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The Guatemala Highlands: A Guatemala Itinerary

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Guatemala Highlands

Guatemala Highlands

Kirsten Hubbard

The Guatemala highlands, without a doubt, contain some of Central America's most arresting scenery. Volcanoes, green mountains and valleys, wildflowers, rivers and lakes make up the Guatemala highlands landscape. Numerous Mayan villages dot the mountainous heartland, the colorful indigenous costumes of their people adding to the impossible beauty of the region.

Guatemala City to Antigua:

You'll fly into Guatemala City's La Aurora International Airport. From there, you can take a shuttle or local bus transportation to Antigua Guatemala, approximately two hours from Guatemala City. Antigua is Guatemala's most visited destination, a vibrant colonial relic with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, colonial ruins and the volcano Pacaya arching into the sky. Accommodations range from luxury to extreme budget, and amenities for travelers are vast.

Antigua to Lake Atitlan:

From Antigua Guatemala, catch another shuttle or bus to Lake Atitlan's largest village, Panajachel. Easy-access Panajachel is the most frequented by travelers, and is home to the widest variety of accommodations. However, other Mayan villages ringing the bright blue lake are just as beloved, such as San Pedro La Laguna, Santiago Atitlan, and Santa Cruz. No matter where you rest your head, the volcanoes framing the lake make every view breathtaking.

Chichicastenango:

The Chichicastenango Mayan Market is a must-see for travelers to the Guatemala highlands. About two hours from Panajachel, the market takes place twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. Mayans lug their wares from surrounding villages to sell in the market, which is a funhouse for the senses. As a result, the market represents Guatemala's best shopping opportunity by far. Be prepared to haggle! North of Chichicastenango, Alta Verapaz and Semuc Champey are worthwhile side trips for those who adore the outdoors.

Quetzaltenango (Xela):

Quetzaltenango -- known affectionately as Xela -- is the second-largest city in Guatemala and a growing Guatemala highlands destination for travelers. Located in a mountain valley, Xela is home to a bounty of outdoor attractions, such as hot springs, volcanoes, and verdant mountains. It's also fast becoming a popular alternative to Antigua for those interested in studying Spanish in Guatemala.

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