Author: Stéphanie Daigneault
Land of volcanoes, mountains, rainforests and ancient archaeological sites, Guatemala is a destination that is definitely worth a visit. This great Central American country shares borders with El Salvador and Honduras in the south, Belize in the east and Mexico in the north. Mexico has long distinguished itself in the tourism industry especially for its all-inclusive packages. Once visited as an extension of a trip to Mexico, Guatemala is today a destination in its own right. The latter tends towards an authentic and responsible tourism. This type of alternative tourism therefore attracts a type of tourist who wants to know more about local culture and traditions.
Guatemala is one of the most populous countries in Central America with an indigenous population of about 40% of the local population. This population is found throughout the country with the exception of the Caribbean coast where the majority of inhabitants are part of the Garifuna ethnic group. The Garifuna people are the result of miscegenation between the descendants of African slaves and natives. By visiting Livingston, a coastal town that is only accessible by boat, you can take the time to relax, rocked by the slow pace of the Caribbean. Back in the heart of Native American culture, it is important to know that the indigenous population descending from the Mayas speaks more than twenty Mayan dialogues. Only 42.5% of the country’s population has Spanish as their mother tongue. It is common to hear any other languages than Spanish. It is possible to live a cultural immersion by being hosted in a homestay, and in little communities that are not visited by tourists, which makes the experience even more interesting! This is the case, for example, in Totonicapan where the Maya Kiche Adventure Association offers to stay in indigenous families and participate in many workshops and daily tasks.
One of the first things that will catch your attention will be the traditional clothes, mainly, the dresses and skirts of Guatemalan women. The mix of colors and designs is quite remarkable. In the colonial city of Antigua the contemporary meets the traditional. It is in this city, which is recognized as UNESCO heritage, located less than an hour’s drive from Guatemala City, that you will understand a little more the dynamics of Guatemala. The craft workshops give you a taste of the importance of local culture and traditions. Several community initiatives have been initiated by the local population in many parts of the country. These initiatives, such as women’s associations producing hand-made soap or fair trade coffee cooperatives, are run by local communities. These beautiful projects attract tourists who contribute by visiting the local economy.
Tourism in Guatemala is not flashy, quite the contrary. The beauty of this country is in the authenticity. This is not the country that adjusts to tourists, it is the tourists who adjust to the country to live a real cultural exchange. We are talking about human scale tourism, not a large hotel chain or a denatured landscape to please the demand. Whether on the Caribbean coast with Gariifuna community or on the shores of Lake Atitlan, traditional lifestyles are important to local communities and help their organization. Take the example of San Pedro Laguna. This small tourist village of Lake Atitlan is the first place in Guatemala without plastic. This 90% indigenous village decided more than 2 years ago to stop using plastic. To replace plastic, people have turned to traditional techniques, such as wrapping food products in banana leaves. On the shores of Lake Atitlan, it is possible to live an unforgettable and authentic experience by staying at the Mayachik eco hotel in small huts, Mikaso hotel or Uxlabil eco hotel. Guatemala has been able to turn the corner of responsible tourism and offers a variety of experiences that benefit both tourists and local people.
Guatemala is a country that has suffered many years of civil war. This past has marked the imagination of people living outside the country and has long given it a bad name. This reputation has been difficult to get rid of, but Guatemala has been on the right track for some time now. During these years of violence the natives have not been spared, it is rather the opposite. In this national conflict, one person stood out for the Mayan struggle. Rigoberta Menchu, herself a Mayan descendant, fought for indigenous rights and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her struggle. It was following her efforts that the Guatemalan State recognized the multiethnic and multilinguistic character of the nation and broke for the first time with segregationist practices inherited from the colonial era. For so many years the indigenous population of Guatemala has been stigmatized. Ironically, it is this well-known indigenous culture that today attracts tourists to Guatemala.
Village Monde offers several types of responsible accommodation in different regions of the country that will immerse you in the heart of the Guatemalan cultural diversity and that will make you know its rhythms, colors, flavors. To see the complete list, visit Vaolo.
Author: Stéphanie Daigneault