Our Travels: Guatemala

It’s no secret that our team of writers and editors at World Words like to travel. After all, it is the only thing we write about. You may have also been following the Our Travels series on our blog, which tells the tales of some of the fascinating places our team members have been in the last year. So far, we’ve covered everywhere from Japan to Iceland, Oman to Canada. But we haven’t yet told of any of our experiences in Central America. That is, until now.

Our staff content writer Samantha Wilson recalls a recent trip to Guatemala, in the heart of Central America. With the trip taking in everything from Mayan pyramids to volcanic temples, it’s a corker. Scroll down to read about it…

Samantha at Tikal, Guatemala

Sam celebrating her presence outside the Mayan ‘Temple I’ at Tikal, Guatemala (we’ve circled her).

Why I went to Guatemala
I was living in neighbouring Honduras and had planned a backpacking trip around Guatemala over Easter so that I could experience the legendary Semana Santa parades that take place in the cobbled colonial town of Antigua. Highly active volcanoes, the ruins of the largest ancient Mayan city in the world, and some of Guatemala’s most stunning natural scenery were also included in my circuitous itinerary.

My highlight of the trip
The highlight of my trip turned out to be somewhere I hadn’t heard of before setting off; Semuc Champey. Near the town of Lanquin in remote north eastern Guatemala, Semuc Champey is a fairy wonderland more reminiscent of a set from Lord of the Rings than a real place. But real (and relatively undiscovered) it most certainly is. A 300-metre-long limestone bridge stretches above the cold, roaring Cahabón River, a series of shallow turquoise pools cascading down the valley. Waterfalls big and small trickle everywhere, and the warm water makes magical natural bathing pools. The brave can take a break from the tranquillity of the upper pools and jump into a thundering, cold waterfall, venture through watery caverns on a guided tour, go tubing down the river or hike to the scenic viewpoint for an eagle’s nest view of the pools.

What else I love about Guatemala
People travel from around Central America to Antigua in Guatemala’s western highlands to take part in the legendary celebrations of Semana Santa. Dressed in purple, hooded robes, penitents march sombrely through the streets carrying effigies of Jesus on vast floats, and the cobbled lanes are adorned with intricate sawdust mosaics. Irrelevant of your religious affiliation it makes for a moving experience.

I expected the ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal to be a highlight, and I wasn’t disappointed. To clamber up 3,000-year-old Mayan pyramids and look across the forest canopy as howler monkeys roar through the trees below is truly unforgettable. Yet unexpected places became highlights too; Lake Atitlan nestled 1,562 metres above sea level is both charmingly traditional and quirkily bohemian; the brooding and often erupting Pacaya Volcano oozes with molten lava which flows ominously underfoot; and the delight (and discomfort) of travelling with friendly locals on the brightly-coloured ‘chicken buses’ is a classic Guatemalan experience.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, a UNESCO-listed town of Spanish colonial architecture in Guatemala’s central highlands.

Why you should go
Guatemala is a wonderfully colourful country, where the abounding nature, profound history and charismatic people create the perfect travel destination. Guatemala City might get some bad press, but outside of the capital the country is inviting and alluring. Indigenous Maya have long-held traditions and crafts which are on display at their bustling markets in pretty little highland villages such as Chichicastenango. There are the green canyons of the Río Dulce to explore, colonial towns with their Baroque churches to discover, and vestiges of the most untamed and uninhabited highland landscape in Central America to traverse.

How you can visit
Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport is the main entry point to the country, with regular inbound flights. From there, a network of buses (some plush coaches, others rustic chicken buses) fan out across the country. You will find everything from no-frills hostels to upmarket boutique hotels, as well as excellent locally guided tours.

At World Words we regularly write about North and Central America. Read some of our blogs, feature articles, itineraries and city guides on the region here. You can also keep up to date with all our latest news on Twitter.

- Article and photography by Samantha Wilson.

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