Too much tourism is often bad news for a small town. Tourists fill public spaces and locals divert their attention to fast moneymaking schemes. Prices go up and a town can lose its authenticity. Fortunately, this is not the case in Antigua, where the uneven, cobbled streets have weathered the storm of countless foreign footsteps. In fact, Antigua has found the perfect balance between retaining its Guatemalan feel and benefitting from the tourists. The streets, markets and churches are full of Guatemalans, while tourism has given rise to countless independent coffee shops and bars. Entertainment options are endless.
It is far too easy to travel in Guatemala and ignore the remarkable and harrowing history of its people. Maya temples are impressive structures to be photographed and the indigenous population look simply adorable in their colourful, embroidered clothing. Most visitors aren’t even aware of the horrendous civil war that claimed nearly 200,000 lives in a bloody, 36-year conflict. The Maya civilisation goes back thousands of years, far beyond the Spanish arrival of the 16th century, and it tells a long and intriguing story.
Although it may be a flattering gesture, several complications arise when a Guatemalan women underestimates the size of your bottom. Not only can it lead to impracticality, but it can also cause severe discomfort. Guatemalan buses are notorious for being cramped, dangerous and colourful. Chicken buses, so called either for the fact that people are crammed in like poultry or because locals often bring their livestock on as hand luggage, are certainly an experience. Guatemala’s winding, mountainous roads don’t particularly help matters, but at least it looks nice if you’re lucky enough to have an undisturbed view out of the window.
A young Guatemalan boy stares at me, his dark eyes wide and inquisitive. I glance up from the pages of my book and he hurriedly looks out at the buildings rushing by, cheeks reddening slightly. We continue this charade for a few minutes as the bus trundles along, but before long we are engaged in conversation. I intrigue him. Where have I come from? What am I reading? How many volcanoes are there where I live? My answer is met with an incredulous titter. What do you mean there are no volcanoes in England?
There are a few places that demand a visit, places that other travellers implore you to 'do', a ‘you’ve just got to go’, a genuine must-see. Semuc Champey is one of those places you hear about on the grapevine, whenever a conversation switches to destinations in Guatemala. In fairness, it deserves the praise. This natural paradise astounds those who visit. The views and the experience are all something to write home about.