A Guatemala Heritage Journey
Guatemala, known as “The Land of Eternal Spring” is as spectacularly beautiful as she is fascinating and adventurous!
Among her enticing attractions are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Antigua, Quiriguá & Tikal. She boasts romantic Spanish colonial towns; the largest indigenous population in the Americas; diverse geography from desert to rainforest to highlands (including 33 volcanoes); and, an abundant population of birds and wildlife. Guatemala is also known for its luxury and unique accommodations including private villas, boutique hotels and jungle lodges, as well as some of the most well known restaurants in all of Central America. Best of all, the activities in Guatemala are as abundant as the wildlife, unique accommodations and great restaurants! There is something for everyone in Guatemala.
Our Adoptive Family Travel Philosophy
When we plan trips to a child’s birth country we are looking for activities that accomplish specific goals. First and foremost, we want to bring adoptive families closer together. We know that adoptive families often struggle with attachment and bonding issues so we use fun adventure activities that are challenging enough to require each family member to step outside his or her comfort zone, but easy enough to be accomplished. When that happens, research tells us that several different hormones are released into your body – serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. When those hormones are released into your body, you feel good – they are your happy hormones! When you feel good, you are more likely to connect deeply with all those around you. Especially when you congratulate, hug and talk about your accomplishments. And the good news, that’s when you release oxytocin – which is the clincher! Oxytocin is the bonding hormone and we want our travelers to release it as often as possible!
We use adventure activities like a company would use team-building exercises. We want the activity to act as the catalyst for healthy communication, collaboration and ultimately, connection. When families work as a team to accomplish a goal, it helps builds a positive family culture. Team-building exercises and adventure activities (when done together) lay the foundation for mutual understanding and respect. You get to see each other’s strengths and weaknesses and encourage each other through to the meeting your desired goal. The best part, accomplishing goals and being rewarded for your efforts, releases all the happy “connecting” hormone’s AND builds self-esteem. Research also tells us that internationally adopted children often score lower on measures of self-esteem – we want to change that. When your adopted child accomplishes his or her goal, feels great, releases those happy hormones, he or she will connect more deeply with you and other family members – it’s that simple.
Finally, we want all adopted children to leave their birth country having had a positive cultural and family experience. We look for triggers, we understand your child, we understand your family dynamics, we understand your needs, desires and limitations when we plan your itinerary. In other words, we strive to make every experience positive. When your child has a positive in-country experience, your child will develop a positive sense of self in relationship to his or her birth country. We know that a strong cultural identity fosters a positive sense of self, higher self-esteem, more joy and with all that comes richer connections.
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Our Favorite Activities:
Pacaya Volcano Hike – Amatitlán, Guatemala
The hike up Volcán Pacaya begins with a fairly strenuous uphill stretch but becomes more moderate quite quickly. On the way up, you wind through wonderful pine forest to a molten lava rock area where hot steam seeps through crevices in the base of the volcano. Learn about the formation and evolution of the volcano, local flora and fauna and the people of this area as you traverse the volcanoes’ ever changing face. We encourage our families to create a family flag and plant it together at the top. We celebrate by roasting marshmallows over the spectacular lava field and enjoy a picnic on top! This 2-2.5 hour round-trip hike is a truly memorable experience!
Chocolate Making Workshop – Antigua, Guatemala
In 1.5 to 2 hours you will learn all the steps of chocolate making from harvesting the cacao to the creation of a chocolate bar. From roasting the cacao beans to peeling them and grinding them into a paste, you will be able to learn this long held tradition. The cacao paste is used to prepare a traditional chocolate drink (the first of which was made by the Mayas). You will also be able to use the refined chocolate to prepare a chocolate bar that you can take home and share with your friends – or not! Activities like this give families an opportunity to work together while experiencing their adopted child’s cultural heritage in a very positive, relaxing and joyful atmosphere.
Iximche Tour and Shaman Ritual – Tecpán, Guatemala
Approximately 1 hour from Antigua is the famous Maya archaeological site of Iximche. After a guided tour of these deeply revered ruins, we will take you into a lesser-known (to visitors) yet extremely important Maya spiritual, ceremony site. There we meet a local Shaman who performs an authentic Mayan ceremony in a local Mayan language (translated by the guide) especially for your family. You can participate as much as you choose. It is a fascinating experience that will bring you all closer to each other and to your child’s heritage!
