Guatemala & Belize are unique, striking, & a bit of a revelation. My journey through Central America sits high up there as a shining highlight of my travelling life. I will not bore you with all the detail but will speed through some of the unforgettable experiences.
The old colonial city of Antigua is charming with its cobblestone streets, historic relics and colonial plazas. It was flattened by an earthquake in 1773 and has been extensively restored and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1979. It is a treat to meander the streets and enjoy the sights.
Just west of Antigua on the Pan-American Highway is Lake Atitlan. Travelling these roads is a spectacle in itself with pickups driven by men in cowboy hats; mighty trucks, and old US school buses, hurtling to keep to the schedules. They call them ‘chicken buses’ because so many passengers travel with their chickens.
There are some wonderful places to stay at Lake Atitlan from which to enjoy the stupendous views of the lake and surrounding scenery. Above is a view from the botanical gardens at Hotel Lake Atitlan which is on the lakeshore and wonderful for bird watching and gentle hiking. Case Palopo with its exuberant colours is full of character, ensconced in a dress-circle seat above the eastern shore.
For a ‘would-be’ Anthropologist Guatemala’s markets are a complete treat for people watching, colour and action. Chichicastenango still caters for the locals but is also popular with tourists so there are candles, souvenir painted masks & embroidery to take home as souvenirs as well as all the beautiful embroidered bags, hats, toys & articles of clothing. Off the beaten track you can find yourself almost the only outsider in some markets, such as Solola Market.
The women wear the huipiles, which is part smock, part poncho bedazzling in fiery coloured cotton cloth with the men wearing embroidered trousers. Each of the country’s ethnic groups has its own costume and language. The markets offer a fascinating insight into such a passionate culture.
An unforgettable experience is to see the great jungle ruins of Tikal, where vast, pre-Christian temples protrude from the forest canopy.
Tikal National Park is in the heart of the jungle surrounded by lush vegetation and boasts one of the major sites of Mayan civilizations. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces and the surrounding countryside is scattered with remains of dwellings. Historically, culturally & architecturally it is breathtaking.
My journey took me from here by boat to Belize. The river was festooned with woodpeckers, herons, kingfishers, darters, egrets, kites, iguanas and crocodiles. One of the most stunning moments was when trees laden with dozens of macaws seemed to take flight. It was the macaws of course, in pairs taking flight while squawking loudly at our passing boats, their plumage all the incandescent colours of a hallucinogenic rainbow! Another unforgettable experience.
Belize was a treat after all the adventures & excitement while travelling across Central America. Belize boasts the world’s second largest Barrier Reef stretching 185 miles all the way from Mexico down through the Caribbean. The coastline is dotted with hundreds of cayes offering superb watersports, fishing and diving or simply a jolly good flop on a beautiful sandy beach to soak up some wonderful rays!