Panama, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador and even Colombia have been stealing much of the spotlight in Latin America lately. Although the attention is well deserved, Travel Agent wanted to share some tips on booking another spectacular—and perhaps somewhat neglected—Latin America destination: Guatemala.
A suite living room at El Convento Boutique Hotel in La Antigua.
Ideal for clients craving a little culture, Guatemala is “the heartland of the Mayan world,” says Evelyn Davidson, marketing coordinator for the Guatemala Tourist Board’s U.S, Canada and Asia markets. The northern Department of Peten is home to Tikal, declared a Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO. On the Caribbean side is the archaeological site of Quirigua, also a Heritage of Humanity Site.
Guatemala is the only country in Central America with a living Mayan culture, says Davidson. Clients can visit the towns and villages in the highlands where the ancient customs still remain and may be seen in all of the local markets. There are 22 ethnic groups living in Guatemala that speak 23 different Mayan-based languages, says Davidson. On the Caribbean coast, the population is Afro-Caribbean and the people are known as garifunas.
Guatemala, in general, is full of forests, fauna and flora, making it perfect for your eco-friendly clients. For the adventurous traveler, it has white-water rafting, rappelling, hiking, mountain biking, volcano climbing and water sports. It is an increasingly popular destination for baby boomers, retirees and families, but also younger travelers who like a bit of adventure.
For cruising, Guatemala has ports on the Atlantic (approximately five hours from Guatemala City) and on the Pacific (about 90 minutes from Guatemala City). Some of the cruise lines that visit its ports are Princess Cruises, which calls at Guatemala’s Pacific port, and Holland America Line, which calls at the destination’s Atlantic port.
Where to Stay
Guatemala City is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Central America, with both five-star and boutique hotels and many excellent restaurants with international and national menus.
And while we’re sure you’ve heard about Antigua in the Caribbean, are you up to speed with La Antigua, Guatemala? Commonly known simply as Antigua, it is a colonial city that still has the original cobblestone streets and the ruins of churches, monasteries and convents from when it was the Spanish capital of Central America. Antigua is also known for the quality of its Spanish schools and, in fact, many Americans visit here to learn Spanish.
Antigua can also boast that it has hosted such international conventions as the International Development Bank World Convention and the International Olympic Committee Meeting.
The balcony of a suite at the Palacio de Dona Leanor Boutique Hotel affords an incredible view of La Antigua.
Perhaps the best hotel in Guatemala is Palacio de Doña Leonor Boutique Hotel in Antigua, about 45 minutes from Guatemala City’s airport. All the rooms are suites and offer different decor and ambiance. They all have painted decorations on the walls and ceilings, but the Master Suite Don Pedro ranks as the best. The room faces one of the main streets of Antigua, with a view of a cathedral and plaza from the private balcony of the suite. It also comes with a lounge area with a fireplace and a wood-crafted bed. The rate for this room starts at $375. Agents may contact Hotel Manager Rodrigo Gereda ([email protected], 502-7832-2281).
Another great property is Casa Encantada. This hotel is best suited for couples and is located about 40 minutes from the airport. The best room is known simply as The Suite. It has a Jacuzzi and is on the roof of the hotel, offering the best view of Antigua. Rates start at $240. Agents can call 866-837-8900 for more information.
El Convento Boutique Hotel is another excellent property to recommend to clients. Its 14 suites are divided into three different types: six Junior Suites, six general Suites and two Grand Suites. The best room is Los Caballeros, a grand suite that starts at $300. We were told the best way to book reservations is by e-mailing [email protected]. Agents can also contact Teresa Monroy, sales manager ([email protected], 502-7832-0202).
Tour Operator Info
Your clients will need a tour operator in Guatemala for transportation. Perhaps the best is Clark Tours. Its Inbound Division is composed of a multi-lingual staff that works closely with clients, as well as promoting and selling Guatemala in all major markets of the globe. Its Outbound Division promotes and sells travel to all parts of the world, as well as within Guatemala. It belongs to various international travel associations, such as American Express Travel Service Representative for Guatemala, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and IATA. It offers a 10 percent commission on rack rates. Agents can contact Mark Rogers, the general manager ([email protected], 502-2412-4751).
The main airport is Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport. Carriers departing from the U.S. include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Airways, United Airlines and Taca Regional Airlines.
“The must-see in Antigua is the city itself,” says Metzy De Hanis of American Travel Outlet, a travel agency in northern Virginia. “You can walk through the stone streets observing its houses, churches, squares, parks and ruins, and most of all have the opportunity to interact with its people.
“The destination is ideal for all types of people—older, couples, younger and families,” she continues. “It is a perfect place to celebrate a wedding or [hold] business events. The history that this city has to offer is for everyone; once you are here, you feel connected with the past. Just pick the dates and Antigua is waiting for you.”