Central Parque in Guatemala © Fernando Reyes Palencia
Guatemala is a small country, lush and mountainous, that is graced with beautiful scenery, a rich indigenous culture, colonial history and important archaeological ruins. The country lies at the heart of the Mayan culture in Central America with remarkable Mayan sites scattered throughout the land, none more so than the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Tikal, set deep within the jungle.
The Mayan villages of the highlands are spread amid the breathtaking scenery of smoking volcanoes and spectacular lakes, where ancient customs and traditions persist despite five centuries of European domination. Their culture is expressed through vibrant weekly markets, bright traditional clothing, fabulous handicrafts, different languages and colourful religious festivals. Lake Atitlán, a beautiful deep lake ringed by volcanoes and Mayan villages, is a remarkable place combining astounding scenery with traditional culture.
Guatemalan society is split between the traditional and the modern, each following their own path in a country sprinkled with remnants of a colonial past. Nowhere is the Spanish legacy more evident than in the charming city of Antigua with its cobbled streets, plazas and elegant fountains, and towering volcanoes as a backdrop. Interrelations between the Spanish and the native population produced a mixed population, the Ladinos, who have embraced their European heritage and are typically city folk.
A rough past provides a troublesome background to the country and its people. Inequalities between the Spanish-speaking Indians and indigenous cultures, as well as between rich and poor, have been a source of tension and discord throughout the years. The violence caused by political differences has left thousands dead, while the devastation caused by earthquakes has left people homeless and in need of world aid. Despite this, travellers are drawn to the intriguing mix of cultures and history set amid dramatic scenery, and they generally find the locals friendly, considerate and justifiably proud of their country.