Exploring Guatemala four ways

Views of Lake Atitlán from Casa Palopó.

With its mild climate and lush flora, Guatemala is often called the country of eternal spring. From densely populated Guatemala City to ancient Mayan villages along Lake Atitlán, Spanish-Baroque architecture of Antigua and the nature preserves and Mayan ruins of the Peten Jungle, there’s plenty to discover in this hauntingly beautiful Central American country.

Guatemala City

Do: Get a primer into Guatemala’s ancient Mayan civilization at Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena, which translates to the Museum of Indigenous Textiles & Clothing. You’ll learn about the regions’ rich history, including the symbolism and significance of Mayan textile patterns and native dress. 

Live music at La Esquina.

Eat: Head to La Esquina, a newly opened food hall in the heart of Guatemala City’s Zone 4. The colorful, sun-filled space boasts a half dozen different counters serving everything from tacos to pizza and dulces. There’s often live music adding to the convivial atmosphere.

Lake Atitlán

Stay: The boutique Casa Palopó hotel offers 10 unique rooms and villas perched high on the flowering hills of Santa Catarina Palopó overlooking magnificent Lake Atitlán. Rooms feature exposed wood beams, four poster mahogany beds, Indonesian wooden furniture, Mayan art and large bathrooms. A lovely terrace with a plunge pool is the perfect place to relax and take in the views or enjoy a meal at the onsite restaurant.

Lake Atitlán is 10 miles wide and was formed by a volcanic caldera.

Do: Set in Guatemala’s highlands, Lake Atitlán was formed from an ancient volcanic caldera and spreads 10 miles surrounded by indigenous Mayan villages. With three volcanic peeks, Atitlán, Toliman and San Pedro, bordering the lake’s southern ridge, it’s Guatemala’s deepest lake.

Arrange a boat tour across Lake Atitlán with Casa Palopó to discover villages, including San Juan La Laguna with cooperative businesses, known as associations, run by its women. There’s also Santiago Atitlán, home to Maximón, a wild pagan saint who’s a blend of Mayan deities, Catholic saints and local lore.

Antigua

An artisan sells her wares at Mercado del Carmen.

Shop: Guatemala’s third capital city, Antigua is famous for its Spanish Baroque architecture and colonial cathedrals dating back to the 1770s with the dramatic Volcano Agua looming on the horizon. It’s also a shopper’s paradise with multiple markets, including Mercado del Carmen where textiles are sold before the beautiful Iglesia del Carmen. There’s also El Telar boutique for upscale, designer textiles and home furnishings.

Eat: Enjoy an upscale twist on traditional Guatemalan fare at Los Tres Tiempos. You can’t go wrong with freshly baked corn tortillas, local Zacapa rum and any of their their specialties ranging from chorizo de Huehuetenango to lomo adobado.

Stay:  Stay at one of Antigua’s lovely boutique hotels featuring sublime interiors courtyards, rustic wood beams and original stone walls, like Porta and El Convento. The owners of Lake Atitlán’s Casa Palopó also have the private Villa Las Pilas featuring three bedrooms around a lovely central courtyard and pool.

Peten Jungle

Inside a lagoon front bungalow at Las Lagunas.

Stay: Check into your own private bungalow overlooking the Quexil Lagoon at Las Lagunas for a peaceful and luxurious retreat in Guatemala’s Peten Jungle surrounded by national parks and nature preserves. These beautiful ecolodges are made with pitched cathedral ceilings and native wood, featuring decks with private jacuzzi tubs overlooking the lagoon.

Tikal ruins date back to 200 A.D.

Do: This region of Guatemala is the gateway to the most impressive ancient Mayan ruins, including Yaxha, Uaxactún and, most famously, Tikal. Make arrangements with Las Lagunas to visit these dramatic sites with a guide where you’ll scale ruins more than 200 feet tall that date back to 200 A.D. with sweeping panoramas of the lush jungle.

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