Guatemala Travel Planner - (Page 6)

The Living Maya of the Highlands In the view of many travelers, the Western Highlands are what a journey to Guatemala is all about. The scenery is spectacular-rolling hills, towering volcanoes, and pristine lakes in this region of "eternal spring." Historic towns present monumental reminders of a defining colonial past. And surely one of the most special travel rewards is encountering the "living" Maya descendants of the ancient temple builders, who can trace their roots back centuries as members of tribes such as Cakchiquel, Tzutuhil or Quiche. They carry on traditions in colorful dress, gather weekly at markets to sell their finely made crafts, and celebrate their heritage in religious ceremonies and festivals that are often a dramatic mix of Christian and preHispanic beliefs. Lake Atitlan, sacred in Mayan beliefs and legends, is a magical place. This mile-high lake offers panoramas of volcanic peaks, verdant green hills, and crystalline waters stretching eight by 11 miles-no wonder English novelist Aldous Huxley called it "the most beautiful lake in the world." Located three hours northward from Antigua, 6 Atitlan's waters rest in a volcanic cradle, with three perfectly conical volcanoes- Atitlan (11,565 ft.), Toliman (10,340 ft.), and San Pedro (9,920 ft.) dominating the horizon. Around the shores of the lake are 12 indigenous villages, each named for one of the apostles and each with its own distinctive weave. When here, travel by boat from the pier in Panajachel, the most convenient base for exploring the region, to Santiago Atitlan, whose "main street" leads from the shore to the village church, past thatched roof houses where women sit in the yards weaving. The market here, at its liveliest on Sundays, is also the province of the women, many of whom wear their village's distinctive red headdresses called cortes, and white and purple blouses called huipiles. Continue by boat to other villages such as San Juan La Laguna, a special village whose Tzutuhil inhabitants take pride in their traditions of weaving and naif painting. This village has two language institutes and several fine little B&Bs. Lakeside settlements accessible by car or bicycle include Santa Caterina Palopo, known for its vibrantly colored huipiles, and the more traditional village of San Antonio Palopo, set beneath a steep, well-terraced hillside. When not out touring, guests around Lake Atitlan get even more active when out fishing, waterskiing, windsurfing, scuba diving or hang gliding. Chichicastenango, 45 minutes away, is the town where hundreds of ethnic vendors gather for one of the country's largest indigenous markets each Thursday and Sunday. They barter for fresh produce, livestock and handicrafts, including textiles, ceramics, wooden saints, leather bags, hand-woven belts and hand-carved masks. These Quiche Maya people also gather at Santo Tomas Church, a mecca for those seeking guidance and favors from both Mayan and Christian deities; it graces the market square at one end, facing El Calvario chapel. Travelers arriving the night before market day can stay at one of the town's charming colonialstyle inns to be on hand early for the best buys. "Chichi" is also home to the centuries-old Pascual Abaj shrine where Maya ceremonies replete with flickering candles, flowers, incantations and offerings are regular occurrences.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Guatemala Travel Planner

A Colonial Heritage
The Living Maya of the Highlands
El Mundo Maya
Call of the Wild
An Appetite for the Arts
Land of Active Adventures
Tasting Guatemala
Festivals Galore
Marvelous Markets
Marvelous Markets

Guatemala Travel Planner