Spanning Central America - south of Mexico, west of Belize and north of Honduras and El Salvador - Guatemala is a wonderfully diverse country, about the size of Ireland. South and west, the agricultural Pacific coast rises to astonishing volcanic highlands, with stunning lakes including Atitlán, cloudforests, indigenous villages and charming Spanish colonial towns like Antigua. The more sparsely inhabited tropical lowlands in the north (Peten) and east offer coffee plantations, rainforests rich in wildlife and countless Mayan archaeological sites like Tikal. The climate is lovely and warm throughout the year, cooler in the highlands and more humid in the lowlands.
Over half the population of 13 million are descended from the Maya, who held sway in Central America until the Spanish conquistadors arrived. For centuries there were turbulent clashes between the Ladino (mixed Spanish descent) ruling classes and marginalised indigenous peoples, most recently in the civil war which ended with the 1996 Peace Accords. Both traditions are visible throughout - from colourful Mayan markets, costumes and fiestas, to the Hispanic plaza and whitewashed church in every village. There's also a small Garifuna (or Black Carib) population on the Atlantic coast, centred around Livingston. In our experience, Guatemalans are unfailingly helpful and polite.