The Surprising Río Negro
Guatemala always surprises. Whether to the north, the south, the east, or the west; up, down, in, or out. It impresses and impacts. Traveling through the countryside, crossing its landscape, breathing its springtime, learning about its people… wherever you go, this country will leave its mark on you.
It’s true that each time that we reinvent ourselves, and each time that we discover new inspirations and adventures, humankind’s sentiments flourish and are reborn. There are secret places that are little known; visiting them helps to keep life going, helps to refocus our vision. That’s what happens when you visit Río Negro, a paradise in the heart of the country, right in the middle of the Verapaces and El Quiché.
The official name of the place is Río Negro Historical and Cultural Center, Riij Ib’ooy, which means “armadillo skin,” and it’s located in the department of Baja Verapaz. Tucked between mysterious and untouched mountains that rise above, the town consists of sixteen houses and a beautiful and comfortable hostel fully equipped for up to thirty people.
In order to get to Río Negro, you must pass the colossal Chixoy hydroelectric dam and power plant, one of the largest construction and engineering achievements in the country. It’s striking and worth a short visit; the machinery and its operation are impressive and you can observe both the landscape and the monumental construction. After this, you can take a boat and, crossing the river that separates the mountains, arrive at the small hidden town – a beautiful place.
It should also be highlighted that while it’s very isolated, necessities are still available: sunlight for daytime illumination and moonlight for the night; very fresh, pure water, clean and clear, comes from the mountains; and breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, of authentic homemade Guatemalan food, are served by women from the village.
The people are also wonderful and friendly. They still have that little bit of purity of a civilization that has not been contaminated with the defects of modernity.
Nonetheless, their history is strong and painful, as they were part of the Guatemalan internal armed conflict of the 1980s, which marked their lives. It’s one of the places which can give one of the best testimonies about how powerful the armed conflict was in this country. It’s also one of the most appropriate places to commemorate the suffering of the victims.
There are many things to do in Río Negro. There are exhibits that illustrate the historic events experienced by the community from the viewpoint of its inhabitants. The area offers the opportunity to learn about the ways in which the Maya Achí culture is transmitted from parents to children. The region is ideal for fans of adventure and extreme sports, who want to engage in rock climbing and mountaineering. It’s a perfect place for professional and amateur photographers; its landscapes, sunsets, sunrises and people are truly fascinating. And you should not miss the interesting and unique guided tours of the area and explanations about its history offered by the villagers themselves.
There is an interesting variety of facilities: including the Casa de los Alimentos (House of Foods), where tools and techniques of agriculture and handicrafts are shown and described; as well as the Casa de los Tejidos (House of Fabrics), the Casa de los Recipientes (House of Containers), and the Casa Cocina (Cookhouse). All are houses with thatched or wooden roofs and walls made of adobe, wood, stone or mud. Without a doubt, it’s a perfect place to encounter one part of the extensive Guatemalan culture and an example of vernacular style.
All this is framed by breathtaking scenery and a special ambiance, as well as secrets, stories and anecdotes. In a way, it’s an untouched place. Watching the sunset from atop one of the hills, with the river at your feet, is an experience that is unrivaled. Every hill has a name and each retains its different form and vistas. It’s one of the most beautiful and rarely visited corners of Guatemala. It’s a place worth going to as soon as possible, because Río Negro will surprise you.
For more information and reservations, visit the town’s website www.rio-negro.info
Photos by: Guillermo García-Durán