Mayan ruins, Mayan culture, volcanoes, fresh water volcanic craters, jungle, colonial cities, old Spanish-style architecture and a fascinating Euro-Mayan culture. Guatemala!! Are you and your family ready for adventure? Are you into old civilizations and authentic Native-American culture? Yes? Guatemala is for you.
The native population (approximately 80% of the total population) is very much Mayan. I don't know who said that the Mayan culture has disappeared. It's all over Guatemala, reflected from every face you see in the streets.
Statue at Tikal
This vacation is for families with a minimum of ten days to two weeks to really explore. Because of the airline connections, you have to start in Guatemala city. Guatemala city, like most other big cities is loud, dirty, and busy, although it has some very good museums and shopping. Since the museums are usually about the Mayan history and culture, what better way to learn about the culture than to actually get right into the real thing. I would suggest heading out right away to one of the surrounding cities, such as the most popular one, Antigua.
Antigua is where most travelers make their base from which to explore the interior and the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Antigua is an old city with cobble stone streets, old houses, churches , plazas and 15th century architecture. International students enroll in language schools here. Families wanting to learn some Spanish can do so while staying in Antigua and can also stay at these Spanish schools if they wish. There are a couple of 4 and 5 star hotels in Antigua, but for the real Guatemalan experience you can choose to stay in a local, family-run, bed and breakfast.
Volcano seen from Antigua
Around Antigua there are many activities for a family to enjoy. Take a guided hike up one of the three volcanoes that surround Antigua. Go horse back riding through one of the many working coffee plantations. Take a day trip to Lago Atitlan or stay overnight in Santiago de Atitlan, a volcanic crater freshwater lake, with beautiful hills and active volcanoes surrounding it. From here you can take ferry boats to the various surrounding farming villages where you can stay at nice hotels on the lake, or with a local family.
This area is still very rural. The villagers somewhat depend on tourism, but the area is mainly made up of farming communities. Most people only speak their Mayan language, not even Spanish, and every village has their own version and also their own style of dress. Every region has unique and identifying patterns on their clothing.
The lake is very clean and excellent for swimming and water sports. If you stay at an upscale hotel they have water sports available, such as sailing and windsurfing or jet skiing. Although it is kind of sad when you see a jet ski whizzing by and you suddenly remember that you're in the 21st century.
Visit Quetzaltenango, a small village which, during market days, converts into a bustling little town. All the farmers and craft people from the surrounding villages and countryside come here to sell their goods and wares.
Typical indigenous market
If you are looking for the best bargains in Guatemala, look no further. Quetzaltenango can be done in a day trip from Antigua.
The Pacific coast boasts some untouched and unexplored beaches and also touched and explored beaches with hotels to accommodate any budget. During various months of the year sea turtles nest on these beaches.
After Antigua I would suggest going to Flores. Flores is the main town from which you can visit Tikal. Flores is actually an island in the middle of a huge volcanic crater lake. This is a tourist town. Here you can find excellent accommodations, from 1 star right up to 5 star hotels, excellent restaurants and shopping. There are many travel agencies in Flores offering excursions to several tourist sights, the most popular and largest is Tikal. Do not hesitate to book your excursions or flights through these travel agencies as they do offer better prices for flights, park entrances, and accommodations.
Tikal - WOW - amazing! This is a must see if you are in Guatemala, or Belize.
Tikal is about a 45 minute drive from Flores and costs about $15 to $20 US per person, well worth the money. Tikal is the largest unearthed city of the Mayan civilization. There are others but they are under hundreds of years of earth and jungle-growth. You need a whole day to see all of it, or you can stay overnight, take your time, and really explore. There is a small hotel on site as well as a restaurant. You can even camp!! If you camp, I must warn you that you will be camping with the spider monkeys and howler monkeys ....and jaguars and panthers, yikes!!!!!
The Mayan civilization constructed Tikal in the middle of the jungle in the province of Peten. To imagine these structures you could think of what the Egyptians did. Amazing feats or miracles! And all without modern day technology. Define "state of the art" please!
We can help you plan your visit to coincide with one of the many feast day celebrations.
Guatemala is truly a cultural experience and a journey back in time. For families open to adventure.