Reserva Atitlan Hiking and Canopy Tour, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
Enjoy an easy hike in the tropical forest with enchanting waterfalls and bridges. The short hike takes you to the 8-cable canopy tour where you can zip through the forest for an unprecedented view of the plants and animals, including monkeys, the raccoon-like coatis and exotic birds. You can also explore the butterfly preserve with a breeding laboratory and approximately 200 living specimens of nearly 20 species of native Guatemala butterflies. Not only is the Reserva stunningly beautiful, it gives family members an opportunity to stretch themselves on a relatively simple zip line course. The happy hormones will be pulsating through your body after this activity – just the way we like it!
Kayaking on Lake Atitlán – Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
Kayaking on Lake Atitlan is a one of a kind adventure. From the breathtaking views of towering volcanoes to watching the pesaderos fishing in the lake wearing their hand sewn cayukas, you will experience the richness and beauty of this area up close and personal. Kayaking offers our families an opportunity to challenge themselves – which builds self-esteem, and if you decide to share a double kayak you’ll have the added benefit ofoxytocin-releasing touch!
Climb San Pedro Volcano – Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
3-4 hours of climbing through coffee plantations, farm fields and spectacular cloud forest, takes you to the top this magnificent volcano and just shy of 10,000 feet in elevation. It is not an easy hike but the views and feeling of accomplishment is well worth the effort! We encourage our families to create a family flag and plant it together at the top – which creates a positive family culture and builds self-esteem. Enjoy breathtaking views of gorgeous Lake Atitlán, with her blue waters, rolling mountains and majestic volcanoes, all while devouring a well-deserved and celebratory picnic lunch!
Sunrise or Sunset Tour of Tikal, The Peten, Guatemala
Tikal is absolutely breath taking! Its huge temples rise up through the jungle canopy and magic absolutely permeates the air . . . Tikal is truly a place where dreams are made! Enjoy the sights and sounds of the howler and spider monkeys as well as many colorful tropical birds and other mammals in this magnificent UNESCO wonder. Sunset (or sunrise) in Tikal is a deeply moving, yet tranquil experience, and ranks among our favorite moments spent in Guatemala. We hear from all our families that the sheer grandeur, the encounters with wildlife, and the hiking all combine to foster deep connections – both to each other and to your child’s culture heritage. This is a rewarding activity for every family.
Uaxactun Day Trip and Tikal Sunset Tour
Venture deep into the jungle to the site of Uaxactun, which is famous for having the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex as well as being one of the longest-occupied Maya sites. Uaxactun is a community where the Chicleros (gum collectors) have lived for over one hundred years. Many of Uaxactun’s residents make their living by gathering products such as chicle, allspice and xate palm leaves from the forest for export. A visit to Uaxactun is a rich cultural and historical experience that will leave your family feeling connected, centered and informed.
Ixpanpajul Canopy Tour
Ixpanpajul Natural Park, located in the cradle of the Mayan culture, is a splendid forest that shelters over 200 species of trees, 150 species of birds and 40 species of mammals. You will have the opportunity to explore this tropical paradise on winding paths and via an exciting zip line. The Canopy tour is home to eight daring platforms and a crossed cable system. This unforgettable adventure will leave you breathless and exhilarated – ripe for growth, transformation, building self-esteem and connecting more deeply with each other!
Our Favorite Places:
Antigua is among the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas, even touting the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site. With her beautiful cobblestone streets, art galleries, coffee shops and colonial architecture, you cannot help but luxuriate in her charms. The area around Antigua is famous for growing coffee (one of the most well known in world) and don’t forget about chocolate – it is a tradition here. The vibrancy of culture, the world-renowned boutique hotels, top rated restaurants and the quaint hometown feel will make your stay in Antigua a sublime experience. You must see for yourself!
This is a wonderful video clip about Antigua from the New York Times:
Few destinations have the ability to stir your imagination and fulfill your desire for adventure, culture, history, romance and excitement as the highlands of Guatemala. Located in the western highlands lies the spectacular caldera lake, Lake Atitlán. Aldous Huxley once wrote that Lago de Atitlán is “the most beautiful lake in the world.” And we believe him! This stunning lake gets its name from the Mayan word Atitlán meaning “where the rainbow gets its color. ” Lake Atitlán is surrounded by several towering 10,000 foot volcanoes. These magical volcanoes, spectacular mountains, and beautiful valleys are the land of the Maya. The Mayan culture is very active in this area and seeing men, women and children in their traditional Mayan clothing is common in many lakeside villages.
