Nebaj Travel Guide
[This is a brief excerpt from pages 192-195 of Eric Larson’s travel guide to Guatemala, published by Other Places Travel Guides.]
Nebaj, or more formally Santa María Nebaj, is the gateway to the Ixil Region and sits at the base of a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by forest-clad ridges. Just past the community of Chiul, you’ll catch your first glimpse of this glimmering mountain town. Nebaj was the center of abuses carried out by the Guatemalan military during the armed conflict. After the Peace Accords ended the violence, Nebaj began to expand rapidly and continues its growth spurt today. Despite being basically off-limits during the 1980s, this fascinating place is now remarkably safe for foreigners looking to get off the beaten gringo trail, and locals are happy to have them. While the constant pouring of concrete puts a slight damper on Nebaj’s aesthetics, its beautiful surroundings hold natural wonders for the adventurous traveler.
To experience the beauty of Guatemalan traje at its finest, a simple walk down the streets of Nebaj will leave you mesmerized. Local women sport a fashionable combination of bright red corte skirts, intricate huipiles embroidered with animal motifs, and purple-and-green pom-pom cintas. Like neighboring Cotzal and Chajul, the language spoken in Nebaj is Ixil, a language both limited and strengthened by the region’s isolation from its K’iche’-speaking neighbors. However, as it develops, more and more Spanish crops up – many people in the urban center are ladino locals or fully bilingual. The town’s festival occurs yearly during the second week of August and is a rip-roaring good time.
At Nebaj’s center is an expansive plaza and enormous whitewashed Catholic church. At the time of writing, a beautiful mural was nearing completion. Food vendors and shoe-shine boys yelling “lustre!” fill the park with energy. Inside the church, the mood is somber – numerous white crosses stand in honor of countless massacred civilians. The lively market east of the park is filled with fresh vegetables and just about anything else you can imagine. Market days are Thursday and Sunday, though daily sales of some sort happen near the bus terminal. Nearby is the Mercado de Artesanías, an indoor market dedicated to the sale of Nebaj’s gorgeous textiles. You can also check out the Museo Arqueológico for some interesting history and artifact exhibits.
Micros from Quiché leave for Nebaj every half hour (Q25, 2.5hrs, 80km) and drop you in Central Park. Return micros leave just as often from a block south of the square’s southwest corner. For Guatemala City (3 daily, 6hrs), Cobán (5am, 6hrs), or Nebaj’s rural communities, head to the bus terminal behind the market. Micros to Chajul (Q7, 1hr, 22km) and Cotzal (Q7, 1hr, 17km) park at the Hotel Villa Nebaj. For Cunén and Uspantán, take a Quiché bus south to the Tronque. For Huehuetenango, change in Sacapulas.
Street addresses do exist in Nebaj, but they are mostly for show. The following accommodations and places to eat are all listed on the map above. These are our top picks from the travel guide.
Hotel Santa María: Best overall hotel in town. Blocks from the central park with an attractive courtyard and tasteful rooms (4212-7927; www.hotelsantamarianebaj.com; double Q200).
Boxbolandia: Just outside of Nebaj on the road to Chajul, this well-liked “country hotel” and event center makes for a pleasant, relaxing stay (5727-7864; double Q150).
You can’t leave the Ixil region without trying its traditional food, called boxbol (pronounced bohsh-bowl). The dish consists of corn dough wrapped in huisquil greens, then cooked and topped with pepita (ground pumpkin seeds) and tomato sauce. It is sold in Nebaj’s central park and market daily, but you might have to ask around a bit. Apiculture is fairly common here, and you can pick up some natural honey at the cooperative near the exit to Quiché.
Popi’s: Also a hostel (see Sleeping above), this restaurant and gringo hotspot has a great menu for all three meals, coffee, beer, cookies, and pie. Try the famous taco burrito. It is managed by a sweet woman named Lorena, and there are occasional long-term volunteer opportunities (meals Q20-40).
Refacciones Viky: This snack shop is always busy and offers the best refacciones in town (snacks Q5-15).
El Palmarcito: One of the best all-around comedores in Nebaj, all delicious Guatemalan meals come with fresh juice, guacamole, and grilled onions. Closed on Sunday (meals Q20-30).
Want more information and recommendations for Nabaj and traveling in Guatemala? This page is a small sample from our 398-page comprehensive travel guide for Guatemala. Written and researched by a long-time resident and Peace Corps Volunteer, the book is quickly becoming the go-to resource for travelers looking to get off the “Gringo Trail” and experience the real Guatemala. Click here to learn more about the book and what others are saying about this unique travel guide.