Senior Travel to Guatemala

Jul 7th, 2010 | By James E Becker | Category: Senior Travel

I had the good fortune of traveling to Guatemala for two weeks on a Medical Group Mission with a group of MDs, surgeons and dentists.  Here I served as a dental assistant.  I found Guatemalato be a magical place. If you’re into the Maya, the mountains, the markets or a million other things, you’re bound to be captivated. The rural countryside is fascinating… as it is throughout South America.  There’s almost too much going on here, and even the shortest trip takes you completely different places, with new challenges and surprises. Students of Spanish flock to Antigua, a gorgeous town nestled between three volcanoes, while those travelers seeking more off-the-beaten-track destinations might head to lesser known places like a Maya village hidden in a remote fold of the Cuchumatanes mountains. Antigua is one of those cities that has a magical draw that will find you wanting to go back because it has something inherent in its streets that make it “different” from other cities in South America.

Sooner or later, just about everyone ends up in the Highlands – Lago de Atitlán is an irresistible drawcard.  Lake Atitlán is a large endorheic lake (one that does not flow to the sea) in the Guatemalan Highlands. While Atitlan is recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America, its bottom has not been completely sounded. Estimates of its maximum depth range up to 340 meters (1,115 feet) and that’s a long ways down.  Lake Atitlan lies about two hours by car (or 3-4 by “chicken bus”) from Guatemala City; author Aldous Huxley called the lake the  ”world’s most beautiful.” Flanked by three volcanoes, the lake’s shores are dotted with a dozen indigenous villages, the largest of which, Panajachel, became one of the great hippie hangouts in years past.

Here are several good reasons to check out what Jim found totally fascinating in Guatemala.  I still love those hats that so many women wear.  For true travelers, the real joy of visiting a country is the chance to interact with and get to know the native people. The majority of Guatemalans are indigenous, descendants of the Maya, and have clung tightly to rituals that date back to the first millennium. Yet they’ve also incorporated many Christian practices into their spiritual observance, resulting in a uniquely Guatemalan hybrid.  Most of the people still speak tribal tongues and dress in colorful styles. The vibrant hues and shapes of the land are reflected in huipiles (blouses) and other weavings. Some of the most complex tapestries feature volcanoes and the quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird, known for its brilliant red breast and long green tail feathers. I picked up two very nice hand made serapes for only a couple of dollars each.  Great souvenirs too.

Guatemala is a stunningly beautiful country where lowland plains and coasts meet rising highlands that characterize most of the terrain. The Guatemala culture is famous for its indigenous Maya influence and nowhere else in Central America will you find such an indigenous presence. The Ancient Mayans left behind once great cities, whose ruins will both amaze and astound you. Guatemala tourism offers visitors an experience that is hard to match. With 37 volcanoes spread throughout the highlands, it seems there is always at least one volcano to be seen either up close or in the distance.

Guatemala’s Maya heritage is everywhere. El Petén’s remote archaeological sites are a must-see; the fascinating town of Chichicastenango adheres to pre-Hispanic beliefs and rituals even now.  Surrounded by valleys, with mountains serrating the horizons, Chichicastenango can seem isolated in time and space from the rest of Guatemala. When its narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs are enveloped in mist, as they often are, it can seem magical. A visit here was one of my highlights of our time in this country.  I remember best the many locals gathered around the small church where they were burning incense to honor past loved ones.  A young man would not leave me alone and was insistent that I use him as a guide through the markets and that I would buy something from him.  He spoke pretty good English and I finally had to tell him to simply leave me alone.  I also recall well that a pig was being bound and loaded onto a “chicken bus” leaving for the rural countryside.  Quite a sight it was. The crowds of crafts vendors and tour groups who flock in for the huge Thursday and Sunday markets give the place a much worldlier, commercial atmosphere, but Chichi remains beautiful and interesting, with lots of shamanistic and ceremonial overtones.

Sure, Guatemala’s got its problems (most visible in its sprawling capital, Guatemala City), but it isn’t the scary place your mother fears it is. Travel here, once dangerous and uncomfortable, is now characterized by ease – you can do pretty much whatever you want, and will only be limited by your imagination.jeb



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  1. [...] fish and seafood market in the world. The Chichicastenango Market is an enormous open-air market in Guatemala where the streets overflow with highland fruits, like mamey sapote, jacote, and granadia fruit. I [...]

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