10 Great Ideas For Your Next Trip To Guatemala

10. Guatemala City

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Guatemala City (Spanish: Ciudad de Guatemala), locally known as Guatemala or Guate, is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Guatemala, and the most populous in Central America. The city is located in the south-central part of the country, nestled in a mountain valley called Valle de la Ermita (English: Hermitage Valley). In 2009, it had a population of 1,075,000.[3][4]

Guatemala City is subdivided into 22 zones designed by the urban engineering of Raúl Aguilar Batres, each one with its own streets and avenues, making it pretty easy to find addresses in the city. Zones are numbered 1-25 with Zones 20, 22 and 23 not existing as they would have fallen in two other municipalities territory.[42] Addresses are assigned according to the street or avenue number, followed by a dash and the number of meters it is away from the intersection further simplifying address location. The zones are assigned in a spiral form starting in downtown Guatemala city.

The city’s metro area has recently grown very rapidly and has absorbed most of the neighboring municipalities of Villa Nueva, San Miguel Petapa, Mixco, San Juan Sacatepequez, San José Pinula, Santa Catarina Pinula, Fraijanes, San Pedro Ayampuc, Amatitlán, Villa Canales, Palencia and Chinautla forming what is now known as the Guatemala City Metropolitan Area.

Zone One is the Historic Center, (Centro Histórico), lying in the very heart of the city, the location of many important historic buildings including the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Congress, the Casa Presidencial (Presidential House), the National Library and Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Plaza, old Central Park). Efforts to revitalize this important part of the city have been undertaken by the municipal government and have been very successful thus far.

In addition to a wide variety of restaurants, hotels, shops, and a modern BRT transport system (Transmetro), the city is home to many art galleries, theaters, sports venues and museums (including some fine collections of Pre-Columbian art) and provides a growing number of cultural offerings. Guatemala City not only possesses a history and culture unique to the Central American region, it also furnishes all the modern amenities of a world class city, ranging from an IMAX Theater to the Ícaro film festival (Festival Ícaro), where independent films produced in Guatemala and Central America are debuted.

 

9. Cobán

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The city of Cobán is the capital of the department of Alta Verapaz in central Guatemala. It also serves as the administrative center for the surrounding Cobán municipality. It is located 219 km from Guatemala City.

Cobán is surrounded by mountains laden with orchids, the rare Monja blanca orchid is the departmental symbol. Nature reserves in or near Cobán include Las Victorias National Park, San José la Colonia National Park, Laguna Lachuá National Park, and Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera. There can be found multiple caves, waterfalls and forests which are home to the rare Quetzal. Thus, Cobán has become a popular spot for eco-tourism.

Additional popular tourist spots in the city of Cobán include the El Calvario Church, the Dieseldorff coffee plantation, the Principe Maya Archaeological Museum, Plaza Magdalena Shopping Center and Coban’s central plaza.

8. Semuc Champey

semuc champey

Semuc Champey is a natural monument in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín. It consists of a natural 300 m limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools, a popular swimming attraction. Although it can be difficult to get to, Semuc is becoming more and more popular with travelers.[1]

7. Hike Pacaya

Mt Pacaya

Pro-tip:  Bring some marshmallows.  You can cook one in a volcanic vent near the top!

Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of Guatemala. Pacaya rises to an elevation of 2,552 metres (8,373 ft).[1] After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. Much of its activity is Strombolian, but occasional Plinian eruptions also occur, sometimes showering the area of the nearby Departments with ash.[1]

Pacaya is a popular tourist attraction. Pacaya lies 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Guatemala City and close to Antigua.[2] The volcano sits inside the Escuintla Department.[2][3]

So far, the last activity reported has been the eruption that peaked on March 2, 2014 causing ash to rain down in Guatemala City, Antigua and Escuintla.

6. Tikal

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Tikal (/tiˈkäl/) (Tik’al in modern Mayan orthography) is the ruins of an ancient city found in a rainforest in Guatemala.[2] Ambrosio Tut, a gum-sapper, reported the ruins to La Gaceta, a Guatemalan newspaper, which named the site Tikal. After the Berlin Academy of Sciences’ magazine republished the report in 1853, archeologists and treasure hunters began visiting the forest. Today tourism to the site may help protect the rainforest.[3] It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala. Situated in the department of El Petén, the site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[4]

Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.[5] Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, c. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico. There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD.[6] Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.

Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long dynastic ruler list, the discovery of the tombs of many of the rulers on this list and the investigation of their monuments, temples and palaces.[7]

5. Panajachel

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Panajachel (Spanish pronunciation: [panaxaˈtʃel], Pana) is a town in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, less than 90 miles from Guatemala City, in the department of Sololá. It serves as the administrative centre for the surrounding municipality of the same name. The elevation is 1,597 metres (5,240 ft). Population was 11 thousand in the 2000 census, estimated as 15,000 now (Insituto Nacional de Estadística de Guatemala), and has approximately doubled each of the last few decades. The town of Panajachel is located on the Northeast shore of Lake Atitlán, and has become a centre for the tourist trade of the area as it provides a base for visitors crossing the lake to visit other towns and villages.

“Panajachel” derives from the Kaqchikel language and roughly translates to “place of the Matasanos,” the white sapote fruit tree.

Although Panajachel is mostly used as a jump off point for other places around Lake Atitlan it does offer some interesting activities.  Calle Santander, the town’s most prominent Street is home to some of the best bargains in Guatemala.  The Reserva Natural Atitlan is a beautiful reserve set on the outskirts of Panajachel. Here you can watch monkeys, visit a butterfly farm, go canopying or simply hike the nature trails.  The Maya Traditions Medicine Garden is a social project set up by the Maya Traditions Foundation which educates locals and visitors about the uses of local and other plants in herbal medecine. Tours are offered by request.  A visit at the Galería, in Panajachel since 1973, located in the heart of town, should be high on the list of things to do for anyone interested in art and culture.  Panajachel is one of the settings in the book Patricia va a California by Blaine Ray.

4. Lago de Atitlán

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Lake Atitlán (Spanish: Lago de Atitlán, [atiˈtlan]) is a lake in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. It is in the Sololá Department of northern Guatemala. “Atitlan” means “at the water” in Nahuatl.

Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America with a maximum depth of about 340 metres (1,120 ft)[1] with an average depth of 220 metres (720 ft).[2] Its surface area is 130.1 km2 (50.2 sq mi).[1] It is approximately 12 x 5 km with around 20 km3 of water. Atitlán is technically an endorheic lake, feeding into two nearby rivers rather than draining into the ocean. It is shaped by deep surrounding escarpments and three volcanoes on its southern flank. The lake basin is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago. The culture of the towns and villages surrounding Lake Atitlán is influenced by the Maya people. The lake is about 50 kilometres (31 mi) west-northwest of Antigua. It should not be confused with the smaller Lake Amatitlán.

Lake Atitlán is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and is Guatemala’s most important national and international tourist attraction.[2] German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt called it “the most beautiful lake in the world,” [3] and Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it in his 1934 travel book Beyond the Mexique Bay: “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”[4]

The lake is surrounded by many villages in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Kaqchikel initially allied themselves with the invaders to defeat their historic enemies, the Tz’utujil and K’iche’ Maya, but were themselves conquered and subdued when they refused to pay tribute to the Spanish.

Santiago Atitlán is the largest of the lakeside communities, and it is noted for its worship of Maximón, an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints, and conquistador legends. The institutionalizedeffigy of Maximón is under the control of a local religious brotherhood and resides in various houses of its membership during the course of a year, being most ceremonially moved in a grand procession during Semana Santa. Several towns in Guatemala have similar cults, most notably the cult of San Simón in Zunil.

While Maya culture is predominant in most lakeside communities, Panajachel, has been overwhelmed over the years by Guatemalan and foreign tourists. It attracted many hippies in the 1960s, and although the civil war caused many foreigners to leave, the end of hostilities in 1996 saw visitor numbers boom again, and the town’s economy is almost entirely reliant on tourism today.

Several Mayan archeological sites have been found at the lake. Sambaj, located approximately 55 feet below the current lake level, appears to be from at least the pre-classic period.[10] There are remains of multiple groups of buildings, including one particular group of large buildings that are believed to have been the city center.[11]

A second site, Chiutinamit, where the remains of a city were found, was discovered by local fishermen who “noticed what appeared to be a city underwater”.[12] During subsequent investigations, pottery shards were recovered from the site by divers, which enabled the dating of the site to the late pre-classic period (600 B.C. – 250 A.D.).[13]

A project titled “Underwater archeology in the Lake Atitlán. Sambaj 2003 Guatemala” was recently approved by the Government of Guatemala in cooperation with Fundación Albenga and the Lake Museum in Atitlán. Because of the concerns of a private organization as is the Lake Museum in Atitlán the need to start the exploration of the inland waters in Guatemala was analyzed.[14]

There is no road that circles the lake. Communities are reached by boat or roads from the mountains that may have brief extensions along the shore. Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito can only be reached by boat. Santa Catarina Palopó and San Antonio Palopóare linked by road to Panajachel. Main places otherwise are Santa Clara La Laguna and San Pedro La Laguna in the West, Santiago Atitlán in the South, Cerró de Oro on The South East and San Lucas Tolimán in the East.

