Guatemala: One of the Most Beautiful Countries in Central America
Guatemala is a fascinating place with a traditional way of life and a rich cultural heritage. The Mayan ruins are some of the best preserved in the world, and the landscape is breathtaking.
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- Population: 14,373,472
- Capital City: Guatemala City
- Climate: Tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands
- Time Zone: GMT-6
- Language: Spanish (official)
Encompassing Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras, La Ruta Maya (the “Maya Route”) covers the territory of the Maya civilization, which reached its height from 250 to 900 A.D. One of the New World’s most advanced cultures, the Maya had written language, mathematics, a sophisticated calendar, and architectural skills that saw them construct massive temples and spectacular cities, many of which still stand. However, the Maya were never a single empire; rather, kings ruled over small territories surrounding a city.
There are thousands of foreigners dotted about Guatemala quietly doing their thing. Lorenzo Gottschamer is one of them. “I was only supposed to be here for three days,” says Lorenzo. “Yet I’m still here over 30 years later.” Originally from Redwood River, California, the 68-year-old Lorenzo first decided to make the move overseas after an accident ended his career as a professional firefighter.
As I write this, I’m preparing to leave on a flight bound for Guatemala. My wife and I plan on staying a few days in the city of Antigua—one of the world’s best-preserved colonial cities—and then heading over to El Salvador.
If you’ve decided to buy a boat and live the cruising lifestyle, you have all the same questions we did. Where do you start? What makes a good boat? How much will it cost? Where do you shop? The first thing you need to do is research. Back when Al and I bought Carina the Internet was in its infancy. We did it the old fashioned way, with print publications. Now things are much easier with a vast amount of information online.
You’ve just weighed anchor on another night of bliss, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of your sailboat in the calm sea. Before you is a small cove lined by craggy cliffs. Clear blue waters end at a white-sand beach. You’ve had it all to yourself for the last week. It was supposed to be just an overnight stop. But it was so beautiful, you decided to stick around. After a quick dip, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee and a light breakfast on deck as you contemplate which island paradise you’ll go to next.
It’s largely thanks to these folks that Guatemala has such a rich and unique culture. And it’s this culture that entices many of the expats who have made their homes here. “I love how different it is, and I want it to stay that way, too,” says Jean Johnson who lives in the colonial city of Antigua. “It’s like traveling into some epic or bygone landscape,” says Portland-native John Kin, of traveling around the highlands.
The Santa Catalina arch is one of the most famous landmarks of Antigua, Guatemala. And for a compact town of 40,000 people, there are a lot of them. Antigua was once the capital of Spanish Central America, and its cobbled streets are lined with the grand mansions and ornate churches of the colonial golden age.
It’s the “slap, slap” sound of contentment: Women making tortillas by hand as I sip a Gallo beer and look out over the water. I can hear a marimba and see children splashing happily on the sun-kissed lakeshore. Several old women in native dress are passing by, carrying large parcels on their heads…hands free.
The ocean breeze blows in through the open door as I sit in my rocking chair—a surprisingly favorite Nicaraguan furnishing. Sunlight glitters on the ocean, almond and coconut trees sway in the wind. This is my office for today, a four-bedroom house right on the beach that we rent for $350 a month. Previously we spent time on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, beneath the shadow of three majestic volcanoes…swimming in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, shopping in the local markets, and interacting with the indigenous people who still wear their traditional clothing and speak Spanish as their second language.
I don’t think I could have afforded to make this work in the States,” says expat Britini Port. “It is just too expensive and the high cost of living would make this dream unattainable.” But on a cobbled street of the colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala, Britini’s dream of a thriving business selling her own boot and handbag designs is a reality. It started in 2012.
A low cost of living is one of the most important factors for retirees who move overseas. You can live a richer life overseas, probably for what you’re currently spending at home (or even less). Here are some of the top places where the cost of living is low, and the quality of life is high, according to International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2014.
When I started learning Spanish in Spain some years ago, I never envisioned how helpful it would become. Mostly, I just wanted to know how to order food, talk to people a bit and avoid embarrassing myself as much as possible. The more I learned, however, the more I discovered how much of a key that speaking the language is. Spanish has opened many doors for me—in Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba and Mexico.
We’ve all seen the phrase “new and improved” countless times. It’s on everything from cereal boxes to cosmetics. No doubt someone in a lab somewhere tweaked the latest wrinkle cream and declared it new and improved. I think I should have a “new and improved” tag on my life—it has certainly had some tweaking in the last few years!
Guatemala is a paradise for the adventuresome traveler. In the four years I’ve lived here, I’ve made a point of exploring far afield. And though I certainly haven’t seen everything, I have trekked much of this nation.
When I started doing this in 2007, I didn’t have a business in mind. It was more of a hobby. I practiced law during the day, and I was a bored with it. I wanted to do something different.
I’ve always been one of those people who won’t settle for “ordinary.” Sure, I have done my share of everyday things…but if I can find a way to step beyond the run-of-the-mill, you can bet I will! One of the ways I left “ordinary” behind was with my career. I spent many years working as a tax accountant—I knew there had to be a better way to spend my time.
Everything that happens on Guatemala’s Rio Dulce happens because of the water. Rio Dulce translates as “Sweet River”…and life here is truly sweet.
I’m making my way down the cobblestones of Arch Street, on my way to meet friends for a glass of wine. As I arrive, the bells of the 17th-century cathedral ring in the hour. Antigua, in the Department of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, is one of Latin America’s best preserved colonial towns. With a population of 40,000 people, it’s full of white-washed and pastel-colored churches.
