Guatemala | The Heart of Mayan Civilization

Considered the most sophisticated pre-Columbian civilization, the Mayans are known for their innovations in architecture, art and time calculation. Nowhere can you get a better sense of this magnificent history than in Guatemala.

This Central American country — which sits between Mexico and Belize to the north and Honduras and El Salvador to the south — boasts one of the best historical sites in the world. Tikal, in northern Guatemala, makes up the country’s most famous Mayan ruins. It encompasses more than 3,000 structures, including shrines, temples, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball courts and plazas.

Also worth a visit is charming Antigua, which was the nation’s capital before being devastated by an earthquake in 1773 (Guatemala City is the present-day capital). Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua is lined with cobblestone streets and colorful, colonial buildings (many in the process of being restored). If you’re in search of a local souvenir, one of several jade shops would fit the bill. Jades S.A., a factory and archaeology museum, presents a history of jade and also certifies its products. Good food is plentiful in Antigua — from French and Italian to Asian and, of course, Guatemalan.

Another must-see in Guatemala is Lake Atitlan, which Aldous Huxley called “the most beautiful lake in the world.” Several towns of varying character dot this picturesque lake, and locals can ferry you to them by boat. A stay here makes for a peaceful getaway.