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March 18th, 2014

Guatemala: a beginner's guide

Guatemala was once a major block of New Spain, the viceroyalty that spread from Central America up into Texas and California, across to Florida and the Caribbean, down to Nicaragua and eastwards to the Philippines.

Top five attractions 
  • The Mayan ruins of Tikal and the surrounding Petén jungle.
  • Lago Atitlán, a beautiful highland lake ringed by volcanoes.
  • The twice-weekly market at Chichicastenango in the Maya-dominated western highlands.
  • The natural limestone pools of Semuc Champey.
  • The Cuchumatanes mountain range for hiking.

Best city
Antigua, the old capital, a global centre of Spanish language-learning, which is also a delightful, low-slung colonial city with some great coffee shops and restaurants.

Souvenir to buy 
Hand-woven textiles from the highland markets.

Quirky Guatemala 
All Saints Day is celebrated with an alcohol-fuelled horse race in the village of Todos Santos Cuchumatán. The festival runs from October 31 to November 2, with the race on November 1.

‘Mr President’, by the Nobel literature prize-winner Miguel Angel Asturias, about a Latin American dictator.

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