GUATEMALAGuatemala is located in Central America and borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Of more than 16 million inhabitants, 5 million live in Guatemala City, the largest metropolis in Central America. They speak Spanish and about 25 Indian languages.
The country is mountainous with volcanoes, lakes and hot sulphur springs. Coastal plains are fertile, densely populated and up to 150 km wide. Cities are high; Guatemala City lies at 1,600 m while Quetzaltenango lies at 2,357 m. There is a great deal of primary forest and high biodiversity.
Tourism is focused on archaeological sites, the colonial city of Antigua Guatemala, beaches and nature (mountain climbing, rainforest and lakes). Indian cultures and handicrafts are alive and well.
Tikal, near Flores, Petén, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, was the capital of the Mayan people that exerted influence as far away as central Mexico. A number of Mayan cities were abandoned in the 10th century and were devoured by the jungle. Since the early 20th century, these have been rediscovered and studied by archaeologists.
El Mirador was a huge city. A five-day hike (65 km) from Flores with guides offers an unforgettable combination of rainforest and culture. El Tintal and Nakbé sites are also popular. Other archaeological sites include Piedras Negras and Aguateca.
Popol Vuh is a text by the k’iche maya about their history and culture; it was translated and copied in the 16th century. Published in 1947; the bilingual original is available online.
From 1540 Central America was governed from Guatemala, and in 1676 the famous university was founded. Since 1821 the country has been independent from Spain. In the 19th century coffee, banana and cardamom plantations were established. Workers were paid in plantation coins which they could spend in the plantation shop.
In 1901, the United Fruit Company from the U.S.A. received plantations under concession for 100 years. The U.S. established companies in Central America to control the region in connection with the Panama Canal.
In Guatemala City, the earthquake of 1976 caused a great deal of damage. At the Plaza de Armas the cathedral has been restored. There are various important museums.
Antigua Guatemala is beautiful and offers a starting point for tours. Spanish courses are offered too. Parque Central is atmospheric with covered galleries. The markets off a range of handicrafts and street food. Cerro de la Cruz offers views over the city.
The Acatenango volcano (3,975 m) can be climbed in two days. From basecamp at 3,800 m (tents) there is a view of the Fuego volcano which erupts every 20 minutes. Warm clothes and mountain boots are essential.
Chichicastenango is a mountain village where handicrafts and Indian textiles are sold on Thursdays and Sundays. It’s a paradise for souvenir hunters!
Lago de Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America and lies between 3 volcanoes.
From Rio Dulce you will reach Livingston by boat on the Caribbean coast; departure point of the boat to Punta Gora in Belize. Playa Blanca is 12 km away.