Mayan female shaman

When I set up my tour of Guatemala, I was expecting beauty and adventure. I wasn’t expecting to pray to the wind god and have my birth date nahual revealed. It all seemed perfectly natural though in a country where the Mayan presence is so strong and rituals are shaped by traditions that go back to the time of Tikal.

A lot of elements you find in Guatemala, from a tourism aspect, you can find in other places, but here they come with different twists. There are plenty of beautiful Spanish Colonial cities throughout Latin America, but none of them look like Antigua, with its cobbled streets, churches in ruins (from multiple earthquakes) and a smoking volcano looming over it. It’s also a city you can navigate completely on foot—provided you’re still mobile and have good walking shoes.

Sometimes the countryside is not so beautiful when you’re looking at the simple houses and buildings—in an earthquake zone you tend to expect you’ll have to rebuild. The landscapes, nature, and bright indigenous clothing make up for it though. On this tour I used Xela (Quetzaltenango) as a base for adventures, biking around nearby villages and seeing the oldest church in Central America, visiting hot springs, and hiking to a sacred lake. Chicabal is a volcanic lagoon at high altitude, with clouds drifting in and across the water.

There were also gorgeous drives in the mountains, especially on the way to the Georgina hot springs. This whole complex was once destroyed by a combination rockslide and mudslide, but was rebuilt and is a great place to soak in really hot water next to dense vegetation.

This being the land of Ron Zacapa, there was a rum tasting in the mix too, of course, and Guatemala City is looking a bit more welcoming than when I first landed there eight years ago. The economy is slowly but surely improving here and increasing foreign investment is evident in the international business offices popping up and the high number of business travelers passing through the improved airport. Watch for revised reviews of the top luxury hotels there coming soon.

See our full tour story here: Adventures in the Mayan World of Guatemala

For more photos and ideas on the area, see the Visit Guatemala website.