One of the most beautiful colonial cities in the world, Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala, until multiple natural disasters saw the capital moved to Guatemala City in 1773.
Now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua has been lovingly restored to the incredibly city you will now find. Surrounded by the volcanoes of Agua, Acatenango and Fuego, which still occasionally sends up a cloud of ash, Antiguas Cobbled streets thread past colourful colonial buildings, topped with terracotta tiles, leading to the many plazas which are perfect for sitting, relaxing and people-watching.
Antigua is surrounded by vibrant Mayan villages, colourful local markets, coffee producing lands and warm and welcoming communities. Due to it’s close proximity to Guatemala City Antigua is often the 1s point of cal for travellers to Guatemala and it is easy to see why.
The two hour drive heading west from Antigua leads through the central highlands, dotted with colourful traditional villages to the stunning Lake Atitlán. The dramatic winding road leading down to the lake rewards you with incredible views of the lake and its spectacular backdrop of three cone-shaped volcanoes: San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlán.
This truly is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and for many, one of the most evocative reminders of their holiday to Central America. A number of welcoming villages can be found on the shoreline whereyou can see wonderful examples of Mayan culture and dress which has continued for centuries.
The Mayan Indians throughout this area are undoubtedly the most colourfully dressed in Guatemala, if not the whole of Central America, with intricately woven shirts, huipiles and skirts of the brightest reds, greens, yellows, pinks and blues. Each village around the lake maintains its own traditional dress.
The lake itself is mesmerising and spending time relaxing here absorbing the views, watching the effect of changing light and wind on the water is special enough, but the best way to enjoy the stunning scenery is to travel by ‘lancha’ (boat) visiting the Indian villages of Santiago Atitlán, Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo.
In the North of the country, the area of El Peten is considered the heartland of the Mayan cities. It has an incredible number of sites to be explored for those who are keen to discover more of Mayan history.
Shrouded in dense tropical jungle, Tikal in the north of Guatemala is probably one of the most extraordinary and impressive of all the Mayan sites. Tikal was first occupied as a small village sometime before 300BC but by around 700AD had become an important city with great palaces, plazas and pyramids. Walk through densely forested trails before arriving at the main plaza, opened up from the surrounding vegetation and surrounded on four sides by huge pyramid temples. There are also a number of other temple sites near to Tikal including Yaxha.
Of the many other archaeological sites in the area, Yaxhá is easily accessible and is especially beautiful seen at sunset. The scale of these ruins suggests that it was undoubtedly a very important city during the Mayan reign. Excavation only began here in the last few years so you are able to see the archaeologists at work.
For those wanting to delve further into history, expeditions can be arranged to many other sites such as El Mirador, Yaxchilan or Uaxactun.
The highland area is home to countless markets giving an intricate and enthralling insight into Guatemalan life. Chichicastenango is one of the largest and most famous, situated about an hour north of Lake Atitlán. Hundreds of locals and visitors flock for a bargain buy and there is everything here from souvenirs and clothes to food and household goods.
Right at the heart of the main square and in amongst the vividly coloured textiles and handicrafts is the fascinating church - Iglesia Santo Tomas, Here, local Mayan customs sit comfortably side by side with Catholic tradition as the local Mayan Quiche people have retained their ancient culture and language, even after the arrival of the Catholic Spanish conquistadores.
If you are interested in Birdwatching then the beautiful region surrounding Cobán is absolutely worth a visit. It is home to many of the countries varied bird species as well as the national bird , the resplendent Quetzal.
A great place to be based to see the area is the city of Cobán. Close ot the city you can find thundering rivers, hills clad in cardamom and coffee, museums celebrating the Mayan culture and the quetzal reserve to explore.