Ultimate guide to heart of the mayan world
Guatemala may be a small country but it truly has a world to offer: Due to its natural diversity, it is unique as a travel destination and its cultural treasures are unmatched in the world. Myriads of archeological mysteries of the Mayan civilisation are waiting to be discovered, as well as monuments from times of colonial splendour that unrivalled in artistic quality.
Guatemala is located at the center of the Americas, it is heart of the mayan world and is known to be land of ever spring due to its consistently mild climate all-year round.
The distances are short in Guatemala, which makes it very easy to visit different regions of the country even on a tight time schedule. Guatemala is rich in natural and cultural treasures and its visitors will find vivid, magical, mystical and colourful traditions throughout the country.
Guatemala’s wealth and diversity make it easy for any traveler to enjoy the stay – regardless if for leisure of business. Each region is a world of its own and worth a visit.
Heart of the mayan world – Modern and Colonial
The country’s main entrance is the international airport La Aurora in the capital Guatemala City, also known by its official name ” Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion“. It from here all that all the adventures begin, upon which all visitors are welcomed by the Guatemalans with great kindness and discreet hospitality.
Guatemala City on of the most modern and international metropoles in Central America, preserves its roots while modernity merges with colonial legacy.
A city in constant change, offering chic shopping centres, state-of-the-art aesthetics centres, as well as world class venues fro exhibitions, conferences and meetings, theme parks and golf courses.
The capital is divided into 25 districts connected by the major roads such as Los Proceres, Vista Hermosa, Avenida de las Americas and the Avenida Reforma.
The “Historical Centre” is booming with an abundance of local shops in carefully renovated colonial houses that are part of a protected historical city quarter. It is also home to other historical buildings, such as the “Ermita del Carmen”, the oldest church in the city dating back to 1620, as well as the “Cathedral Metropolitana” a national monument from 1968.
Other architectural highlights are the “Portal del Comercio”, the churches “Iglesia de la Merced” , the “Iglesia Santo Domingo”, dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, the “Iglesia del Calvario”, and the “Iglesia San Francisco” a well-balanced mix of classicism and baroque.
The “Centro Municipal de Arte y Cultura”, is the national temple for the fine arts. It is housed in the former Post and Telegraph offices, two neocolonial twin buildings that are connected by an arch. The Numismatic Museum offers an impressive collection of coins and banknotes as well as significant artefacts from the precolonial period.
The National Library is an eye-catcher not only because of its stringently design modern facade, but also because of the prominent relief of Efrain Recinos. Inside, there are wall paintings depicting the Mayan codices by Antonio Tejada Fonseca, Guillermo Grajeda Mena and Jose Antonio Oliveirio.
The “Centro Civico” is the administrative heart of the city where government and other public institutions are located, amongst which the Guatemala City Administration, the National Mortgage Bank, the Treasury, the Justice Palace and the Central Bank.
The Railway Museum is surely also worth a visit, It documents the importance of the railroad system for the country’s economic development. Those interested in painting, sculpture and architecture should book a guided tour of the “Centro Cultural Miguel Angel”“.
A wide variety and of cultural and culinary delights await the visitors in ” Cuatro Grados Norte”, where several theatres and cultural centres such as the “Casa del Aguila” and the Artemis Edinter have opened their doors.
The city never sleeps in “Zona Viva”, where local and foreign night owls flock to the numerous restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels. Several art galleries as well as the Museum Popol Vuh with one of the most important collection of ancient Mayan art also have their place here.
The “Financial District” is spread over several zones housing most of the foreign embassies. Nearby lies the “Parque Mundo Petapa”, an amusement park with attractions for the whole family.
The urban zoo “La Aurora” awaits its visitors with carefully designed habitats for a variety of native and foreign animals. It neighbours the “Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno Carlos Merida”, as well as the Archaeological Museum which offers insights into the Mayan civilization.
For all shopping aficionados, the commercial complex “Las Majadas” is the place to look out for. In this extensive area you can find 15 shopping centres and supermarkets, as well as a number of five stars hotels.
The Central Market is an absolute must when it comes to catching local authenticity. The market displays variety of clothes, shoes, handbags, leather goods, handicrafts or jewelry from local production, most the items being hand-made.
Heart of the mayan world – An open air museum
La Antigua Guatemala preserves a centuries-old history in numerous churches, museum and ruins, which are to be explored along the cobble streets while walking through the city. The ancient legends and traditions are alive in all corners.
Among the numerous museums that can be admired are the Ancient Book Museum, the Museum of Colonial Art with displays of paintings of the 6th and 17th centuries, the Capuchin Museum with works of colonial and modern art , and not at least the Archaeological Museum “Casa Santo Domingo”.
Out of the multitude of churches, the pilgrimage church of the Aposte Philip, the Temple of Saint Bartolome Becerra, the Church and Monastery of Our Lady of La Merced, Santa Clara Monastery, the Church of the Apostle St. Peter and the Monastery of the Society of Jesus stand out and are worth a visit.
