El Estor

Although the vast majority of this little town's population is Q'eqchí, there's also a decidedly Caribbean influence. Locals describe El Estor as tranquilo, which means easygoing or laid-back, and this becomes evident as you stroll around the brick streets. There's a waterfront walk where you can look for birds along the shores of Lago Izabal; El Estor is on a migratory path, so hundreds of species can be spotted here. The town, which grew up around the nickel mine to the west, seems to have drifted to sleep after the facility was shut down. Plans to reopen the mine by Canadian mining firms have generated much animosity among people in the area, some of whom have been evicted from their land. Anti-Canadian sentiment lurks under the surface here. Many travelers from Canada stay low-key about their nationality when visiting El Estor.

The drive here from Río Dulce takes you past expansive banana plantations as well as cattle ranches. Look for the massive ceiba trees along the road. They are sacred to the Maya—the only reason they were left standing when the rest of the forest was cleared. Also try to spot strangler figs, which wrap themselves around the trunks of palms. Eventually they overcome the palms, which die from lack of sunlight.

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