Guatemala was a country I never had on my list, but by chance—or perhaps fate—I found myself booking a flight less than a month before my departure. Because of this, I had no expectations—or so I assumed. No one talked about Guatemala at home in Nashville; no one had mentioned the colorful Mayan culture that prevailed through time and modernization; no one reminisced about the colonial charm of a town called Antigua, which rested beneath the intimidating silhouette of Volcan de Agua; and only one person could recommend the alpine magnificence of Lake Atitlán, which I had never heard of before I mentioned my upcoming travels. All this awaited me and my camera, and as a modern-day explorer I wandered, wide-eyed and thrilled that such a culture and place existed so far beyond my so-called nonexistent expectations.
Located in the sweltering rainforests of northern Guatemala, Tikal is the largest and best preserved Mayan site in Central America. Visiting the park was a humbling experience, and my boyfriend and I were able to glimpse (if not grasp) their full magnitude standing beneath the 3,000-year-old temples, overshadowed in both scale and history in the capital city of the Mayan empire.
The Mesón de María hotel in Antigua is, in a word, charming. The breakfast was fantastic and cooked to order, the employees were incredibly hospitable, and the location was still quiet despite the short walk to the main square.
Browsing the streets of Antigua was a true pleasure—here, people stroll the cobblestone streets beneath the famed Santa Catalina Arch. Up and down the street, local women in traditional Mayan wear sold colorful beaded jewelry and freshly sliced fruit. We purchased the most flavorful and delicious mango from these vendors every time we encountered them.
The busy activity of the Central Square provided ample opportunities for people watching. Yet, even here, the setting offered peaceful scenes of reflection that transcended language and culture.
Many mothers were accompanied by their infants as they walked the streets selling their wares. This gorgeous young mother spoke some English, so we spent a long time in conversation after she agreed to being photographed.
The vibrant backdrops in Rojo echoed the colors of the traditional huipils worn by Mayan women, and served a similar purpose - to identify and personalize homes, churches, and businesses through color and trim work.
Travel is an incredibly spiritual experience for me. There is something so extraordinary about becoming vulnerable, insignificant, and ephemeral to myself and to my surroundings.
The streets of Antigua, while enchanting, were also baffling. We spent hours wandering its roads, and yet somehow unintentionally managed to end up in the same places over and over again. Luckily, with plenty of incredible cafés and fresh tacos available throughout the town, we managed to persevere.
It so was easy for me to be overwhelmed by the gorgeous landscapes and stunning architecture of the country— it took an intentional awareness for me to stop and see beauty in the smallest of details too.
We purchased this corn from a woman with a grill on a street corner near Lake Atitlán. She drenched it with fresh lime and coarse salt. Obviously, it was delicious!
The climb up the majestic Volcán Pacaya was rewarded with a breathtaking view of surrounding towns and volcanos, one of which erupted as we watched!
Horses were available for transportation to the top of Volcán Pacaya. While we preferred hiking, horses made this view accessible for some who wouldn’t otherwise see it.
Every night we would walk through Panajachel to the lakefront to watch the sunset decorate the water and the mountains. Each sunset was uniquely spectacular, and we followed the experience by purchasing food from local street carts. One night we were privileged enough to eat with a local family, and though I didn’t speak Spanish, that memory is one I’ll cherish forever.
These little tuks-tuks were a cheap way to travel, and durable enough to survive the cobblestone streets—even with four tourists, their backpacks, and a driver crammed inside!
My time in Guatemala was infinitely more valuable with my best friend beside me. His steady presence, lasting patience, and good humor kept me balanced through the rare moments of stress and the overwhelming moments of awe.
One of my favorite views of the trip, this particular sunset bathed the city rooftops with a magical light.
The intimidating silhouette of Volcán de Agua hovers over Antigua, a threatening landmark that I frequently looked to for orientation whenever lost in the streets of the town beneath it.
On the balcony outside our room, the Santa Catalina Arch was visible through a small window in the stonework. While the romance of our cool evening explorations was always appealing, this beautiful hotel was hard to leave—almost as hard as leaving the country itself.