On the axis between the impressive “Plaza Central” and the “Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento ” (dating from 1743), “The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales” deserves special consideration. Nearby the square with the Sirens Foutain from 1737 and the parish Church of San Jose at the entrance of the original Cathedral of Santiago de los Caballeros form the historic heart of the city.
In the back part, surrounded by a few lively restaurants and bars, lie the ruins of Santa Catalina Monastery with elaborately carved angelic figures and a striking archway, which give inspiration to its street name “Calle del Arco”.
The city has many quaint colonial-style boutique hotels and a good variety of restaurants, which are not only attractive to visiting tourists, but also for business events and congresses. From a culinary point of view, Antigua is a cosmopolitan city where culinary delights are to be found alongside local specialities such as Tamales, Chuchitos, Pepian or Hilachas,
For those passionate about exercise there are spectacular mountain biking trails through the hills and mountains surrounding the Panchoy Valley. There is also a wide offers for tours to the idyllic farms in the surrounding area. Zip-lining, bird watching, coffee plantation tours or baths in hot volcanic springs add to the huge offer of extraordinary activities.
In Antigua Guatemala you can find great spots for your Instagram collection such as the ruins of San Jose el Viejo, the churches of La Merced de Santa Clara, Las Capuchinas, the Jardin Real de Santiago, Casa Santo Domingo, Finca Filadelfia or La Reunion Golf and Resort, among others.
A must is Easter, when during the procession you will see large floats that cary figures of Christ, led by purple Cucuruchos, or the Virgin Mart followed by women dressed in black. Before Easter you can enjoy Holy Week, where you can attend vigils that are celebrated in the churches of La Merced, San Francisco, and the School of Christ.
The traditional carpets of Holy Week use coloured sawdust, flowers, fruits, vegetables and other materials, providing a true spectacle of colours. It is a tradition that dates back to colonial times, allowing its citizens and visitors to live their culture and history.
There are many other attractions near Antigua, in the villages of San Juan del Obispo, San Cristobal el Alto, and San Felipe de Jesus you can see arts and crafts, and visit the ruins of some of the old churches in the country.
Heart of the mayan civilization – Living Mayan Culture
The Guatemalan Altiplano includes the districts of Chimaltenango, Solola, Quiche, Quetzzaltenango, Totonicapan, Huehuetenango and San Marcos. Its narural diversity and richness in fauna and flora makes t one of the most popular destinations in the country.
In this idyllic landscape with its giant volcanoes and glittering lakes, the tranquillity of the mighty nature becomes a source of inspiration. Here, the traditions of the Mayan civilisation survived through the aeons, as the people who inhabit this land preserved their languages, their attire and their cuisine for centuries.
In the summer, in Chimaltengo tourists can witness a series of festivities dedicated to St. Ana, Mother of Virgin Mary and Patron Saint Chimaltengo. You also get to relax in the natural pools of Los Aposentos, Pixacaya or Ojo de Agua. Adventurers should explore Venecia and Devil’s cave, or admire the waterfalls of the River Nican .
The city of Tecpan was first capital of the Sapnish conquistadors, build on the runes of the last capital of the Mayan Kakciquel empire. In this area one can discover pyramids, temples, palaces and other ancient structures such as an arena for a ritual ball game.
Heart of the mayan civilization – Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan – according to National Geographic and to the British writer Aldous Huxley – “the most beautiful lake in the world”. The lake is located at 1600 meters above the sea level and is 18km long at a depth of more than 350m at some places.
Warm air currents from the south intermingle with colder air masses from the high plateau producing a notorious wind called Xocomil and stir the water surface. The lake is surrounded by the majestic beauty of volcanoes pics of Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro.
There are two theories how the lake might have formed : One suggests that a dead volcano crater filled up with water over time, while the other implies that three rivers once met at this point when the volcanoes formed around them. The natural park of Lake Atitlan spreads across 120 hectares in the valley of “San Beunaventura”
Heart of the mayan civilization – City of The Ancients
Business and leisure life unfolds in the central square of Huehuetenango, which is framed by the Town Hall, the Church of the Immaculate Conception and several neoclassical buildings. On the square there is a relief map of about 30 square metres in diameter.
The local festivals are worth a visit, particularly “Nuestra Senora del Carmen” or “La Coneption”. A typical dish of the region is Jocon, which has been declared a National Cultural Heritage.
The “Hoyo Cimarron” is a cylindrical hole with a diameter of approx. 170m and a depth of 15o m that hides a patch of forrest at the bottom. This unique habitat offers protection to a number of rare birds and other unique animal species.
Another cultural highlight is Zaculeu, an archaeological site attributed to the Mam people and a formerly fortified city in the post-classical era with squares, pyramids, temples and other ancient buildings.
