Dates of visit:
March 28, 2006 -
April 18, 2006

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Mayan ruins
 Caribbean coast
 Indian cultures
 Semana Santa
 Sawdust carpets
 Church ruins
 Dirt poor

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*** Guatemala - Country & Culture ***
Go to second page - Guatemala City, Esquipulas & Black Christ, Quirigua Ruins
Go to third page - Rio Dulce, Livingston, Flores & Santa Elena, Tikal Ruins
Go to fourth page - La Antigua, Popenoe House, Chichicastenango, Panajachel
Go to fifth page - Semana Santa (Holy Week) Sawdust Carpets & Processions
        Location of Guatemala in Central America
        Map of Guatemala
        Distance to Guatemala
        Travel route in Guatemala
        Portrait of Guatemala
        Mayan Culture
        Guatemala's Volcanoes
        Guatemala's Lakes
        Guatemala's "Arte Maya"
        Guatemala's "Arte Maya" Slide Shows
Portrait of Guatemala

Maya WomanGuatemala offers Central America in concentrated form: its volcanoes are the highest and most active, and its Mayan ruins the most impressive.

Guatemala is the Mayan heartland within Central America.

Its indigenous culture is alive and well in the ancient ruins of Tikal, the Mayan/Catholic rituals of Chichicastenango and the blazing colors of everyday Mayan dresses.

Facts At A Glance (2006):

  • Country name: Republic of Guatemala
  • Area: 109,000 sq km (42,500 sq mi)
  • Population: 11 million (growth rate 2.5%)
  • Capital city: Guatemala City (pop 2 million)
  • People: 56% Spanish descent, 44% Mayan descent
  • Language: Spanish, Garifuna and 21 Maya languages
  • Religion: Roman Catholic, Mayan-Catholic
  • Government: Democratic
  • Time: GMT/UTC minus 6 hours
  • Electricity: 110V, 60Hz
  • Weights /measures: Metric
Source: http://www.enjoyguatemala.com/guateinfo.htm
Mayan Culture
Maya CultureThe Mayan Culture is considered to be one of the largest cultures in the American continent because of their knowledge in sciences, astrology and more.

This civilization was born during the third millennium before Christ, living in a 320,000 square kilometers territory, taking in regions of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and part of El Salvador. Through the centuries they were able to form a great civilization.

The main Mayan tribes gave origin to today’s several dialects. This civilization had the power for over 2000 years; from the 6th century B.C. to the 15th century they lived and formed three periods:

  • Preclasico
  • Clasico or Old
  • Postclasico or New Empire
Preclasico ... from the 1500’s B.C. to the year 292 A.D.; this was the period where Agriculture began (corn cultivation). Monochrome ceramic, stone carving and the construction of the first buildings in places like Kaminal Juyú, Izapa, El Baúl, Tikal, Uaxactún, Dzibilchaltún are part of this period as well. During this time the Mayans appear in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, this period is considered a time of small development.

Classic or Old (clásico o antiguo), this period, from the year 292 to 900 A.D., can be divided into two stages: The Early Period (periodo temprano) and the Late Period (periodo tardio). The Early Period goes from the year 292 to the year 650 A.D.; during this time the “teocrático” system governed the society in the Usumacinta, Chiapas, Yucatan, Petén and part of Honduras territories. The mathematic sciences were developed, as well as astronomy, chronology, hieroglyphic writing, ceramic arts and sciences like medicine. Painting by Margarita Mijangos ... 'Vasija Policromada del periodo Clasico'

This Empire built big cities like PIEDRAS NEGRAS, TIKAL, UAXACTÚN, QUIRIGUA, BONAMPAK, PALENQUE, COPÁN; cities like TIKAL, PALENQUE and COPÁN are the most important ones.

In The Late Period the Mayan Culture flourished and it reached its maximum splendor and acme, developing arts, agricultural advances, highly developed numeration system, a solar and religious calendar and also a new sophisticated construction systems for pyramids and buildings. The most important Mayan cities of this period were Tikal, Uaxactún, Piedras Negras, Copán, Quirigua Yaxchilán, Boanampak and Palenque, in the southern area were Kaminal Juyú, and in the northern area cities like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Xpuhil, Hochob and Labna were the major ones.

Postclasico or New Empire, like the previous period this has two stages; the "Early Period" (periodo temprano) is the first stage, starting in the year 900 to the year 1250; and the second stage called “Late Period” (periodo tardio) from the year 1250 to 1527 A.D.

In this period the Mayan empire decadence began due to influences of foreign groups, these groups began to exercise pressure over the Mayan people, their religion and government, creating wars, which created great disorganization and disintegration for the great Mayan civilization that culminated with the Spanish invasion in 1527.

