Founded in 1543, La Antigua was once the third most important Spanish city in the Americas The town enjoys a unique and impressive setting, nestling beneath three towering volcanoes and surrounded by lush evergreen forests. Its rich colonial heritage (the town is packed with churches, monasteries, and convents), famous Easter celebrations, three surrounding volcanoes, and abundance of flowers make it a mecca for tourists. It is also a world-renowned center for Spanish language instruction. Popular activities include walking tours, visits to local ateliers, participation in Maya textile classes, La Antigua is located 45 minutes from both Guatemala City and the airport.
Atitlan means “place of much water”. The lake, considered by many the most beautiful lake in the world, is surrounded by three volcanoes (Toliman, Atitlan, and San Pedro) and located three hours from Guatemala City. The Maya towns of Panajachel and Santiago Atitlan with their pre-Columbian streets, colonial churches, markets, and handicraft vendors are the main tourist centers in the area. This is a fabulous place for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, or just relaxing in one of the elegant hotels around the lakes shoreline. Boat trips are an enjoyable excursion to visit the traditional Mayan people in their villages to see their colorful dress and traditions.
“Chichi”, as it is popularly known, is most famous for its colorful market held on Thursdays and Sundays where Indians from the highlands come to barter and bargain their handicrafts and produce. Another main attraction is the Church of Santo Tomas built in 1540. ChiChi is a fascinating village as it offers a rare display of a mix of faiths. Mayan priests make pilgrimages from distant villages to hold ceremonies and make offerings to their gods…inside the Catholic Church. Chichi is located four hours from Guatemala City and two hours from Atitlan and Antigua.
The capital of Guatemala is the largest city in Central America. Founded in 1776, the city is a blend of modern sleek glass skyscrapers and colonial architecture. Its main tourist attraction is the Historic Center (located in Zone 1) where you will find the Central Market, the National Palace, and colonial churches dating from the 17th century. The Ixchel museum (Maya weaving) is worth a visit. The tourist area is known as Zona Viva (Zone 10) and includes most of the fancy hotels, restaurants, shops, and nightlife spots.
The Peten, located in the north of the country, is an area of exuberant tropical jungles teeming with wildlife, deep forests, dry plains dotted with lakes, and Mayan ruins. For years, the Peten was cut off from the rest of the country due to the lack of roads and infrastructure. Even today travel by road is discouraged, above all, in the rainy season. The main city in Peten is Flores sitting on a picturesque island in the southern part of Lake Peten Itza and linked directly with Santa Elena. There is an airport with daily flights to Guatemala City and Belize City. Tikal, Yaxja, Uaxactun, and Ceibal are just a few of the numerous Maya sites in the area.
Solola is the capital of the department of Solola, located on the northern shores of Lake Atitlan. Solola is the ancient capital of the Cakchiquel Indians, who form the bulk of the population. Surrounded by imposing mountains and coffee plantations, the town is famous for its indigenous market which is held every Friday. This is a more genuine market since people come from the 19 municipalities that make up the Department of Solola in order to sell their wares at the weekly event. Both men and women routinely wear their colorful traditional Maya dresses and weaving textiles can be purchased in the numerous booths.
Tikal (City of voices)
Tikal National Park is found in the heart of Peten, near the border with Mexico, and covers 576 square kilometers of prime rain forest. The actual Maya site stretches over an area of 16 square kilometers, and it can take a few days to fully explore the park since the excavations and explorations have opened up new areas. Tikal is the largest and most spectacular Mayan site yet uncovered. The city is believed to have held a population of some 100,000 people. Over 3,000 separate temples, shrines, ceremonial platforms, ball courts and plazas make up this impressive archaeological discovery. The largest temples tower above the jungle canopy and spectacular views can be gained from climbing their height – especially at sunset or sunrise. Situated deep within the protected rainforest, Tikal also provides visitors with an amazing opportunity to see howler monkeys, toucans, pizotes and other rainforest wildlife. Tikal is a 45-minute ride from the airport in Flores and two hours by car from the town of San Ignacio in Belize.
El Ceibal is located on the banks of the Rio de la Pasion on a hilltop, surrounded by lush vegetation and Ceiba trees (from where the site takes its name). A beautiful 45-minute boat ride down La Pasion River takes guests to the entrance of the park and then a fairly strenuous one mile walk into the rainforest will bring visitors to the monuments. This site was at its height from BC 800 to the 1st Century AD, then abandoned between AD 500 - 690 and re-populated again between AD 771 - 889. El Ceibal is most famous for its beautifully carved stelae (standing stones) which depict rulers, warriors and ball players from the site’s turbulent history.
One of the most important sites in Guatemala, Quirigua is located in Izabal, close to Rio Dulce, on the Caribbean side. The site boasts an awesome collection of massive stelaes bearing intricate carvings as well as many remarkable zoomorphic altars in the shape of frogs, jaguars and other animals. The largest block of stone ever quarried by the Maya is found here. It is believed that Quirigua was an important trading post between Tikal and Copan in Honduras. Quirigua is a two-hour drive from the border with Honduras and is often sold visited in conjunction with Copan in an overnight trip from Guatemala City.
Close to Tikal, situated on the shores of a peaceful lake, is the site of the third largest known Classic Mayan ruins in the country. Yaxha has a twin pyramid complex, nine acropolis and more than 500 structures. Similar to Tikal, Yaxha was at its height of importance between AD 300 - 900. Temple 216 offers a wonderful view of the lake and surrounding rainforest and is a popular spot at the end of the day for spectacular sunset watching.