The true treasure of Guatemala

The true treasure of Guatemala

Guatemala is an eclectic mix of history and modernity, with Guatemala City offering everything you would expect from a nation's capital. A wide range of hotels, theatres, shops, and restaurants contribute to a vibrant and buzzing economic centre which is the cradle of Central American culture. Its art galleries contain a staggering collection of pre-Columbian art, whilst experiencing a sporting event here will be an event that you will never forget.

However, the country's true treasures reside in its history, as the heart of the Mayan civilization once beat here. The great city of Tikal, which was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1979, is one of the largest extant sites of the Mayan people. Located in the Petén Basin, north of the capital and easily visited across the border from Belize, the lofty structures evoke a sense of wonder in the mortal. A spiritual centre for the Mayans, the juxtaposition of ordered architecture and untamed nature nourishes the soul as these exquisite buildings poke out through the jungle canopy. Dating from around the second century AD, the city had strong political and economic influence in the region and this shows in the remains. Guided tours are available, with the town of Flores a hub for intrepid tourists.

Another Mayan site which is worth visiting is El Mirador in the far northern portion of the Petén Basin, near the border with Mexico. Discovered in 1926, many historians believe that this was the cradle of the Mayan civilization. It is over 2000 years old but thrived between 150 BC and 150 AD. Its centre comprised of civic buildings and religious complexes, whilst the plan of the city was conducive to trade, highlighting the influence which was once held here. The two major structures are 'El Tigre' and 'La Danta'. The former is 180ft tall, the latter 230ft, with bases greater than fourteen acres in size. The view from the top of El Tigre, believed to be a former religious temple, is enchanting and definitely one of the best I have ever witnessed. At sunset it was divine.

El Mirador is an extremely romantic place to visit, with trees and vegetation growing out of the ruins, highlighting the enduring power of nature and the relative insignificance of man. Like at Tikal, the ruins poke out from above the canopy, but its remote location makes this site far more magical than its more visited rival. If you can get here, go, but try to avoid the rainy season (between May and October) when sometimes tours are cancelled.

Many Brits stop over in European hubs on their way to the destination, with Lisbon hotels always a popular choice.