Guatemala

Guatemala Travel Guide

Antigua Guatemala Travel Guide by CC user fernandoreyes on Flickr

Antigua Guatemala Travel Guide by CC user fernandoreyes on Flickr

Introduction

While many people have a negative association with the country of Guatemala due to its constant portrayal as a place of drug-fuelled violence, the reality of the situation is that this nation is filled with amazing experiences just waiting to be had.

Travelers that refuse to be cowed by these fears will be richly rewarded, as some of the best ruins from the ancient Mayan civilization, one of the most deeply beautiful lakes in the world, and some of the most gracious people you’ll find anywhere can all be found here.

Currency: Guatemalan Quetzal

Languages: 60% Spanish, the other 40% speak upwards of 23 different indigenous languages; most speak Spanish as a second language though…

What To Do

Tikal by CC user mrgarin on Flickr

When it comes to culturally significant attractions in Guatemala, there is no question that Tikal is the most significant of them all.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Tikal is the largest city that has been found in the Mayan World, as it had interactions not only with the other smaller supplicant settlements in the region, but it also conducted trade relations with other major Mexican civilizations to the northwest.

The population of this ancient city once pushed upwards of 90,000 people in its heyday, but today, it is tangled in a humid mess of the tropical rainforest that dominates Guatemala’s north.

You can get a good look of the surrounding area from the top of the highest temples in the area, which reach heights of over 230 feet, putting it well above the canopy of the surrounding forest.

If all that hiking around in the heat has you searching for relief, taking a trip to the central part of the country will put you at the doorstep of Semuc Champey, a park that is famous for its bluegreen river waters.

Made significant by a series of limestone terraces that form natural pools that visitors love to swim in, This attraction is popular among backpackers, so the word is starting to get out about this special place in the middle of the Guatemalan wilderness.

For now though, it is a very peaceful retreat that will feel miles away from the noisy reality of life is Guatemala’s many towns and cities.

The federal capital of Guatemala is in the appropriately named Guatemala City, it used to reside 40 kilometres to the west in the city of Antigua Guatemala. However, repeated major earthquakes by the late 18th century led authorities to move the capital to where it is presently.

While this reduction in prestige could have killed this place, the abundance of amazing architecture led to it being preserved over time, and thus, it became one of this country’s most significant tourist assets.

Essential sights that no one should miss include The Arch of Santa Catalina, Cathedral de Santiago, as well as randomly wandering along the cobblestone streets and admiring how the various home and business owners have taken the posh buildings that were left behind by colonial authorities and creating a city that is truly breathtaking to anyone that happens upon it.

If you have time, book a volcano climbing expedition, as the view of the town from atop one of its towering peaks is one that you will never forget for the rest of your life.

Lake Atitlan by CC user motherscratcher on Flickr

That isn’t all the breathtaking vistas that Guatemala has to offer though, as Lake Atitlán has been considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful lakes by many leading travel publications.

Situated in a former caldera following a massive volcanic eruption many thousands of years ago, the mood in this part of the country is one of serenity and relaxation.

More than a dozen towns and villages are situated on the shores of this lake, and they are lorded over by a number of dormant and active volcanoes. One of the most popular activities here is to get out on the water via the ferry, or on a kayak.

Volcano tours are also popular here, as well as guided expeditions to coffee plantations in the area. If you wish to stay in the area long term, there are cottage rentals around the perimeter of the lake, some of which are located in remote areas that are only accessible by ferry.

Finally, be sure to check out Rio Dulce before heading onward to Honduras or El Salvador. The main attraction here is its National Park, which offers opportunities to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, as well as to take a soak in its famous hot spring waterfalls.

Castillo de San Felipe is a small forward that used to protect this area from Caribbean pirates, and is also worth checking out before taking a ferry to Honduras or Belize.

What To Eat

Fiambre by CC user cvander on Flickr

When you are out and about exploring the streets of Guatemala, one snack that you can count on finding as you wander are Tamales.

In Guatemala, there are many different varieties of this bite-sized treat, but they will all do a good job of silencing the hunger pangs that claw at you from within.

While all Tamales contain corn meal of some variety, there are a number of different Tamales Colorados are filled with tomato sauce, olives, and your choice of meat (chicken, beef, or pork), while Tamales Negros are much sweeter, as they contain tasty morsels of chocolate, raisins, and prunes.

When the time comes for a main course, are uniquely Guatemalan meal that you can have at any time of year is Chile Relleno.

Translating into English literally as stuffed pepper, this dish may have had its origins in Puebla, Mexico, but the Guatemalan version of this dish is unique to this country. Here, it is stuffed with shredded pork and various vegetables, and is served on the side with tomato sauce.

If you are in the country around the time of the day of the dead, attempt to try some Fiambre. This dish is a massive salad that contains many different ingredients; depending on where you try it, it usually contains liberal amounts of hard boiled egg, cold cuts, chicken, olives, and many different types of food, which depends on what the dead ancestors of the family you are visiting enjoyed when they were alive.