It took me quite some time to start working on my posts about Guatemala. I had so many impressions and controversy feelings, that I needed sort them in my head first. After a couple of weeks I have now a sort of a summary about my short but very intense stay in Guatemala, as well as my reasons why I would visit this country again.
Reason #1: The immense Maya Heritage
Two of three largest and most significant mayan cities are located in Guatemala: Tikal and El Mirador. Despite their historical and cultural value this sites are not very crowded, thank to their remote location. The mayan heritage can be found not only in archeological sites scattered everywhere in the country, but also in the daily life of Guatemalans.
Reason #2: The mind-blowing spiritual world
While exploring the villages I have witnessed a fascinating mix of christianity with mayan spirituality. The dominating catholic church seemed to be just the facade, while in core people practice their ancient beliefs and traditions. There are many ancient mayan altars, which are still used for ritual sacrifices (for instance Pascual Abaj in Chichicastenango, or the one on Iximche mayan site), as well as numerous churches everywhere in the country with shamans practicing rituals, which have their roots far back pre-columbian times.
Reason #3: The beautiful volcanic Landscape
The highland of Guatemala is absolutely beautiful and very appealing for outdoor fans. The majestic volcanoes are shaping dramatic landscapes with rich Flora and Fauna. Some of them are even active – you have good chances to get a shot with a smoking volcano for you Instagram wall 🙂
Reason #4: Unique rural experience
I personally loved being in countryside of Guatemala, felt there very safe and welcomed. The villages are adventurous, diverse and rich of traditions, beautiful markets and warm-hearted people.
Reason #5: Natural diversity on a compact space
Guatemala has different natural zones – highlands with coffee and cacao plantations, beautiful volcanoes and tranquil lakes, subtropical forests with natural caves, pools, and mysterious historical monuments, Caribbean region with fascinating nature and diverse temper. All that can be explored pretty well within three weeks with bus transfers of 4-6 hours.
Reason #6: Learn Spanish
If you are on a budget and want learn Spanish, then Guatemala is the place for you! To be more precise – go to Antigua!
Reason #7: The more you travel, the more reasons you find.
In those 10 days I spent in Guatemala I touched just a few facets of this country and got a list of toDos for the next time. But guess this is true almost for all countries I traveled so far 🙂
Some Random observations
Young Mommies carrying children
It is impossible to miss them – women carrying their children on their back. Not only they carry the child, but also some other stuff for the long haul – fascinating what this petite mommies are capable of!!! The average age of women getting their first child is 18-22. The child is carried as a baby up to the age of 5 years old or more, and gets out of the “bag” as soon as it can make it walking by himself in crowded markets or streets, which can be pretty dangerous and challenging for the little ones. Haven’t seen any buggy used for this purpose, neither in town, nor in rural areas. However I’ve seen pink toy buggy for sale many times. What is it like to play with a toy which usage you don’t really know? Is it like a toy space ship?
The touristic experience sucks.
I mean it is always your choice to be a traveler or a tourist. For whatever reason sometimes I took the easier path and got trapped in the mass tourism machinery in Guatemala. Each time I booked something in a random tour shop, I ended up being unhappy and frustrated. My fault, I’m not blaming anyone. Bad news: you need a deeper research to find a good service providers, might be a bit time consuming. Good news: you can do a whole lot of things on your own, you don’t need anyone to guide you. Traveling in Guatemala is safer than you think, provided you are in rural area.
So had been said that, don’t be a tourist, go ahead and travel in Guatemala!
There is no real urban experience.
The cities and the towns you may travel in Guatemala are not really made for exploring. You are actually recommended to stick in the touristic areas for your personal sefety. On the other hand the mentioned areas are not authentic and look all same and lack the true Guatemalan element beyond the folklore – Unfortunately I failed to discover any modern or contemporary version of Guatemalan art, music, food or any other cultural non-artisanal product. You are very welcome with recommendations. So I personally would never travel to Guatemala to experience a particular city.
Guatemalans are very attentive and supportive.
I never asked for help in rural area, they just came up with it. I guess they are observing foreigners and can sense when one has questions in his mind or need help. To me it was a very positive way to be observed.
The average yearly wage of an indigenous Guatemalan is less than the minimal monthly wage in Germany.
Enough said on that.
There is a basketball field in front of most churches.
Almost every town and village I visited surprised me with a very unusual architectural setup – a basketball field located in the most beautiful and central place, right in front of the church. Knowing how religious the Guatemalans are, it felt like basketball is the national sport here.
Being on road is not always comfortable, to be more precise it is mostly uncomfortable.
In order to avoid disappointments afterwards, here is the truth: the buses and terminals in Guatemala are far not as good as the buses in Mexico, wether the comfort nor the cleanness are satisfying. However traveling with buses was not that bad in terms of security, so far have no bad experiences to report about.
Divisive views non-stop
I spent many hours on road in Guatemala and loved absorbing the landscapes in distance, as the views in immediate proximity were heartbreaking: inorganic garbage on every inch of the road. Amazing, how a culture like mayan, being in its roots and beliefs so attached to nature, has nowadays such a sick and disrespectful relation to environment. Unfortunately Guatemala is not the only country having this issues, I faced the same situation in Mexico and in South America. There is some awareness about environment topics, at least I could sense that talking with some locals. To keep it short here, there is not much of education about environment wether in schools nor among the population. The government doesn’t really work on infrastructures protecting the nature, these topics are pretty much in background. The overall poverty and other social topics have much higher priority. Very sad!
Get a right mind setup before you travel to Guatemala.
The ones who read my previous posts know, that I had great time in Guatemala along with some frustrating moments. Looking back I think one need to know few thing in advance in order to sort the expectations properly. Sure I gained a whole lot of travel experience there and started seeing things different. In that respect I’m very happy I visited Guatemala and will most possibly go there again. Would I recommend it to someone? It depends…
Perhaps my posts will help you.