Interested in Guatemala's culture? Here's BCD's bird's-eye-view of the country, below which you will find a collection of in-depth articles and interviews profiling people to meet and places to go--insights worth planning your trip around!
The Central American country of Guatemala is bordered by Mexico on the north, Belize on the east and El Salvador and Honduras to the south. The region that now is Guatemala was once the core of Maya civilization, and the country is rich with impressive Mayan sites. Despite the cultural decimation the Maya have endured--during both the Spanish conquest from the 16th - 19th centuries, and a civil war from 1960 -1996 in which about 165,000 Mayans were killed--today about 40% of Guatemala's population is of Mayan ancestry.
If you are interested in exploring the history and spiritual and cultural practices of the Maya, BCD recommends visiting the ruins of Tikal in the northeast; the small city of Antigua in the south; and the communities surrounding Lake Atitlan, about three hours west of Antigua.
Deep in the jungle are the mysterious ancient ruins of Tikal, one of the major sites of the Mayan civilization, which was a thriving metropolis from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. Tikal, which encompasses more than 3,000 buildings, is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage property for both its cultural significance and biodiversity.
The small city of Antigua in the central highlands of Guatemala is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Antigua is famous largely because of its exquisite Spanish Baroque architecture, dramatically set against the peaks of three volcanoes that surround the city. Explore gorgeous period pieces like the Santo Domingo Monastery (now a hotel), La Merced Church, and the evocative ruins of La Recoleccion. Browse through the renown Nim Po't market, home of the world’s largest retail Maya textiles collection. Make excursions to communities just outside the city to meet some of these artisans and learn about their weaving techniques.
Lake Atitlan is 31 miles northwest of Antigua but worlds away. The 1,000-foot deep lake is surrounded by three volcanoes and villages of Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel Mayans, who have an array of rich cultural traditions. Visit Casa de Mascaras, where ornate masks are carved that are worn during performances of the 'Conquest Dance.' Make the trek to Chichicastenango or "Chi Chi" two hours away in the Highlands, where the twice-weekly market offers a bonanza of Mayan artistry and creativity.
For immersion in a different cultural genre, visit San Juan Comalapa, about an hour north of Antigua in Guatemala's western highlands, renown as a community of painters. With a total population of about 40,000, there are more than 500 residents who wield a brush, producing their own brand of "naive" art. Visitors can meet the town's most well-known painter today, Oscar Peren, and the up-and-coming Dilia España, both of Kaqchikel Mayan heritage.
Click below for a package of articles on Guatemala's cultural highlights!