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Guatemala is a country that is unique not only for the extraordinary beauty of the countryside, but also for the vibrant soul in the character of the people. Home to a population of 12 million, there is an exquisite cultural mix of 22 Maya ethnic groups. A hot coastal climate is perfectly balanced with a temperate climate in the highlands. Guatemala is a county of contrasts, emotion and adventure. The country’s natural and cultural treasures are even further enhanced by the fabled warmth of Guatemalans not to mention the breath taking attractions that seem to lurk around every corner.
-Guatemala Tourism Bureau
I recently visited Guatemala on a trip hosted by Virtuoso’s Guatemala onsite Viaventure. This trip is thus far the best travelling experience I have ever had, and I truly give this credit to Viaventure. From the time they picked us up from the airport, Viaventure took care of every major and minor detail to make this journey incredible for everyone involved. Viaventure offers a wide selection of activities in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, with a special focus on tailor-made, unique itineraries that fit the special interests and budget of every guest. Comprised of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and innovative travel professionals, they are sure to exceed your expectations. Our personal guide, Jose Gonzalez, a poet, artist, avid outdoorsman, contributor to Destination magazine, and archaeologist, was an excellent leader, whose love and respect for Guatemala left us all coming home feeling the Guatemalan Passion.
My journey began in Guatemala City at the Otelito Hotel. This small boutique hotel located in the renowned “Zona Viva” district is within walking distance of excellent dining and nightlife. I recommend one day in Guatemala City, its historical centre, boasts an amazing cluster of XVIII century buildings. Among them, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, the Centennial Park and the Central Market.
From Guatemala City we ventured north to the colourful town of Chichicastenango, here Central America’s largest market takes place every Sunday and Thursday. Indian families from more than sixty surrounding villages travel here to sell their crafts and wares to the locals and tourists. When shopping for a local treasure in Guatemala, look for local weaving, jade jewellery and oil paintings. Of the two market days, Sunday is also when the traditional religious brotherhoods stage ceremonies in the whitewashed 16th century Church of Santo Tomas, located in the centre of the market. This is a truly unique experience to observe the Catholic and Mayan rituals practised side by side.
From Chichi, we travelled approximately one hour West to where is known “The Most Beautiful Lake in the World”. Lake Atitlan, a collapsed volcano cone, surrounded by three Fuji-like volcanoes and a number of indigenous Mayan villages. During our two days spent here, we took a boat ride across the lake and visited three distinct villages, San Antonio, Santa Catarina and the well known hippy town of Panachel. While visiting the villages I learned much about the Guatemalan culture. The simple-maized farming methods the men still use, unchanged over time. The weaving skills the young girls learn and at such an early age. And the respected values of family and community that holds these villages together.
Located hillside, overlooking Lake Atitilan, is the beautiful Casa Palopo. This beautiful villa offers 9 gorgeous and spacious suites, impeccable service and gourmet cuisine. The Casa Palopo offers you a quiet, intimate, lap of luxury in one of the world’s most peaceful settings. There are not enough words to describe the beauty and ambience of this property. I recommend 4-7 day stay in this area.
After an incredible time in the highlands, we travelled back to Guatemala City where we took a domestic flight to Flores. The flight was approximately 25 minutes, and can be included at a discounted rate with your itinerary. Flores is located in the North East region of Petan, just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. This is the rainforest region of Guatemala, home to thousands of species of plants, flowers and incredible wildlife. Our nights were spent at Francis Ford Coppola’s La Lancha Resort. This resort is located on the hillside overlooking Guatemala’s second largest lake, Lake Petan Itza. A small peaceful property, offering outstanding service and indescribable beauty. As I went to sleep the first night in my private lodge, I could not believe the amazing sounds, smells and vegetation surrounding me…that is until I was woken by howler monkeys at 4:30am..yes I was definitely in the jungle!
The Petan region of Guatemala is also home to what many consider the 8th wonder of the world, Tikal. An empire that once encompassed Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Tikal was the most resplendent of all Mayan cities. Its towering pyramids were the highest structures in the Western Hemisphere. Our visit here was the highlight of my trip. Unlike, many other ruins, visitors can climb a number of the temples, including Temple IV (The Two Headed Snake) towering 212 feet over the jungle walls. Located in the Tikal National Park wildlife viewing and temple visiting to the cries of toucans and howler monkeys go hand in hand. Other wildlife in the area includes spider monkeys, wild turkeys, lizards, parakeets, coatimundis, jaguars and much more. I highly recommend visiting Tikal with a professional guide for 1-2 days.
After leaving Tikal, we took a short flight back to Guatemala City and then travelled 45 minutes South West to the colonial city of Antigua. One of the oldest cities in the America’s, Antigua was the capital of the Middle America’s until the epic earthquake of 1773. Now, with its 16th and 17th Century architecture, cobblestone streets, stylish hotels and famous Antiguan coffee farms, it offers guests a taste of colonial Spain and Guatemalan culture combined. During our visit we covered the architectural and historical highlights including the Iglesia San Francisco, the Cathedral, Central Park and La Merced Church. Amongst the fashionable cafés, shops and historical buildings stands the most beautiful rescued building of all, the Casa de Santo Domingo, Antigua’s showpiece hotel, and my home for two nights. It is set among the romantic remain of what was Antigua’s richest and most powerful monastery, built in 1642. This hotel offers its guests the comfort and service of any luxurious hotel, but also a cities history dating back to the 16th century, found in its garden ruins, museums and art galleries located within the hotel. I recommend 3-5 days in Antigua.
Guatemala is a country of diverse natural and historical attractions. There is a variety of itineraries to meet the need of every traveller, whether you are looking for adventure, romance, history or culture, Guatemala is sure to please. As mentioned earlier, this was a trip of a life time for me, I cannot wait to go back and visit the amazing places I saw and also to be introduced to the many more attractions I missed.