Central America’s Hidden Gems: Guatemala & Belize

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Stunning landscapes including the breathtaking Lake Atitlan, colonial towns with cobblestone streets, lively markets with ever so friendly women still wearing their traditional costumes and flashing ‘chicken buses’. For me Guatemala is one of the most colourful countries in Central America.

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The easiest way to fly to Guatemala is via Miami. My connection was very smooth and after arriving in Guatemala City I was transferred to the compact colonial town of Antigua. This delightful town is decorated with old buildings and known for its many churches, some of which have been restored and are amongst the most colourful buildings around while others have turned into ruins over the centuries.

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Strolling through the cobbled streets I slowly fell in love with this charming town. I spent my days wandering past boutique shops and small art galleries, green parks, colonial plazas and local houses.

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I visited the local crafts market, tasted my first cup of Guatemalan coffee and hiked up to the rim of the active Pacaya volcano. In two hours you are at the top, enjoying some spectacular views that are well worth the climb!

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My next stop was Lake Atitlan, scenically located in the highlands and surrounded by mountain peaks and some of Guatemala’s highest volcanoes. Lake Atitlan was much bigger than I ever imagined and the influences from different Mayan groups with their own distinctive cultures were phenomenal. The best way to explore the lake and its surrounding villages is by boat. You can cross the lake from one village to the other and visit some of the many bustling markets in the area. The women here still wear their colourful and traditional costumes and are happy to show you their woven fabrics with the most complicated patterns.

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My personal highlight: sunrise over the Lake Atitlan. Breathtaking and so serene….

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On my way back to Guatemala City we visited the market of Chichicastenango, the biggest and most impressive social gathering in the area. A great place to buy souvenirs or try some of the local delicacies.

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Most of the locals visiting the Chichi market travel by so called ‘chicken bus’. After a busy morning of shopping, some of these colourful buses were absolutely packed and goods were tied onto the roof. And then I haven’t even mentioned their impressive music installations….

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To save time and avoid being jolted on some of the very average roads I flew from Guatemala City to Flores. What I liked about Flores was its tranquillity in combination with the lush green jungle surroundings. Spotting wildlife from my kayak while listening to the sounds of nature, but also a visit to the ancient Mayan ruins of Yaxha and Tikal were superb.

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Once covered by thick jungle, the ruins of Tikal now reveal around 3,000 temples, plazas and terraces. Tikal is arguably the greatest of all the ancient Mayan cities, and a sunset over some of the largest Mayan temples that rise above the jungle is spectacular. When the sun sets and the national park goes quiet you start to hear howler monkeys and tropical birds that are abundant in the surrounding rainforest – an unforgettable experience.

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From Flores I crossed the border to Belize and I immediately noticed something was different. The Mayan culture of Guatemala was replaced by a more Caribbean vibe complete with steel bands, jerk chicken and cheerful persons who make it their duty to put a smile on your face. Belize hosts the world’s second largest Barrier Reef and the variety in colourful fish, rays and turtles you find here is phenomenal.

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Above image: The beach at Victoria House

White sandy beaches, a mild tropical breeze, great snorkelling possibilities at my doorstep and a delicious cocktail…. What more could you wish for at the end of your holidays?!

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