The Branson Family had a great time exploring Guatemala on a travel circuit known as the Gringo tour. We started in Antigua, which is a UNESCO World Heritage city. Antigua was an old Spanish colonial capital before multiple earthquakes leveled the town and forced the Spanish to relocate to Guatemala City. But, it survives today as a vibrant town with lots of local color and character.
After Antigua, we proceeded to Lake Atitlan via Chichicastinango, a huge outdoor marketplace where all the nearby Mayan people bring their textiles, fruits, vegetables and everything else to sell. It's an
explosion of colors and interesting people. Lake Atitlan is abundant with natural beauty and is surrounded by an volcanic archipelago, so there are volcanoes in view in all directions (in fact, the country has 33 volcanoes, a few of which are still active).
After that, we flew to the northern part of the country to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tikal located in the tropical jungle. At its height, Tikal was inhabited by over 100,000 Mayan people. However, it was mysteriously abandoned by the Mayans in about 1000 AD and remained undiscovered for over 800 years. Today, it's the largest excavated site in the American continent. While in the jungle, we also managed to have our first experience with zip lining though the jungle canopy. Everyone enjoyed the thrill -- even those of us who aren't exactly keen about heights. I was glad we had the medical-evacuation insurance just in case.
Guatemala was a surprising trip. It was easy to reach (a 4 1/2 hour non-stop flight from LAX). Our tour group was fun, informative and nimble with only 9 people (including the four of us). The Guatemalan people were uniformly friendly and helpful. We even made it back with all our belongings (including my camera) and without any pick pocketing or other safety incidents despite the somewhat dire warnings on the U.S. State Department web site. It's a poor country (with a per capita GDP of about 15% of the USA), but the people seem genuinely happy. It's obvious that that the Mayan culture proudly lives on in Guatemala.
View images from our trip at www.shuttereye.com/Guatemala/