Guatemala – country of the Mayans
During the Catholic Festival of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, an annual horse race takes place in the town of Todos Santos, western Guatemala. In 1998, when these pictures were taken, Guatemala was ravaged by the powerful hurricane Mitch, and rain was pouring throughout the race. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Guatemala is a Central American country, bordering Mexico to the west and north, Belize, the Gulf of Honduras, Honduras, and El Salvador to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. A majority of the inhabitants are direct descendants of the Mayans, who, between c. 600 B.C. and 1500 A.D., created an advanced civilization in Central America. They built large cities, some of which had more than 100,000 inhabitants, ruled by despotic kings, whose palace was situated in the centre of the city, together with temples, which were huge limestone pyramids. In these temples, priests made numerous sacrifices – often human – to the Mayan gods. But these people were also intellectuals, being excellent mathematicians and astronomers, whose calendar, it seems, was more accurate than the Gregorian.
Ruins of the ancient Mayan cities are dotted all over southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, the most famous of these being Chichen Itza in Mexico, Tikal in northern Guatemala, Caracol in Belize, and Copàn in Honduras. When the ruins of Tikal were re-discovered in the 1850s, they were overgrown by thick rainforest, but most ruins have now been cleared of vegetation. Today the ruins, and a large tract of jungle around them, have been declared a national park. The jungle here is host to an incredible wealth of plants and animals, among them the jaguar (Panthera onca), which was a fertility symbol of the Mayans.
Mayan ruins of Tikal, surrounded by rainforest: The Temple of the Great Jaguar, or ‘Queen’s Temple’ (left), and Temple II, or ‘King’s Temple’, seen from Temple IV. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Temple of the Great Jaguar, or ‘Queen’s Temple’, Tikal. In former times, the jaguar was a fertility symbol in many civilizations of the Americas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The oldest ruin in Tikal, called El Mundo Perdido (‘The Lost World’), is a popular vantage point for tourists at sunset. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
White-nosed coatis (Nasua narica) are often seen among the ruins of Tikal, begging food from tourists – or stealing it out of their bags. (Read more about coatis on this website, see Animals: Long-nosed coatis – charming bandits). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) is a fairly large rodent, which is common in Tikal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is a rare gamebird of Central America, which has been hunted almost to extinction. In Tikal National Park, however, it is very confiding, as no hunting takes place here. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Much of Guatemala is highland, and most towns are situated here. The present capital, Guatemala City, is not particularly interesting, but the nearby old capital, Antigua, is a well-preserved town with many beautiful houses, painted in vivid colours, and often adorned with flowers. Another interesting town is Chichicastenango, which has steep streets and many churches. On November 1st and 2nd, during the Festival of the Dead, hundreds of people gather in the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their relatives, burning candles or incense while enjoying a packed lunch. During this festival, an annual horse race takes place in the town of Todos Santos.
In the highlands, between looming volcanoes, lies a beautiful blue lake, Lago Atitlan, numerous villages dotting its shores. In the fertile volcanic soil of this area, many different crops are cultivated. Not far from the lake is the town of Solola, with a colourful and interesting market.
Antigua, former capital of Guatemala, is a well-preserved town. This picture shows Arco de Santa Catarina (built 1694), with Volcan Agua (3766 m) in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Houses in Antigua are often pastel-coloured. Note the policeman, armed with an automatic gun. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Perfect sense of balance. – A small hawker in the central square of Antigua. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Festival of the Dead, hundreds of people gather in the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their relatives, and to burn candles or incense. In 1998, when the hurricane Mitch was creating havoc in Guatemala, people still went to this cemetery in Chichicastenango, despite heavy rainfall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beautiful blue Lago Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes. The one to the left is San Pedro (3020 m), which is today dormant. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rain clouds, looming over Lago Atitlan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At sunset, small clouds gather around the peak of San Pedro Volcano, resembling puffs of smoke. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The rays of the setting sun endow the seed-heads of this grass with an orange hue. In the background San Pedro. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The term ‘cloud forest’ is applied to a type of montane forest in Central and South America, which, for a greater part of the year, is enveloped in clouds and fog. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bromeliads, of the pineapple family, are ubiquitous in forests of Latin America. This one is a species of Werauhia, clinging to a tall tree in a Guatemalan montane forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In rural areas of Guatemala, most people still wear traditional garments. The men’s trousers are very distinct, looking like pyjama trousers, often with local patterns and colours. The women wear a blouse, called huipil, consisting of several layers of cloth, sown together into intricate patterns. Every village has its own distinct huipil colours and patterns, and every woman weaves the cloth for her huipil herself. A huipil is not only worn at religious festivals or other important events, but is part of the daily dress. A group of women, each wearing a distinct huipil, is indeed a very pretty sight, and a market scene in rural Guatemala is a blaze of colours.
Most women in Guatemala weave their own huipil. This one was seen in Antigua (top). This woman in the village of Santa Catarina Palomo, on the shore of Lago Atitlan, is busy weaving blue cloth, typical of this village (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A market scene in rural Guatemala is a blaze of colours, every woman wearing a huipil with a distinct pattern. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Her child snug on her back, this mother is busy shopping at a market in the highland town of Solola. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded February 2016)
(Revised September 2017)