The Republic of Guatemala

PART 1, General Information

PART 2, BLOGS Pictures and Gallery

PART 3, VIDEO CLIPS

The Republic of Guatemala

Capital city: Guatemala City

Population: 18 million

Currency: Quetzal

Km travelled in Guatemala; TBA

Days in Guatemala: TBA

Languages: Spanish

GENERAL INFORMATION

Guatemala a country in Central America, which endured a bloody civil war between 1960 and 1996. Since the end of the civil war Guatemala has achieved economic growth although it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability. Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Guatemala has been prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes which causes mudslides and flooding. The most recent was Hurricane Eta in November 2020. ( Category 5 storm) Earthquakes are common, and the 1976 earthquake killed over 25000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes of which 4 of them are active (Tacana, Santiaguito,Pacava and Fuego) The income distribution is highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line. It is estimated that around 54 % of the population live in poverty. We were amazed to hear that money sent home from Guatemalans living in United States is the largest single form of foreign income in Guatemala. Main exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, Coffee, sugar, and Banana’s. 50% of the labour force is involved in the agricultural sector. Mines produce gold, silver, zinc, cobalt, and nickel. Tourism has become an increasing source of revenue lately.

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Guatemala is located between Mexico, Belize and Honduras and is a favourite country for the North American overlanders. Roads are slow so expect long travel days due to poor and winding roads and constant changes between low and highlands. Guatemala receives around two million tourists annually. Tourist destinations such as Tikal, Lake Atitlan, the active volcanoes, the historic town of Antigua and Semuc Champey are on the must do list. The thick rainforest of Guatemala has many hidden Maya sites (Tikal the most well-known) As well as large populations of monkeys and exotic birds. The country has many religious festivals These vibrant and diverse cultural festivities of Guatemala makes for some incredible and colourful holidays and festivals

GUATEMALA CITY,

like many cities around the world also is known for criminal gangs and drug violence. But this is a big city and a diverse city. 3.3 million residents make Guatemala the biggest city in Central America. But some parts are not very tourist friendly.  Guatemala City is divided into zones.  Zone 1 being the City centre. Zone 4 is touristy with many trendy coffee shops, cool bars, and street art. the Mercado Central is the best place to do shopping as Antigua and Chichicastenango are very touristy hence much more expensive. However, be aware of pickpockets. We are not museum people however there are many around Guatemala City to learn about the Maya culture. The city has some historic colonial buildings and many are well preserved. The plaza Mayor is the city centre and home to the National Palace and a beautiful Cathedral. Unfortunately, the gap between poor and wealthy is enormous. And here you can see this difference in ways tourist areas never show. Catch the chicken bus, the buses are color-coded, and this tells the locals the destination. This is important as many locals cannot read or write. You must visit El Portal in the Pasaje Rubio. This was Che Guevara’s favourite Bar when he lived in Guatemala City. We are told to avoid zone 3 18 and 21 others also mentioned zone 6

ANTIGUA

One of Guatemala most scenic towns, lots of colour tile roofed building in perfect state and a UNESCO world heritage site. Spend at least a few days here to explore the markets, churches and enjoy Maya woman in traditional dress. The town has cobblestone streets, great cafes, and at 1500 meters enjoy fresh mountain air and enjoy the volcanoes in the distance and make sure you take a picture of the Arco de Santa Catalina with in the background the Volcan Agua (on a clear day) 

TIKAL

The thick Guatemalan jungle has tried to reclaim this ancient Mayan city. Tikal is the largest excavated site in the Americas covering 575sq kilometres of jungle. It is home to thousands of ruined structures. The central part of the city alone covers 3000 buildings and is around 16sq km.  There are five enormous granite temples from where you have a great view above the rainforest canopy and the ruins. Tikal is also part of the one-million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve. Mayan people lived in this area around 900 BC. 

UAXACTUN

The site is 25 km North of Tikal following the dirt road where the Mayas improved their writing and astrology. This architectonic site shows notable advances in astrology and time calculation. All the temples are connected to each other from an astronomical perspective and it is here where the oldest Astronomic Observatory was built by this incredible civilization.

