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8 things you need to know before visiting Guatemala

A cobblestone street in Guatemala.

When someone mentions Latin America, everyone starts grabbing a sombrero and talking nothin’ but Cancun and beach parties. But there’s WAY more to the region than just Mexico, and Guatemala is the unsung hero.

Guat’s up with Guatemala you ask? SO MUCH. Here are some of the main things you need to know before visiting Guatemala.

There are literally volcanoes everywhere

Think that’s just a mountain? WRONG. Guatemala sits on a ‘subduction’ zone, meaning the tectonic plates are still moving, causing surges in the earth, creating a lot of volcanoes. Some are still active too AND you can climb them. Pacaya Volcano is the most famous and popular for travellers.

It’s home to the largest ancient Mayan city

The ruins of Tikal aren’t just stunning now, they were the biggest hub of civilisation (closely followed by Chichen Itza in Mexico) during the Mayan Classic Period, AKA, it’s hey day. It’s unknown how many temples there really are in the area that dates back to 90AD, but archaeologists have discovered seven ball game courts, a many kilometres long road, a dominating 64 metre tall pyramid AND a jail.


Mayan culture is alive and well

It’s a total misconception that Mayan culture died out. In many areas of Guatemala, you’ll find locals dressed in traditional Mayan outfits, speaking in Mayan (23 different dialects of it to be exact), keeping up with ancient Mayan practices (not the human sacrifice one) and eating the same food their ancestors did.

The chocolate is next level

There’s probably a good reason no one tells you about this one and that’s so they can keep all the delicious treats to themselves, but Guatemalan chocolate is heavenly! They’ve been farming cacao for centuries and the country is often thought of as the birthplace of chocolate! Salivating? Antigua is where you’ll find the best choccy wares.

It has water as blue as the Amalfi

Italy is cool, but have you heard of Guatemala? There are SO many lakes, rivers and beaches in this country and all of them have stunning shades of turquoise, sapphire and cobalt. Panajchel especially is like a mini-Riveria. Their flag even has two bodies of water on it…

You’ll need to BYO tea bags

If you love a cup of Darjeeling in the morning, better bring some from home because Guatemalans aren’t big on tea. It’s around, but not common. Coffee is one of their biggest exports and the quality is just so good that they clearly don’t feel the need for a box of 100 Lipton tea bags in the pantry.

It’s one of the most colourful places on earth

Guatemalan’s LOVE vibrant colours. From their traditional dress to homes, you’ll see every colour of the rainbow here. However, where you’ll see it most is their cemeteries. Following the ‘Day of the Dead’ tradition in Mexico, they choose to celebrate death as a part of life and as a result have their family mausoleums decorated to the max.

The landscape is ridiculously diverse

Guatemala may not be big but it has some of the most varying vistas in the world. You can start your day in the misty highlands and three hours later be in dense tropical jungles. Keep driving and you’ll hit a volcanic lake or the beach at some point.

Be surprised by Guatemala and tackle all its diversity and beauty on our Latin America trips. Check ‘em out here.