Guatemala has a monopoly on colour: from the red lava tongues of the volcanoes in the western highlands to the creamy shades of the southern Petén caves, and from the white sand of the Caribbean coast to the black sand and fabulous orange sunsets over the Pacific. And that’s just nature’s palette. Completing this work of art are traditional Maya fiestas, arcane religious rituals where idol worship and Roman Catholicism merge, and jungle temples where ancient ruins tell of long-lost civilizations.
Deep in Guatemala’s northern jungle, the majestic cities of the Maya are buried. Temples, stelae and plazas have been discovered here, along with evidence of human sacrifice and astronomical genius.
Antigua is the colonial centre of the New World. Gracefully ruined after an 18th-century earthquake, its cobbled streets are lined with columned courtyards, toppled church arches, preserved pastel-coloured houses, flowers and fountains galore.
Lake Atitlán and its three volcanoes are truly breathtaking. Further west, the bustling city of Quetzaltenango makes an excellent base from which to explore the volcanoes, markets and villages of the western highlands, such as the mountain community of Todos Santos, where the colourful clothes of the Maya and the All Saints’ Day horse race are major attractions.
In the Verapaces, rivers run through caves stuffed with stalagmites and stalactites. On the humid lower slopes of the Pacific, Olmec-influenced ruins are buried among coffee bushes and turtles nest on the shore, while on the Caribbean coast, the Garífuna rock to the sound of the punta and dolphins frolic in the sea.