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Go Visit Guatemala’s Top 5 Attractions

Article Summary:

From Antigua’s crumbling ruins to the stately cathedral in Guatemala City’s central plaza, there are plenty of opportunities to get snap-happy.

Photo Credit: Herald Sun

Original Article Text From Herald Sun:

Lonely Planet’s guide to travelling Guatemala

Say what you like about the Spanish in Latin America, you have to agree that they left behind some stunning architecture. From Antigua’s crumbling ruins to the stately cathedral in Guatemala City’s central plaza, there are plenty of opportunities to get snap-happy.

In even the smallest towns you can find picturesque buildings – the small coastal town of Retalhuleu has a charming central plaza, while larger coffee-boom towns like Coban and Quetzaltenango maintain vestiges of their glory days in their cathedrals, town halls and other public buildings.

While many ask whatever happened to the Maya, the simple answer is nothing – they’re still here, and some traditions continue to thrive. If you’re keen on archeology, the must-see sites are Tikal, Copan (in Honduras), and Guatemala City’s superb selection of museums.

Living Maya culture can be witnessed in its “pure” form in towns like Rabinal and sacred sites such as Laguna Chicabal. And the Maya themselves? Well, they’re everywhere. But the most traditional villages are in the highlands – the Ixil Triangle is a good place to start.

Guatemala offers stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world class white-water rafting, more caves than you could possibly explore in one vacation, and what seems like a zip line strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning.

Like to take things up a notch? How about paragliding into a volcanic crater at Lago de Atitlan? Or scuba diving in the same place? You might even luck onto some good swell on the Pacific coast. Or you could just find a hammock and think about doing all that. Your call.

With not even 2 per cent of its land mass urbanised, it’s not surprising that Guatemala offers some superb natural scenery. National parks are few but impressive, particularly in the Peten region and the lush canyons of the Rio Dulce make for an unforgettable boat ride. The natural beauty of the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlan has been captivating travellers for centuries, while the swimming hole that launched a thousand postcards, Semuc Champey, has to be seen to be believed.

Guatemala’s Top Five

1. Antigua
With mammoth volcanic peaks and coffee-covered slopes as a backdrop for the scattered remnants of Spanish occupation, the former capital of Guatemala makes an appealing setting for learning Spanish, and a globally varied population come here to study at quality institutes such as Escuela de Español San Jose el Viejo. This influx fuels a surprisingly sophisticated culinary panorama and bubbly night-life scene, best represented by the rowdily literate Cafe No Se.

2. Tikal
The remarkably restored temples that stand in this partially cleared corner of the jungle astonish for both their monumental size and architectural brilliance, as an early morning arrival at the Gran Plaza proves.

Occupied for some 16 centuries, it’s an amazing testament to the cultural and artistic heights scaled by this jungle civilisation. A highlight is the helicopter-like vantage from towering Temple IV on the west edge of the precinct. Equally compelling is the abundance of wildlife.

3. Lago de Atitlan
Possibly the single worthiest destination in Guatemala, Atitlan elicits poetic outbursts from even the most seasoned traveller. Of volcanic origin, the alternately placid and turbulent lake is ringed by volcanoes and villages like Santiago Atitlan, with a thriving indigenous culture, and San Marcos, a haven for seekers who plug into the lake’s cosmic energy. And there are enough activities – paragliding from Santa Catarina Palopo, kayaking around Santa Cruz La Laguna or hiking the lakeshore trails – to make a longer stay viable.

4. Chichicastenango
More than a place to shop, the twice-weekly market here is a vivid window on indigenous tradition, an ancient crossroads for the area’s K’iche’ Maya- speaking inhabitants and a spiritually charged site.

At Santo Tomas church in the centre of town and the hill of Pascual Abaj on its southern edge, shamans overlay Maya rituals upon Christian iconography.

5. Volcanoes
Sacred to the Maya and integral to the country’s history, Guatemala’s volcanoes dominate the skylines of the country’s west, and are one of its emblematic features.

Favourites include the lava-spewing Pacaya, Tajumulco, which forms Central America’s highest point, and San Pedro, for its sweeping views over picturesque Lago de Atitlan.

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From Herald Sun

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