Let’s get right to the facts about this video chat because I am super excited about my guest. And that is because – to speak to us about Guatemala – I had the absolute honor of welcoming Jose Antonio Gonzalez who is an Independent Tour Guide and is absolutely my guru on all things Guatemala! He knows all of the moving pieces and every little nook and cranny of the undiscovered. He is my go-to guy that I contact whenever I am curating a trip to the area. His passion for Guatemala is so moving – and if he doesn’t inspire you to add this amazing country to your list of must sees then I don’t know what will!
A little background first. Antonio is an archaeologist and has had many opportunities to have assisted in excavating different areas throughout the Mayan ruins. However – although he studied art history and archaeology – he considers himself an explorer and a traveler first and foremost. He is not only an independent tour guide, but he also assists folks who may be writing articles or books or even producing documentaries by taking them out and helping to guide them through the spots that they are researching to find the information they would otherwise not have access too. And I love his outlook! You will hear him say “I am a blessed guy and I feel I am in the perfect spot in the world!” and you can not only hear the passion, but you can see it shining through as well.
So, without further ado – let’s step into Jose’s Guatemalan world!
Getting There: As for getting to Guatemala – I am happy to report it is quite easy to get there as it is very close to the US. Guatemala is just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Florida and about a four-and-a-half-hour flight from Los Angeles. If you are coming from the northeast, there are direct flights available out of the New York area. You can also find direct flights out of Atlanta and Texas as well. Thanks to this close proximity you can make it a long weekend getaway or a two-week trip to cover the entire country – the possibility exists for both short and long stays. Plus, the weather is perfect year-round thanks to that spot in near the tropical belt!
Culture and Climate: The Mayan culture / territory spreads across five countries which include Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. But Guatemala is considered the heartland of the Mayan culture. Located just south of Mexico and situated very near to the tropical belt of the planet means that Guatemala can boast that they rank as one of the top 20 most biodiverse countries in the world. And ethnically speaking it is super rich also.
Guatemala is green and lush and just superb year-round. There are two seasons – the dry season and the rainy season. The dry season runs from the end of January to May and this is when you will find warmer temperatures and – well – no rain! Jose relayed that he always suggests that if you want to see all of the fantastic things that make Guatemala what it is – plan your visit at the time of the very early rains – which would be from May to July. Why? At this time, you will be astonished by the multitude of flora and fauna, beautiful birds and mammals – such as the monkeys – having their babies in the jungle.
Nature: Guatemala is filled with wonderous nature! And if you are interested in bird watching – this is where you want to be. It is actually one of the top destinations for birdwatching as it is home more than 800 species of birds – plus the ones that come down from the north during the winter! They also also have many reptiles – including snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and turtles thanks to the large variety of habitats found in the country.
They also have volcanoes. Thirty-seven volcanos to be exact! And the volcanic plates have given birth to fragmented little valleys in the western highlands of the country, yet they also have some extraordinarily beautiful piedmont areas – or plateaus. Although it is a smaller country – it has very varied landscapes and within one day you can experience three or four different landscapes or altitudes and possibly an active volcano smoking or a waterfall!
Culture: Guatemala is also filled with oh so very much culture and the one thing I love about working with Jose is that his company gives us a lot of opportunities for true cultural immersion – giving us a taste of the old country and how things were done back then and are still being done that way now.
First – there are the Mayans which actually composes 60% of the population in Guatemala. To put that into some perspective for you – the total population is about 60 million and 60% them are part of the 22 Mayan groups that reside there. And Jose will actually take you right into the villages – these indigenous hamlets – where they’re living a life – that as Jose said – he actually envies. They have their own places in the forest or the mountains where they go and collect food and then they return to their home where they harvest their own crops such as corn, squash and beans – no waiting in supermarket lines for them! (Fun Fact: Did you know corn is a hybrid that doesn’t exist in nature and is believed to be created by Asian Mayans hundreds of thousands of years ago!)
Their vernacular architecture is beautiful! They live little casitas (i.e. – homes) made from adobe with thatched roofs. It really is amazingly how they incorporate many aspects of the old culture into their lives. For example, the women still weave all of their traditional clothing. Everything they wear is done by hand with a lot of time and heart put into creating these beautiful textiles. The best part – says Jose – is that they do it all in their own time – not at the frantic 21st century pace!
