boot. If you book the package through Airbnb, breakfast at the lovely garden cafe is included. The omelets are great. Rates may vary depending on the time of year.
Find Chapultepec, here.
Las Victorias Parque Nacional
There aren’t many national parks within walking distance of a city center, but this one is. The cost of entrance is Q.25 or about $3.50 USD and the walking paths available — including to a peaceful lagoon where you might glimpse sight of alligators or turtles — feel endless. The tropical flora is excellent as well.
Find the park, here.
Restaurante la Abadía
The city’s top restaurant without a doubt, the prices here are on the high end of Guatemala eateries but with good cause. Here, you’ll find ultra fresh lettuce in the salads (a rarity in the country), and skill in the kitchen. The salmon, seared until the exterior is crispy, is delightful.
Find La Abadía, here.
All the markets
One can easily get lost wandering through the commercial district strewn with indoor and outdoor markets boasting Artisan goods, produce, meat, fresh flowers and food stands — and that’s exactly what you should do. Start at Mercado Cantonal and go from there. Unlike in many cities, the street markets in Cobán stay open late, into the evening hours.
To find the markets, start here.
La Estacion coffeeshop
The area’s most new wave coffeeshop, you can find top-notch coffee and espresso here, with techniques such as pourovers and latte art employed. There are plenty of tables and nooks to sit and work, but no WiFi.
Find La Estacion, here.
Sitting on a narrow hill in the middle of town, this park is beautiful during the day, and filled with street food carts — most of them serving churrascos — at night.
Find Parque Central, here.
This garden restaurant feels like hiding away in the jungle. The menu includes ka’kik, a local indigenous dish of turkey broth with herbs, rice and tamalitos — or small tamales — on the side.
Find Xkape, here.
El Calvario catholic church
The church itself is magnificent but the real star of this locale is the view achieved after walking up the many steps to get there. Besides the best vista of the town below, you’ll find a small graveyard, and will likely see locals lighting incense and candles in prayer.
Find El Calvario here.
Cobán is filled with bakeries — another of its redeeming qualities — and most are displaying something tempting within. Here, try the corkscrew donuts, filled with a subtle sweet custard. Magnificent enjoyed elsewhere with a sharp espresso.
Find Verapan, here.
The burgers in the name are stuffed — as my Minnesota folks know, that’s called a Jucy Lucy in the states. But the real standouts at this Venezuelan-owned spot aren’t the burgers but the arepas, served on crispy griddled masa.
Find Rellenas, here.
Cafe Vino Y Otros Remedios
This cute little cafe acts as a coffee shop with paninis and transitioning into a wine bar later in the afternoon. Wine, in general, is pretty rare in Cobán, and although you won’t have many choices here (likely just two — red and white), it’s the one spot to reliably get it.
Find Cafe Vino here.
Coffee Tour Chicoj
Located in the little village of Chicoj, this coffee farm — or finca, as they are called here — is just 20 minutes by bus from the center of Cobán, the closest of all the fincas in the surrounding hills. They offer tours of the grounds year-round, with an option to take the canopy (zipline) from place to place. The package, including a cup of coffee or espresso at the end, is Q.135 or about $17.50 USD.
Find Chicoj here.
Cemeteries in Guatemala are often beautiful, built in a picturesque local and filled with colorful, above-ground mausoleums for the dead. This is especially true in Cobán, where the town graveyard is built on a hill with stellar views of the city below.
Find the cemetery here.