There is no shortage of experiences to have in this small country that packs in a whole lot. The following things are a good way to kick off proceedings!
Climb a Volcano
Guatemala is not short on seismic activity, and as a result the country’s landscape is littered with towering volcanic peaks, both of the dormant and active type. The most accessible, and perhaps the most thrilling, is Pacaya, a couple of hours drive out of the tourist-hub of Antigua. Adventurers climb through volcanic rock on a quest to find real life flowing lava. Depending on the conditions (remember it is a volcano and it is in a constant process of change), you may be lucky enough to come across a river-like rapid of glowing hot liquid gushing down the mountainside. Be sure of foot though, there are no protective fences between you and the lava. There are other more challenging climbs around Antigua, as well as Quetzaltenango (Xela) for the serious hiker. It is highly recommended to go along with a reputable tour company since danger abounds in various forms!
Tikal was once one of the most powerful Mayan cities, and much of its remnants have been restored for modern appreciation and learning. Deep in the El Peten jungle, its temple tops soar above the tallest of the trees. The brave of heart are able to climb several of the crazy steep structures to look down upon the canopy, people and, often, monkeys below. Awe-inspiring and educational at the same time, Tikal will blow the socks off everyone – from the most hardcore archaeology-nerd to the most historically naïve.
Aldous Huxley had an unrelenting passion for this lake, and it’s easy to see why. Its deep blue waters surrounded by steep volcano slopes and dotted in villages where traditional dress is still the norm, Atitlan is a breath-taking beauty. Amazingly, many of the villages speak entirely different native languages even though it is possible to stand on the shore of one and peer across the waters to a neighbouring community on the other side. A particular highlight of Atitlan is in the village of Santiago, where an effigy of Maximon, a rum drinking, cigar smoking religious deity resides. Santiago also witnessed horrible atrocities during the violence of the 1980’s and early 90’s. Some evidence of the happenings can be seen in local art works. For the adventure-goers, seek out the cliffs near San Marcos for some extreme jumping possibilities!
Swim in the Impossibly Green Pools of Semuc Champey
In the heart of Guatemala, not too far from the city of Coban, Semuc Champey is a series of refreshing green pools. A powerful river roars underground for a short section, perhaps 200 metres long, while above ground, some sort of geological phenomenon causes the pools to form. They gently flow from one to the other in small steps with crystal clear, green water trickling down in harmonious bliss. You can get the adrenalin going again in a series of caves just down the way. They can be explored, with the help of a guide. Light your way with a candle as you climb through waterfalls and jump off cliffs into the dark.
There are a ridiculous amount of Spanish Schools in both Antigua and Quetzaltenango (often known as Xela). The fierce competition means that rates are some of the cheapest to be found in all Latin America. For example, typical prices are less than half those offered in Mexico. Many schools will also offer homestay opportunities with their programs, so you can really immerse yourself. Don’t bother too much about booking from home, you will able to bargain for a better price and find a school suited to your needs a lot more easy once you are on the ground. Be sure to shop around, quality and rates vary quite a bit.
About the bloggers:
Jamie and Jess from Adventures with Cloud People, through photograph and word-art, focus on more than just the tourist destination, but the experience and vibe of a place, its people, food and culture. Follow them on Twitter (@thecloud_people) and Facebook.
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