Guatemala is a land of kaleidoscopic colour. The red lava tongues of its volcanoes contrast with the shadows of the caves in the southern Petén, believed to lead into a mysterious underworld, jagged with stalactites and stalagmites.

Further south, blankets of white sand coat the Caribbean Coast near Lívingston, while on the black-sand Pacific Coast, turtles and fabulous orange sunsets can be found at Monterrico.Or let the roar of the howler monkeys and the flash of the rare scarlet macaw grab your attention in the jungles of the northern Petén region.

Completing this work of art are incredible fiestas: cultural celebrations with vibrant traditional costumes, elaborate masks and carpets of brightly-coloured flowers. At Easter, cities are shrouded in incense and centuries-old rituals take place in the streets.

Antigua, a cultural side-show to the capital, lies in the shadow of three volcanoes, a colonial treasure whose graceful, sometimes ruined colonial architecture tells of an 18th-century earthquake. Its cobbled streets are lined with pastel-coloured homes, toppled church arches, columned courtyards, and flowers and fountains galore.

The majestic cities of the Maya, such as Tikal, lie buried deep in Guatemala’s northern jungles. Huge stelae – stone monuments carved with inscriptions – reveal clues about their ancient Mayan inhabitants, along with evidence of traditions of human sacrifice and astronomical genius.

Venture further into the Western Highlands to explore the markets and traditional villages. The Tz’utujil Maya live on the lakeshore of Lake Atitlán, which they believed to be the birthplace of creation – in fact, it was formed by an explosion which blew the lid off an ancient volcano. Numerous other Maya villages, all named after Catholic saints, nestle around Atitlán’s shore – a rewarding three-day trek from the mountain city of Quetzaltenango.

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