Then there is the shaman culture which is incredibly unique and still exists today in the mountains of Guatemala. Jose will take you up into those mountains to visit with a shaman. How great of an opportunity is this for wellness? Especially with everyone suffering from cabin fever after being quarantined for so long! And it is a spiritually enhanced wellness experience – reminding you to respect and reconnect with mother earth.
As noted earlier – there are 22 different Mayan ethnic groups altogether. These different groups also live in different regions of the country and have different ways of life. But there is one thing that unites them and that is their spiritual life. They still go up into the mountains to revere creational spirits and give thanks to them for everything from crops to new babies that are born. And if they want to cut down a tree they still go and ask permission from a forest spirit to do so.
Per Jose – this is not new age stuff – it is very real. And as for wellness – Jose has an experience that is going to top them all – as it will be a truly enlightening experience. Being friends with a lot of different Mayans after all the years he has been leading tours to see them – he can arrange for you to have our own private ceremony. That ceremony would include a sacred fire while the sun is setting and witnessing real live rituals. Just imagine learning about and enjoying theses rituals as you are surrounded by the volcanoes within the mountains. What a real, authentic cultural immersion!
Gastronomy: Cacao is especially important in the Mayan culture as they believed it was given to them by their gods. I can curate a tour for you with Jose where you will learn about the whole process of chocolate and get to sip on some of that chocolate goodness. Fun Fact: The origin of chocolate – cacao – is from the Amazonia basin. It then it came to the region where the Mayans were several thousand years ago and since then it has been a favorite of all – although at one time it was a beverage that mainly was drank only by Asian kings!
Sightseeing and Activities: Jose also advised us that his tours are not like other tours which are standard for everyone. Instead, he will find out what you and your traveling companions are interested in – through me of course – and then do a custom tour based on everyone’s interests. So even if it’s a group we can get everybody’s input so there is something for everyone. In other words – he goes above and beyond to make sure it will be tailored to everyone’s needs.
One thing that really stood out is that Jose has been doing this for more than 25 years, yet he said that every time he goes to a national park or a volcano or a mountain – there’s always something new to see – making it a land of surprises and many marvels.
Sample Tours: These are just a sampling of the types of experiences Jose can provide. But as I stated before – the sky is the limit as he will help me curate your adventures in Guatemala to your individual preferences.
- Lost Kingdoms of the Asian Mayan Culture: Looking for an adventure akin to the kind Indiana Jones had? This is it my friends! A guide will take you out of civilization via helicopter and into the ruins in the jungles to explore archaeological sites up close and personal and climb the pyramids that are rising above the forest canopy – making it a real Indiana Jones type of experience! Then you are flown back to civilization and will land in the be beautiful city of Antigua and from there you’ll explore some of the indigenous towns.
- Amigas Getaway: The possibilities are endless – and fabulous! You can relax by the pool taking in that sensational sunshine You can treat yourself to massage or facial at the spa. You can shop until your heart is content. You can learn how to weave from an expert, local weaver. You can hike to a volcano in the early morning then visit monuments, museums and galleries in the afternoon.
Accommodations: Of course, you want to know that even though you are in the jungle your accommodations are still going to provide you with all the comforts of home. And that being said – there are some pretty amazing accommodations in Guatemala.
They typically use Antigua as a base – which is a historic city and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site – and many of the accommodations there used to be colonial mansions of the 17th century that have been updated to offer all the needs of the 21st-century traveler.
There are also eco lodges– like the one at the basin of Lake Atitlán – which is another fabulous place to visit and spend a few days exploring the lake, the volcano and indigenous villages.
And if you want to stay right in the thick of it all – pun intended – in the middle of the jungle and basically in the middle of nowhere – there is a property Jose uses that has all the luxury you could ask for as well great food, great wine and great rum – so after a day of exploring you are treated like royalty. Sign me up!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Guatemala.
As you can see – Guatemala offers so much to its visitors. It’s nature! it’s adventures! It’s history! It’s spiritual! It’s exploration! It’s photography! It’s hiking! It’s birdwatching! But Guatemala is not only jungles and volcanoes and jaguars – it’s a human country too. Like the ancient Mayans – which were the ones that the created those amazing cities that exist in the jungles nowadays. So, what do you say – let’s get your itinerary for 2021 started!
For more details on things to see and do, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!