Nat Geo highlights Guatemala as the land of lava light shows and Mayan festivals
Reporters from National Geographic United Kingdom recount a recent journey through the Guatemalan Western Highlands in an article published this past May. The article is titled “Lava light shows and Mayan festivals: a journey through Guatemala’s Western Highlands”.
The Western Highlands run from Antigua Guatemala to the Mexican border. This region is known for its mountains and volcanoes, as well as for its Mayan culture and traditional celebrations.
The travelers recall their trip through Acatenango Volcano, Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlán, and Antigua Guatemala.
As one of Guatemala’s most popular hiking destinations, this volcano offers a real adventure and some incredible views at the top. Lucky visitors are also able to witness an explosion of Fuego Volcano and its accompanying lava light festival.
The writer Amelia Duggan recalls their journey to the summit:
“The undulating landscape of Guatemala’s Western Highlands is laid out beneath us like a map. Raphael points out Antigua, a romantic colonial city of tumbledown cathedrals and cobblestone lanes, glittering below us; and, behind a cluster of peaks, the half-moon of the freshwater Lake Atitlán. There are neat patchworks of coffee plantations, too; miles of misty ridges and valleys, dotted with indigenous villages; and then, at the edge of all this, the Pacific Ocean, stretching to meet the sky. “It’s even better from the top,” Raphael says, nodding to the final, near-vertical slope”.
This small town located in the mountains of the department of Quiché is known for its colorful market and rich Mayan culture. The market, which is traditionally held on Thursdays and Sundays, is listed as one of the largest markets in the region. One of the iconic places of this town is the Church of Santo Tomás, which binds the Maya heritage with the influences of the Catholic church.
“We climb the stone steps of Santo Tomás Church for a better view; all around us is the hullaballoo of families swinging incense barrels, lighting small pyres of tobacco and kindling, and praying urgently in Maya languages. “Do you notice anything funny about these steps?” Raphael asks. “It was an ancient Maya temple — see, there are 18 levels, one for each month of the Maya calendar. The Spanish razed the building in 1540 and built on top of the platform, so it’s now a holy site twice over.” Rambo chimes in: “There was some damage done by the church in the early days. But we learned to accept each other, to weave the traditions together. What matters, ultimately, is belief, trust, faith”.
Acknowledged by many as the most beautiful lake in the world, its landscapes offer beautiful views. The lake is also famous for its diverse and unique surrounding villages.
“Around the lake’s edges sit villages: San Antonio Palopó, famous for its pottery; Santiago Atitlán, the birthplace of the colourful cult of Maximón; and Santa Cruz, renowned for its backpacker vibes”.
Antigua is perhaps the most famous destination for travelers visiting Guatemala. People from around the world fall in love with the cobblestoned streets and colorful colonial buildings.
“Antigua, the elegant colonial capital of the Spanish from the early 16th century until the earthquake of 1773. Today, it’s the centrepiece of Highlands tourism”.
This town also offers a wide variety of gastronomic experiences for visitors who want a taste of the traditional flavor of Guatemalan dishes. Visitors can enjoy typical dishes like tamales, hilachas, pepian, and seasonal desserts like dulce de ayote.