A Guatemalan Get Away
The Central American country of Guatemala is home to a vast number of volcanoes, ancient Mayan sites, many lively cities and a long, turbulent history. The name Guatemala derives from the indigenous Nahuatl word “Quahtlemallah” meaning the “land of many trees” – which is an appropriate description for this fascinating place as it is filled with tropical rainforests. Wildlife thrives here, but there is one bird that is becoming hard to find – Guatemala’s national bird, the Quetzal. However, you can see these beautiful long-tailed birds every day on bank notes, as currency here is named after the famous bird. You might not know it yet, but this destination should be on your bucket list – it’s a place filled with adventure, mystery and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences and whilst Spanish is the official language, there are twenty-one indigenous Mayan communities who each have their own language. To get further insight on this multi-ethnic and multilingual wonderland, I would 100% recommend completing GG Treasure Hunts Guatemala Online Wanderlust Treasure Hunt!
5 Must See Destinations:
Tikal is the monumental ruins of an ancient city and ceremonial centre, located in a rainforest in Northern Guatemala. It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation, dating back to as far as the 4th century BC. The Tikal ruins are the central attraction of the Tikal National Park, which was established in the 1950s and then declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. At first, Tikal was occupied as a small village, which was then transformed into an important ceremonial centre with the construction of major pyramids and temples. The sites main structures include five pyramidal temples. The pyramids vary between 140 and 215 feet, with The Temple of The Two Headed Serpent being the tallest. To build these iconic structures the Mayans used readily available local materials, which is incredibly impressive. Descendants of the Maya civilisation still live in Central America and Guatemala today. The best way to explore this powerful kingdom is through a guided tour and be sure to stop off at one of the many restaurants in the National Park, including the Jungle Lodge Hotel and the Jaguar Inn.
One of the most picturesque places in Guatemala has got to be Semuc Champey. This natural monument in Atta Verapaz consists of a natural 300 metre golden limestone bridge, where the Cahabon River passes underneath it. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools with crystal clear flowing water. The natural bridge has been shaped over thousands of years, created by water slowing eroding away at the rock, eventually forming a river that goes underground. Semuc Champey is becoming more and more popular with travellers; this natural phenomenon is a great place to bring out your GoPro and capture some awesome shots. I would recommend visiting mid-December to mid-April as it doesn’t rain often, and the Cahabon River is a lot clearer, to the point where you can see the fishes. The pools are a fun and refreshing place to swim, jump, dive and even slide on the natural rockslides. Surrounding Semuc Champey are caves, rope swings and a park, complete with trails so that you can explore and discover more about this beautiful area. The most favoured hike is to the El Mirador viewpoint, so you are able to see the colourful pools in all their glory. The nearby town of Lanquin is a great place to stay if you’re planning on staying in the area a day or two; If you are budgeting the El Hostal Lanquin is a popular choice.
Lake Atitlan is an enormous body of water sat in a deep volcano crater created by an eruption 84,000 years ago, situated in Guatemala’s Southwestern Highlands. Surrounded by steep, verdant hills, volcanoes and Maya villages, this endorheic lake is a must see as it has been labelled as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Located on a former coffee plantation, the Atitlan Nature Reserve is a magnificent gateway to the extraordinary lake and its volcanoes. The reserve offers trails, zip lines, butterfly gardens and lodgings that bring you in close contact with nature. The zip lines fly above waterfalls and the jagged cliffs that guard the lake, giving you an exceptional view from above. The lake is bordered by three giant volcano brothers: The San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlan. If you’re looking for an unforgettable hike, San Pedro hands down has the best views of the lake, where you can see it stretch for miles into the horizon. Lake Atitlan is famous for its sunsets and the Panajachel cruise is the best way to see it. Enjoy the unrivalled views as the sun sinks below the volcanos and the lake lights up on this 30-minute boat ride. You will also be able to see a vast array of birdlife, such as the Horned Guan, White Bellied ChachaLaca and Blue Throated Motmot gliding along the waters. In the Maya language Atitlan translates to “the place where the rainbow gets its colours” – the lake is definitely worthy of this description and should soon be on your bucket list.
Volcan De Fuego is famous for being a constantly active stratovolcano at such a low level in Guatemala, approximately 16 kilometres west of Antigua. The volcanoes last major eruption was in June 2018 where it unfortunately destroyed several villages in its path. However, Fuego is still active as every 20 minutes it has mini eruptions of gas and ash. The volcano is joined with Acatenango, another stratovolcano and they create a collective complex known as Horqueta. Fuego offers adventure not for the faint of heart or the unfit hiker. You can’t actually hike up Fuego for obvious reasons, therefore any hikes here take you around its neighbour Acatenango and up to its famous Knife Ridge to watch as the opposite angry summit spurts out black ash in the day and red lava at night. The hike starts by meandering up through farmland, then ventures into the cloud forest and finally traversing the high alpine slopes of the Acatenango Volcano. You can sit up at Knife Ridge and have lunch whilst watching Fuego and with any luck you will experience some ground shaking eruptions from the summit – definitely an activity you won’t forget!
Antigua is a small city surrounded by volcanoes in Southern Guatemala, not to be confused with the Caribbean island of Antigua. It’s renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings, many of them had to be restored following a 1773 earthquake, which also ended Antigua’s 200-year reign as Guatemala’s colonial capital. Antigua is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that pulses with activity, awe-inspiring architecture, absorbing culture and seriously good views. Notable architectural examples include The Santa Catalina Arch; built in the 17th century it originally connected the Santa Catalina convent to a school allowing the nuns to pass from one building to another without having to go out onto the street. It is an iconic sight that is irresistibly photogenic due to its dramatic drop back of three huge volcanoes. The cobbled streets of Antigua are lit up as you walk by buildings of flamboyant colours and vibrant markets, where local women hand make ponchos, hats and tablecloths.
Thanks to its volcanic landscape, Antigua has the ideal climate for growing coffee and the beans produced here are among the best in Latin America. A great way to spend the afternoon is by visiting one of the many coffee plantations where you can sample all the different varieties. Local’s drink it without milk or sugar as they believe it’s a shame to mask its rich, inimitable taste with other flavours. If coffee isn’t your thing, Guatemala is considered as the birthplace of chocolate and there’s no better place to get some than Antigua. There are several excellent Cacao museums that are fun to visit, where you can learn how the Mayans made chocolate – a produce they considered “the food of the Gods”. Most of the museums have adjoining chocolate shops and there are dozens of chocolate cafes in the streets of Antigua serving up heavenly chocolate cakes and sweets!