Breathtaking landscapes, colorful open-air markets, and an abundance of ancient ruins make it a destination that doesn’t disappoint.
WHY NOW A country rich in history and tradition, Guatemala is emerging from political strife as a vacation hot spot. May through October is Guatemala’s rainy season, but don’t let that stop you. Days are warm year-round; evenings are delightfully cool. Afternoon showers may drive you in for a nap before dinner, but chances are, after traversing the cobblestone streets all day, you’ll need one anyway. WHERE TO STAY Both Porta Hotel Antigua (8a Calle Poniente No. 1; 502-7832-2801; rooms from $115) and Casa Santo Domingo Hotel (3a Calle Oriente No. 28 “A”; 502-7820-1222; www.casasantodomingo.com.gt; rooms from $155) afford excellent accommodations. The former offers the perfect place to rest and reflect in little outdoor living areas tucked into alcoves around a quiet courtyard. The latter, once a convent of grand proportions, an active archeological site, and home to hundreds of colonial artifacts and wax and pottery workshops, deserves an extended visit, even if you don’t sleep there. BEAN THERE, DRANK THAT Situated high in the hills and at the foot of three volcanoes, surrounded by thick concrete walls crowned with a triple row of electrified barbed wire and guarded by a guy with a rifle, Capeuleu (502-2385-4112; www.capeuleu.com) seems, at first, more fortress than coffee farm. But behind a heavy steel door lies an organic boutique operation renowned not only for its crop but also for its conservation efforts. Take a tour to get a good look at the way coffee goes from ground to grounds. STREET WALKER The best way to see Antigua is on foot, and the best person to show it to you is Elizabeth Bell (502-7832-5821; www.antiguatours.net; $18 per person). Arguably one of the foremost authorities on the city, the American gives walking tours and weekly slide shows. GEM DANDY Guatemala is one of the world’s major sources of jade. At the Jades, S.A. Factory & Archaeology Museum (4a Calle Oriente No. 34; 502-7832-3841; www.jademaya.com) artisans handcraft jewelry and replicas of pre-Colombian masks, vases, ceremonial knives, and more. Here also are replicas of artifacts from the Mayan era and a beautiful selection of jade items. TO MARKET, TO MARKET Farmers from surrounding villages sell produce that puts the selection at Central Market to shame. Ruby red tomatoes and carrots like flashlights can’t be carried out of the country, but they are seductive. Clay pots, hand-carved masks, and hand-woven blankets make excellent souvenirs. Monday, Thursday, and Saturday are the busiest days.
|OLD-WORLD CHARACTER: The streets of Antigua are lined with ornate churches.|
3 MORE WAYS TO FEEL THE MAYAN SPIRIT
|CITY WITH A VIEW: Antigua lies beneath the Volcan de Aqua.|
A three-hour drive up a narrow, winding road seems like a long way to go for a potato (1 pound costs 12 cents), but Chichicastenango
boasts one of the country’s largest markets. Thousands come here twice each week to trade. Priests perform traditional Mayan ceremonies at the stone shrine on Pascual Abaj. Though strenuous, a hike up the mountain pays off should you get to see the elaborate offering. Lake Atitlán
is a restful, bohemian place. Twelve Indian villages are nestled on its shores, with Panajachel being the liveliest. There are no good beaches, but sunrise seen from a rickety wooden pier is stunning, and the shopping is superb. Carry cash and be prepared to bargain. Climbing a temple 231 feet tall is harder than the rock it’s built of but worth every bit of the burn. Hike in early to Tikal National Park
) and claim your spot atop Temple IV before sunrise. As the jungle wakes, the voices of the birds, frogs, and howler monkeys create a city-streets cacophony that contrasts sharply with the heavy fog. Patience is rewarded when, after what could be a couple of hours’ wait, the clouds roll out to reveal a spectacular view of the park’s other temples and the Lost World.
Photos: David Hiser