SOURCE: Guatemalan Tourism Board

March 26, 2015 13:16 ET

Five Ways to Immerse in Guatemala's Mayan Culture

The Heart of the Mayan World Promises to Enlighten & Educate Through Unique Experiences

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA--(Marketwired - March 26, 2015) - For those travelers seeking to fully immerse in a fascinating, ancient culture, the heart of the Mayan world -- Guatemala -- provides experiences that promise to enlighten and educate while using all the senses. From seeing ancient ruins and retracing steps of legendary leaders in the jungle to hearing more than 20 dialects, witnessing sacred ceremonies and tasting traditional cuisine, Guatemala offers an authentic opportunity to learn about the Mayan culture in numerous ways. Below are five options to consider when visiting.

  • Visit an ancient Mayan city

Home to thousands of Mayan ruins, many that were previously powerful cities, Guatemala provides an interesting glimpse into every single period of this fascinating civilization. Visitors can see countless well-preserved structural remains such as pyramids and carved stones. Among the sites to visit is Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located within the northern region in the Petén jungle. In addition to seeing much wildlife, travelers can explore the ground of what was a major pre-Columbian political, economic and military center of the Mayans. Not too far from Tikal is the site of Yaxha, one of the largest Mayan sites in the country made famous in 2005's "Survivor." Here, travelers are encouraged to climb the Templo 216 and enjoy the stunning natural views surrounding the area. On the Caribbean coast, consider visiting Quirigua to see the highest sculpted monument, "Stela E," and other stelas built by Cielo Cauc, Quirigua's ancient ruler. 

  • See and meet living Mayan descendants

Guatemala is one of the only places in the world to see and meet Mayan ancestors. Experience historic traditions that are still very much alive. With 22 different Mayan ethnic groups, each one with its own language, gastronomy and cultural expressions, there is much to experience. Their colorful traditional dress, textiles, handicrafts and trade practices can be observed in places such as Chichicastenango (Quiché), Huehuetenango, Lake Atitlán and Quetzaltenango. When visiting Lake Atitlan, travelers can learn more about traditional, colorful textiles by visiting the town of San Juan la Laguna and see females of the Tz'utujil people demonstrate the entire weaving process. Museo Ixchel in Guatemala City shares even more on this historic practice. To see other hand-made products, the popular Chichicastenango market presents a vibrant scene each Thursday and Sunday.

  • Try Mayan cuisine

Among the traditional Mayan cuisine prevalent in almost every household in Guatemala are tamales and tortillas, which can also be found at many local restaurants and street vendor stands. When visiting, consider stopping at a Tortilleria to try a freshly made tortilla and see the handmade process. For tamales, visitors should keep a look out for vendors that place a red light outside the door once they are ready. Typically, on Thursdays paches are made, tamales made with potatoes with a plant wrapping, while on Saturdays tamales are commonly made of cornmeal. For a traditional drink, try having atol de elote, arroz con leche, arroz en chocolate and coffee -- all served hot. For more hands-on experience, consider a tour or course from El Frijol Feliz (The Happy Bean), located in Antigua. The experience takes students scouting for local ingredients at nearby markets to later make some of the most typical tamales such as colorados, paches, and chuchitos. There is even a Mayan chocolate course.

  • Watch a Mayan ceremony, or consider participating in one!

When visiting the Chichicastenango market, the scene on the steps of the 400-year old Santo Tomas Church is inevitable. Visitors will witness the interesting juxtaposition between the Catholic religion and Mayan tradition as the church was built atop a pre-Hispanic Mayan temple. Eighteen steps, each representing a month of the Maya calendar, originally led to the entrance of the temple that still provides access to the church. Travelers will see Kiche Mayan priests on these steps performing rituals, often burning incense and candles, while chanting prayers. Another place to consider visiting is Santiago Atitlan to see Maximon, a Mayan god represented by a statue of a man wearing a suit, tie and hat while drinking and smoking tobacco. 

  • Retrace the steps of legendary Mayan leaders

Ideal for adventure seekers, the "Maya Trek, El Zotz - Tikal" journey takes travelers through the Maya Biosphere Reserve, retracing the steps of ancient leaders. The three-day trek goes through the dense landscape of the Petén jungle to see impressive sites such as the Bat Wall in San Miguel La Palotada - El Zotz Biotope, El Zotz to see the Acropolis and El Diablo Complex, El Palmar and Tikal. The experience is led by a group of local community leaders from "Cruce Dos Aguadas" who are fully trained in navigation, food preparation and horse handling

To learn more about the Mayan experiences in Guatemala, visit http://www.visitguatemala.com/

About Guatemala
Nested in Central America is Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan world. A place where a modern capital city melds seamlessly with the country's colonial and indigenous past, Guatemala is the path less traveled offering enlightening experiences beyond what meets the eye. From ancient Mayan ruins that emerge from the lush rainforests and architecturally impressive colonial cities with colorful outdoor markets to countless adventures and natural wonders such as untouched forest reserves, volcanoes and pristine lakes, Guatemala presents Life Lessons worth living. It also is home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the colonial city of Antigua, the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua and the Tikal National Park. For more information, visit www.visitguatemala.com.

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