The Colonial Attractor
FAÇADES IN PASTEL
Travelling to Guatemala with Kids
YOUR GUIDE TO COLOMBIA
YOUR GUIDE TO GUATEMALA
When they were quite young, my kids had asked me countless times, “But what happened to the Mayas?”
Each time, I had responded with, “Nothing! They’re living in bliss in Guatemala!”
Family-Friendly Vacation In Guatemala:
The Living Souls Of The Great Maya Civilization
That might be an oversimplification of sorts, but it has some degree of truth to it. Nonetheless, to this date, the folks who’re the descendants of the Mayas mostly live in the region and follow their culture, wear traditional apparel, and engage in ancient customs. In that way, Guatemala is the undisputed king of diversity among the nations of Central America. Today, my kids know all this well enough to give me a long impromptu presentation about the topic. But knowing isn’t the same as experiencing, as they also well know. And Guatemala isn’t just another country. If you’re the nature-lover in your family, you can vacation here for the astonishing landscape. If you’re into history and culture, you’d certainly appreciate the truly civilization-spanning ethos of the country. Like most other countries in Latin America that are known for their kid-friendly culture, Guatemala, too, is extremely welcoming to kids. Still, while the Mayas bridge the space between the past and the present, unlike many other similar cultures, they continue to evolve by carving out their own unique path towards the future. Interestingly enough, the country is the most populous among all in Central America, but also one of the most economically challenged. Unlike its neighbors to the north and south, tourism has never taken a firm foothold here, and the country sees much lower numbers of traveling families than many others in the region. Traveling to Guatemala with kids is even rarer. It’s ironic then that family travel within this country is in fact convenient, safe, and most of all, extraordinarily rewarding. In many ways, traveling with kids is better here than other more famous crowded places, since you can give them a longer leash even near popular attractions. It’s also where a well-earned vacation in foreign country with your family and kids won’t break the bank or have you work a second job.
"Family travel within this country is convenient, safe, and most of all, extraordinarily rewarding."
"The sight of an erupting volcano is so powerful and transformative that everyone should view it at least once in their lifetime."
Many wannabe visitors to Guatemala, and especially those families wanting to travel with kids during their scheduled school vacation, often leave it out altogether for fear of safety. Perhaps as a sad consequence of the tumultuous past of some of the Central and South American countries, it’s quite understandable that as parents we wouldn’t want our kids to be in an unknown place with a questionable reputation when it comes to their wellbeing. Yet, the truth is that Guatemala has improved in almost every manner over the last decade and a relaxed kid-friendly vacation here is no more unsafe than in some of its other neighbors with much better and well-built tourist infrastructure. On a recent school break, our family and kids spent time extensively traveling within the country in our rented SUV. Not once did we feel we were in any sort of danger or find ourselves in any kind of a tricky situation. Just the opposite. We’ve been welcomed everywhere in the country, our kids have constantly been the subject of friendly conversations, and on several occasions, folks have gone above and beyond to help us out. In any case, before you make your final plans for a Guatemala family vacation and especially when kids are involved, it will be prudent to verify the most current social and political conditions so as not to face any surprises.
"We have been welcomed everywhere in the country."
"Guatemala has has thirty-seven volcanoes, at least three of which remain active."
The country is famous for its volcanoes, both extant and extinct. In fact, by last count, it has thirty-seven of them, at least three of which remain active. As recent as in 2019, one of these – Volcán de Fuego, or Fuego Volcano – erupted, killing hundreds, and affecting the lives of 1.7 million people in central Guatemala. But when these aren’t erupting, or even when they are and you keep a safe distance, volcanoes are one of nature’s most powerful forces, and seeing one erupting up close can uplift an otherwise interesting family trip to a truly memorable one. And there are plenty of places to give you an unobstructed view of these eruptions without being in in any kind of harm’s way. Ask your kids to scout out (on the Internet) a few vantage points from which the entire family will be able to bear witness to this unique phenomenon. To me, the sight of one is so powerful and transformative that everyone, where possible, should try to view at least once in their lifetime.
"Going to a new country that’s not typically visited by tourists is by itself embracing an adventure."
"The architectural ruins of Tikal stand as shining jewels, highlighting the greatest civilization of Central America."
"You will be offered a more authentic and raw feel that you’ll not be able to see in some of the more touristy countries."
