Guatemala sets infrastructure, tourism improvements to boost arrivals

GUATEMALA CITY -- The combination of a stable government and major improvements to tourism infrastructure are among the leading factors that have positioned Guatemala for a big comeback in international arrivals.

Just as important, of course, are Guatemala's visitor attractions, ranging from major Mayan archaeological sites, from Tikal in the north to central Quirigua near the Honduras border; spectacular scenery; colonial towns, and highlands full of traditional Indian villages.

"In the last 10 years, there have certainly been ups and downs in Guatemala's tourism fortunes, but travel from the American market has taken a healthy upward swing, and we are all going to enjoy a good year," said Mark Rogers, president of Clark Tours based here.

Rogers pointed out that today's visitors are going to find "an enormous improvement in overland travel [because] new roads now link major tourist areas and make it easier to offer programs to all corners of the country."

The major connections are a new highway between Guatemala City and the Caribbean port town of Livingston, a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and between Guatemala City and Flores, gateway to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, a three-hour ride.

Before the road improvements, Rogers said, no one traveled overland on this whole route because the trip took 18 hours.

New on the travel scene is an expansion of one of Guatemala's most famous travel products: visits to the colorful highland villages as part of a circuit from Guatemala City to colonial Antigua Guatemala, Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango.

Other market towns now being featured include Zunil, one of the few places where the pagan deity Maximon is honored with pomp and ceremony; Momostenango, a center for blanket weaving, and San Cristobal Totonicapan, a textile and ceramics center with a colonial church.

Highland villages also are known for fiestas, Rogers said, and "one of our favorite places is Todos Santos Cuchumatan, best known for its annual folkloric festival (All Souls Day, held between Oct. 21 and Nov. 1), but [is also] wonderfully colorful and interesting year-round during its weekly Saturday market."

Some of Guatemala's best weaving is done here, he said, and the village is one of a handful of places where men have retained the traditional dress of red and white striped trousers and a multicolored shirt with a broad, embroidered collar.

Todos Santos is located high in the Cuchumatan Mountains, along a road that winds up from the town of Huehuetenango.

Clark Tours features this western Guatemala region on its five-night Guatemala Markets tour, with weekly departures starting from Guatemala City on Tuesdays; the program spends one night each in Antigua Guatemala, Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, Quezaltenango, Huehuetenango and Chichicastenango.

Prices start at $450 per person, double, depending on hotel selected. The itinerary includes visits to the lakeside village of Santiago Atitlan, the open-air animal market of San Francisco El Alto, the church of San Andres Xecul, the Almolonga valley and Todos Santos Cuchumatan.

The operator also offers multiple daily tours, as well as customized itineraries, to other corners of the country, including Mayan ceremonial cities, nature reserves around Rio Dulce and Lake Izabal, in addition to Copan in neighboring Honduras.

Clark Tours
Phone: (800) 223-6764
E-mail: [email protected]

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