RIO DULCE & LIVINGSTONE

a frontier town on the crossroads of the more developed regions of Guatemala and the jungle-clad province of El Petén. A funny constructed town under the bridge and a busy highway straight through the middle of town (noisy) But once you cross the bridge you move into the  wilderness with cliffs, wild birds and narrow waterways and the sense that you are experiencing small village life, deep in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle. Take the boat to Livingston, a great boat journey down river surrounded by rainforest. This is where the Garifuna people live. Livingstone is a melting-pot of Latinos, Mayas, Garifuna, and gringos. The only way to reach Livingstone is by boat. 2 other highlights are San Felipe fort and the hot springs at Finca Paraiso

LAKE ATITLAN

This stunningly beautiful lake 1500 meters above sea level sits at the foot of the conical volcanoes Atitlan, Tolimán, and San Pedro and is ringed with indigenous villages where life has changed little over the centuries. Many of the inhabitants of these towns are descendants of theCakchiquel and Tzutuhilgroups. The colours of the lake vary from deep blue to green. With a depth of 341 meters, it is the deepest lake in Central America. Dence forests surround the lake. Try and spot the national bird Quetzal .

PANAJACHEL

A real busy tourist  spot on the shores of Lake Atitlan with great views of 3 volcanoes. This town is very touristy but has amazing views. The atmosphere is great, and the people are helpful. Santander street is where you can find a variety of handicrafts. Do not miss the church of San Francisco, and shop at the local markets where the locals sell fruit and vegies

CHICHICASTENANGO

Best known for its Fiesta de Santo Tomas, (Dec 14-21) its markets and the church dating back to 1540. It is a quintessential Mayan village, complete with red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets with beautiful mountain scenery. Thursday and Sunday are market days very colourful and lots of Mayan people.

FLORES & LAKE PETEN ITZA

On an island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá, Flores is reached by a causeway. The best way to know this beautiful island is by walking around. This tiny town has a glorious plaza, Spanish church, and well-preserved colonial buildings, and you can walk around the whole island in around 15 minutes. It is surrounded by the third biggest lake in Guatemala, Lake Peten Itza. This quiet Island is one of the 25 most colourful places in the world.

COBAN & PURULHA

Cobán is the capital of the department of Alta Verapaz in the central highlands of Guatemala. The annual folklore festival is in late July or early August. Known as Rabin Ajau, this impressive festival showcases Mayan traditions and includes music and dance. Before arriving in Coban you pass Purulha, mainly of interest to outdoor-oriented travellers and birdwatchers. The Biotopo de Quetzal is the area where you find the Quetzal Guatemala’s beloved bird and lots of waterfalls where you can swim. While in the area also visit the many coffee and cardamom plantations

LANQUIN & SEMUC CHAMPEY

Overlooked on many standard Guatemala overland itineraries, the coffee growing region of Lanquín, located in a deep valley, offers plenty of treats for those who venture out here. It is a short drive to Semuc Champey. Hidden in the lush mountainous jungle you find a series of tiered, limestone pools, deep in the jungle, in brilliant shades of turquoise. Semuc Champey is truly one of Guatemala’s natural wonders and the best way to fully appreciate its beauty is not just by swimming in the pools but by seeing it from above. Semuc Champey, is a 300 m long natural forming limestone bridge that has six turquoise blue water pools. visit Semuc not only to enjoy swimming in the pools but also to explore the nearby water cave, or tube down the Cahabon River which disappears under the limestone bridge only to reappear miles later.

MONTERRICO 

is a black-sand beach on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. The beaches, vibe, and amazing sunsets are well worth the trip. In Monterrico, the waves are bigger and more fun to play in, the beaches are less crowded, and the water is as clear and warm as it could possibly get. Walking down the street, you will see the real local flavour, not a shiny facade put on for the tourists. Do not expect fancy resorts

CLIMATE

The coastal areas are normally warm and tropical, and the mountains are cool. The climate is mainly determent by location and altitude. Guatemala has 2 seasons, dry and wet. Dry Season is from Nov to May and the wet season is from May to November


GUATEMALA CITY

Summer: 15 degrees at night and 29 degrees during the day

Winter:    11 degrees at night and 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:   May to November

TIKAL

Summer: 20 degrees at night 32 degrees during the day

Winter:     15 degrees at night 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:    May to November

