Move over, Costa Rica – Guatemala is twice as big and arguably far more beautiful, said Claire Boobbyer in The Times. Known as the "Land of Eternal Spring" for its mild climate and abundant flora, Guatemala has more active volcanoes and ancient jungle ruins than its Central American neighbours, as well as a "vibrant indigenous culture with very deep roots".
A quarter of a century ago, most foreign visitors to Guatemala were backpackers. Since then, stylish hotels have opened in Antigua, an hour's drive south of the capital. This city flanked by volcanoes was the seat of Spain's colonial power in central America until a devastating earthquake reduced much of it to rubble one afternoon in 1773. Residents were ordered to leave, and resettle in Guatemala City, but some refused to go. Some of its colonial buildings have been restored; others from that era lie in stunning, well-preserved ruin. Nearby, the Mayan Kaqchikel town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, which lies in the lee of a 12,000ft volcano, offers a glimpse of an older way of life; women here still wear traditional woven outfits, and some have formed collectives to protect their traditional Mayan weaving from the machine-made imitations.
A three-hour drive west lies the vast (12 miles long) Lake Atitlán, which fills in the caldera that was created when a mega-volcano "blew its top" some 85,000 years ago. Surrounded by steep verdant hills, it is said to be the deepest lake in Central America, and considered by many to be the most beautiful. And in the northern part of the country, set deep in a national park, you will find the towering stone pyramids of the pre-Columbian Mayan city of Tikal. Once, these honoured kings and queens obeyed the stars and communed with the gods on behalf of their people. Now, the jungle ruins are a World Heritage Site, home to jaguars, howler monkeys and toucans.
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