All through the “New Empire” the most powerful cities were: Chichen Itzá, Uxmal and Mayapán. According to historians the origin of this great Mayan Race is still unknown, and not even the exact meaning of their name "MAYA" has been deciphered yet, we also ignore the reason why most of their people disappeared. If they emigrated to faraway lands or unknown directions is still a mystery.
Source: http://www.aroundantigua.com/culture/mayas.htm

Today descendents of the old Maya, or the Indigenous as they are locally referred to, account for more than 50% of the Guatemalan population. Their present culture is vibrant and thriving, best shown by the many traditionally dressed woman and children seen along the streets in the entire country. Weaving is one of the outstanding Maya craft, an ancient art that has survived uninterrupted for centuries and is now becoming famous all over the world.

The Maya also make baskets, pottery and wood carved of animals, saints and brightly painted toys and chests. Chichicastenango hosts the traditional handicrafts market every Thursday and Sunday and a more typical Mayan market can be experienced every Saturday in Solola on the way to Lake Atitlan. Benjamin D. Paul of Stanford University wrote about the Mayan Indians in his ...
"Life in a Guatemalan Indian Village" 'Life in a Guatemalan Indian Village'   This is a PDF document  (387 Kb)

Guatemala's Volcanoes
Antigua's AguaWith 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands, Guatemala is one of those rare destinations that rewards even the most jaded world traveler with revelatory experiences. Stark silhouettes rise above Guatemala's mountainous landscape and only few visitors will return home without pictures of these giants in their collection of snapshots. Let's explore a few of them:

Agua, Fuego & Acatenango: Perhaps the most frequently photographed volcanoes in Guatemala, these three peaks watch over the sleepy, colonial town of Antigua Guatemala. The forested cones of Agua (above) and Acatenango attest to their slumbering old age, while the bare peak of Fuego and the small ash clouds rising from its summit are evidence of continuing activity.

Pacaya: An active, unpredictable volcano, Pacaya recently dumped tons of volcanic sand on Guatemala City, 18 miles away! This volcano provided a constant show of ash clouds and lava flow.

Toliman, Atitlan & San Pedro: These three majestic volcanoes towering above Lake Atitlan form the natural dam that contains the lake. At night, spectacular displays of lightning can be seen beyond their peaks from Panajachel. A smaller volcano called Cerro de Oro, on the south side of the lake once contained a Maya fortress in its crater.

Santa Maria & Santiaguito: Santa Maria is perhaps the most beautiful volcano, whose stately presence forms the lovely backdrop of the city Quetzaltenango. Santiaguito, Guatemala's youngest and most dangerous volcano emerged on Santa Maria southern flank with a fierce eruption in 1902.
Source: http://www.enjoyguatemala.com/volcanoes.htm

Guatemala's Lakes
Lake Atitlan
The famous Lake Atitlan (above) that Aldous Huxley once called "the most beautiful in the world" is located in the mountainous Department of Solola, in the Guatemalan highlands about 150km from the capital. Lake Atitlan is a natural wonder of blue, wind-tossed waters set against a backdrop of three 10,000-foot volcanoes - Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro - towering on the southern sky. Their cones are covered with pine and wide leaf forest, are a refuge for endangered plants and animals.

Lake Atitlan is 26km long and 18km wide and its origin is volcanic. It is occupying an extinguished crater and extends to 125km2 with a maximum depth of 320m. Lining the shores of Lake Atitlan are a dozen picturesque Indian villages where life and customs have changed little over the centuries. To explore Lake Atitlan and its traditional Indian villages one takes excursions from Panajachel.

Lake Peten Itza is set within the Maya forest that constitutes the largest continuous expanse of tropical forest remaining in Central America. Lake Peten Itza is about 48km long and covers and area of 98km2. The lake is ~50m below sea level and likely to have held water during arid glacial periods. Built on an island, the town of Flores is is a sleepy town with a Caribbean sensibility, pastel-colored buildings, friendly people and a slow pace of life. Flores was once a Maya ceremonial center, by the 17th century it was a Spanish outpost, and today, it's the capital of Peten province.

Lake Izabal is the largest of Guatemala's lakes. Lake Izabal is a gentle expanse of water hemmed in by the Sierra de las Minas to the south and the Santa Cruz mountain range to the north. The waters of the lake are rich in fish. Unique to the lake is the fresh-water sea cow (manatee), a mammal that can weigh up to a ton. This species is in danger of extinction and the manatees are the largest mammals in the country.

