1. Some smoking volcanoes to hike or gaze upon
This image kinda says it all doesn’t it? Santiaguito is just one of MANY volcanoes in this tiny country, both active and not. Right now if I go out side my house here in Antigua I can see 3 volcanoes pretty close up- Agua, Fuego and Acatanengo. Fuego spewing smoke little eruptions all day long. Guatemala also boasts the highest peak in Central America, a dormant volcano called Tajumulco. There are three active volcanoes here, and you are allowed to trek them and see some lava up close and personal, if you are brave. A fact that I thought ironic, considering how the volcanoes have been known to wipe out cities in Guatemala’s history, is that Coffee, one of Guatemala’s main exports, needs to be grown in high elevations on fertile soil. That means all the coffee economy-supporting plantations are on the slopes of volcanoes!
2. Only the best weather
I was freezing to death in Brussels in December, and it was so foggy I didn’t see the sun for three days. So I bought a ticket to Guatemala and arrive in 25c degrees, sunny weather. Even in the summer months you can get to mountain towns and it’s not too hot. A great place for all. Guatemala is kinda near the equator, but is high enough in altitude that is isn’t too hot. At night it even gets cool enough to want a thin blanket. You can get a tan and still hot spend the whole day sweating your face off!
3. Some pretty interesting people
When I was hanging in Estonia I spent a lot of time with a Guatemalan guy. We became good friends and later I decided to go see his home country to see if all Guatemalans where that cool. They were! I am use to countries where you see a little old lady on the street and she gives the gringo a withering glare. I was pretty shocked when it was the opposite here, and their faces lit up with huge smiles and the said “buenas tarde!” Guatemalans also seem to take a lot of pride in their country, and love to show it off, either by showing you cool things you didn’t know about, or even by just showing how friendly and open they are there. It is rare that I encounter a whole group of people ready to just make friends with a stranger. Even my own country can learn a little something about this from the Guatemalans!
4. Great food to grub on
Just loo at that picture and you’ll buy the next flight. The other day I was at a big market and bought some home made chips. (thats “crisps” for you English weirdos) and when I later tried them at home they turned out to be the best chips I had ever eaten! I went back and bought 4 more bags and came home and made my housemates try them. They just shrugged…. They were use to them. And what goes great with these awesome nachos? Guacamole! Luckily avocados are grown locally and are always fresh and available! Some great Guatemalan recipes include cool soups and stews. If the stews are watery they call them caldos and if the stews are thick they call them recados. In Guatemala there are plenty of caldos and recados and sometimes is difficult to decide which is which. Take Kak’Ik for instance, which is caldo that looks like a recado. Also, if you are lucky enough to be around for the holidays, it is a great idea to make some local friends. My house mate and friend’s mother cam to visit from the city and brought us some of the best tamales ever!
5. World class coffee to satisfy your fix
The coffee that is locally grown, harvested and roasted here in Guatemala is world famous and a favorite to coffee lovers all over. I knew this when I arrived, and decided to take a coffee tour when I was in Antigua. It was lead by a local boy whose family leased a small plantation and produced their own coffee, right on the slopes of Volcano Agua.
They let us go to their fields, showed us the bright red cherries that were ready to be picked, showed us how hard of work it was for little pay, then we took y meager sack of coffee beans to his house. There he showed me how it was put through a shucking machine, then the inner seed laid out on concrete to dry. after that there was sorting and more shucking and finally roasting and grinding. I really got a feel for how much work went into making a pot of good coffee the Guatemalan way.
6. Colorful chicken buses to love/hate
You have to hate these huge, loud school buses running all over Guatemala. They are the most comfortable thing known to man, built for 5th graders, and they pack as many people they can into them. I have never seen a driver pass up a prospective passenger. That said, these chicken buses, highly pimped out to the liking of each driver, are also a god send to locals and budget travelers. For just a few US $ you can probably get across the whole country. So the discomfort is definitely worth the cheap travel in wildly flamboyant local transportation. But thats not all! These cheap bus rides come with their own entertainment and the convenience of buying things you need. At each stop a different sales person gets on the bus and makes their grand speach about whatever it is they are selling. from simple pleasures like snacks and drinks, to home miracle remedies, secret vitamins, weight loss pills, the greatest lotions known to man and so on. After each speech they will walk though the bus and see who was convinced to buy the stuff. You can even get your soul saved for a small donation!
7. Great beaches to lounge
Monterrico, pictured above and on the Pacific side, is just one of the awesome beaches here in Guatemala. There are more on the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast as well as the major lakes. Finding this out was a bit of a surprise for me, as when I think of Beaches I think of Costa Rica, and when I think of Guatemala I think of Mayan ruins. Its cool to see they have both! Guatemala is small, so even though I spend a lot of time in Antigua, it is only a couple hours by bus to some awesome beaches and a hammock if I want to get away.
8. Beautiful lakes to plunge
Lake Atitlan was ranked as one of, if not THE most beautiful lakes in the world, up there with Lake Como in Italy. Lake Atitlan reminds me of Lake Managua with its volcanoes stooting out of it and its amazing landscape. Not many places in the world you can see this whole combination.
9. Ancient ruins to wander
Ya Ya, Mayan ruins, I was getting to it. Every one knows about Tikal, pictured above, and we all agree it deserves to be visited. But what most don’t know is there are other Mayan ruin sites besides TIkal. El Mirador is one for example, and it is huge. it is suppose to be one of the biggest Mayan complexes in Central America, but it is still mostly covered in jungle. There are tons of ancient ruins to either visit or discover for yourself.
10. Cheap and easy to get
Many Americans head to Cancun because of its nice beaches, weather and relative closeness. Not many realize though that they can just go an hour or two farther south and be in a much less touristy area with the same benefits. And flights are cheap too. From Miami to Guatemala City fo my friend the other day was about 3 hours and $400 or less. I came from Europe, and the cheap flight, 250 Euro from Brussels, brought me to Cancun, then I took buses the rest of the way to Guatemala. There is definitely a lot of cheap options to get here from around the world, and this is a really good reason to visit Guatemala!