Located in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala, Nebaj is the perfect destination for exploring Guatemala off the beaten track! This area is filled with rushing rivers, magnificent mountains and stunning scenery from Acul to Cocop to Cotzol. Here is my guide on hiking in Nebaj and Guatemala’s Ixil Triangle.
This hike begins at Nebaj’s parque central. Standing at the northwest corner, take the road to the edge of town and keep following it until you reach the town of Acul. Pretty simple directions but the hike isn’t a walk in the park. It begins with a steep climb straight away which caught me off guard a bit. However, hikers are immediately treated to great views of Nebaj and the surrounding area.
The path quickly flattens out as you stroll across farmland before taking a steep drop into the town of Acul. I highly suggest taking the little paths along the road because it will be packed with dirt which makes it easier to grip your feet. The steep parts of the road going down are filled with loose rock.
Acul is truly beautiful and worth walking around. It’s completely surrounded by mountains and hikers are treated with splendid views no matter where they look. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. It’s also a pretty lively town with friendly locals and there always seems to be something going on there.
The full hike from Nebaj to Acul takes around 2-2.5 hours one way. After arriving, hikers have multiple options for getting back into Nebaj. They can hike the same way back or take a minibus from Acul back to Nebaj. There is also the option to hike 45 minutes Visakbiya and catch a chicken bus on the main road or hitch a ride back to Nebaj from there. If you pick the last option, the road out of town goes by Hacienda San Antonio and Finca Mil Amores which are worth stopping by if you really love cheese.
From the Nebaj bus terminal area, follow the road on Google Maps that takes you to Iglesia De Dios Nueva Jerusalem. Once you pass this church take a left at the T-intersection (where the tienda is located), cross the bridge and that road will take you to Cocop. You can also watch my vlog of this hike above for directions on where to go.
Hikers experience a gradual climb up the road to Cocop but it’s definitely not as steep as the hike to Acul. The road winds through farmland and obstructed views of Nebaj and the valley. However, the views get much better once you turn the corner and descend into Cocop. Hiking Nebaj to Cocop takes around 90 minutes one way.
Once in Cocop, you will take a road going west towards the town of Rio Azul. Ask the locals and they can direct you to correct road which eventually turns into a small trail that snakes its way along a small river. The hike to Rio Azul is relatively flat but most of it is pretty rocky since it is mainly used by horses or donkeys. However, the surroundings views are fantastic all the way into Rio Azul. There are a few nice stops along the way where you can relax by the rushing water. The whole hike should take around 3-3.5 hours to complete.
Take a minibus headed to La Laguna Tzalbal (5 quetzales) from the Nebaj bus terminal. From where you’re dropped off, follow the road north towards the town of Tzijulche. You will experience a big descent down into Rio Xaclbal. This is a good place for a quick rest before the big ascent into Xeo. Hikers will also be descending down towards the river the following day coming from Cotzol and ascending into Visibakvitz. Once you arrive into Visibakvitz, there’s a lovely lady selling frozen chocolate bananas and helados (ice cream) for 1 quetzal. Treat yourself because the toughest part of the hike is over.
I spent the night in the town of Cotzol. The beds here were really comfortable and only cost 50 Quetzales a night. I also paid 20 Quetzales each for dinner after I arrived and breakfast in the morning. The locals in Cotzol had a board which set out a rotational system that determined which home I would go to for each meal.
Most people will take two days to complete this trek (hiking 5-6 hours each day) however some people take three days in order to have a more immersive culture experience in each of the towns. I enjoy walking through these Ixil towns because everyone was friendly and welcoming. Although I thought it was amusing that all the little kids saw me as a boogeyman when they spotted me.
I would recommend hiring a local guide for this trek who knows the area really well and share also share their experience about the ‘Silent Genocide’ which took place in this region during the early 1980s.
*BONUS* Multi-Day Hikes
If you complete the Nebaj-Acul hike and want to extend your hike for a few days, there are a couple options. First continue west through the towns of Xexocom and Chortiz.
If you want to stay in the same region (Quiche), spend the night in Parramos Grande before continuing east towards Xepium. There are lodging options in each of the towns mentioned above. From Xepium, there is a chicken bus coming from Salquil you can take all the way back to Nebaj.
The more popular and challenging hike to Todos Santos continues onto Palop. before turning back west towards through the towns of Capellania and Ventosa before finishing in Todos Santos. This hike is a steady incline compared to the previous hike.
The highest point is La Torre which stands at 3870 meters (12,697 feet) before your descent into Ventosa. There is also the option to take a chicken bus from Ventosa to Todos Santos if you are limited on time.
These are some helpful links that provide more excellent information about this beautiful area of Guatemala.
Nebaj.com is packed with plenty of tips and things to do in Nebaj and the surrounding area.
Hacienda San Antonio is a cheese farm located just outside Acul. They also have beds there if you want to stay a night or two.
Guia Ixiles offers a variety of hiking tours with local guides.
Quetzaltrekkers is based out of Xela and does a Nebaj-Todos Santos group hike twice a month.