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Surprising Guatemala

How so much cultural and geographic diversity can fit into one small country boggles the mind, and yet Guatemala does it seamlessly. It is home to everything from ancient Maya temples and Spanish colonial cities to cloud-shrouded highland villages and vibrant Caribbean towns. There are spewing volcanoes, lazy rivers, remote cloud forests, and vast swaths of untamed jungle. But what truly makes this country unique are its indigenous peoples—21 Maya groups and the Garífuna people—whose distinctive cultures, languages, and centuries-old traditions continue to thrive today.

Recently a group of guests, accompanied by Latitude Expeditions' agent Dennus Baum, traveled to Guatemala to experience this diversity and beauty firsthand. A highlight of their trip was glamping among the ruins in Tikal. Nestled between the sprawling, jungle-shrouded temples of the Uaxactún archaeological park and a small, present-day Mayan village lies a unique lodging experience for those who appreciate the road less traveled. Eight ample tents, raised off the ground on solid, covered platforms, surround you with the sights and sounds of the jungle while keeping you comfortable. Each tent feels like its own bungalow, with two cozy twin beds, a night table, a rug, reading lamps, and even a small porch and garden. Stone-paved paths lead to shared

bathrooms with showers just a few steps away. Nearby, you can explore Uaxactún, one of the longest-inhabited cities in the pre-Columbian Mayan world; enjoy a traditional lunch in the local village; and take a 45-minute drive to see Guatemala's archaeological crown jewels, Tikal National Park.

Upon arrival their first night in camp they set out along jungle trails in search of nocturnal wildlife, such as owls, opossums, and spooky-looking insects. Their experienced guide told both heart wrenching and heartwarming stories of his childhood in the jungle, and the history and culture of the Mayan empire that surrounded them. Uaxactún's many structures include an elaborate, thoroughly accurate astronomical cluster, where you'll gaze up at a twinkling blanket of stars and luxuriate in the jungle mystique. To all ,this first experience set the tone for a week with the guide Carlos, who quickly became a friend.

Their next stop was Lake Atitlán. With its sparkling waters watched over by three majestic, dormant volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is Guatemala's highland jewel, which motivated author Aldous Huxley to say, "It really is too much of a good thing". Surrounded by Mayan villages, the lake's timeless beauty is only equaled by the exquisitely embroidered clothing worn by the local T'zutujil and Kaqchiquel Maya people. Each lakeside village has its own character: the ceramic arts of San Antonio Palopo, San Juan's natural dyes and handwoven textiles; San Pedro's backpacker vibe; San Marcos' yoga and wellness centers; Santiago Atitlan's busy markets and shops; and Panajachel's hectic-eclectic mix of shops, hotels, and restaurants. All have one thing in common: the shimmering lake and dramatic countryside, where you can kayak and canoe, swim, fish, watch birds or just swing in a hammock.

Antiqua was also a guest favorite. La Antigua Guatemala is one of the most idyllic destinations in the world, with painstakingly restored Spanish colonial architecture, manicured parks, stylish hotels, superb international cuisine, and a horizon shaped by three spectacular volcanoes. Nestled in a mountain valley and surrounded by evergreen forests, Antigua retains the aura of the 17th century capital that it was, while blending modern amenities that make it an internationally appealing getaway. Walking along cobblestone streets, you'll find high-end art galleries, fascinating museums, luxurious shops with international treasures, and traditional markets packed to the rafters with locally made textiles and woodcrafts. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, with its architecture, culture and unique setting, Antigua, quite simply, is the most charming city in all the Americas.

The guests were united in describing their journey as an unforgettable adventure, with a mix of immersive, interesting glamping and luxurious hotel accommodations, a trip full of history and culture, pure joy in meeting charming locals and a treat for all the senses.

Photo credits: Dennus Baum Photography

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