I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Mayan culture. Did you know that the Mayan people built entire structures without the use of any work animals, metal tools, or pulley systems?
Mayan architecture is very interesting to me. I’ve enjoyed spending some of my free time, with what little free time I have, learning more about their traditional ways.
It’s estimated that over half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan people. So for my next Getaway Dossier, I decided to focus on two countries rich in Mayan history: Guatemala and Honduras.
They’re both fantastic places to visit to learn more about Mayan culture and history, as well as experience some of the most beautiful natural sights in Central America.
Weather: Warm and tropical. Since Guatemala and Honduras are located between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, they are warm year-round, but not unbearably hot. For the most part, the climate is moderate, with the lows near 60 degrees and highs near 80 degrees. The rainy season is from May to October. In jungle areas like Tikal, Guatemala, it tends to be more humid than areas like Antigua, Guatemala, where it’s cooler, especially at night. So layers are a great idea when traveling here, especially if you plan on traveling between cities on a given day. Also, a light jacket is a great piece for the cooler nights.
Food: Spanish influences. Pulling from their Spanish and Mayan heritage, some of the food in Guatemala and Honduras is on the spicy side. Most traditional foods contain corn, chiles and beans, as they’re staples in these countries. There’s also a lot of fresh fruit. A favorite dish in Guatemala is tamales. They vary greatly across the country in terms of dough (it could be corn, potatoes, rice), filling (you could find meat, fruits, nuts), and wrapping (usually leaves or husks). Tamales in Guatemala tend to be wrapped in green leaves. Traditionally, tamales are eaten on Saturday, but they can be found any day of the week in most Guatemalan restaurants. Hondurans tend to cook more meat dishes, and they use a lot of coconut in their food. Another favorite meal in Honduras is breakfast. It’s a huge meal, and can have of any or all of the following: eggs, beans, cheese, avocados, sweet fried plantains, tortillas, roasted meat, and Honduran spicy sausages. Most restaurants will offer some of these foods. Or if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, stop at a street vendor. They often sell delicious breakfast tortillas topped with eggs or meat.
Currency: Tip for tips. Guatemala’s currency is the quetzal and Honduras’ currency is the lempira. However, both countries widely accept the U.S. dollar. In Guatemala, tip is usually included on your restaurant bill. If it’s not, it’s customary to leave 10 percent. Banks generally give the best exchange rates on both cash and traveler’s checks, so be sure to exchange your money at a bank. In Honduras, tip will usually be included on restaurant bills as well, and a 15 percent tip is appropriate if it’s not. Bellhops and other hotel workers are usually knowledgeable about the best local restaurants and sight-seeing attractions. Don’t hesitate to ask for pointers on where to visit, and if they were helpful, tips are greatly appreciated.
Landmarks: UNESCO Sites can’t be missed. There are four UNESCO sites in Guatemala and Honduras and travelers shouldn’t miss the rich history that each offers. There’s Antigua in Guatemala, a beautiful city rich with Spanish colonial history. Quirigua, Guatemala is famed for its sandstone monoliths. The Tikal National Park in Guatemala has one of the most complex pyramids in the entire Maya world. In Honduras, Copan is a renowned archaeological site because it has the longest surviving text of the Mayan civilization. Each site has its own special history and visiting each one will give travelers a well-rounded cultural experience.
Culture: History melds with nature. Guatemala and Honduras have beautiful mixes of Mayan heritage and Spanish colonial history. It’s what makes them so special to visit — the culture cannot be matched anywhere else. The bright colors, delicious food, and good music will make you feel at home right away. Guatemala is well known for souvenirs such as worry dolls and masks, and beautiful, colorful fabrics can be bought in the markets. The Mayans had their own weaving techniques, and each village or area has its own distinct design. You’ll see it all around you when visiting these countries, and this culture is refreshing to experience.
Don’t forget: It’s a jungle out there. Because these countries have mostly jungle climates, bring bug spray, sunscreen, and wear layers. It’s also important to know that the water is safe for bathing, but bottled water is readily available almost everywhere for drinking purposes. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to have a sensational experience in these Central American countries.
If reading all this information about beautiful Guatemala and Honduras makes you want to visit, check out our new Best of Guatemala and Honduras tour. The full itinerary is on our website and you can always reach out to me with any questions you might have about these fascinating, historical countries.