Land of Eternal Spring

Guatemala is a magical place. “If you’re into the Maya, the mountains, the markets or a million other things, you’re bound to be captivated. People come and they stay. Or they leave and return. There’s almost too much going on here, and even the shortest trip takes you completely different places, with new challenges and surprises. Students of Spanish flock to Antigua, a gorgeous town nestled between three volcanoes, while those travelers seeking more off-the-beaten-track destinations might head to lesser known places like Lago de Izabal or Nebaj, a Maya village hidden in a remote fold of the Cuchumatanes mountains. And sooner or later, just about everyone ends up in the Highlands – Lago de Atitlán being an irresistible drawing card.

“Guatemala’s Maya heritage is everywhere. El Petén’s remote archaeological sites are unmissable; the fascinating town of Chichicastenango adheres to pre-Hispanic beliefs and rituals even now. Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, on the other hand, provides a glimpse into the mysterious Pipil culture, with some interesting carved stone heads and relief scenes to be found in fields and fincas (plantations) around town.

“Sure, Guatemala’s got its problems (most visible in its sprawling capital, Guatemala City), but it isn’t the scary place your mother fears it is. Travel here, once dangerous and uncomfortable, is now characterized by ease – you can do pretty much whatever you want, and will only be limited by your imagination.” From Lonely Planet Guatemala

Fast Facts About Guatemala

  • Area: 108,890 sq km (smaller than the US state of Louisiana, a bit bigger than England)
  • Languages: Spanish, Maya (one of many languages in the Mayan language family)
  • Population: 14M, half of whom are Maya, 45% under the age of 14, and 75% living in poverty
  • Currency: Quetzales
  • Capitol: Guatemala City
  • Famous for: Maya sites
  • Phrases: De huevos (cool), papichulo (handsome man), Chapin (Guatemalan)
  • Flights to Guatemala from US: Nonstop Atlanta with Delta; Dallas with American; Houston with Continental; Los Angeles with United; Miami with American, Grupo TACA and Iberia; and New York with American.
  • Peace Corps Volunteers: 245 are currently serving in Guatemala.

The Maya

The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.

While Europe was still in the midst of the Dark Ages, the Maya had mapped the heavens and developed the first true writing system native to the Americas.

Maya temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories were all built without metal tools. Maya society started to decline around A.D. 900 when – for reasons which are still largely a mystery – the southern Maya abandoned their cities. By A.D. 1200, the Maya dynasty came to a close, although some peripheral centers continued to thrive until the Spanish Conquest in the early 16th century.