When visiting this beautiful and green country there are a few things that should not be missed. A good place to start your journey is Antigua. Antigua is widely visited because of its colonial architecture and its cobblestone streets, which make you feel at ease right away. Streets lined with galleries, posh restaurants, high end hotels, museums, and various day trips make Antigua a great base for those visitors seeking a hip, cultural, and international town to explore. Don’t miss the Museo de Choco! This is a great afternoon of learning all about cacao, with many samples and your own crazy chocolate creations waiting to be made.
A van ride away is the town of Livingston. This is a great stop if you want a sneak peak at the Caribbean Sea and way of life. Although the town itself is interestingly different from the rest of Guatemala, don’t go expecting to see beautiful turquoise water. The beaches surrounding Livingston are unfortunately littered with trash, but the beautiful boat ride to get there almost makes up for it.
Founded in the late 1700s, Livingston is one of the only Garífuna towns in Guatemala. The Garífuna people are descended from African slaves who intermarried with the indigenous Caribbean population, thus creating a rich and spirited culture that combined the traditions of the two continents.
From there you can head up to Flores, the jumping off point to the mysterious temples of Tikal. This huge, jungle-covered complex offers great insight into the ancient Mayan civilization. An entire day can effortlessly slip away when visiting this sacred site.
After Tikal you can loop back south. If you only had one day in Guatemala, the Lanquin caves and turquoise pools of Semuc Champey are worth visiting for their dazzling beauty.
Explore these dark, dripping caves by candlelight, only to find yourself amid a flowing spectacle of sparkling water upon exiting. Devour the hours swimming and sliding down rocks, splashing from one turquoise pool to another. Nimbly explore the views and grottos of this national park, emblazoning this destination into your memory forever.
Before you leave Guatemala, make sure to give yourself several days to visit Lake Atitlán and the surrounding towns. From there you can visit the colorful market at Chichicastenango, open only on Thursdays and Sundays. This is a great spot to observe the tantalizing foods, artistry, textiles, and other handicrafts that Guatemala has to offer.
Panajachel or San Pedro are the most accessible towns around the lake with plenty of accommodations and restaurants for travelers. If you are seeking a meditative retreat or solitude, head to San Marcos, Santiago, or one of the other quiet towns on the lake’s border. Hike, kayak, lounge around, take a yoga course, and replenish your energy before heading back to wherever it is you came from.
With all the civil strife within this charming country many people stay away, but if you are brave enough (and smart enough), this enchanting region can also be one of the most gentle and wildly blissful countries in person. The only way to know what you will find is to go look…
By Karen Queller