Lake Amatitlan is located 17 miles south of Guatemala City. Along the northwestern shore is Amatitlan from where a road with a panoramic view stretches out to the southeast along the lake and close to the sides of Volcano Pacaya. Lake Amatitlan is 11km long and 3.5km wide. The human history of the lake is one of the most ancient in the world. Archeological remains that date back to 2000 B.C. have been found around the lake, and jade, bone, and clay artifacts have been retrieved from its depth. High population density, over-exploitation of natural resources, and the shortage of water have caused the degradation of Lake Amatitlan and its watershed.
Source: http://www.enjoyguatemala.com/lakes.htm

Guatemala's "Arte Maya"
In a handful of communities that make up the vast Maya population of present day Guatemala, Indian artists produce oil paintings about Mayan life. Those communities are ‘Cakchiquel speaking’ town of San Juan Comalapa, and the ‘Tz'utuhil speaking’ towns of Santiago Atitlan and San Pedro la Laguna. The Tz'utuhil-speaking artists, mainly artists from San Pedro la Laguna and its close neighbor San Juan la Laguna, produce works of art that are renowned for their life-like portrayals of daily Indian life. For our visitors we share some of these paintings which are sourced from http://www.artemaya.com

CoffeeCoffee ... When the price is good, coffee is the crop that provides a Maya family with most of their cash income for the year. Unfortunately for the Maya, Southeast Asia has been producing cheaper coffee so that the price in Central America has at times fallen well below what it costs to grow and pick it. When considering that Guatemala coffee in the US costs at least six dollars a pound (2000), it is outrageous that twenty cents a pound can't go to the people who tend and pick the coffee. The plants have to be grown for about seven years before they begin bearing fruit.

CornMaize (corn) ... Since ancient times corn [maize] is the most important Maya food and thus the god of maize is the most important of the Maya gods. Unlike English there are three different names for corn. The green plants of corn and green ears of corn are called ‘elote’; dried corn is called ‘mazorca’. Each kernel of corn is considered sacred to the Maya and not to be wasted, because it not only contains the power to sustain man but also represents the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

MarketsMarkets ... Markets are an integral part of life for the Maya. It is where most food is bought. It is where a family will sell the extra tomatoes they have. It is where women will buy their cortes [traditional skirts], the cooking pots and most other household items. It is one place where friends and neighbors will meet and talk. Years ago there used to be a night market in Santiago Atitlán lit by candlelight. Although it no longer exists it captured the fancy of a few of the early Tz'utuhil artists. It has been one of the most popular themes with the artists and the tourists ever since.

Masked DancerMasked Dances ... Masked dances are a Maya tradition in Guatemala for the festival of each town. There are around thirty different dances performed in the Maya pueblos of Guatemala. Some of the dances such as the Baile de Venado [deer dance] have their roots in the pre-conquest Maya culture. The Dance of the Conquest, the most popular, tells the story of the last king of the Maya, Tecun Uman, and his defeat at the hands of the Spaniards. The fanciful costumes are rented from morerias, a one or two-day walk for the Tz'utuhiles.

MaximonMaximon ... The merging of the ancient Maya beliefs with the Catholic religion imposed on the Maya after the Conquest is nowhere more interesting than in Santiago Atitlán. The Maya Lord of the Universe, known as Mam, and Saint Simon have combined to become Maximón. One of the aspects of Maximón is that he can appear in any form. During Easter week he takes on the form of Judas Iscariot, who in betraying Jesus became the catalyst who put into action the events ended in the crucifixion of Jesus. Judas (Maximón) then hangs himself.

Maya HealersMaya Healers ... The indigenous healers of the Maya such as midwifes and bonesetters are specialized shamans who come to their knowledge through dreams and/or initiation. Modern medicine has been slow to reach the pueblos of the highlands of Guatemala. Even when it does, the medicines are far too expensive for many Mayas; therefore the traditional natural herbal remedies are often a good alternative.

Benjamin D. Paul of Stanford University wrote about these bonesetters in his ...
"The Maya Bonesetter as Sacred Specialist" 'The Maya Bonesetter as Sacred Specialist'   This is a PDF document  (143 Kb)

Pascual AbajPascual Abaj ... Just a few minutes walk from the church of Santo Tomás in the center of Chichicastenango, there is a wooded hill. Atop this hill is an ancient rock [abaj] with a carved face, known all over Guatemala as Pascual Abaj. Daily there are Maya priests and priestesses performing ceremonies there. People come there for all sorts of things: to bless a marriage, to pray for a good harvest or to give thanks for a good harvest, or to remedy a problem such as preventing thieves from stealing your corn. The rites are conducted by the aj’itz [maya priests].

Source: http://www.artemaya.com/index.html

Guatemala's "Arte Maya" Slide Shows

"Arte Maya" Slide Shows
... Coffee ...
... Corn ...
... Masked Dances ...
... Maya Healers ...
... Markets ...
... Maximon ...
... Pascual Abaj ...
NOTE: The Arte Maya images contained within these slide shows are copyrighted by Arte Maya Tz'utuhil with all rights reserved and may not be used for commercial purposes.
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Some images and text partially extracted from the Internet sites referenced
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