A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former capital city, atmospheric Antigua is the region’s ‘jewel in the colonial crown’, and noted for its elaborate religious celebrations during Holy Week. Visit the bustling local market, or a local coffee or macadamia plantation, or simply chill with a coffee on the main square, watching the world go by.
Set in rainforest in the north of Guatemala, Tikal is one of the largest set of Maya ruins yet discovered. The city stretches over 575 square kilometres in total, with the centre of the city alone containing more than 3000 buildings and covering 16 sq kms. Though dating back to 400 BC, the city reached its height during the Classic Period, from 200 to 900 AD.
One of Guatemala’s vibrant and colourful local markets, ‘Chichi’ as it’s known, serves the local community as well as visitors. Try some local food from one of the hot food stands, or try on a traditional ‘hupil’, typically woven on a backstrap loom. Next to the market is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás.
Calm and serene and ringed by 3 volcanoes which create a dramatic back-drop to any boat ride across it, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. The culture of the local communities ranged along the shoreline are highly influenced by modern-day Maya.
Semuc Champey consists of a natural limestone bridge under which the Cahabon River flows. A series of stepped turquoise-coloured pools and cascades offers a great place to cool off in the heat of the day. Climb the nearby Mirador for lovely views out over the pools below.
Situated at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, Livingston was once Guatemala’s main Caribbean port. These days its trade is eclipsed by nearby Puerto Barrios and it’s now better known for its mix of communities – Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino. Away from the town there are a couple of nice beaches.
Known as ‘Xela’ by the locals, Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second-largest city located in the Highlands at an elevation of around 2,330m. The city has a lively music scene and is home to a number of jazz and blues bands. It also attracts a large number of foreign students to its Spanish schools.
Only made into Guatemala’s capital city in the mid 1770s, after a series of earthquakes destroyed the previous capital in Antigua, Guatemala City later hosted the declaration of independence of Central America from Spain and became the capital of the United Provinces of Central America. Known now mostly for its museums such as the Popul Vuh & the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología.