5 Things I Love About Guatemala

From the the diversity of the people and the environment, to the celebrations, to the bursting volcanoes, and oh of course, the archeology, what’s not to love about Guatemala?


Three tectonic plates meet in Guatemala and the result is a wild and crazy adventure park with high and beautiful mountains, crater lakes and hundreds of volcanoes to form the spine of the country.  Then on the north side it drops down to a huge tropical jungle filled with every imaginable type of beautiful animal. Further, to the south, it drops down to the Pacific coast and on the east to a beautiful Caribbean coast and culture. At any one time, 30 of the 300 volcanoes are active and the ash creates this highly fertile soil, which in turn grows vividly colorful plants and blooms. Gardening in the highlands of Guatemala involves no work to keep things alive. Actually, it’s a science fiction struggle between humans and the garden – if you don’t constantly trim it, it will eat you alive.


It isn’t just the environment, but the people that are incredibly diverse. The many Mayans are over 50% of the population and have 29 different languages and ethnicity living in thousands of traditional communities in Guatemala. The diversity in the highlands is stunningly colorful because the Mayans wear cloth that they weave themselves, they appear as a spectrum of striking bright colors whose complex designs tell you which language and ethnic group and even which community they come from. Their elaborate community rituals and feasts are days long and spectacular. The rest of the population includes many other distinctive groups, and many of those mix in with the Mestizos, who combine the races and customs of all of those groups.


Whatever the language or ethnicity, all Guatemalans live in warm and large extended families. There is always someone in the family who is a lawyer, doctor, personal counselor or sage. There is no need for child care here since a dozen aunts, uncles or cousins are always available.


All the families in Guatemala know how to live a great life. Perhaps they do that because they understand that at any moment there can be a volcanic eruption, flood, earthquake, landslide, military massacre, or violent revolution. So, they live without fear and grasp the good life. Carpe Diem! You would not believe how wonderful and wild the family gatherings are, with the dancing of all generations, wonderful drinks, music and food. For example, at our wedding, the high point was at 1 am when my wife’s 86 year old great aunt collapsed on the dance floor after some serious dancing and drinking! The next day she was fine, despite the big hangover!


As an archaeologist this whole place is a paradise. Wherever you are, you are either looking at an ancient site or standing on one.

Wherever you are, life is exciting – an unending swirl of beauty, color, differences and change. Even the volcanos in eruption are beautiful, and while they may kill hundreds as they spew out ash, it’s that wondrous ashy fertilizer that makes the country so green and beautiful.

What’s not to love about Guatemala?

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