Guatemala is squeezed between Mexico to the north and El Salvador, Belize and Honduras to the south and east. It’s a small country, especially in comparison to its near neighbours, but what it lacks in square miles it more than makes up for in other ways.
Guatemala boasts the strongest indigenous local culture in all of the Americas. In all, there are 23 languages spoken here and the ancient Mayan culture is still very much alive.
It’s home to 21 Maya groups as well as the Garífuna people – whose distinctive cultures, languages, and centuries-old traditions continue to thrive today. You can see living Mayan culture in the languages people speak, the crafts for sale on street markets as well as the way people dress. To truly immerse yourself in a Mayan ritual, we recommend visiting the shrine to the Mayan deity, Maximon, at Lake Atitlan or the world-class UNESCO protected archaeology site at Tikal.
The landscape ranges from fiery volcanoes to remote cloud forests. Less than two percent of the total geography is urbanised, resulting in vast swathes of untamed jungle that is perfect for hiking and trekking. Guatemala may not have the region’s best beaches, but luckily its next door neighbour, Belize, has a palm-fringed coastline which hugs the warm Caribbean Sea.
There are plenty of reminders of Guatemala’s Spanish colonial past. Antigua is known for its crumbling ruins and sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings. There’s a gorgeous colonial-era central plaza in the tiny coastal town of Retalhuleu, while larger towns like as Cobán and Quetzaltenango have plenty of Spanish colonial cathedrals, town halls and other public buildings, close to still impressive Mayan archaeological sites.
When to go
The climate is warm and spring-like year-round so it’s a great year-round destination, with the wettest time of the year from July to October.