Antigua Guatemala was the capital of Central America from 1543 to 1773. In the same year it was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake and relocated to Guatemala City, 45 kilometers away. Embedded in the natural beauty of perfect cone volcanoes, the city captivates with its colonial charm, the friendliness of its residents and its lively indigenous traditions. The colonial capital is known for its baroque colonial architecture, Mediterranean colors and the ruins of numerous churches and monasteries shape the cityscape. From Antigua you can reach Chichicastenango, a city in the highlands of Guatemala. Chichicastenango was an important religious and political center in the ancient Quiché kingdom. Today it is best known for having the largest market in Central America. The market held every Thursday and Sunday on the stairs of the local church attracts traders and buyers from Guatemala, local Quiché, as well as a large number of tourists. There is an overwhelming selection of colorful, traditional handicrafts, but fruit and vegetables also enrich the wide range.
The ruins of Tikal with the remains of 3,000 buildings are located in a 567 km2 national park. Tikal was one of the most important cities of the classical Maya period. The site was abandoned around 930 for reasons unknown. Numerous excavations were carried out up to 1969, which uncovered a total complex of 65 km2. A visit to the world-famous Mayan site of Tikal in the middle of the jungle is the cultural and historical highlight of all Guatemala trips. The tops of the steep pyramids rise imposingly over the rainforest. Tikal is known for the enormous extent of the excavation area and the huge temples – which only suggests what a mighty city it must have been. The entire area around Tikal was declared a national park and is now a World Heritage Site.
The current capital is Guatemala City. It was founded in 1776 after the two old capitals Ciudad Vieja and Antigua Guatemala were destroyed by natural disasters in 1541 and 1773. Officially, the new capital is called La Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncíon, but the locals usually only call it “La Ciudad”. The city has developed into a metropolis with a million residents, making it one of the most important cities in Central America. However, since several earthquakes destroyed the city’s buildings, most of the buildings are modern today. Only 3 churches, including the five-aisled cathedral, date from the 18th century, but also had to be restored. The city also has a modern art museum and several museums devoted to the pre-Columbian way of life.
Surrounded by 14 Mayan villages and three picturesque, steep volcanoes, the lake is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lakes of all. The deep blue water rests in a 320 meter deep caldera. On a boat tour you can get to know the unique atmosphere of Lake Atitlán and its surroundings and visit a few of the surrounding villages. The villages around the lake are very different and some of them even have their own languages. For example, San Juan La Laguna is a fully traditional Maya city, despite being on Guatemala’s most popular tourist attraction, Lake Atitlán. In this traditional village, you can stroll along the cobblestone street and marvel at the paintings on the walls. The village of Santiago Atitlán lies at the foot of the mighty volcanoes and is the center of the Tzutujíl Maya. One of the great highlights of the area is a mountain tour on one of the surrounding volcanoes. No matter which of the volcanoes you climb, you get a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes from the summit.
Todos Santos and Quetzaltenango
Todos Santos is a small village, idyllically situated in the middle of the Chuchumatan Mountains. There is hardly any other place in Guatemala where you have the opportunity to get so close to the traditional way of life of the people. In the village you can visit a local weaving cooperative and find out how the Guatemalan women laboriously weave the beautiful, colorful fabrics. You also get an insight into the history of traditional costumes and their changes over the years and of course there is also a large selection of different handicrafts for sale. Near Todos Santos is Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala, which its residents also affectionately call Xela. Quetzaltenango is located in a large valley, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes and indigenous villages. It upholds the traditions of its cultural heritage as well as its colonial past and a modern lifestyle. In pre-Columbian times, Quetzaltenango was the city of the Xelajú Maya, whose name means “under ten mountains”, and was already 300 years old when the Spaniards arrived. Since the city is located on geothermal ground, you can relax in your free time with a bath in the hot springs, the Fuentes Georginas.
Quiriguá Archaeological Park
Guatemala can boast several important archaeological sites. One of them is the Quiriguá archaeological park, in which steles and stone sculptures with mythical animal creatures and hieroglyphic inscriptions from the Mayan period can be seen. Quiriguá is a medium-sized site located in western Guatemala on the lower reaches of the Motagua River. What is unusual about Quiriguá is the fact that almost all of the sculptures are in excellent condition and have been dated with inscriptions. The proportion of large ceremonial buildings is – compared to the total area and the importance of Quiriguá – quite small, but more important are the many sculptures Quiriguá, which are among the most impressive of ancient Mesoamerica. The site from the classical period of Mayan culture has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
The Río Dulce consists of an alternating system of river and lakes. Its source is on Lake Izabal. Lake Izabal is the largest lake in the country and is surrounded by mountains and lush tropical vegetation. Due to the connection to the Carian Sea, it has always had a special meaning for trade. The fortress Castillo San Felipe de Lara, which was built at the northeastern end of the lake and was built to protect against pirate attacks, testifies to this. Many manatees live in the lake and swim into the lake from the Caribbean Sea. The Río Dulce flows further through the lake El Golfete and finally flows into the Caribbean at Livingston. Livingston can only be reached by sea. Livingston is known for its unusual mixture of different ethnic groups and cultures, the place is characterized by the Garifuna, the only dark-skinned Afro-Caribbean ethnic group in Guatemala that speaks its own language made up of Spanish, English and local dialects. As a result, you experience a completely different flair and mood here than in the rest of the country. From Livingston, boat trips to the Siete Altares, seven small waterfalls, and through the gorges of the Río Dulce to Lake Izabal are worthwhile. Visit cellphoneexplorer for Caribbean Travel Guide.
El Peten is located in northern Guatemala and covers almost a third of the area of Guatemala, but is very sparsely populated. Originally it was almost completely overgrown with rainforest, now the south of the region is mostly covered by savannahs after the forest was cleared. In the north, however, the rainforest has been preserved and provides a habitat for numerous animal species such as jaguars, puma and toucans. The region is considered the origin of the Maya, which is also reflected in the fact that more than 200 archaeological sites have been found in El Peten to date. The best known is Tikal, but there are some other ruins worth seeing, e.g. Yaxha, Altar de Sacrificios, Yaxchilán, Piedras Negras and a few more. Tikal is an ancient Mayan city in the middle of the rainforest.