Guatemala Travel Guide


Okay, several people called my bluff on the last post. It’s true; as much as I’m trying to be a depth person, I love me some broadness. I love you, World! All of you! Your lines that go up, your lines that go down, your tropics and arctics and islands and continents. Your mermaids and conquerors and sea kings with pitch forks! Your angry naked people who live in the clouds…your…um…okay, I don’t know what’s going on with this map. But my point is both.  Let us go deep and wide, just like that awful Sunday school song. Let us have it all! All three dimensions, plus the fourth dimension, and then, if four turns into five, like the ancient mystics predict, all sorts of crazy crap is gonna go down, like salt losing its saltiness and bodies disembodying and time loops collapsing. Also, in the fifth dimension, rosy finches are everywhere. (Yay!) But we don’t have eyes to see them. (Suck.)


My point is: depth and breadth may ultimately be the same direction and lead to the same thing. There’s no need to choose just one. Duh. This is why you leave home to find it, and also discover the world at home.

On to Guatemala!

Some tips, recommendations and lessons learned the hard way:

Lake Atitlan:

Lake Atitlan from Santa Cruz

Billed as “the most beautiful lake in the world.” Apparently also a promised land for Mormons who are moving there in droves because some of them believe the lake is part of the Waters of Mormon,  a sacred baptismal site in their not-so-ancient scriptures. I didn’t see any Mormons. What I saw was a sparkling, powdery blue lake, archetypal volcanoes, pine trees, yellow daisies, pink grasses, banana palms, Mayan villages, tourist villages, multi-million dollar vacation homes, and cliffside corn fields that looked impossible to harvest without rapelling gear. Unfortunately, the lake itself is becoming polluted from algal blooms that feeds on agricultural runoff and sewage. If you are out for a little dip and accidentally swallow  a mouthful while shouting at your two-year-old daughter to “Watch Mommy’s water tricks!” you might spend the next afternoon in a idyllic lakeside paradise voiding your digestive tract.

Nonverbal Business Contracts:

Volcan Pacaya

Don’t lose your walking stick on the top of a volcano. At least not if you rented the walking stick from some entrepreneurial ten-year-old Guatemalan boys for 10 quetzales. They’re gonna want it back and you’re gonna have to hide from them because a) you didn’t even know it was for rent; you thought it was for sale b) it’s at the top of the volcano.


old school marimba

The national instrument of Guatemala, though the marimba’s origins are disputed. Made from the hormigo tree, the tree of sweet, singing wood, also a favorite of ravenous ants (hence the name). You’ll see marimbas on the street, often accompanied by flutes, and turtle shell percussion. Sidenote: My grandma had a marimba in her house. Turns out the “music” my cousins and I would bang out with a fistful of mallets bore little resemblance to the national music of Guatemala.


main cathedral ruins

My favorite cities manifest the passing of time and tell us who we are: living, dying, beautiful temporal creatures. Decay. Mortality. Civilizational transience. Venice, Nimes, La Antigua. DEATH, people. Death.  You can barely make it one block in Antigua without stumbling upon another crumbling, peeling, church or monastery strewn with headless statuary and grass growing in old window fenestrations. Some of the buildings have toppled from earthquake damage, some have been taken apart brick by brick by squatters during the years when the former capital of Antigua was surrendered to earthquakes and left to languish as an abandoned backwater. Now the entire town is branded  a UNESCO world heritage site. This is how I would spend my free afternoons and study sessions: scampering over huge boulders of brick in a monastery courtyard, poking around old Franciscan kitchens overgrown with weeds, stepping over horny, yet mortal, young Guatemaltecos making out. “Love Among the Ruins.” It’s a poem by Robert Browning.

Colonial Icons:

Antigua cathedral icon

I ain’t gonna lie. Guatemala has some of the bitchin’est  religious colonial icons in the new world. I know because I saw it. And a curator told me.



We made our own ancient recipe hot chocolate (sans sacrificial blood) and truffles, starting with the fermented bean at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua. As you can see from this picture of a baby/kid who sat in on the workshop, it wasn’t rocket science.



My favorite Guatemalan snack. Think corn nuts but waaay better.

This Alley:

Walk to school

My favorite alley on the way to school. If you are walking to my school from my house, for some weird reason, go down this alley!

La Merced:

La Merced

My favorite church on the walk to school. Even if you aren’t walking to my school, you’ll probably end up there, because it’s pretty much the most famous church in Antigua, and a first rate example of an architectural style known as Earthquake Baroque.

Like my New Zealand travel guide, this is just a sliver of a list. In some ways better than Lonely Planet, in most ways, worse.  I left off much of my personal experiences with the lovely natives of Antigua, and the friends I made there, and the chicken buses, and the firecrackers and the Macadamia farm, and the creperie and Dona Maria’s dulces tipicos, and flower carpets, and top 40 hits set to Mayan flute music, and the mercado and processions of the Christ Child and the burning of the devil. But no one wants to scroll down that far.

So, this concludes my international travel guide double feature. Next week we will be back to ole New Mexico and the doings and beings right here.


One thought on “Guatemala Travel Guide

  1. Watch out…the hurricanes come to the landlocked state of New Mexico next week…..ole NM will never be the same…or at least not the rays at the BioPark.

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