I’m sure the reasons to love Guatemala are going to inspire you to want to visit this magical country. It probably isn’t the top of many a traveler’s wish list, but this Central American country has some wonderful experiences to satisfy lovers of history, geography and culture. Here are some reasons to love Guatemala that should leave you captivated.
1. The Transport
One of the main reasons to love Guatemala is the transport. Simply getting around is an adventure in itself. While tourist shuttles and first-class long-distance buses are best for long journeys, you cannot miss taking a ‘chicken bus’ at least once. A ‘chicken bus’ is an old American school bus painted in crazy colors and converted into a public bus. You won’t only meet locals, but there’s a good chance you may meet their chickens too. Other common modes of transport that you should try are the lanchas or small boats that take you from one village to another around Lake Atitlan, and the tuk-tuks and pick-up trucks that transport you around town.
Guatemala is famed for its Mayan ruins and the most famous of these is Tikal. Unlike most other Mayan ruin sites, Tikal’s temples rise up from among dense jungle. That strange, deep, barking sound you’ll hear is the sound of howler monkeys. You’ll also hear and see a variety of birds and other animal species. Dawn over Tikal is one of the most magical experiences you’ll ever have, so try to spend the night here instead of just visiting the site on a day trip.
Many travelers who arrive at La Aurora Airport skip Guatemala City, the chaotic capital, and head straight for Antigua. This beautiful colonial city is one of the main reasons to love Guatemala and used to be the country’s capital. Wandering the cobblestone streets, you’ll frequently stumble across the ruins of an old church or other building, making this city a photographer’s dream. The architecture is mainly Spanish colonial with red clay-tiled roofs covering the brightly-colored houses.
4. The Markets
A Guatemalan market is a shopping experience like no other. Every town has one, so you don’t necessarily have to go to the famous market at Chichicastenango. Enjoy the smells and colours while walking around the fruit and vegetable section and try to figure out what all those strange-looking vegetables are. Buy some fresh strawberries, sweeter than any you’ve ever had before, and stroll over to the section where they sell textiles and other handicrafts. You may want to avoid the meat and fish sections if you’re vegetarian, though.
5. Mayan Women
Mayan ladies are another of the things to love about Guatemala. You’ll see them everywhere, dressed in their colorful cortes wrapped around like a skirt. Mayan women don’t dress in traditional clothing for the benefit of tourists; this is simply how they dress all the time. A corte is usually about 8 m long and costs at least a month’s salary. Each village has its own unique colors for fiestas or for going to church. And don’t let that little old Mayan lady selling cakes fool you: Put a pool cue in her hand and you’ll see a completely different side of her!
6. Lake Atitlan
Nestled among mountains and three volcanoes lies Guatemala’s most beautiful lake. There are villages dotted all around and some you can only reach by boat. The lake is great for water sports like kayaking: Where else can you kayak through the rooms of an abandoned, flooded house? Since Lake Atitlan doesn’t have any rivers flowing out of it, the water is constantly rising and drowning lakeside properties. Around sunset you’ll be able to take astonishing pictures of women doing laundry and entire families going for a bath, while ducks and egrets perch atop tree stumps and bits of walls sticking out above the water’s surface. Full moon rising over the lake is one of the magical sights of Guatemala you’ll carry in your heart forever.
7. The Drinks
Guatemalan food can be a little bland but the drinks are incredible. During the day, enjoy a licuado, a type of watery smoothie made with fresh fruit of your choice. If you can find it, have a virulent pink licuado made of pithaya. For something stronger, there are beers, a strong liquor called Quetzalteca and the world’s best rum, Ron Zacapa. This rum isn’t for mixing into a Cuba Libre; it’s best enjoyed by sipping it slowly.
8. Spanish Schools
If you want to brush up on your Spanish or learn the language from scratch, Guatemala is one of the best places to do this. Guatemalan Spanish is clear and easy to understand since for many Guatemalans, this is their second language. Spanish schools in the country are of high quality, yet are more affordable than in most other places. You’ll find a Spanish school almost anywhere in Guatemala, but the most renowned are in Antigua, Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela) and San Pedro La Laguna.
As befitting this beautiful, intriguing and somewhat under-rated country, the reasons to love Guatemala should be of liking to any tourist who wants to experience Latin America in full throe. Are you inspired to visit?