is a nation rich
in history, famed for its friendly people, native arts and crafts, natural beauty and vast
diversity of wild life. Northernmost and most populous of the Central American republics,
the country is bordered by Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, a rugged highland
with high mountains that extend east and west. Guatemalas visitors have a unique opportunity to combine explorations of the
nations famed Maya ruins with natural history tours through incredible rain forests
and jungles that abound in birds and other wildlife as well as unique tropical flora.
A journey in Guatemala takes the visitor in a few minutes from the lush vegetation of the warm low lands zone to the cold of the pine forests. Most of the nine million Guatemalans live in the valleys of the mountainous regions, in the center of the country, where the climate is temperate. This is the region of lakes and volcanoes for which Guatemala is known throughout the world.
Guatemala is also a
country of magic, as chronicled by the first historians and travelers, not only because of
the beauty and splendor of its climate and landscape, but for the spirit of fantasy that
has always been evident in its elaborate religious rituals and the ways of its people.
restored pyramids and temples pay silent tribute to the Maya civilization which first
appeared more than 3,000 years ago and the complex Maya society is evident in the impressive
structures and ruins of Guatemalas Tikal, Rio Azul, Uaxactun and Piedras
Negras. In this small country of only 70,000 square miles, the ancient Maya civilization had its heyday in the first
millennium of our calendar. In 1523, the Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado, sent by Hernán
Cortés, launched the conquest of
Guatemala and with the cruel destruction and subjugation of the Quiche, Kakchikel and Tzutujil lords, the colonial era opened.
Reminders of Maya culture can also be found at Zaculeu in Guatemalas western
highlands and Quirigua in the Motagua Valley which offer magnificent examples of the Post
or Late Classic Mayas.
Guatemala has a diversity of climates, depending on the region and the altitude.
Although there is some regional
variation, Guatemala has two basic seasons: rainy, from May to October and dry, from
November to April. The average temperature is a moderate 75 degrees F (in Guatemala City,
the temperature ranges from 17 to 23C (35.6 to 71.4F). Bring lightweight waterproof clothing and an umbrella if visiting in the rainy season they
are not as easy to find outside Guatemala City as you might have expected. The evenings
can be chilly in the highlands, particularly during November and February, and bringing
sweaters is advisable although tourists can of course buy some beautiful sweaters, along
with felt jackets, in the Indian markets. March, April and May are generally hot. In other places the climate depends
on the time of the year and the altitude. but the lowland area of El Petén in the north
is always hot. The Peten, Guatemalas northern panhandle,
is covered by rain forests and occasional humid savannas. The region comprises a third of
the countrys total area but is home to only a tiny fraction of the population. It
resembles parts of Brazils Amazon basin, producing hardwoods, chicle and rubber.
From pre-Hispanic times, the Guatemalan diet is based on corn, which the visitor will taste on many occasions in the form of tortillas (a sort of pancake). Guatemalan dishes also include beans, meat and chicken, prepared with local spices. These dishes are to be found in specialized restaurants, given the long time they take to prepare. Some of the most traditional dishes most often requested by Guatemalans are the Quetzaltenango tamales, kakik (spiced turkey soup), jocon (chicken in green tomato sauce), guacamole (avocado puree), subanik (beef, pork and chicken vapor-cooked in a highly spiced sauce), and traditional Antigua candy, among other delicacies.