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Highlands of Guatemala Review: "We've never felt safer or more welcome!"

Colourful-market-scene-in-Ixil-regio_20190604-225357_1 Off the Beaten Path in Guatemala

I had wanted to visit Guatemala for many years but it wasn't until I found Wildland Adventures, and Grettel Calderon, that my custom trip began to take shape. I really appreciated Grettel's enthusiasm while working with me. As she commented "Very few people take the time to deeply investigate the destination they are going to visit so it was very refreshing to work with Jane as she had a profound interest in knowing about Guatemala's people, culture, and history".

I was delighted to be asked to write a blog about my adventure. It was an incredible trip with such a varied itinerary and so much to see and do. I had decided to concentrate on the Highlands, and my friend Catherine and I loved every minute of it. Grettel put so much effort into every aspect of our time in Guatemala so that it would meet what I was looking for (focus on the people) and she succeeded beyond all expectations. She listened to me and the results of my research, and then added some wonderful places and people I would never have thought of.

Marvin, our guide, couldn't have been a better choice. He was so knowledgeable and efficient, with lots of local contacts. We enjoyed every minute of his company, his sense of humor, expert driving, and all the interesting local restaurants he found for lunches and coffees. He also suggested some minor itinerary changes which worked out well. And there were many times when we were grateful for his translations! Three weeks together could have been a strain but we became good friends and he helped to make our trip so successful.

Guatemala City: Central Plaza memorial

Our first day in Guatemala City with Alfonso Muralles was a great introduction to the country, with lots of information and a good tour of many of the main landmarks and the history behind them. We were particularly moved by the Museum of Memories, the memorial in the main plaza to the 41 young girls who died in a fire on Women's Day, and the plaque to murdered Bishop Gerardi. 

The Mayan ceremony at Iximche was definitely a highlight of the trip. Conducted by the shamen Ernestina, and her assistant (husband Marcos), it went on for 2.5 hours and was worth every moment. With their guidance (and Marvin's help), we were told the significance of everything and we were given a warm welcome/farewell from them.

I purchased this woven blanket from our host, Miguel.

In Totonicipan we were welcomed by our homestay host, Miguel Hernandez, who is a weaver (6th generation). His wife Raquel is a community nurse,and she cooked us a delicious chicken supper. Our rooms were simple, with comfortable beds and adequate facilities. It was good that we spoke some Spanish as Miguel had a lot of information to share.He gave us an interesting lesson on various aspects of weaving with two large looms in his main room. We bought some weaving from him, and he then took us to visit a potter friend of his, and to the Tuesday market.

In Chichicastenango, Marvin took us to the church for the Spanish/Mayan service, to Santo Tomas mask workshop, to the Museum of Ceremonial Masks, up to Pascual Abaj Mayan site, and then to the colorful cemetery.We spent the afternoon exploring the market and streets. It has a reputation as a main tourist destination but we were pleasantly surprised by the comparative lack of noisy tourists, and bargaining with local market people was friendly and fun!It was definitely a place to include on our itinerary.

The Mayan Inn in Chichicastenango was a gem of a hotel. We could have spent days there. It was a great location with lots of atmosphere, wonderful staff, beautiful courtyards and rooms, and a personal staff member to light the room fires in the evening, and do any errands.

Elena Raymundo

Our homestay in Nebaj was with Elena Raymundo (a widow), and her daughter Maria Elena. We welcomed the opportunity to stay with them. We used two bedrooms normally used by the family, who found space elsewhere, and shared all of the other facilities.Various members of their extended family kept dropping in to meet us - great fun! Meals at the homestay were very simple but adequate for Catherine and me. We sat in the kitchen by the wood stove, and managed to keep communications going with our Spanish, and the family taught us some local Ixil words. For lunch Maria Elena gave us a lesson on how to cook boxbol (a traditional Guatemalan dish), and though we were a bit inefficient we all enjoyed the meal.

I was interested in obtaining local traje (ethnic clothing) for my photographic presentations later, and found the perfect source when Elena brought out a lot of her weaving for me to try on. I bought everything I needed, and Elena gave me several lessons in tying the cinta (headdress).Hope I can figure it out later! Now I wish I had bought a lot more weaving from her as I realized later that the family needed the money.

Antiqua is one of our favourite cities - anywhere - and Posada Don Rodrigo was another gem of a hotel with its location, atmosphere, view of Aqua Volcano, and peaceful terrace. The reception and staff were friendly, and a marimba band and dancers in costume performed every evening.

View with Aqua Volcano in the background. Posada Don Rodrigo is the next block beyond the arch, on the left = great location.
An ‘alfombra’ on the route of the Lenten procession.

We were there on two Sundays to experience the preparations for Lent - the making of the 'alfombras' (carpets of flowers along procession route), and watching the sacred processions go through the city in the afternoon/evening. Lent was the perfect time to come. At Easter the city is over-run with visitors but Lent is much less crowded and yet still has the activities and atmosphere of the season.

The above is very much an abbreviated account of some highlights of our three weeks.We also visited Mayan archaeological sites and saw local customs; wandered through many daily markets with the people dressed in beautiful woven and embroidered huipiles (blouses), different designs in different villages;explored the Lake Atitlan area with its customs and crafts;saw weaving, pottery and glassware;met so many people who greeted us warmly, and wanted to tell us about their work and families;stayed in simple comfortable hotels;visited villages with interesting architecture and agriculture; studied historical monuments and museums;and marvelled at the scenery of mountains and volcanoes.I often went out alone with my camera as soon as it was light - and everyone (young, old, rich, poor) greeted me cheerfully.We will always remember these wonderful experiences.

Thanks again to Wildland Adventures and Grettel - and Marvin's knowledge and network of people - we had the chances to get off the beaten path. We were able to meet a lot of local people, and we have never felt safer and more welcome everywhere we went. We owe you so many thanks for such an amazing trip.

Jane Vincent-Havelka
London, Ontario, Canada


I enjoyed putting together this itinerary with our in-country collaborators to create a true in-depth experience. I really worked hard to get them off the beaten path to some remote, unexplored villages in Guatemala for a genuine cultural exchange with the Guatemalan culture, people, gastronomy, traditions, and customs. The results turned out to be amazing. To learn more about trips to Guatemala give me a call at 800-345-4453 and check out more of Jane's photos in the gallery below.

Grettel Calderon 

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