Many travelers are excited to see the marvelous sites of Guatemala but are hesitant because it is perceived to be a dangerous country with high levels of violence. Nearly two million people visit Guatemala each year, and the great majority does not encounter anything but a spectacular visit. When you take safety precautions, and have an understanding of where to go and where tourists should generally avoid, then you can have the trip of a lifetime. Guatemala offers a host of benefits for travelers.
Often, Guatemala is seen from the plane window as tourists head to Mexico or Belize. Here are five (of many!) reasons why you should make the stop:
1. Mayan Ruins of Tikal
Remarkable for the sheer amount of ruins – 3000 – and for its locale – in the midst of a dense, lush jungle, Tikal is not to be missed. The beautiful contrast of soaring architecture and primal landscape is striking enough to be a highlight of the trip. But take it further and start climbing. Some of the temples extend beyond the tree line so beware! And wear comfortable shoes. Stay for the gorgeous sunset, which lets loose the cry of the howler monkeys. You won’t forget the ruins – and you certainly won’t forget that screech!
Perched in the mountains about 87 miles (140 kilometers) from Guatemala City, Chichicastenango is a world away. Not only are the views stunning, the shopping is extraordinary! Famed for its twice-weekly market, the city brings those who want to load up on pottery, jewelry, placemats, textiles, and much more at unbeatable prices. The handicrafts are all unique; no two are alike, and all make wonderful souvenirs and gifts. Remember to save room in your luggage and bring cash.
Tourist trap that it is, Antigua is still well worth a visit. The colonial architecture is interesting and charm fills the central plaza, cobblestone streets, and the beautiful Cathedral de Santiago. Its locale is perhaps most interesting: Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes!
Speaking of these infernos, they are a perfect reason to visit Guatemala. Volcan Pacaya will give you memories that will last a lifetime. Molten lava so close you could touch it – but don’t! If you crave a good hike (or a nasty, hard hike!) go to Volcan Santiaguito, which erupts every 45 minutes or so.
5. The prices
The budget-conscious traveler can use every dollar – or quetzal – to its fullest advantage. Guatemala is affordable; you can treat yourself to a longer vacation or do more (and shop more) than in more expensive locales. You can climb volcanoes, visit authentic marketplaces, look into the turquoise water of Semuc Champey, and visit “pricy” Antigua without breaking the bank.
One other reason to visit Guatemala: its people. They will make the sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences of this unique country all the better and more vibrant.