Chichi (to which it is fondly referred) rests at over 8200 feet above sea level. This quaint, historic town is famous for its market on Thursdays and Sundays, where traditionally dressed villagers from the surrounding areas and local fruits, veggies and crafts blend together in a kaleidoscope of color! Spanish Colonial Catholicism, modern evangelism and ancient Mayan tradition intertwine at Santo Tomas Cathedral in Chichi’s central square to produce a synchronicity of religious practice that is deeply moving to witness. Chichicastenanago is a place you will likely never forget!
The Peten and Tikal
The Tikal National Park, in the Peten region of northern Guatemala is an area that covers roughly 200 square miles. The park contains some of the most well-preserved archaeological remains of the ancient Maya Civilization. Even though excavation continues, Tikal now stands as the largest excavated site in the American continent. The history and culture will move you. The magnificence of the ruins will enthrall you. And with the cacophony of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, parrots, toucans and cotamundis serenading you, this UNESCO wonder will astound you! Stand atop Pyramid IV at sunrise or sunset and you might just be finished with your bucket list!
Basic Traveler Information
Visa and Passport Requirements:
A passport valid for at least six months is required to enter Guatemala.
Weather and Climate:
The temperature in Guatemala averages 72°F across the country (some call it “the land of eternal spring”) but it does vary depending on altitude. Guatemala’s is divided into two seasons: the dry season and the wet season, although November through to April is the dry season and in the mountainous central region (Guatemala City, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Cobán and the highlands).
The rainy season runs from May to October and can complicate travel to more remote areas where the roads are not well maintained. The Petén (Tikal region) receives the largest amount of rainfall. In center of the country and at higher elevations, the rainy season runs from May to September. The typical days is characterized by clear skies in the mornings with rain in the afternoons and evenings. Travel during this time can be wonderful — less crowds and cooler temperatures. Temperatures do tend to fall sharply at night so a wrap or jacket is always recommended.
The coastal regions and the northeast are hot throughout the year with an average temperature of 68°F sometimes rising to as much as 99°F, although the Pacific coast has more unpredictable weather and rain is possible year round.
The busiest time of the year for tourism is from December through May (dry season) which means accommodations can book up long in advance — especially during Semana Santa, Day of the Dead, the Burning of the Devil and the Saint Thomas festival in Chichicastenango.
Guatemala is the third largest country in Central America. To the north and west, Guatemala shares a border with Mexico, to the southeast with El Salvador and Honduras, to the northeast with Belize and the Caribbean Sea, and to the south with the Pacific Ocean. The landscape is mountainous and heavily forested, with narrow coastal plains and tropical, humid lowlands blanketed in rainforests, coffee and banana plantations. Guatemala has twenty-two volcanoes, seven of which are still active.
What families are saying about working with Motherland Travel:
The trip transformed all of my fears of NOT being able to do a trip like this into joy and success. The people, pacing, activities, accommodations, and scope of the trip was a perfect fit for our family.
I feel like Bambi asked insightful questions during the initial consultation, helping me articulate my goals for this trip. I appreciate the family bonding/adventure travel information she provided, as well as the general information about Guatemala. Bambi targeted our budget and made the most of every experience, given our financial restraints. The itinerary proposal and final itinerary were thorough, detailed, and very clear. I so valued the personal details about possible triggers for my son, visiting his birth country.
We are so grateful for the effort, service, time, and thought Motherland Travel put into planning this trip for us. We have been transformed by the travel. Eddy exudes a pride and joy when he talks about our trip, and talks about Guatemala. A few days after we returned, his teacher had him present to his class about how the ecosystems in Guatemala affect the culture and way of life. As I watched him present to his peers, he shared details and experiences that revealed how much this trip was profoundly imprinted on his heart and his identity. Our family benefited so much from being out of our comfort zone – we learned so much about our son’s birth country, about human resilience, and even more about our family. I can’t choose one favorite moment, or even pick out a single least favorite moment. The days were unique, yet perfectly balanced, creating a gorgeous tapestry of experiences.The Wall Family