Crossing Centuries of History in a Day; Sylvia Kingsley Travels to Guatemala and Tastes the Sweet Diversity of This Unforgettable Central American Country
Kingsley, Sylvia, The Birmingham Post (England)
From November the country is carpeted with 800 species of wild orchids, from ground level to the mountains.
If you would like to be a traveller and not a tourist the Americas should be on your itinerary.
It takes a bit of effort to get there, but connections are good and the challenge and exhilaration of adventure lasts a lifetime.
Roughly the size of Ireland, Guatemala is a small and fertile land in Central America, dubbed the "sweet waist of the Americas", by poet Pablo Neruda.
And, despite Hurricane Mitch and a sad past history, Guatemala has much sweetness to offer.
It has a wildly diverse and lovely landscape of archeological sites, ancient cities, jungles, lagoons, volcanoes, mountains and lakes. Quite a bit to be going on with.
From the cities of the ancient Maya, to the Spanish Conquistadors of the 15th century, to modern high rise buildings in the capital, you can cross centuries of history in one day.
With eight million inhabitants, 50 per cent Indian, it is the strongest centre of Indian culture in the Latin Americas.
From November onwards the country is carpeted with 800 species of wild orchids, from ground level to the mountains where they mass in all colours; a popular time to go.
For most people Guatemala city is a starting point. Full of snarled-up traffic, there are a couple of good museums, one of Indian costumes and the other, the museum of history and anthropology. And, apart from good hotels and shops, there's no reason to stay on.
Between old and tattered dwellings, glimpses of distant hills and purple volcanoes peep through.
From the very edge of the city, adventure begins. Within three hours, from dawn to sunset, you'll meet a variety of Indian people who speak 21 different dialects. Many of the inhabitants are descendants of the ancient Maya.
Most visitors aim for the western highlands where the Indians live in different communities; each wearing their own traditional colours and costume, following special customs and traditions.
They greet people warmly; life is hard and tourism a lifeline and chance to sell their wonderful handicrafts.
Children are much loved and cared for with babies slung on mothers' backs in heavy shawls, all the more contented for the close contact.
Less than an hour from the capital, lies Antigua, the colonial capital and second city. Set in a lovely valley and surrounded by smoking volcanoes, Antigua is a town of heart-stopping beauty.
You won't be the first to get there. Since Guatemala is close to the US you'll meet lots of friendly Americans.
Now declared a Monument of the Americas and a World Heritage Site, Antigua is a 300-year-old town of cobble-stoned streets with palaces, convents and mansions on every corner.
Every building is a work of art; even the spectacular ruins left by earthquakes centuries ago are covered in trailing Bourganvillea giving them a special beauty. …