Guatemala - Land of Lakes and Volcanoes
Guatemala is a gem for all adventurers, culture enthusiasts and individual travellers. Barely developed landscapes, a wonderful mix of volcanoes, clear lake regions and the legendary Maya culture make travellers' hearts leap for joy.
Geography - The tropical realm of Guatemala
The tropical Central American country of Guatemala lies between Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Mexico. It borders on the Pacific coast in the south-west and has a narrow access to the Caribbean Sea. The most important cities are Guatemala City, Villa Nueva and Mixco. Other worthwhile tourist destinations are the former capital of Antigua Guatemala and towns in the highlands, for example Chichicastenango. There is tropical climate all year. Depending on the region, it is temperate to warm. It can get 38 °C hot at the Pacific coast, which is much hotter than in the rest of the country.
Nature - Magical lakes and idyllic meadows
Over 30 percent of the country's area are forested and a major part of it is protected. Pine savannas, mangrove forests, tropical mountain and cloud forests as well as tropical rainforests dominate Guatemala's scenery in the north. This natural diversity is home to free-living monkeys, ocelots, crocodiles and jaguars. A special highlight is Guatemala's heraldic animal - the quetzal. The beautiful bird is about 35 cm tall and has long, green feathers. Large parts of the country are used for agriculture. Holidaymakers can visit the coffee plantations, for example. The greatest crowd pullers, however, are the beautiful lake sceneries and the volcanoes. San Pedro and Tolimán are two of the best-known volcanoes. The highest and most active one is Volcan Atitlán with a height of 3,537 metres.
Natural sights - From the tropical forest to the Caribbean coast
One of Guatemala's largest nature reserves is the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the north of the country. The Tikal National Park is another treasure in Central America. An attraction which you can enjoy at any time of the year is Lake Atitlán. As if surrounded by an everlasting spring, the lake region, which is enclosed by volcanoes, is in full bloom throughout the year. Atitlán is known as one of the most beautiful lakes on earth and is the ideal location for relaxing. You can see several volcanoes from its banks. Climbers and hikers enjoy trying to conquer the active volcano of Atitlán. The dry season from November to April is the best time for such activities. Another popular destination in Guatemala is Lake Izabal with the Dulce River (Spanish: Río Dulce, meaning "sweet river"). Its wonderful river landscape is close to the Caribbean coast and is very popular with travellers.
Culture - Today's Maya
In the midst of Guatemala's rainforests, you still see ruins and temples of the Maya. Some of them could be revealed but many buildings are still lost in the jungle and are waiting to be discovered. When the Europeans discovered America, the Maya started to disappear, the advanced civilisation lost in power and strength and finally fell. But their heirs still live in the country. Guatemala is one of the most populous countries in Central America. About half of the population are descendants of the ancient Maya. That is why numerous Maya languages are still spoken besides the official language of Spanish. A poll from 2012 showed that Guatemala's inhabitants belong to the happiest people on earth. One reason for that could be their awareness of their identity.
Cultural sights - The legacy of the Maya
Travellers who go on a cultural trip to Guatemala mainly come here because of the legendary ancient Maya site of Tikal. The great temples and stairs lie in the middle of the jungle of Petén and bring the ancient customs and traditions of the advanced civilisation back to life. The whole area is a Cultural and Natural World Heritage site and takes your breath away. You find a different atmosphere in the former capital of Antigua Guatemala. Backpackers and individual travellers enjoy the rustic town with colonial charm. The climate is particularly pleasant in the towns in the highlands. Quetzaltenango and Chichicastenango can be visited at any time of the year. An insider tip is the municipality of Flores. It lies in an idyllic position in the middle of a lake and has not been discovered by tourists yet. Holidaymakers who want to get to know Guatemala's Caribbean coast should visit the town of Livingston.
Experience - Wood masks, coffee and jade
Coffee is one of Guatemala's export hits. In addition, bananas and sugar are grown all over the country and exported into the world. Tourists should not miss out on a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Guatemala's cuisine is similar to Mexico's but the inhabitants season their dishes more mildly, which is why they are also suited for sensitive stomachs. Popular souvenirs are handmade wood masks, silver and jade jewellery or indigenous woven goods. You find greater shopping centres in the capital of Guatemala City but the big markets, for example the one in Chichicastenango, are more authentic. As soon as the sun goes down, the time has come for the party-goers. While the locals and holidaymakers enjoy a wide range of restaurants, bars and discos in the capital, young people hit the shops in Antigua Guatemala. Every visitor should listen to the sound of Marimba music. It is produced by gigantic xylophones, which invite you to sing along.
Activities - Hiking in Guatemala
Water sports fans should spend their time in the coastal towns at the Pacific coast. Windsurfers can catch great waves here. Travellers can also take part in whitewater rafting tours on the great rivers. The country is particularly attractive for hikers. Whether you are in the jungle, hiking along the volcanoes or in the highlands - Guatemala's diverse landscape is full of surprises. It is a good idea to take part in a guided tour or hire a private tour guide.
The best time for a trip to Guatemala is the dry season from November to April. Unfortunately, it is rather expensive at this time, especially during holidays. Therefore, you should make reservations for accommodation and transport. The rainy season is not as attractive but there are fewer tourists during these months and you may be able to make a good bargain.
Guatemala is a real insider tip in Central America as well as a treasure for individualists. The wonderful cultural heritage of the Maya and the lush landscape make the country a travel adventure far away from mass tourism.