Santo Tomas de Castilla See, Eat and Shop

Mexico may get all the ink, but Guatemala is just as rich with Maya ruins. This UNESCO World Heritage Site on the southeastern coast stretches across 34 hectares (84 acres) to encompass a dizzying array of stone monuments, dwellings and glyphs that date back to about 200 to 900 C.E. At its center is the Grand Plaza, an expansive public space. The Motagua River that flows through the site from Guatemala’s highlands was of significant commercial importance to the city. Here, jade, cocoa and other goods were transported to other ports of the Maya world.

At the entrance of Lake Izabal stands a stone citadel. Built in the mid-1600s by the Spanish, the imposing structure thwarted thieving pirates from attacking the lake, which was used as a storage facility for transport goods. El Castillo de San Felipe later served as a prison. There are cannons and weapons along with sweeping natural vistas. The site is also home to myriad wildlife, including a variety of monkeys.

Chisec, Guatemala
Guatemala’s wild jungle interior is filled with adventure. Guided hikes wind through tropical flora and end up at crystalline waterfalls. There are more than 400 species of birds—including toucans and parrots—in this rain forest expanse, as well as a number of amphibians, reptiles and other animals. However, while bird-watching is a snap, spying other critters may be more of a challenge due to the dense foliage. The big draw, of course, is the falls, with cool pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip post-trek.

Banana production is Santo Tomás de Castilla’s marquee industry. Production of bananas for the Chiquita company began in the region in the 1870s. Today, it packages more than 3 billion pounds of bananas a year. A visit to the plant shows how fruit is selected, washed and packaged for consumption.

Calz Marina de Guerra, Puerto Barrios, Guatemala
Also called Matías de Gálvez, Santo Tomás de Castilla has been functioning as a leisure cruise port since 2004. Whatever you call the coastal town, it was once under Belgian rule. The European influence is most notable in the streets—literally. The main promenade was constructed using Belgian stones, and it is lined with local shops and homes. The Belgian cemetery houses 19th-century pioneers.

Malecón de Puerto Barrios, Puerto Barrios, Guatemala
Colorful embroidery, beadwork and handwoven textiles are hallmark souvenirs from Guatemala. Browse among the crafts as well as artwork, clothing and household items at this hyperlocal market in the Old Zone of Puerto Barrios, also known as Zone 1. Bargaining is expected.

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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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