¡Bienvenido a Guatemala!
“Welcome to Guatemala” in Spanish.
I´m local and I would probably greet you this way if I knew you personally, which I would love to. You know why? Because I feel like you´re visiting me at my house, and when someone visits you, I assume you try to make them feel good and comfortable around. So either if I had met you personally or you are reading this… ¡Welcome to Guatemala! I´ll try to convince you why booking your flight and travel to Guatemala (or thinking about it) is worth every cent.
What is Guatemala?
Guatemala stands for a “Place with a lot of trees” on náhuatl language, located in Central America and is mostly known for its Mayan culture, great landscapes, great weather, and a good party. And absolutely! You can be on a classical temple in the middle of a forest with a “not so cold” / “not so hot” weather and having a beer and that´s a must! I´ll tell you later some tourist places you shouldn´t miss on your visit to Guatemala. But, on this article, I will show you some secrets of the country that not every traveler will tell you.
There are 4 ethnical groups in Guatemala (Depending on its culture): Ladinos, Mayas, Garífunas and Xinkas. And there are 24 ethnical groups depending on the language. So imagine all cultural richness depending on the location, every ethnical group has its own characteristics like physical, gastronomical, language, dress, social organization, art, and more.
My tip? Do the research… You´ll be fascinated by this side of the story when you get to Guatemala… You can still go to all touristic places, but try to notice about this ethnic facts. For example, you want to go to Semuc Champey. Great! Semuch Champey is beautiful and it is located in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Coban´s most important dish is kak´ik: The kak´ik on the Mayan language means “red and hot”. It is a soup made with turkey, local herbs, tomato, pepper, and more local ingredients (Different kind of chillis too). You can find it on almost all local markets where you´ll meet some incredible people wearing Mayan costumes and there´s a theory that its color red stands for some sacrifices made on ancestral ceremonies. You´ll travel time knowing these facts and it would make your stay more interesting.
I really believe Guatemala is beyond beautiful landscapes and touristic places, Guatemala is what it is because of its people. Try to know all locals better, we tend to talk a lot and make you feel like home. We are willing to make your stay in Guatemala unforgettable.
Saying this before, I´ll also give you some suggestions of where to go in Guatemala and why I recommend it. It is really hard for me to not talk about every single corner from Guatemala, but I´ll make my top list basing on my experience and the historical, cultural and touristic facts about each place on the list.
I have met a lot of travelers that just “don´t go” to the city and I´m still trying to convince all of you to please get it on your list. Guatemala City is a clear example of its people evolution. I will definitely tell you to go to zone 1, 4 and 10 and I will ask you to please focus on local business, local people, colors on streets and you´ll remember about this article when you notice you are living on three different perspectives on the same city, you´ll get to know where we came from and where are we going.
Founded in the early 16th century, and significantly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, Antigua Guatemala is a place you should visit during your stay in this country. It is famously known for its architecture and baroque-style monuments which have survived all this time. You can have a lot of fun here! And you´ll get to know more about its people culture in every corner of the city.
Yes, Atitlán is a very famous place to go when you do your research about Guatemala, but I’ll suggest you go beyond what´s “the most popular”. Lake Atitlán has a lot of tiny towns all around the lake and each one has its own special characteristic. What I recommend is: if you want some party, go to San Pedro La Laguna. If you want to meditate, do yoga and be in a very calm and relaxing place, go to San Marcos La Laguna. If you want to know about Atitlán´s culture and traditions, go to San Juan La Laguna.
It is located in Cobán, and it is mostly known because of its approach to Semuc Champey, I have already talked about this place on some previous paragraphs, so I´m just gonna mention it for you to keep it on your itinerary.
Made of forests, rivers, lakes and a lot of natural resources. Petén is mostly known for its Mayan richness and archaeological heritage, you´ll get to know how Mayas lived, studied, dressed, played and so many different cultural characteristics shown on rocks, murals, and pyramids. A lot of history in this place, you´ll love it.
You´ll meet here Garifuna culture, an afro-Caribbean culture who will teach you how to dance Punta and have a good time at the beach. Try to eat “Tapado”: a seafood soup with coconut milk and lime, it is a great and delicious combination.
I could go on with this list and it will be a never ending story since I always find out new incredible places in Guatemala that haven´t been explored yet, and some that are not so famous, so it will depend on the time you´re spending here, your budget and how adventurous you are.
But most of all, I´m reminding you, again, to focus on Guatemala people. It doesn´t matter where do you come from, you´ll always see life with another perspective when you get involved with all of us Guatemalans. And I´m not necessarily telling you this because I’m from Guatemala, but because I have been in another countries and continents around the world and I have seen and noticed the difference. Give it a try!