Enjoying the Holy Week Festivities in Antigua
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is celebrated with both fervor and style in Antigua. In fact, the Holy Week celebrations are arguably the most beautiful and elaborate in all of the Americas, and rival even the most famous ones in Europe. Massive processions weave slowly through the cobblestone streets over painstakingly gorgeous alfombras, or carpets, made of fine colored sawdust and flower petals. The air is thick with incense smoke, and the small city is a spectacle for a solid week.
Touring the Towns & Villages around Lake Atitlán
While Lake Atitlán is exceedingly beautiful in and of itself, the true charm of the lake is its ability to let you visit a half-dozen or more lakeshore towns via local water-taxi services. The water taxis run regular routes throughout the day, stopping at the villages of Santiago de Atitlán, San Pedro de la Laguna, San Marco, San Antonio Palopó, and more. You can hop on and off the taxis at your whim, and stay as long as you like before heading on to the next place or back home to your hotel.
Paying Your Respects to Maximón
A syncretic saint worshiped by Guatemala's Maya and Catholic alike, Maximón is the bad boy of the religious pantheon. Maximón apparently responds well to gifts, and has very specific tastes, so be sure to bring some rum or a cigar as an offering. Many towns across Guatemala have a carved idol of Maximón, or San Simon, although only a few really keep the practice of his daily worship alive. The towns with the most elaborate Maximón rituals and traditions include Santiago de Atitlán and Zunil.
Shopping at the Chichicastenango Market
Guatemala's Maya people are world famous for their incredible arts and crafts, which they sell predominantly at local and regional open-air markets. These markets are held in the central plazas of the country's towns and cities. The twice-weekly market in Chichicastenango is the largest and most famous of these open-air markets, with hundreds of stands selling everything from handicrafts and flowers to household goods and furniture.
Studying Spanish & Staying with a Local Family
Studying Spanish in a foreign country is all the rage, and Guatemala is the perfect place to do it. In addition to the wonderful surroundings and bargain prices, the Guatemalan accent is one of the cleanest and easiest to master. All of Guatemala's major tourist destinations have Spanish schools, each of which offers the option of living with a local family while you study.
Watching the Sunrise from the Top of a Pyramid in Tikal
A visit to Tikal is a remarkable experience on its own, but my favorite way to start a visit here is by catching the sunrise from the top of one of the pyramids. In addition to the ruins and sunrise, the surrounding jungle comes to life with the cries of howler monkeys and the frenzied activity and calls of awakening birds.
Cheering on Riders in the "Drunken Horse Race"
The tiny highland Maya town of Todos Santos Chuchumatán holds one of the equestrian world's oddest races every November 1. The town's "Drunken Horse Race" is a daylong event that involves equal parts drinking and racing. The last rider (who's highly intoxicated) left on his horse is declared the winner. Riders fall, and numerous riders and spectators end up lying in an unconscious stupor along the streets and walkways of the small town. It's hilarious, nerve-racking, and sad all at the same time.
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