LAKE ATITLAN

Summer: 15 degrees at night to 27 degrees during the day

Winter: 12 degrees at night to 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:   May to October

MONTERRICO

Summer: 18 degrees at night to 28 degrees during the day

Winter: 12 degrees at night to 26 degrees during the day

Rainfall: May to October

RIO DULCE

Summer: 15 degrees at night to 28 degrees during the day

Winter; 12 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day

Rainfall: May to October

PART 2, BLOGS & PICTURES

GUATEMALA PART 1

Border with Belize was still closed (COVID-19), hence a 500km detour via Palenque to the far North West Border with Guatemala. For Guatemala, a Covid-19 test is required to enter.  Leaving Mexico, it was clear Guatemala was less organized and a lot less wealthy, however, the people are amazing, friendly, hospitable, and helpful. Unfortunately, in Guatemala we encountered a mechanical problem when our brakes failed due to a broken compressor and as per Murphy’s law it had to happen on a steep decline in remote far northern Guatemala a long way away from a large city. We were incredibly lucky that we were near a small village called Las Ruinas where the locals went out of their way to try and help. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to organize a tow truck. After 3 nights roadside in Los Ruinas waiting for a tow truck with super friendly people, we had to say our goodbyes and left on the back of a tow truck to a larger town called San Benito. Another 6 days in San Benito in front of the Hino Garage trying to source a compressor, it became clear Mercedes Benz was of no use at all as they did not even have a part number for us nor would they disclose who the manufacturer was of the compressor hence we had to take the compressor apart. In the meantime, our mechanic found the part number and the manufacturer (WABCO) and the search started. We found the part in Guatemala City (the capital). After all this we have lots of people to thank. The people of the small village Los Ruinas (Oscar in particular), the amazing tow truck driver Gruas Hernandez, the people at Codaca in San Benito in particular Pablo, Luis, Anibal, and Luis the manager (crazy boss) and their wives/ girlfriends for looking after us and having great nights out. Buzz and Ian Alleries in Australia, Arjan Theuns in Greece, and Ton Peters in Mexico, you all have been great. Thanks for all the support.

Unfortunately due to our car trouble we had to turn around and missed El Mirador National Park a 3000 sq km park with ancient Mayan monuments including the Danta which is the largest pyramid in the world based on volume (2,800 cubic meters) and also the highest in the Americas with 72 meters. This area of the Guatemalan highlands offers great mountain scenery and traditional Mayan lifestyle which we experienced in Las Ruinas. The three towns San Benito, Santa Elena and Floris are normally referred to as Flores. This area is in the middle of Petén. Flores is a small island in Lake Petén Itzá and is connected via a causeway (3000KG max) to Santa Elena. Flores is an easy-going and friendly place. Its cobblestone streets and old pastel buildings are attractive. Lake Petén Itzá is the second largest lake in Guatemala (the largest is Izabal) around 35KM east to west and 15km north to south. Much of the surrounding land is covered with tropical rainforests or farms raising sugarcane, cacao, grains, and tropical fruit. And most important over 25 Mayan sites around the lake. The main reason to visit this area is the Mayan city Tikal.  Tikal means “place of voices” and is now the largest Mayan city discovered (570sq Km) with amazing towering Mayan ruins and rainforest. We are told Tikal is one of Guatemala’s most awe-inspiring sites. The benefit of Corona (Covid-19) is that again during this visit there are only a few people around. Huge temples and limestone pyramids dominate the landscape. To name a few: Temple of the Great Jaguar, temple of the Masks, the North Acropolis and the Central Acropolis, the square of the Great Pyramid, temple of the Serpent the highest of Tikal, by its 70 meters and will allow great views of the park. A great area and enough wildlife around such as different kinds of monkeys, parakeets, toucans, parrots, and we were told even jaguars, but we never saw any. Tikal National Park is the oldest and most famous national park in Guatemala. Created in 1956, it covers 222 square miles (575 sq. km) of primary tropical forest. Following the dirt road north we arrived at Uaxactun considered one of the oldest cities dating from the pre-classic and classical periods. Amongst the remains stands a pyramid that has served to the aristocracy to observe ceremonies, sacrifices and other relevant events. The palace to XVIII, a beautiful temple is the best place to have a view of this site. Time to start exploring Eastern Guatemala and the Caribbean Coast