Recent studies indicate that a ceremonial site named Samabaj was located on an island about 500 metres (1,600 ft) long in Lake Atitlán. The site was revered for its striking connection to the Popol Wuj of the K’iche’ Mayan peoples.[citation needed]

3. Earth Lodge

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Earth Lodge is an eco-friendly lodge and avocado farm, located 8km outside of Antigua and 6000 feet into the mountains.  Earth Lodge is a unique and wonderful natural retreat,  famous for their volcano views, delicious home cooked meals, magical tree houses and friendly staff.

When’s the last time you could sleep in a tree house, in an avocado farm with a great view of volcano’s?

2. Cuidad Vieja

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Pro tip: Either walk to or take a short ride to the Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm.  Their legendary macadamia nut pancakes are absolutely amazing!  Plus, you can tour the grounds and learn how macadamia nuts find their way from the tree to your plate.

Ciudad Vieja (Spanish pronunciation: [sjuˈðað ˈβjexa]) is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Sacatepéquez. According to the 2002 Guatemalan Census, the municipality has a total of 25,696 people. Ciudad Vieja was the second site of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, the colonial capital of the country.

San Miguel Escobar is the modern name for the district that contains the ruins of the second colonial capital of the Guatemala region. The Spaniards founded their capital here in 1527, after their previous capital atTecpán Guatemala became untenable. The city was destroyed by a catastrophic lahar from Volcan de Agua in 1541, and the survivors had no choice but to abandon the site.[1] Among the casualties was the governor Beatriz de la Cueva.[2]

Their is a plaza near the center of town behind the church.  Find a bench their and embrace the beauty of this small town as it’s residents and charm come to life.

1. Antigua

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Antigua Guatemala (Spanish pronunciation: [anˈtiɣwa ɣwateˈmala]) (commonly referred to as just Antigua or la Antigua) is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Antigua is a growing tourist destination in Guatemala as it is close to Guatemala City but is much calmer and safer, with more tourist oriented activities. It is possible to take buses from Antigua to many parts of Guatemala, many travel agencies offer shuttles to the main touristic places: Monterrico beach, Atitlan Lake, Coban, Lanquín (Semuc Champey), or Tikal, though the transportation is more central in Guatemala City. Antigua is also known for its chocolate makers.[36]

Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon around Antigua. The most commanding, to the south of the city, is the Volcán de Agua or “Volcano of Water”, some 3,766 metres (12,356 ft) high. When the Spanish arrived, the inhabitants of the zone, Kakchikel Mayas, called it Hunapú (and they still do). However, it became known as Volcán de Agua after a lahar from the volcano buried the second site of the capital, which prompted the Spanish authorities to move the capital to present-day Antigua. The original site of the 2nd capital is now the village San Miguel Escobar.

To the west of the city are a pair of peaks, Acatenango, which last erupted in 1972, some 3,976 metres (13,045 ft) high, and the Volcán de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire”, some 3,763 metres (12,346 ft) high. “Fuego” is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. Steam and gas issue from its top daily, a larger eruption occurred in September 2012.

Central Park -Parque Central- is the heart of the city. The reconstructed fountain there is a popular gathering spot. Off to the side of the Central Park, the Arco de Santa Catalina is among the many notable architectural landmarks of La Antigua.

La Antigua is noted for its very elaborate religious celebrations during Lent (Cuaresma), leading up to Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter (Pascua). Each Sunday in Lent, one of the local parishes sponsor a Processionthrough the streets of Antigua. Elaborate and beautiful artistic carpets predominantly made of dyed sawdust, flowers, pine needles and even fruits and vegetables adorn the processions’ path.[citation needed]

Due to its popularity amongst tourists and its very well developed tourism infrastructure, Antigua Guatemala is often used as a central location in which many choose to set up base and from here, visit other tourist areas in Guatemala and Central America. Cruise ships that dock at Guatemalan ports offer trips to Antigua from both the Pacific and Atlantic. Antigua also holds a sizeable retirement community from the US as well as Europe.[citation needed]

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