"Antigua at one point used to be the capital of Guatemala, and it shows."
Surrounding the famous Santa Catalina Arch in the city of Antigua, Guatemala’s most popular vacation destination, are a family of three imposing volcanoes that look down on the city; one of these is the Fuego Volcano that caused so much death and destruction in recent years. The 360-degree view from here is phenomenal, but so is the city itself, with its cobblestone roads, Spanish colonial buildings, and the overall ambiance. Your kids will find here sufficient activities to keep them fully engaged. Antigua at one point used to be the capital of Guatemala, and it shows. The city has in no way lost its charm, continuing to entice you with its pastel façades and historical architecture from the moment you step inside its boundaries. Indeed, this is a place where a relaxed vacation can also happen to be truly rejuvenating.
Guatemala With Kids:
A Family-Tested Recipe For Your Adventure Vacation
A mere 2% of Guatemala is urbanized, another reason you should consider visiting this country. Places such as Lake Atitlán, an engrossing body of water around which are lined up several volcanoes, is an area that kids will find captivating, while in the Parentland things can be allowed to temporarily shut down by rewinding the clocks before moving on to the family’s next destination. Other equally enchanting places to keep your kids busy include the caves at Verapaces and the mountain ranges of Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. To make your vacation time in Guatemala enlightening, provide your kids with some great learning opportunities. Always remember that going to a new country that’s not typically visited by tourists, let alone by families with kids, is by itself the definition of embracing an adventure. Therefore, it’s all the more important to try and experience firsthand the simple life in the day of a Guatemalan family. As an underappreciated travel destination, your kids will find the country both fun and educational.
"Lake Atitlán is an engrossing body of water around which are lined up several volcanoes, an area that kids will find captivating."
"Your Guatemala family vacation will remain incomplete if you’ve not visited their colorful markets."
For all the sightseeing adventures, your Guatemala family vacation will remain incomplete if you’ve not visited their colorful markets. These will have some of the most colorful garments available anywhere in the world, and kids will love the cute handicrafts they’ll find on the streets of Antigua. I say this from firsthand experience, as someone who’s seen her own child treasure her “worry dolls” enough to have them sleep under her pillow every night. I’m sure your kids will find something to adore just as much. But this is a popular location with lots of gifts and souvenirs, and so not just the kids, but the entire family can get their fill of little handmade items. Remember that when you buy directly from these locals, it cuts out the middlemen, and so goes a long way towards supporting the families of these folks who possess fantastic creativity while residing in abject poverty. This place, naturally, is also a gold mine for some really neat street photography as it pertains to the lives of the locals, or even for silent people-watching from aside. Just a word of caution: while taking pictures, make sure you show appropriate respect to the local folks at whom, over the years, countless photographers must have aimed their cameras even while the focus of their prizewinning shots have continuously ended up getting the short end of the stick. It’s common courtesy to politely ask for permission, and better still to have your family or kids buy a thing or two from their stores to help them keep their businesses alive.
Pyramids, as we know, tend to be edifices that various civilizations have used as symbols of power and belief across many millennia; even for a country such as Guatemala, where one of the chief attractions is its horde of architectural ruins, those at Tikal stand as shining jewels, highlighting the greatest civilization of Central America. The structures rise to dizzying heights, the tallest soaring to 230 feet, and are a testament to the pinnacle of achievement in the Mayan empire. Some of these ruins date back to the 1st century A.D. and are among the most prominent in the region. Climbing one of these will be sure to test the family’s endurance level and help safely dissipate the bubbling energy in hyperactive kids. Of course, near these ruins there are also open fields, exploration trails, as well as abundant wildlife that ensures your kids are going to remain cheerful and in tiptop shape.
"The ruins at Tikal rise to dizzying heights and are a testament to the pinnacle of achievement in the Mayan empire."
"You’ll find an age-appropriate activity for virtually everyone in your family."
