The Natural Maya World
>> Description ? With its colonial past, colorful markets, impressive ruins, noisy jungles, smoking volcanoes and more than half of its population from Maya's origin, Guatemala is the natural and cultural reference of the area as well as the backpacker's favorite.
>> Why go there ? Discover the Maya World : temples, villages, markets, costumes, music & traditions / Climb volcanoes / Relax by a lake / Walk the cobbled streets of a colonial town / Study Spanish / Listen to colorful birds or howler monkeys / Participate to a fiesta / Take it easy in a piece of the Caribbean / Bargain for souvenirs
>> Drawbacks ? The tourists & students crowd / The safety issues : Guatemala claims a number of horrors stories (often heard but fortunately rarely experienced directly) / The usual poverty of the Indians / The need to bargain real hard for souvenirs / The 'extranjero' special prices and some cheating on travelers / The combination of dusty roads plus speedy vehicles
>> Cultural Highlights ? The impressive Maya temples of Tikal, set in a luxurious jungle / The other sets of temples : Quirigua, Ceibal, etc. / The charming colonial city of Antigua / The other pieces of colonial architectures, usually around the towns' plaza / The facade of a painted church / Any good Spanish school / Any colorful market / Watching a religious procession or celebration, the best being during Santa Semana
>> Natural Highlights ? Spot birds flying over the canopy or a wild animal leaving a temple at Tikal / Boat or walk peaceful Lake Atitlan / Climb any of the 33 volcanoes, although active Pacaya is a favorite / Trekk any of the 44 legally protected areas (an additional 60 natural reserves are in consideration) / The mountainous scenery of the Central Highlands / Swim in Semuc Champney, near Lanquin, a series of pools and waterfalls / Relax by the hot waterfall near El Estor / Visit a coffee plantation
>> How long ? There are a lot of things to see & experience so less than three weeks would be a pity. Five to seven weeks would be better to have a good tour and meet the people.
>> Budget ? Guatemala is the cheapest country in the area. Around $8 per day if avoiding any luxury (incl. beer).
>> Visa ? Not necessary. 90 days on arrival for most westerners.
>> When to go ? The "land of eternal spring" can be visited year-round. Half a million tourists are showing up in Antigua for Santa Semana (Eastern) but prices in most places aren't affected by the high season.