Travel Spotlight

Mayan Mysteries: Spotlight on Guatemala

Majestic Maya monuments, ancient temples hidden amid rainforests, smoking volcanoes and indigenous traditions: In Guatemala, finds Melissa Biggs Bradley, traces of the past are ever-present.

Quite apart from the country’s intrinsic cultural attributes and stunning beauty, it was its off-the-grid quality that greatly appealed to me. It was raw, mysterious and alluring while detached from worldly norms: a vibrant ethnographic paradise, with an edge,” wrote photographer and adventurer John Edward Heaton of his first visit to Guatemala. “Each land marks you with its first impression; Guatemala felt like a parallel world, terra incognita where time stood still and where one could easily get lost and no one would ever find you… a land of ancient men and smoking volcanoes where the patina of its turbulent history exuded a particular aroma a little like jungle mulch after rainfall.”

Since that first visit, in 1978, John has made the country his part-time home for decades, and more recently he described his love affair with the country as having enabled him to see “a very ancient, important indigenous culture stumble and struggle at the doorstep of the 21st century.”

Contact Indagare or your trip designer to start planning your trip to Guatemala. Our team can match you with the accommodations and activities that are right for you and provide information on transportation options and more.

It was hearing the descriptions of John and other lovers of Guatemala that lodged a longing within me to visit. When I finally arrived last winter in Antigua and then traveled up to Lake Atitlán for one of our Indagare Journeys small group trips, I was not disappointed. As I had hoped, the country remains a vibrant mash-up of eras, cultures and topographies woven together into something that stands apart from the other countries of Central America. About the size of Tennessee, it is a land of volcanoes, rainforests and beautiful lakes as well as beaches on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. It is home to Tikal, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Mayan monuments, and while many aspects of this ancient culture remain a mystery, its people continue to thrive throughout the country. Mayans of all ages proudly don their regional weavings, and it’s possible to take part in rituals so ancient that they are etched in hieroglyphs on the thousand-year-old temples buried in its jungles.

“There are remote parts of Asia where you might be as immersed in a world that is still as entrenched in its ancient ways,” explains entrepreneur Mitchell Denburg, “but they are much harder to reach.” Denburg fell in love with the country on a transcontinental motorcycle trek in the 1970s. He stayed and established a thriving business manufacturing custom carpets for the world’s top decorators in a factory in Antigua. At dinner on my first night, he spoke as casually about working with celebrated talents like Peter Marino and the late Mark Hampton as he did about helicoptering to visit a shaman for a “smoke reading.” Ancient practices mingle with modern realities in a mystical way here.

The beautiful villa that Denburg and his late wife built in gardens on the edge of Antigua has been turned into a sophisticated small hotel. Villa Bokéh’s opening promises a new level of comfort for curious travelers, and perhaps a new wave of visitors. But roads remain rough across the country, and America’s complicated history with the country has left an enduring perception of danger. Guided by locals and longtime inhabitants like Heaton and Denburg, our group felt not just safe, but that we were treated to that special frisson of being let in on a traveler’s secret, of visiting a place steeped in beauty and unique history before word gets out.

Join Us: Indagare Journey to Guatemala

Explore Guatemala through our immersion in local heritage and culture—from the cobblestoned streets and artisan shops of Antigua, to the expanses of Lake Atitlán and the majestic ridges of the Fuego (fire) and Agua (water) volcanoes. Connect with local artisans and designers. embark on hikes, learn about ancient and indigenous traditions, boat to magical villages like Santa Catarina Palopó and relax at the Indagare-adored retreats Villa Bokéh and Casa Palopó. Learn more here.

Contact Indagare or your trip designer to start planning your trip to Guatemala. Our team can match you with the accommodations and activities that are right for you and provide information on transportation options and more.

More Inspiration

Plan Your Trip With Us

We only feature hotels that we can vouch for first-hand. At many of them, Indagare members receive special amenities.

Get In Touch
Indagare employees walking up stiars

Enjoy 30 Days On Us!

Start your Self Planner
membership trial today.

Unlock access to 2,000+ first-hand hotel reviews, 300+ Destination Guides and the most up-to-date travel news and inspiration.

Already a member?

Welcome back,
log in to Indagare

Not a member?

Forgot Password

Enter your email and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Type the first 3 letters to begin