Guatemala is one of Central America’s most diverse countries, where you’ll discover ancient Mayan traditions, looming volcanoes, steamy jungles and shimmering lakes. With a strong indigenous presence, brightly coloured markets and ancient Mayan ruins rub shoulders with faded Spanish colonial grandeur. Easily combinable with other Central American countries, Guatemala is a country of stunning natural beauty and cultural charm.
The landscapes of the country lend themselves perfectly to the adventurous traveller, where jungle trekking and volcano hikes, white-water rafting, caving and zip-lining through the canopy are just a handful of the activities on offer. With not even 2% of the country developed into a town or city, natural scenery is a huge draw on holidays to Guatemala. Lush canyons and the towering volcanoes are just the start – considered one of most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlan is a shimmering turquoise body of water ringed with volcanoes amid the central highlands. Visit the charming traditional villages of Santiago Atitlan and San Juan La Laguna dotted along its shores to have a glimpse at the daily lives of the locals who dress in brightly coloured attire.
Antigua is Guatemala’s most beautiful city and a city best explored on foot. Leafy central plazas and cobblestone streets are lined with pastel-hued buildings in every colour, creating an atmospheric setting for Guatemala’s centre for art and culture. Many colourful artisan markets can be found in Antigua and around the country, but for the most immersive experience of local trade you’ll want to head to the town of Chichicastenango, or Chichi, where you’ll find the country’s largest and most flamboyant market, as well as the fascinating Iglesia de Santo Thomas church. Dating back to 1540, its rituals are said to be distinctly more Maya than Catholic.
Guatemala’s less-visited eastern coast provides a very different feel to those coming from Antigua and Lake Atitlan. With a distinct Afro-Caribbean culture, the coastal town of Livingstone is a fine example of Garifuna culture. Embark on a boat trip along Rio Dulce, wending its way through dense rainforest. The river makes its way from Guatemala’s largest lake, Lake Izabel to Livingston. This area is also home to the Castillo de San Felipe fort, once used to protect Guatemala’s waterways from pirate attacks during colonial times as well as the famous Mayan site of Quirigua, where visitors can be amazed at the detailed stelae.
To explore Guatemala’s Maya history in full, Tikal will not fail to impress, a Mayan ruin that’s been sympathetically restored and allowed to merge into the surrounding virgin rainforest. Discover the mysterious jungle setting with 44-metre-high pyramids poking through the tree tops and unusual creatures such as the howler monkey and colourful toucans sitting in the branches above.
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