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Planning a Guatemala holiday? A Central American country, Guatemala is located south of Mexico, with Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

A little larger than Portugal, Guatemala has a population of 12 million people. They include 22 Maya ethnic groups, Ladinos (a mixture of Spanish and Maya) Xinca (non-Mayan indigenous people) and Garifunas (a mixture of Black and Indian people).

Guatemala climate

The best time to visit Guatemala is November to February. The rainy season is May to October. March and April can be foggy.

The weather on the coast is hot, while the highlands have a spring-like climate. The average temperature in Guatemala is 24 degrees C (75 degrees F).

Guatemala vacations

The Quetzal is the Guatemalan currency. Quetzal is also the name of a fluorescent green bird, with long tail feathers, spotted by birdwatchers. Guatemala has 738 species of birds.

Besides birdwatching, visitors to Guatemala find lots to see and do: caving, zip-lines through the jungle, beaches, coffee plantation tours, exploring Mayan archaeological sites, viewing colonial architecture and museums, golf, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, rafting and saltwater fishing.

The best way to see Guatemala is on tours by local tour operators. Neys Viajes Y Turismo, for example, offers an eight-day tour that begins and ends in Guatemala City, with accommodations at the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel.

Guatemala City

Guatemala City, the modern cosmopolitan capital of Guatemala, has a population of 2.5 million. Restaurants serve Guatemalan cuisine, including tapado, a fish soup. Among the restaurants to try are Kacao, where Chef Humberto Dominguez cooks Guatemalan dishes like kakik (spicy turkey soup) and uses Guatemalan ingredients like ajonjoli (sesame seeds), pitaya (dragon fruit) and jocotes (red and yellow fruits the size of cherry tomatoes).

Guatemala City highlights include the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Market (for handicrafts), the Popol Vuh Museum (Spanish colonial and Mayan culture), the Ixchel Museum (native clothing, ceramics and jewelry) the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of History and Fine Arts and the Mayan site of Kaminal Juyu.


The Neys Viajes tour continues to Chichicastenango, which is famous for its open-air market on Thursdays and Sundays. Located in the Central Plaza, between the Church of Santo Tomas and the Church of Calvary, the market sells weavings, pottery, wood carvings and other handicrafts, as well as flowers and fruit.

Trip participants then travel to Lake Atitlan, where they stay at the Porta del Lago Hotel. The 100-room and suite hotel has two restaurants, a pool and a fitness center.

Lake Atitlan

Nine kilometers (12 miles) long, Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three volcanoes, Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. Visitors come here for watersports like fishing, swimming, scuba-diving, water-skiing and windsurfing.

Tour participants visit Santiago Atitlan, the largest and most traditional of the villages surrounding the lake.


The next day, Neys tour participants drive to the colonial city of Antigua, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Besides its colonial architecture, Antigua is also famous for its jade factories and its hand-painted birds and butterflies.

The Palace of the Captains General, City Hall and the Cathedral of San José are located in the central square. Within walking distance are the Convent of Capuchinas and the Santa Clara, San Francisco, La Recoleccion, El Calvario and La Merced churches.

The trip returns to Guatemala City, from where participants take a bus to Copan, Honduras to visit the ruins. The Mayan site is famous for its Ball Court, Great Plaza and Museum of Mayan Sculpture.


After visiting Rio Hondo, the Guatemala tour stops at Quirigua. The archaeological site is known for the largest block of stone quarried by the Mayans.

Built in 771 AD, the UNESCO World Culture and National Monument measures 10.7 meters (35 feet) long and 1.5 meters (five feet) wide and weighs 59,900 kilograms (65 tons).

Rio Dulce

The Rio Dulce plunges into the sea through a gorge near the town of Livingston. Passengers on a Rio Dulce boat trip see tropical and sea birds, jungle and mountains.

The Neys Viajes tour continues to Flores, which is a one-hour drive from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tikal.


Located in the center of the 222-square-mile Tikal National Park, the Classic Mayan site of Tikal shelters more than 4,000 temples, palaces, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball courts, terraces and plazas.

Besides the Great Plaza, the Lost World, the Plaza of the Seven Temples and the Sylvanus Morley Museum, visitors can see macaws, toucans and monkeys in the encroaching rainforest.

Another Guatemala tour operator, K'awil Travel, offers a variety of mix and match tours. Among them are a one-day Guatemala City tour, a one-day Antigua city tour and a half-day birdwatching tour in Magdalena Milpas Altas, near Antigua.

Pacaya Volcano

A half-day mountain bike ride, west of Antigua, brings visitors to three volcanoes, a macadamia nut farm, a coffee plantation and the weaving town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

A one-day Pacaya Volcano climbing trip begins at San Francisco de Sales, near Volcan do Pacaya National Park. It takes two to three hours to reach the peak, from where climbers have panoramic views, which include lava flows.


Besides Antigua, Santiago Atitlan, Rio Dulce, Copan, Chichicastenango and Guatemala City, the K'awil 14-day Sumptuous Guatemala tour includes Quetzaltenango. Visitors climb hilly streets to view colonial architecture in the second largest city in Guatemala.

Another highlight is Coban. Ixpanpajul National Park offers birdwatching, a canopy tour and a skywalk. Visitors can see more than 750 types of orchids in a nursery, as well as the national flower of Guatemala, the Monja Blanca.

Spanish language schools

A third Guatemalan tour operator, Tropical Adventure, arranges Spanish language courses in Guatemala Board of Education-approved language schools. Spanish spoken in Guatemala is closest to the Spanish spoken in Spain.

Tropical Adventure can also book custom programs with one teacher per student. For total language immersion, students can stay with local families.

Visitors to Guatemala can also learn to cook Guatemalan foods on culinary courses and learn to weave textiles.

Guatemala flights

Delta and Continental Airlines fly to Guatemala City. Guatemala has two international airports, La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and the Santa Elena (Mundo Maya) International Airport in Flores, Peten.


Guatemala Tourist Board (INGUAT): www.visitguatemala.com