I’m making my way down the cobblestones of Arch Street, on my way to meet friends for a glass of wine at Tabacos y Vinos. As I arrive, the bells of the 17thcentury cathedral ring in the hour. Antigua, in the Department of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, is one of Latin America’s best-preserved colonial towns.
At 129 square feet, this apartment is what real-estate agents call “cozy.” But it’s Paris, city of love and romance. From your fifth-floor balcony you have a view of Place de la République. The square gives its name to the historic neighborhood that surrounds it, where the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements (districts) come together. Le Marais, where some of the oldest buildings in the city line winding, narrow streets, is just a five-minute walk away.
Formed 5,000 feet above sea level in the western highlands of Guatemala, the 11-mile long Lago de Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. It plunges to depths of over 1,000 feet. Three volcanoes dominate its southern fringe—Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro; the latter two emerging from the lakeside. The lake itself changes as wistful breezes or surly gales whip up its sleek, glassy surface. The ever-shifting light reflecting off its belly…
Just shy of 10 years ago, my wife Laurie and I fell in love with the Vilcabamba Valley, a lush gem tucked away in the Andes of Southern Ecuador. The near-perfect weather, the healthy lifestyle, the low cost of living, and the natural beauty of the valley all contributed to our decision to settle there. And those things have lived up to our expectations.
In the U.S., you cannot do what I have done here in Ecuador… you’d have too much debt to worry about,” says Kevin Sheehy, who bank-rolled his first venture—a Vietnamese restaurant—in the cool-weather capital of Quito with just $14,000. One business opportunity led to another, and today his success overseas means that Kevin enjoys the flexibility to live in a place he loves (the weather is spring-like year-round) and spend four months every year traveling.
Real adventures don’t start at the airport…they start at the mouth of a river. And nestled on the eastern edge of Guatemala awaits one of Central America’s best river voyages. Fishermen cast nets from dugout canoes, birds tiptoe across lily pads, while manatees swim nearby. This is life along the Río Dulce (“Sweet River”).
Exactly where is home? Well, “my hat” currently hangs in the village of San Marcos La Laguna on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, where I’ve lived for three years now. Before this stint, my list of homes reads like a travel brochure: Zanzibar, Indonesia, Mozambique, New Zealand, Thailand and Costa Rica are just some of the highlights. I left home years ago, fueled by a desire to find the perfect location and to see the world.
There I stood, close to a 100-foot cliff. Could I do it? Would I dash forward and trade the security of solid ground for the adventure of soaring on the warm thermals of Ecuador’s north coast? How did I even get here? It’s a familiar story. My wife Jan and I had been preparing our retirement parachute for many years. We were readying for the jump when the economic ground we were standing upon began to crumble.
Chile’s Lake District is all about spectacular scenery…forests, snowcapped volcanoes, the towering Andes, and hundreds of deep blue mountain lakes…German emigrants brought their distinctive traditions to the region and it’s been compared to Switzerland for its beauty and cosmopolitan resort towns…
Antigua is Guatemala’s most beautiful city, and the center of its cultural life and Spanish- colonial heritage. If you want to taste a little of everything Guatemala has to offer, this is the place to come. To start with, Antigua is nestled amid some of the country’s most dramatic landscape. This local geology hasn’t always been kind, however. Earthquakes in the 18th century led the Spanish to move their capital to the site of modern-day Guatemala City. But while Antigua’s population declined—today it’s around 47,000— more than enough of the city’s impressive architecture remained.
I had to work last Sunday. I was up by 7.30 a.m. But don’t feel bad for me just yet. Once out of bed, I slipped into my swimsuit, cover-up and flip-flops and checked out of my room at a hotel I was staying in at the mouth of the Rio Dulce in Livingston, Guatemala.
My childhood dream was to explore the world, treading in the footsteps of past explorers while discovering the wonders of its landscapes and people for myself. I was still just dreaming when I grew up—and I was stuck working long hours behind an office desk.
The colonial city of Antigua in the Central highlands of Guatemala has a thriving expat community. It’s no surprise that foreigners choose to live here full- or part-time. They enjoy the history-steeped cobbled streets and a vibrant culture. Visitors often extend their stay, swapping family home stays or hotel accommodation for short or long-term rentals in Antigua.
I first came to Antigua, Guatemala in 2006 to study Spanish and extended my one-month language course month-by-month for seven months. By then, I’d fallen in love with the city and lifestyle, befriended both locals and expats and felt I wanted to make this a more permanent lifestyle…so I stayed.
In an ankle-length skirt and dance pumps, our 12-year-old guide, Verónica, leads us daintily along a muddy path between steep fields of broccoli and maize. Climbing uphill away from the hand-tilled patches of land, we are engulfed by the luxuriant trees of the forest. Vivid orchids, giant bromeliads, and ferns thrive here in the heavy moisture.
In Guatemala—as in Mexico—people celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1 by traveling to cemeteries to honor the dead. They repaint family tombs, adorn them with yellow flowers and picnic by the graves.
A flourishing expat community has evolved over the years as adventurous spirits from all over the globe set their wandering feet to rest, seduced by the charm and easy living in Antigua, Guatemala.
I stayed at lavish haciendas, ate the freshest foods in Ecuador, got to know the smiling, helpful locals. I went to a Shaman healing ceremony, rode horses in the Andes and learned to weave. And then I sat sipping fresh mango juice, relaxing by the pool. It’s hard to believe it costs me nothing to travel like this.
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In today’s Guatemala, you can have a great time and maybe find a great buy on a piece of beachfront property or an old Spanish-colonial house-if you exercise due caution. The future looks bright for the country thatis home to the Mayas-a people whose civilization has endured far worse than its recent misfortunes. But we won’t mislead you. The country’s reputation as unsafe is not entirely undeserved.