Located in Central America, just south of Mexico lies the country of Guatemala. It’s a beautiful and rugged country, home to steep volcanoes, vast rain forests, ancient Mayan ruins, coastal beaches and the beautiful colonial city of Antigua.
International flights arrive via Guatemala City and domestic air travel is limited with only one flight between Guatemala City and Flores. Modes of transportation include local buses, more affectionately known as “chicken buses”, private shuttles and car rentals. If renting a vehicle, a 4WD is recommended due to the mountainous terrain and unpaved roads.
Most travelers forgo spending any time in Guatemala City and instead head directly to the stunning Spanish influenced city of Antigua. Antigua was originally the capital of Guatemala, but following a couple of major earthquakes in the 1700’s, the capital was moved to Guatemala City. What remains, is a quaint, cobblestone-paved city, filled with the remnants of beautiful ruined churches, with arches left erected, as they would have stood in their prime. Antigua has a lot to offer travelers beyond just the ruins, with numerous museums, a great selection of restaurants and lively nightlife. From every vantage point, volcanoes loom in the distance and if you’re lucky you might even witness a volcano erupting. From Antigua, you can hike the nearby volcanoes; hikes vary in difficult and length.
A trip to Guatemala is not complete without spending at least a couple of days in the scenic region of Lago de Atitlan. This magnificent region has been captivating travelers for centuries; writer Aldous Huxley once wrote, “It really is too much of a good thing”. Lago (meaning “lake”) Atitlan is a volcano-ringed lake, surrounded by villages, in which Maya culture is still prevalent and colourful traditional dress is worn. You can stay in any of the villages, and day trips between the villages can be made by boat. Sunsets from Panajachel are to die for and can be enjoyed while sipping a cold beer at one of the many lakeside restaurants.
If you’re planning a trip to Lago, be sure to also stop in Chichicastenango, locally referred to as “Chi Chi”. Every Thursday and Sunday, Chi Chi hosts one of the liveliest open markets in Central America where you can browse for traditional Guatemalan textiles, handicrafts, food, pottery, clothing and much more. Be wary of vendors, who will pressure you to purchase overpriced handicrafts, bartering is accepted here. Around the market you’ll find a couple of old churches worth checking out and just a short walk away is a beautiful cemetery.
If you’re looking for adventure, the trek inland to Semuc Champey is well worth the journey! Nestled in mountainous lush forest is Semuc Champey, a natural 300m-limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. On top of the bridge, is a series of stepped,
turquoise pools that are the perfect place to swim. If you’re a good swimmer, like
adrenaline filled activities and you’re not afraid of the dark, you can try an amazing caving trip that has you swimming through caverns lit only by candle light, and blindly climbing a waterfall and squeezing through small crevices.
In the humid jungle of northern Guatemala, is Tikal –one of the greatest archeological sites of Central America. This well-preserved Mayan ruined city was occupied between approximately 600 BC and AD 900 and now showcases more than 3,000 structures, including temples, and pyramids. What makes Tikal even more unique is that it is nestled and mostly still buried by rainforest. Steep pyramids rise above the jungles lush canopy and an assortment of wildlife, including howler and spider monkeys can be seen jumping from tree to tree.
Guatemala has so much to offer travelers and the best part is that it’s still a well-kept secret on the mainstream traveler circuit, so check it out before everyone realizes just how amazing it is.