Guatemala – what to see and do

2019-01-18T16:10:43+00:00November 27th, 2018|
  • Casa Palopo on lake Atitlan. Pictured is the infinity pool at the hotel villas. (credit: Al Argueta)

Guatemala is an incredibly diverse destination. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to mysterious ancient Mayan ruins, there’s something to attract every traveler, and Maya Trails can help them experience the country in a fascinating, authentic way. It’s also an amazing value. Maya Trails have a ‘black book’ of preferred lodgings that include restored convents and Spanish mansions that are now exclusive, character-filled boutique properties that top out around $600 per room per night! There aren’t many value destinations travelers can go to experience this kind of combination of culture, active adventures and dramatic scenery, all of which offer captivating experiences.

Some of Guatemala’s highlights include…

AntiguaAntigua is a photographers (and food lovers and explorers) dream!

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua is just 45 minutes from Guatemala City, but a world away. It’s one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas. Cobbled streets and dappled light frame the gorgeous architecture, while amazing cuisine, cool cafes, funky bars, art galleries, exhibits and more keep travelers engaged for days. Its backdrop is breathtaking, and Maya Trails have a curated selection of boutique properties they partner with to help guests feel at home during their visit.

Insider tip: One Kusini favorite in Antigua is El Convento. Centrally located, each of its suites are unique and original. While it is a replica of a 15th century convent, the attention to detail in its design is remarkable.

Lake AtitlanLake Atitlan is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes on earth

Called ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’ by Aldous Huxley, Lake Atitlan will take travelers’ breath away. Ringed by three volcanoes, the lake offers not only serene and dramatic vistas, it also thrums with living indigenous culture and is a ‘must see’ Guatemalan attraction. The lake offers the traveler a host of authentic cultural experiences, active adventures and spectacular lakeside lodging options. Maya Trails guests can enjoy boat rides, visits to picturesque Mayan villages to experience local customs, climb a volcano, enjoy regional cuisine or just relax in one of their hand-selected properties.

Insider tip: One Kusini favorite property near Lake Atitlan is the renowned Casa Palopo. The only Relais & Chateaux property in Guatemala (and one of only two in Central America), its location perched above Atitlan’s shores offers stunning views along with fabulous food and gorgeous rooms.

If you have vegetarian clients, ask us about the spectacular Laguna Lodge (worth a stay in its own right) and its incredible vegetarian restaurant.

ChichicastenangoChichicastenango market never fails to charm visitors

Chichicastenango, or ‘Chichi’ as it is commonly known, is 85 miles northwest of Guatemala City, and is home to the largest and most colorful native market in North and Central America – perhaps in all the Americas. Market days are Sundays and Thursdays, and draw not only the K’iche’ Maya of the surrounding region, but vendors from all over the country, representing many of Guatemala’s linguistic groups such as Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel and others. Each hawks his or her products in a riotous cacophony of color, dialects, costumes, smoke, and smells, while socializing with their neighbors and engaging with visitors. A visit to the market with Maya Trails is anything but typical – it’s a total immersion in Guatemala’s amazing living Mayan culture.

Chichi is one of the best places in Guatemala to purchase authentic (and not-so-authentic) Mayan handicrafts while witnessing the fascinating syncretism of ancient native spirituality with traditional Catholic rites, centered around the ancient church that sits atop a former Mayan temple.

Insider tip: Arrive the afternoon or evening before the market (Saturday or Wednesday) to get there before other tourists arrive and when the town is abuzz with activity. You’ll get to stroll the streets soaking in the ambiance of this highland village, without hundreds of other gringos straining to snap photos. If you have flexible dates, try and schedule a visit around one of the festivals. Travelers will witness a colorful, fascinating and often loud (Guatemalans love fireworks!) celebration centered around a statue of the saint paraded through the streets and to the Church of Santo Tomas. Sunday mass is also an event, especially for Catholics, and its fun to witness the service conducted partially in the indigenous Kiche language.

PetenTikal's ruins take visitors through a maze of incredible history

Cradle of the Mayan civilization, Peten is the largest department of Guatemala and occupies about a third of the country, yet contains only just over three percent of its population. Visitors can enjoy the serene waters of Lago Peten Itza, marvel at the area’s spectacular wildlife and explore spectacular Mayan temples secreted within a tropical jungle while listening to birdsong and howler monkeys.

Another of Guatemala’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Tikal National Park shelters the remains of one of the largest and most important cities in the pre-Hispanic history of the Maya civilization, as well as 550 square kilometers of exuberant rainforest, which is home to a great diversity of flora and fauna. Maya Trails can take it up a notch and arrange for your clients to visit the area’s ruins with an archaeologist, who will bring every stone to life.

Insider tip: Are your travelers super keen on exploring Mayan history or driven by ultra-exclusive experiences that few others have ever done? Take it up a notch and plan a helicopter excursion to El Mirador, deep in Peten’s jungles.

For a more pedestrian but no less uplifting experience, climb to the top of one of the pyramids at Yaxha (near Tikal) and watch the sun set over the vast jungle.

These highlights are just that – a taste of what Guatemala has to offer. You can dig much deeper with this trip report, or ask Maya Trails to  customize a visit for your travelers. You can also explore their thoughtfully crafted 2019 Signature Itineraries for inspiration or to book as is – they feature some of the country’s best sights and experiences. Keep in mind that Maya Trails also provides DMC services in Belize and Honduras. Belize makes a great combination with Guatemala – adding some beach time never hurt anyone’s vacation! For divers, Maya Trails can arrange for your water-loving clients to visit the best dive sites in Roatan.

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  1. […] Wondering what a visit to Guatemala or Belize entails? Check out Maya Trails’ 2019 Signature Itineraries, or learn more about some of Guatemala’s highlights. […]

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