Visit Guatemala and you step back to the time of the ancient Maya and a land of mystery set against spectacular natural contrasts. In the lowlands, vast temple structures lay undisturbed amidst huge tracts of untamed jungle while in the mountains, picture-postcard colonial cities are brimming with colour, textiles and age-old indigenous culture.
For visitors, Guatemala offers up heady rewards. The magnificent Mayan city of Tikal needs little introduction, but head deeper into the steamy Peten and you discover a host of eerie archaeological sites set against the soundtrack of howler monkeys, jaguar and echoing birdsong – Yaxha, Uaxactun, Aguateca, dos Pilas to name a few. In the mountains, you can delve into limestone caves; spot Quetzal in cloud-forest and browse local markets such as Chichicastenango, Comelapa or Sololá. Moreover, few places in the Americas can compete with the colonial charm of Antigua surrounded by Volcanoes Fuego, Acatenango and Agua or even the magical Lago Atitlan, dubbed "the most beautiful lake in the world” by Alexander von Humboldt himself.
For a long time, Guatemala had been the realm of explorers and intrepid travellers. However, today there is a bustling tourism industry that has opened up the country’s natural, cultural and archaeological wonders. Better still, nip across the border into Belize and you can finish your trip on the golden beaches and coral cayes of the Great Maya Reef. Or heading north, you can venture into Mexico’s Mayan heartland Chiapas or continue onto the stunning Yucatan Peninsula and resorts of the Riviera Maya.