It’s not much to look at and certainly doesn’t hold all the bells and whistles that other ports-of-call have but Puerto Quetzal offers a lot, but you have to move from the rail to the gangway to find out what that is.
There is no city near Puerto Quetzal. Most cruise lines use it as a jumping off point for further exploration into the interior of Guatemala. At the port is a market with many tables of local crafts as well as the usual trappings of the typical souvenirs you’ll find elsewhere. There is a small Historical museum that gives guests a little insight into the Maya and jade and a small store for purchasing jade. It also serves up a small marina with restaurant, internet café with laptops and Wi-Fi and places to catch a cool drink. So don’t expect high rise hotels and white-sand beaches.
Most cruise lines will arrive early to Puerto Quetzal. When I say early, I mean around 6:00 am. You’ll probably be eating breakfast or have gotten up to go on tour. Guests that have not selected a tour will go out on deck and watch the ship pull in, peer over the railing at the port, and wonder why the ship pulled in here to begin with. Really for two reasons. Antigua and the Maya.
La Antigua Guatemala means the “Old Guatemala” and was the third capital of Guatemala. The first was founded on an ancient Maya city. After an uprising by the Maya it was moved to Rio Guacalate. The second Antigua was destroyed by a mudslide from the Volcan de Agua, a volcano nearby, and city officials decided it was time to move again. So, on March 10, 1543 the Spanish founded present day Antigua. For more than 200 years it served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala. But again in 1773 the entire city was destroyed by a series of earthquakes. By now you are probably getting the picture here, so officials moved the capital to Guatemala City, where it remains today. La Antigua was abandoned. But not everyone left. It now is a popular Guatemalan tourist destination and is one of the best preserved Latin American cities.
The charming town, located 4,500 feet above sea level, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can download the The World Heritage Site List and the UNESCO Intanglible Cultural Heritage List. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. So print out both lists and keep track of where you have been and where you want to go. If you want to read more about UNESCO just click here. Antigua is famous for both its colorful Spanish Mudejar-influenced Baroque architecture and its many ruins of colonial churches. While relaxing around Antigua’s popular Parque Central, Visitors are afforded a view of many notable architectural landmarks as well as the spectacular natural beauty of the three major volcanoes that tower over the city’s low skyline. A stroll around the city will leaving you wanting more and wanting to come back again.
The second reason for coming to Puerto Quetzal is the Maya. Mexico in general has always had an old history. Guatemala is no different with its Maya civilization. Maya society originated about 2600 BC in parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Central America. Around AD 800 the Mayan attained one of the greatest population densities in human history in the tropical forest of the Peten, and it was in this region that the Maya civilization began, Flourished, and abruptly disappeared for unknown reasons. AD 900 the Maya all but disappeared. However, archeologists are finding out more about the people and their culture as they reclaim more temples, stelae and sites back from the jungle.
In 1524, The Spaniards conquered the weakened and then divided Maya and took control of Guatemala. But what remains of the Maya can still be seen and marveled at. Maya sites such as Tikal and Yaxha are accessible through Puerto Quetzal. That’s why you have to get up early. You knew there was a reason and it’s not just the breakfast buffet.
It will require a 1 1/2 hour fight coupled with a 1 hour bus ride to get to Tikal and Yaxha. But don’t let that stop you, it’s worth every minute of your time to go to either site. 200 foot temples, markets and homes of the ancient Maya spread over six and a half square miles of jungles. A truly remarkable, historical and beautiful place. You’ll want to stay for a week. The tour added an excellent lunch and the guides were knowledgeable and really wanted you to see their country.
Guatemala is a place of unequivocal beauty, history and adventure. If you take the time to explore it, you’ll be rewarded and inspired. So get off the ship and see what your eyes can’t see.
“Fair winds and following seas!”