Gwah-teh-MAH-lah. “Land of many trees”

Guatemala City, Lake Atitlán, Xela and Totonicapán

We cannot wait to experience the magic of this cultural and geographic gem. We’ll be visiting Guatemala City, Guatemala; Lake Atitlan, Sololá; Xela, Quetzaltenango; and Toto, Totonicapán. Guatemala City, commonly referred to as “Guate”, is the largest city in Guatemala. Actually, it is also the largest city in Central America. From what we’ve gathered from the US State Department and various travel blogs, Guate is both semi-dangerous and semi-fantastic. It’s a mix of high crime and high class. Yet its tarnished reputation overshadows what appears to be a thriving cultural center full of the best museums in the country and many famous restaurants.

Lake Atitlán is in the Western Highland’s department of Sololá. It is considered to be one of the most spectacular places on Earth! The lake is the deepest in Central America and is roughly a mile above sea level. It is also surrounded by three dormant volcanoes - San Pedro, Atitlán and Tolimán. The lake is the lifeblood of many bordering Mayan communities and coffee farms. The Mayan people in this area, the “Atitecos”, are very proud of their great lake and heritage. Atitlán in Mayan means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors”. You can see the Atitecas displaying their pride by wearing beautifully colorful attire.

Xela, pronounced SHEL-ah, means “place of 10 deer” and is the nickname for Quetzaltenango, the capital city of the Quetzaltenango department. Also located in the Western Highlands, Xela is a center for education, business, volunteerism, and the adventurous tourist. It is known for being orderly and a launching pad for outdoor excursions.

Toto, short for Totonicapán (the name of the department and its capital city), hosts some of Guatemala’s highest elevations. Therefore, it is also one of the coldest. Toto very much embodies authentic Mayan culture in its regular practice of ancient rituals and in its creation of many handicrafts, including huipils, wooden toys and pottery.

Bottom line: Guate-mazing!

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Photos taken from Owen Davey, Wikimedia Commons,, 

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