When we first starting planning our travels in Central America, Guatemala was high on the list for one main reason: Tikal. The site far exceeded my expectations and more, but was matched by vast lakes, high volcanoes and friendly locals. Here are my tips for getting the most out of a visit to this amazing country.
- Hike a volcano. Guatemala is full of them, so there isn't really any reason not to spend a day trudging up a steep slope. If you strike it lucky with the weather then the views are incredible, the air cool (if a little sulphurous...) and the dry, pumiced landscape alien. And what could possibly be better than roasting a marshmallow in a fumarole?!
- Spend some time in beautiful Antigua. As well as being the perfect jumping off point for day trips in the region, the city itself is dazzling. Wandering through the maze of streets, brightly-coloured buildings against brilliant blue skies, I felt relaxed and calm. Bursting at the seams with delicious restaurants, markets and cafes, the city balances traditional with modern perfectly. The overall atmosphere reminded me of Cuzco, another city that I loved, so perhaps I was biased from the start...
- Stay in Tikal national park. The hotels are expensive and getting up at 2am was tough. But the chance to sit atop a temple, gazing out over the jungle as the sun's rays gently lit the sky was one of the best moments of the whole trip. The mist rolled like orange-tipped waves, revealing both the tall ancient structures and the wildlife who call it home, as howler monkeys woke the forest up. Truly spectacular.
- Underestimate the distance between the main attractions. It takes time and patience to travel through Guatemala, up and down extremely windy roads that seem to go on forever. Tikal in particular is a long way from anywhere else, deep in the jungle. Plan in whole days for getting around if travelling by land.
- Forget to pack some sturdy walking books. Guatemala is a land of hills, the volcanic landscape resulting in sharp ups, and knee-breaking downs. Even streets in the towns can be on steep gradients, but the resulting views made the aches all worthwhile.
- Miss the cultural aspect of the country. It's easy to get swept away in Guatemala's natural beauty, but the truly fascinating experiences we had were to be found in churches and village houses, where the combination of Catholicism and traditional ancestor worship has resulted in a balance I hadn't expected to see.
Want to read more about Guatemala? Check out these posts:
Volcanoes, lakes and a picture-perfect town