Don't think there’s more to do to make your Guatemala family vacation an unforgettable one? Well, there’s plenty more, as I discuss in some detail below. Being an unusual tourist destination and a richly diverse nation, you’ll find an age-appropriate activity for virtually everyone in your family, although sometimes it will take a little effort to get to those which your kids will also enjoy. You will, however, be offered a more authentic and rawer feel that you’ll not be able to see in some of the more touristy countries. Some in the family might want to go whitewater rafting, or explore inside dotted caves; others might choose to soar over the restless waves of Lake Atitlán, or scuba dive in the middle of it; and the kids in the family might want to trek through unfamiliar jungles, or scale the sides of dormant volcanoes. Of course, some who’d rather not be up to any of these can still soak in the peace and serenity of the stunning scenery that this country provides. It’s definitely your call, and Guatemala is always very accommodating.
Traveling To Guatemala With kids? Worried If It’s A Good Idea?
From Our Family To Yours: It Absolutely Is!
Safety first! Let’s first deal with the question that’s on everybody’s mind. Are the kids going to be okay? The answer is a resounding yes! However, you should also know that some areas in the capital Guatemala City can be unsafe, but since the point of visiting Guatemala is to have the kids get out and explore, other than your international arrival and departure to the city, you’ll not have anything much to do with it. Other than that, when it comes to kids, there’s one other factor that remains constant in the developing world, and that’s the “water” factor. So have a healthy supply of good quality bottled water with you, and pass them around to the kids. Make sure none in your family drinks water provided in restaurants, and everyone should be good to go.
"Are the kids going to be okay? The answer is a resounding yes!"
"You’ll be looking at three volcanoes around the lake."
Your kids will love the jaw-dropping beauty of Lake Atitlán. I’ve seen countless lakes around the world, and I think this one can be safely regarded among the top ten. Everything is so surreal around here. You’ll be looking at three volcanoes around the lake – Volcán Atitlán, Volcán San Pedro, and Volcán Tolimán – as well as some very eerie cloud patterns near their summits, and a somewhat strange color of the water. The area has some great hotels that are extremely kid-friendly, with boats leaving for tours into the many villages that dot the massive lake. You can arrange for a private boat to take you to some of these, and the color, the culture, and the crowd will fill your senses. The kids will love mingling with the local children, who’re always looking for partners for a play date.
Volcán Pacaya, or Pacaya Volcano, is another place that is absolutely a must-do for kids. The hike up is easy and even younger kids should be able to handle it. If you want a little more adventure, have your kids take the horse-riding route to the crater. Whichever way you end up to the summit, don’t forget to bring your own marshmallows. Then, you can have the kids roast these in the natural heat from the lava stones. Your guide should be able to help you for this last part. One more point: it’s a bit chilly at the top, so make sure you windproof your kids before starting the hike.
"Have the kids roast marshmallows in the heat from the lava stones!"
Antigua! Even before you reach this place, you should check your kids’ geography knowledge by asking where Antigua is. Just when they think you’re referring to the island country of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, you can tell them that this one lies in Guatemala and happens to be the most popular city in the country. At this point, if you really want your kids to succeed in their upcoming Geography Bee, see if they know the capital of the Caribbean country. It’s Saint John’s, but you already knew that, right?
If your kids like Antigua, they’ll love the view of the surroundings even more. But to get there, your family needs to head towards Cerro de la Cruz. Once you look down below from this elevation, the landscape is breathtaking, especially the view of Volcán Agua.
"Antigua happens to be the most popular city in the country."
Monterrico, situated towards the Pacific shore, is one of the more kid-friendly beaches around here, and a visit here is certainly worth it if your kids love the ocean. And if they love turtles, then time spent here would be a memorable one for your kids. In the right season, which usually falls between September and January, the kids can partake in the fun activity of releasing thousands of newly hatched baby turtles to help them make their maiden voyage towards their permanent ocean home. Both kids and adults alike should be able to enjoy this truly fantastic experience..
"Kids can partake in the release of thousands of newly hatched baby turtles."
"Tikal is the crown jewel of Mayan ruins."
But in my view, the most fulfilling for the kids will be their visit to Tikal, the crown jewel of Mayan ruins. Once you get there, you’ll realize that getting lost in the many ruins which cover a ridiculously large area is just half the fun. The kids will be able to see and hear howler monkeys and follow the abundant wildlife as they walk through the nature trails.
Finally, there’s Museo del Niño, situated near the international airport in Guatemala City. It happens to be a cool Children’s Museum with over 50 interactive exhibits that will give your kids an opportunity to have fun while the family kills a few hours, especially if there’s time before your outgoing flight.
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