Land of the Maya

The dizzying pyramids of Tikal are Guatemala’s most famous tourist drawcard. And what’s not to love about this mighty monument to Central America’s greatest civilization. But those who stop to ask whatever happened to the Maya are sometimes surprised by the simple answer: nothing. Maya culture continues to evolve today.The Maya villages in the highlands, where locals still wear traditional dress, are the most visible indicators of this centuries-old culture. But look closely when you’re visiting an archaeological site and you’ll see altars with modern offerings to ancient spirits.

Colonial Influences

The Spanish left behind plenty of footprints from their colonial conquest of Guatemala, the most visible being the frequently stunning architecture. The best are dotted around Antigua, the old capital, with its neat plazas and crumbling ruins. From the grandiose coffee-boom buildings of Quetzaltenango, to Guatemala City’s stately cathedral, to the churches and municipal buildings clustering around central squares in even the smallest towns, Guatemala bears the marks of its European encounters in vivid brick and tile.

Natural Highs

With barely 2% of its landmass urbanized, it’s not surprising that Guatemala offers some superb natural scenery. National parks are few but impressive, particularly in the Petén region, and the lush canyons of the Río Dulce make for an unforgettable boat ride. The natural beauty of the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlán has been captivating travelers for centuries, and you can get high in the Cuchumatanes mountains or below ground with the cave-riddled Verapaces. The swimming hole that launched a thousand postcards, Semuc Champey, has to be seen to be believed, and you can dip your toes in both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Adventure Awaits

Active souls tend to find their agenda very full once they get to Guatemala. Stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world-class white-water rafting, miles of caves to explore, and what seems like a zip line strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning. Like to take things up a notch? How about paragliding around the high-altitude Lago de Atitlán? Or scuba diving in the same place? You might even luck onto some good swell on the surfer-friendly Pacific coast. Or you could just find a hammock and languidly consider your options. Your call.