The region of Solola contributes large portions of the country’s wool production, but the cultivation of coffee is becoming increasingly important as an economic base of the local people. The culinary specialities of the region are stew with potatoes, patin, cress with chirmol sauce or pork loin ragout.
Located in wide valley and surrounded by three active volcanoes, Quetzaltenango is one of the important and largest cities in Guatemala. It is an industrial center for the production of textiles and liquors, a strategic trading hub and a cultural centre alike.
The Ermita de la Conception in the village of Salcaj is a religious monument that attract visitors from the entire country and beyond. It is the seat of the first Central American Catholic Church.
Santa Cruz del Quiche is the administrative centre of the region and an important centre for the preservation of the ancient Mayan rites and traditions in their original form. Some of the typical dishes are pinol, boxboles, chicken with apazote, chojin chicasteco and white tamales.
The town of Playa Grande Ixcan offers a variety of natural attractions such as rivers, waterfalls, hotsprings and caves. The village of Laj Chiel in Uspantan is the birth place of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Rigoberta Menchu. Chicaman is a natural paradise famous for its untouched nature and of its inhabitants lively culture.
Chichicastenango is home to the Maxenos and one of the country most important tourist destinations when it comes to exploring the culture of Maya. It’s where the Popol Vuh was found, the legendary religious Mayan book that tells about the origin of mankind and was translated in Spanish by Fray Francisco Ximenez.
Among the numerous tourist attractions of the city, the Cerro Pascual Abaj, the Museum of Masks, the Gumarcaj Excavation Site and the Church of Apostle Thomas dating from 1540 truly stand out. The celebrations in honor of the city’s patron St.Thomas are celebrated with traditional dances for a week in mid December.
San Marcos district is home to the highest peak of Central America, also, the two volcanoes Tacana and Tajamulco rise up here. The region is also home to the legendary Quetzal Guatemala’s heraldig bird.
In San Marcos one can admire the caves of “La Castalla”, or have a thermal bath at “Aqua Tibia” sulphorous stream. The Mayan Palace and “Pietra Pertida” are compulsory boxes to tick in your visit of the area.
Some of the San Cristobal Totonicapan main attractions worth mentioned are the colourful Church of San Andres Xecul, the city theatre, the parish Church of the Archangel Michael and the Centre of Arts and Crafts. In the caves of San Miguel and of Chuisan Antonio Mundo there are ancient sacred sites.
Heart of the mayan world – One of the planet’s lungs
In the north of Guatemala lies the Heart of the Mayan Civilization, fourteen municipalities from the heartland of the ancient realm, where various languages such as Itza, Lacandon, Mopan, Q’eqchi’ and Ixil are still spoken.
Flores is the regional administrative centre and the starting point for discovery trips to the numerous tourist attractions of the district. Situated on a small island in the lake of Peten Itza, the town fascinates its visitors by its winding alleys, picturesque shops, restaurants, hotels and street stands with typical dishes of the region.
The tropical forest of Peten are considered one of the “lungs” of the planet because of their unique vegetation. The region bears an incredible historical value, the ruins that spring from the wild jungle unfold their irresistible and distinct charm to every visitor. The “Maya Biosphere Reserve” hides archaeological sites such as the Tikal National Park, Yaxha, Ceibal, Aguateca, San Bartolo, El Mirador or Uaxactun.
Heart of the mayan world – Guatemala National Park’s
“Place of Voices” is one of the largest cities ever created by mayan civilization, declared World Cultural and Natural heritage since 1979. From its gigantic surface of 576 square kilometres more than 3000 artefacts have been discovered.
The Plaza Mayor, stands out from all other temples and sites. The square is framed by “Temple of the Jaguar” and “Temple of The Masks” as well by the northern and the central Acropolis.
“Temple of Jaguar Priest” is famous for its elaborately carved cornices. “Double Headed Snake Temple” is the tallest in Tikal, rising 70 metres in the air. It also offers a spectacular view of the entire park from its top.
Yaxha National Park – is host of more than 500 monumental buildings, including an astronomical complex, two twin pyramids and the Acropolis, crossed by streets, squares and alleys give testimony to the richness of the society that once inhabited this ancient city.
From Temple 216, the tallest discovered building to date, one can look far over the rain forest to the lagoons of Yaxha and Sacnab, deep in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Piedras Negras is considered one of the most important Mayan cities and is world famous for the sculptures that are exhibited all around the world.
National Park “El Mirador” is surrounded by a formation of karstic mountains and covers an area of 3000 squares kilometres. In this area, there are many ancient Mayan monuments to be found but the natural scenery alone is breathtaking.
The subtropical forests are home to a few rare and endangered animal and plant species. The area can only be reached by helicopter or on foot in a demanding but worthwhile three-day march.
“The Great Danta Pyramid” is named after the largest animal that once inhabited these territories. With 2800 cubic metres it is the largest pyramid in the world by volume and the highest in all of the American continent standing 72 metres tall.