Culture

4 Reasons to Explore Guatemala

Bethany

By Bethany Ivie

July 16, 2019

4 Reasons to Explore Guatemala

Packed to the brim with history, diverse cultures, and stunning natural wonders, Guatemala refuses to be summed up. There’s so much to explore if you dip your toe in The Country of Eternal Spring. 

Ancient ruins like the temple of Kukulkan are one of many tangible reminders of Guatemala's Maya heritage. . Photo by Jimmy Baum via Unsplash.

It Was The Center Of The Maya Empire

Guatemala was once the heartland of the Maya Empire, one of the most sophisticated civilizations in ancient history. Mayan groups ruled Guatemala and surrounding lands from 2,000 B.C to the early 1500s when they were overthrown by Spanish conquistadores. 

Today, indigenous Maya people still make up about 40 percent of Guatemala's population and many still practice their ancestors’ traditions. Ruins of ancient Maya cities still pepper Guatemala’s landscape and archeologists are constantly discovering new sites.

  • Though the official language of the country is Spanish, Maya communities still use and maintain their own distinct dialects. Because of this, Guatemala is home to over 23 actively used languages.
  • In smaller towns and cities, many Maya men and women wear traditional clothing in bright colors and hand-woven patterns that vary from region to region. 
  • Traditional back-strap weaving is still practiced by local artisans and you can buy textiles woven in patterns that have gone virtually unchanged since the height of the Maya civilization. 
  • In some indigenous communities, the Maya Calendar is still in use. 
A view of Lake Atítlan and one of the three volcanoes that watch over it.

It's Affordable, Beautiful and Travel-Friendly

Guatemala has a little bit of everything. Not only is most of the country budget and traveler-friendly, it has a transportation system of shuttles and buses that make it easy and cheap to navigate between the top tourist destinations like: 

Lake Atitlán: The Deepest Lake in Central America
Lake Atitlán is surrounded by colorful Maya villages and nestled between volcanoes. If you're into hiking, climb Volcán San Pedro to get a bird’s eye view of Atitlán’s crystal-clear waters, described by Lonely Planet as "Eden on Earth." In order to protect this national treasure’s natural beauty, local communities instituted the first plastic ban in Central America.

Antigua: City of Chocolate
Not only is this city filled with gorgeous, colonial architecture, it has amazing markets, and is easy to travel on foot. Bonus: Guatemala is widely considered to be the birthplace of chocolate and Antigua is the perfect place to get your fix. Grab a history lesson on this "food of the gods"  at the Choco Museum then strike out to sample some of the best chocolate in the world from local chocolatiers.

Tikal: Maya Architecture at its Finest 
There are more than 1,500 Mayan ruins in Guatemala, many of which are open to visitors. The most popular is Tikal, the ancient capital city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal is famed as one of the best examples of Mayan architecture with temples and palaces that jut out over the tree line.

Semuc Champey is a natural monument in the department of Alta Verapaz.

It's Full of Natural Wonders

Guatemala is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet and, as such, has some amazing natural habitats and landmarks.

  • There are more than 9 million acres of sub-tropical forest, 70 percent of which are located in naturally protected reserves like Tikal National Park and the Maya Biosphere Reserve. 
  • Meaning "Sacred Water," Semuc Champey, is a natural monument of tiered pools of vivid blue water that give way to a network of caves, underground waterfalls and a natural limestone bridge.
  • Guatemala has no shortage of volcanoes. Though there are at least 37 known volcanoes scattered across the country, only Volcán de Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito are active. 
The name of the Quetzal, Guatemala's rare national bird, comes from a phrase meaning large, brilliant tail feather. The Maya considered the bird to be sacred and used its feathers as a form of currency. Today, Guatemalan money is called quetzal.

It’s Home To Some Fantastic Beasts

  • Jaguars, the third-largest cats in the world
  • Pumas
  • New World Vultures
  • Guatemalan Black Howler Monkeys
  • Tapirs, similar to a pig with a short trunk
  • Spider monkeys
  • Kinkajous, a big-eyed mammal also known as the “honey bear”
  • A large, spotted rodent known as the lowland paca
  • Coatimundi, which look like a monkey-raccoon hybrid