[The following article was originally published on Jan. 23, 2014. This article was written as a news event at the time, of a travel seminar offered by Evergreen Escapes about Guatemala and Belize. For custom international travel, similar to that described in this article, visit the Explorer X website, or call them locally at 206-252-1931. Explorer X may be reached via email at Travel@Explorer-X.com.]
On Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 Evergreen Escapes hosted its monthly travel seminar, this time highlighting Guatemala and Belize. The seminar, led by Tad Bradley, first covered Guatemala. Evergreen Escapes uses Maya Trails as its local travel partner. Suggested itineraries typically begin in Antigua Guatemala, a hub city due to the availability of international flights and its easy access to other parts of Guatemala and Central America. From Antigua, it’s possible visit fair trade coffee plantations or make a visit outside the city to Pacaya Volcano National Park, where a popular tourist activity is roasting marshmallows over an active volcano.
Then travel into the country’s interior to visit Chichicastenango (ChiChi), famous for its market featuring colorful handmade textiles and crafts. Another highlight is visiting Tikal National Park, a UNESCO National Heritage Centre and one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, where the shrieks of howler monkeys can be heard for miles. Then visit Lake Atitlán, known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Author Aldous Huxley described the lake as follows:
“Lake Como seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.” – Aldous Huxley
Another popular activity is visiting a women’s weaving cooperative, of which there are many. Observe firsthand how Mayan women use ancient techniques to spin cotton and then color their work using natural dyes created from a variety of plants, fruits and vegetables.
After your time in Guatemala discover Belize, the land of rainforests, ruins and reefs. One fascinating highlight is located in Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, where you fill find the Actun Tunichil Muknal (or “ATM”) cave. Accessible to tourists only when traveling with a special guide, the cave is home to the human victims of Mayan ritual sacrifice between the years 700 and 900 AD. The most famous skeleton, “The Crystal Maiden”, is from an 18-year-old girl who had two of her vertebrae crushed.
For adventure-seeking travelers the Black Hole Drop awaits, located at Actun Loch Tunich cave. The experience involves a vigorous hike to the mouth of the cave, then using rappelling ropes to navigate down 300 feet through the rain forest canopy. Enjoy a picnic lunch before climbing out of the sink hole the way you came.
Belize has much more to offer, including the vast Mayan ruin site of Caracol. The Great Blue Hole is a large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize and is very popular among scuba divers. Another unique tourist activity is swimming with whale sharks, who, despite their enormous size are harmless to humans. For music lovers, the annual Battle of the Drums is an excellent opportunity to learn about and experience Garifuna culture, which is a combination of Carib, Arawak and West African influences. Finally, for those with a sweet tooth it’s possible to learn about the history of cacao and chocolate in Belize by signing up for a chocolate tour.
One interesting point that Tad made during his presentation is that Guatemala is a Spanish-speaking country and Belize is an English-speaking country, although both countries have Mayan cultures and peoples. Depending on your language preference, either country could make for a great introduction to the Mayan peoples. Tad finished his presentation with sample 7-day itineraries for both Guatemala and Belize, along with a 10-day itinerary featuring both countries. [Note: International and custom travel is now offered by Explorer X. You may call them locally at 206-252-1931 or email them at Travel@Explorer-X.com.]
The featured winery on Dec. 5 was Elsom Cellars of Woodinville, which offered up tastings of 4 separate red wines. (Note: This travel seminar series has since been discontinued. For future lectures and events, please see Upcoming Events at Explorer X. You may also sign up for the Traveler’s Lantern Newsletter at this location.
Finally, below are a few travel books if you are interested in learning more about Guatemala and Belize:
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