Mayan Culture and Everyday Life in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan and Its Three Volcanos

We arrived at Lake Atitlan by taxi, all the way from Guatemala City. Your first view of Lake Atitlan will leave you speechless, this beautiful lake is surrounded by three volcanos. The little villages around the lake are populated with ex-pats from all over the world, looking for an inexpensive and leisurely lifestyle, and by Mayan people who still dress traditionally and speak their native languages at home and learn Spanish in school.


Micro Loans Help Poor People

Our driver Jorge at my side, and our boat driver is in the background

A young Mayan man took us across in a his boat. He bought it through a micro loan, like the ones we’ve helped finance through Kiva works with local lenders to raise funds through it’s website. It’s fun to browse Kiva’s website. Choose a country and look at how people plan on spending their loans. Here at Panajachel we loved seeing someone benefit from his loan!

Artisan Cooperatives and Mayan Fashion Models

Antigua is a stunning city with cobbled streets and colonial architecture. The city is heavily populated with more ex-pats. The busier interesections have police officers stationed.

The town is full of tourists, too, some who come just for the nightlife. A couple of teenage girls were laughing at some Mayan women who were selling in the central square. I have never seen tourist act so disgustingly!!!

The headline says: Artisan dreams come true

In Antigua, we learned of an artisan cooperative group which eliminates third parties from the sales chain, which means more profits for the artisans. The most exciting part, for customers like us, is seeing the authentic Mayan models in their beautiful color catalogues.

Unfortunately we hadn’t made arrangements ahead of time to visit some of these artisans. That will have to be our next trip to Guatemala!

Laura and Xibalbá

We became friends with Laura, the owner of an artisan jewelry shop in Antigua, called Xibalbá. Xibalbá is the ancient Mayan underworld. The name translates to ‘place of fright’.

“Flesh falls from the body, eyes hang from their sockets and bodily functions are no longer controlled.”


The ancient Maya believed that the only way to avoid Xibalbá was to die a violent death.

Most tourists avoid the highly dangerous Guatemala City, but if you spend at least a day there, I highly recommend the Popol Vuh museum and the Ixchel museum next door. Popul Vuh is the Maya story of creation and it is fascinating to learn about, but at the museum, you will learn about how the Maya civilization developed through the ages.

Aside: How Dangerous Is Guatemala City?

We went to a small shopping mall close to the museum in the wealthy Zone 10. The mall was filled with non-uniformed guards. Every time someone entered, a uniform guard radioed his colleagues with a slight description.


We walked two blocks to a restaurant we found on TripAdvisor and we found more non-uniformed guards on the streets.

Laura showed us the area surrounding Antigua.

Laura and I talked for a long time about precious stones and our personal feelings of connection to them. We met her on-site artisan and watched him work.

We were excited to see that the Miss Universe Guatemala 2016 competition chose Laura’s shop to create the crown!

Mayan Sales People in the Streets

The poorer artisans try to sell their goods to the tourists. They’ll ask you your name. If they see you the next day, they’ll call you by name from across the street!

We caught one woman lying about the authenticity of the scarves she was selling. Her goods were from China. When I asked he why she lied to us, she laughed and said because she wanted to sell us the scarf. We agreed on a price and I bought the scarf from her. April nights can be cold in Antigua.

The lesson: If you want a low price, don’t expect something handmade in Guatemala.


We came home from Guatemala with new friends, new acquaintances, new experiences and totally in love with Guatemala. You can read some of our other experiences, like our tour of Luis Mena school and and our visit to Casa Santo Domingo, below. Soon I’ll write about our visit to Tikal, the ancient Mayan city.

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