Having been raised in the United States, I have returned as a prodigal daughter to the place where I was born. As a child, my visits consisted of seeing family, but as an adult, I have been able to discover the jewels of Guatemala, “Land of Eternal Spring.”
A visit to my beautiful homeland, were I the tour guide, would consist of several not to be missed locations.
I have found most of the other Latin American cities, I was fortunate enough to visit, to be unremarkable in their beauty – not the case with the third colonial capital of the country: Antigua. This amazing city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a stately and elegant place, tucked in the central highlands of the country. It offers a lovely marriage of the baroque architecture of a colonial city with the colorful infusion of mestizo and Mayan flavors. It is a popular place for U.S. retirees and boasts many charming restaurants offering a mouth-watering sampling of Guatemalan cuisine. It is the one of my favorite places in the world – a true treasure.
Another jewel is Tikal. Paying homage to my ancestral Mayan roots, I tout Tikal as a must-see for anyone interested in archeology and meso-American history. The archeological site is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it rises from the tropical jungle in a most dramatic fashion. It was once the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the history of pre-Columbian societies. Today, only a small section of the ancient city has actually been excavated. Pondering life at the top of the great Pyramid of the Jaguar while listening to the wild inhabitants of the surrounding emerald ocean of trees is a singularly spectacular experience.
No visit would be complete without a trip to the stunning Lake Atitlán, also located in the highlands. The deepest lake in Central America, it boasts three volcanoes near its shore and is ringed by Mayan villages. Despite its mass tourist appeal, it is still possible to glimpse at the life of Mayan families while enjoying the hiking and water activities that make the lake a delightful and restive destination.
The small town of Flores is beautiful and an often overlooked morsel of visual delight. It is close to Tikal and is a marvelous place to savor sunrises and sunsets on the lake. It is an excellent place to disconnect from a modern, hectic life and enjoy quiet remoteness, surrounded by colorful homes and the slow rhythm of a fishing village crossed by cobblestone streets.
A word of caution to the traveler: Guatemala, like many other Central American countries, can be a dangerous place due to economic disempowerment, the U.S.-led drug war, and widespread poverty. When planning a trip to the region, inform yourself regarding travel advisories and safe regions to visit.