- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Guatemala is a land of tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountain lakes, mountain cloud forests, volcanic beaches and coral reefs. Weaving is a popular business with a rainbow of colors found in the villagers' hand-woven clothes, each indigenous village has its own unique pattern and color. The ancient ruins of Tikal provide a look at Mayan culture with plazas, an acropolis, pyramids, temples and a museum.
Guatemala is one of those rare finds, with a good mix of travel options to satisfy adventurers, culture seekers, beach worshippers, and travelers looking for a little relaxation. The country is a cultural highlight in Central America, from the colonial architecture and cobbled streets of Antigua Guatemala to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Small towns in the highlands and on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan offer a chance for unique cultural experiences. Tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountain lakes, cloud forests, coral reefs, and beaches will entice nature lovers of all kinds. Those who venture down to the coasts will encounter lovely beaches for relaxing, and fishing villages where travelers can escape busy city streets and find solitude in a hammock. Throughout the country are markets with local goods for sale, particularly textiles, but these usually only operate on certain days of the week.
Mayan Ruins of Tikal
In the humid jungle of northern Guatemala, near the border of Belize, stands one of the greatest archeological sites in Central America. The well preserved ruined city of Tikal, occupied between approximately 600 BC and AD 900, showcases more than 3,000 structures, from pyramids and temples to plazas and an acropolis. It was one of the most important urban Mayan centers for more than a thousand years and is today one of the largest Mayan archeological sites of its time period still in existence.
The experience of visiting Tikal is certainly enhanced by the surroundings. Steep pyramids rise above the jungle's lush green canopy and birds, monkeys, and other wildlife that frequent the area. Tikal National Park, which encompasses the ruins, is a biosphere reserve, protecting rainforest and wildlife habitat.
Antigua Guatemala, most often referred to simply as Antigua, is one of the highlights of Guatemala and certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Central America. Set amid surrounding volcanoes, this former capital of Guatemala offers a unique glimpse of a city unblemished by modern day concrete buildings and high rises. Here, the cobbled streets are lined with lovely old colonial buildings, some of which show evidence of the earthquakes that have contributed to the city's history. Everywhere in the old city center are grand churches and convents.
Isolated Chichicastenango, known locally as "Chichi," is a large town surrounded by valleys and mountains. The sleepy cobblestone streets come alive on Thursdays and Sundays as it hosts one of the largest and most hectic markets in Guatemala. This is a locals' market, selling regular everyday goods, vegetables, and the distinctive textiles for which it is so famous, as well as tourist oriented trinkets. Vendors come from miles around for this market, making it a great opportunity for people watching.
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second-largest city, is the commercial center of southwestern Guatemala. More commonly called Xela, the town's major sights are the Parque Centro América and the Neoclassical buildings surrounding it. Most of these buildings, apart from the cathedral, stem from the era in the 19th century when Xela was a major trading and artistic community. Many visitors come to Quetzaltenango to study Spanish or enjoy hiking in the nearby mountains.
Pacaya Volcano, Antigua
The Pacaya Volcano, rising to more than 2,550 meters, offers the chance to witness volcanic activity first hand. Located near Antigua, this volcano been continuously active since 1975, and lava explosions constantly change its appearance. Organized tours offer guided hikes on the volcano and an opportunity to roast marshmallows over the heat created by hot spots. It should be noted that, as an active volcano, hiking it does involve some risks.
Livingston on the Caribbean Coast
his small town of brightly painted wooden houses, found in the jungle among coconut groves, lies along Guatemala's Caribbean Coast. Livingston feels more like the Caribbean than the rest of Guatemalan because of its population of Garífuna, descendants of escaped would-be slaves and the indigenous Maya. They have created a distinctive culture and language. Caribbean rhythms abound and they increase during the month of May as a Garífuna pilgrimage arrives in town.