A glimpse of Guatemala

Central America is one place I have yet to travel to, yet in good time it too will be crossed off on my list of places to visit. What-a Ball-a in Guatemala:

Guatemala is the gem of Central America, offering more to the traveler than any of its half dozen neighbors, even if the equatorial heat had melted them into a tropical glob.

World class sites stretch from the most fabulous Mayan ruin at Tikal in the north to the Rio Dulce and Lago Izabal in the south, sandwiching polychromatic markets and variously active volcanoes from Antigua to Lago Atitlan.

This short list barely scratches the surface of flashy and vibrant Guatemala, a country I found safe and carefree outside the habitual suspects in the nighttime ghettoes of the ugly megalopolis pedantically named Guatemala City.

Guatemala sits high at altitude, a good place to be in the tropics, away from the sweltering lowlands of unfortunate neighboring countries.

The single exception is the Rio Dulce on the Caribbean coast, a don’t-miss waterway lined with lily pads, mangroves, houses on stilts and galères of exotic birdlife winding through chalky narrow cliffs to the Rastafarian town of Livingston, reachable only by boat.

Inexpensive private vans shuttle tourists between Guatemalan destinations, from Antigua to wherever, including Chichicastenango, aka Chichi, for market days on Thursdays and Sundays. Guatemalans love color, reflected in spades at regional markets.

The cascades of flowers, fabric and females dressed in blazing brilliance are reminiscent of similar markets in Mali, the north of Vietnam and western China, with the added element of religious celebrations combining Mayan traditions with splotches of Catholicism. Chichi is truly a photographer’s and fabric shopper’s paradise.

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