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Guide To Guatemala – The Most Beautiful Country In Central America

Guatemala is often overshadowed by neighboring Mexico, but it is proud of its reputation as the most beautiful country in Central America, thanks to its volcanic fakes, rain forests, and archaeological treasures in Tikal and other Maya sites. Guatemala Landscape Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three volcanoes (Adrian, San Pedro, Toliman) and colorful Maya vil­lages. Several volcanoes (Acate­nango, Fuego, Pacaya, San Pedro, and Santa Maria) offer relatively easy, scenic hikes. The Volcan de Agua, with its nearly perfect cone, is a feast for the eyes. The exten­sive Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes, covered with montane forests, is the highest nonvolcanic mountain range in Central America. In the area of Antigua Guate­mala and Coban, where the Rio Candelaria goes underground, are limestone caves and gorges. The wildlife is remarkable in the north, where visitors may catch a glimpse of coatis and toucans, and maybe even a jaguar. Guatemala Cultural Heritage Nearly half the population is of Indian, mostly Maya, descent. In the villages and markets, Maya people exhibit many handicrafts, ranging from carved wooden masks to handwoven textiles in bright colors. The largest markets are held in Chichicastenango and Antigua Guatemala. The ancient traditions are especially in evi­dence during religious holidays. Some villages, though, in particu­lar those around Lake Atitlan (e.g., Santa Cruz, San Pedro), are visited by tourists in droves and are losing their authenticity. Near the town of Livingston on the Gulf of Honduras, an unusual mix of Garifuno, Maya, and Ladino people have combined into a culture that is different from the customs and traditions of the rest of the country. Guatemala Monuments From A.D. 430 to 830, Tikal was one of the largest urban centers of Maya civilization. Of the thousands of ancient structures now overgrown by tropical rain forest, two pyramids stand out at 230 feet and 180 feet high, as do Tikal’s large royal palaces, residential buildings, royal tombs, ball courts, and causeways. Archae­ologists have deciphered inscriptions of a dynastic list that began in the year 378 and ended in 869. North of Tikal lies the even ear­lier Maya settlement of El Mira­dor, with one of the most massive ancient structures in the world, founded about the sixth century B.C. Although the site is not acces­sible to general tourism, its impor­tance should be noted as a probable cradle of Maya civilization. Other Maya sites include Uaxactun and El Ceibal in the Maya lowlands of the Peten. The importance of the Maya sites sometimes makes the modern cities pale by comparison. But the architecture of the colonial period was also impressive, as can be seen in Antigua Guatemala, the former capital, built under the influence of the Italian Renaissance with remark­able baroque buildings such as the Palace of the Captains-general, the Cathedral of Santiago, and other churches and monasteries. Advice Pros Though a small country, Guatemala is full of important sites that make it one of the most interesting destinations in all of Latin America, The civil war is over, and peace seems to be holding. Cons The Pacific coast is of limited interest. Safety Guatemala has long been known to present some problems for individual travelers. Warnings of possible theft or even armed robbery should be taken seriously.

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