Celebrating Trompita- 63 Years of Majesty at Guatemala’s La Aurora Zoo

Celebrating Trompita: 63 Years of Majesty at Guatemala’s La Aurora Zoo

Amid chants and giant fruit cakes, dozens of Guatemalans celebrated this Saturday the 63rd birthday of Trompita the elephant, the main attraction of La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala‘s capital. The party, which included the singing of “Happy Birthday,” was held in an enclosure within the zoo where there is a small waterfall.

“Trompita is an elephant that came to the zoo in 2008, we have given her a lot of love since then and today we decided to celebrate her 63rd birthday, we wanted to celebrate it with everyone,” said Gabriela Galindo, the zoo’s marketing manager, to the press.

It was not just one cake, but two fruit cakes placed next to a large number 63 adorned with a large necklace of green, red, gold, and silver balls. Other animals that share the enclosure with the elephant, such as antelopes, also took the opportunity to eat some of the cake leftovers.

According to Misa Leiva, the zoo’s Ecology Coordinator, said the elephant has adapted very well to life in the place and has a good relationship with the caretakers. “Here we all have many anecdotes with Trompita,” said Leiva.

Trompita is an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and was given by a circus in 2008. She became the icon of the zoo after the death that year of another female of her species, named Mocosita, who had been the emblem of the zoo since 1955.

In 2022, she became a trend on social networks due to a video recorded by a visitor where it is observed that Trompita alerted her caretaker that an antelope had fallen into a water pool.

The average lifespan of an Asian elephant in captivity is 48 years. Currently, it is included in the list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

La Aurora Zoo is situated on a public-owned farm and is managed by a non-governmental association. It was built in December 1924 and keeps on display more than 2,500 animals of 287 species.

In Pictures: A city living under an active volcano

Antigua is Guatemala’s most popular destination – but the picturesque city sits on an active tectonic zone. Travel photographer Bella Falk captures a slice of life.

Antigua, Guatemala, is a Unesco World Heritage city and the jewel in the country’s crown. Smaller, safer and much less gritty than the capital, Guatemala City, Antigua is renowned for its picturesque streets lined with rainbow-painted colonial buildings, grand historic churches and convents, and a thriving cafe and restaurant scene.

Antigua’s most famous landmark is the canary-yellow Santa Catalina arch, which dates to 1694. It was built to enable the nuns of the closed order of Santa Catalina to cross from their convent to the school on the other side of the street without being seen in public. Today it’s the most photographed monument in the country and an icon of Guatemala.

Antigua’s Central Park is the beating heart of the city. Enclosed on all four sides by elegant colonnades and 18th-Century buildings, it’s a lively square where locals come to meet friends and relax. Here you get a clear sense of Guatemala’s fusion of cultures: Indigenous Maya in traditional dress sit alongside denim-clad Guatemalans of European descent and visitors from around the world.

Until the 18th Century, Antigua, then known as Santiago, was Guatemala’s capital and one of the greatest cities in the Spanish Empire. But the city sits on an active tectonic zone in the vicinity of four volcanoes: Agua, Fuego, Acatenango and Pacaya. In 1773, it was devastated by a major series of earthquakes, so the government decided to move the capital to its current location and the city became known as La Antigua Guatemala (The Old Guatemala).

One of the hardest hit buildings was the magnificent former cathedral. Constructed in 1545, it stood for more than 200 years before being toppled by the earthquake. Today its roof is open to the elements, the collapsed remains of pillars and carvings are piled in the eerie side chapels and pigeons nest in the alcoves.

Now Antigua’s enemies have become its friends: those same volcanoes that wreaked so much damage are major tourist draws. The star attraction is the 3,768m-tall Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire), one of the world’s most active. It has been constantly erupting since 2002, shooting incandescent lava bombs and clouds of ash into the air about every 15-30 minutes.

Visitors who want to witness Earth’s unstoppable power first-hand can hike up Volcan Acatenango, which stands right next to Fuego. Here, local tour companies offer overnight camping, so you can stay up late with a front-row seat to the action as Fuego explodes its red-hot guts into the night sky.

Another agent of destruction-turned tourist attraction is Pacaya, about 50km from Antigua. Until 2021, it also erupted frequently, oozing sticky lava down its slopes. Today the eruptions have stopped, and guides like Rubi Santamaria take visitors to the freshly dried lava field, where she shows them how to toast marshmallows using the volcano’s heat.
Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Guatemala is full of color and wonder, making it an exciting place for children to explore.

Like all Latin American countries, family is a central tenet of the culture – children are treated with a special tenderness that will lift even the most travel-weary of hearts. Expect lots of big smiles, kindness and general accommodations for little ones and mothers-to-be.

This genuine hospitality, coupled with incredible sights such as towering volcanoes, crater lakes and jungle ruins, make Guatemala a wonderful destination for families.

Is Guatemala good for kids?

Guatemalans welcome little ones in all of their chaotic glory. Children are not only invited but expected to be everywhere, from the fanciest five-star restaurants in the city to remote volcano hikes in the highlands.

This is a country full of sensory delights for those discovering the world: think sprawling markets with colorful textiles, sparkling jewels and sweet treats around every corner. For older kids, seeing an active volcano, jumping in limestone pools or exploring the ancient ruins where Star Wars was filmed can make them feel like they are in another world.

Despite all the goodwill and jaw-dropping nature, a Guatemalan adventure does not come without its challenges. There is little in the way of family-friendly amenities, such as changing tables in washrooms, and both car seats and high chairs are hard to come by.

A baby carrier will serve you better than a stroller due to the cobbled streets and narrow footpaths that dominate the country. There are not a lot of open play spaces, but many restaurants have play areas inside, so it’s possible for parents to take a breather while kids burn off some steam.

Where is best in Guatemala for kids?

The first stop for almost everyone in Guatemala is the charming city of Antigua, and for those traveling with kids, this should be no exception. There’s plenty here for everyone: museums, markets, green spaces and volcanoes. From Antigua, hop on the shuttle to Lago de Atitlán for the ultimate experience in boating, swimming and paddling on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Alternatively, head in the other direction to the black-sand Pacific beaches or the heart of Guatemala City for museums and culinary delights. Further east, jungle escapes await where the crystal clear pools of Semuc Champey and the ancient ruins in El Petén make for epic outdoor adventures.

Best things to do in Guatemala with babies and toddlers

Release baby turtles at Monterrico Beach

From September to January, the university-run project Tortugario Monterrico in the beach town of Monterrico allows visitors to show up at sunset and adopt a baby turtle.

For a small fee, your child can choose their own turtle to cheer on as the little creature scrambles towards its forever home in the water. Profits from the project go directly towards helping preserve the local turtle population and other reptiles native to the area.

Visit Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

Don’t let the name fool you – this is less a museum and more a recreational center, with lots of colorful, interactive displays and super enthusiastic staff. There’s plenty of open, well-maintained space for running around and exploring, both indoors and outside, and educational games that range from very simple to more science-based and Guatemala-specific, such as learning about volcanoes and why they erupt.

There is a fast-food restaurant (Pollo Campero, think Guatemala’s version of KFC) on site, but a better option would be to pack a picnic lunch and eat outside on the lovely lawn.

Best things to do in Guatemala with kids

Swim in the pools of Semuc Champey

It’s an adventure in itself getting to Semuc Champey (eight hours from Guatemala City, including some bumpy backroads), but the turquoise pools are well worth the trek. A short hike up to a mirador offers spectacular views and chances to spot wildlife, such as colorful birds and elusive iguanas.

After the walk, it’s easy to spend a day splashing around in the cool waters, rock hopping around the pools, or just kicking back and sunbathing in the middle of the jungle.

Ride a horse up Volcán Pacaya and roast marshmallows at the top

It would be a shame to visit Guatemala and not climb one of its many spectacular volcanoes. Fortunately for parents, there is Volcán Pacaya. Located near Antigua, it’s the only volcano that offers local guides on standby with horses ready to help carry the weary to the top. It’s a moderately paced hike and is perfect for kids who want to try out a climb but might grow too tired on the trail.

Since this is one of the country’s designated national parks, there are plenty of amenities, including well-maintained washrooms and stands where you can buy local snacks. The best part of the trek? Roasting marshmallows over cooled lava at the top.

Make (and eat) chocolate at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua

The ChocoMuseo will lure people of all ages in with its free samples and then keep you entertained with information about the history of chocolate in Guatemala. Located in the heart of the shopping district of Antigua, it hosts excellent workshops where the friendly and knowledgeable staff teach participants how to make chocolate.

They show how it’s all done, from bean to bar, with the opportunity for kids to get as weird as they want when customizing their own treats.

Best things to do in Guatemala with teenagers and tweenagers

Explore underground caves in Lanquín

Located near the stunning pools of Semuc Champey in Lanquín, the K’anba caves tour is a unique experience for those who dare to delve into the dark.

Thrill seekers can walk, slip, slide and swim through an underground river cave system, lighting the way with a candle in hand. The tour takes about an hour and a half and includes a tube down the Río Cahabón at the end.

Paddleboard around Lago de Atitlán

A morning session with Stand Up Paddle Atitlán is the perfect start to the day and is suitable for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Glide across Lago de Atitlán in the morning while the water is still tranquil and enjoy the spectacular view of the crater lake’s impressive trifecta of volcanoes. The tour includes interesting tidbits about the history of the area and a stop at a special spot for cliff jumping.

Explore the ruins of Tikal

The ancient ruins of Tikal are buried deep in the jungle of El Petén and will satisfy young history buffs and nature lovers. Kids will love the strange sounds of howler monkeys screaming throughout the park and the chance to spot tropical birds, snakes and crocodiles.

The site is home to more than 200 structures, some of which are partially or completely swallowed by jungle. The most dramatic pyramid in the park, Templo IV is an incredible spot to watch the sunrise, for those able to corral everyone out of bed in time. Older kids may also enjoy the Tikal Canopy Tour, a zip-lining adventure inside the park every morning at 9am.

Planning tips

  • The water from the faucet is never (ever) drinkable in Guatemala, so always have bottled water on hand.
  • The rainy season runs from May to November, and parents should be extra cautious about potential food-borne illnesses during these months. The fresh fruit sold on the street will definitely tempt everyone in the family, but it’s best to stick to fruit with a peel. Some kids might also be happy to hear that salads are a no-no, as raw produce runs the risk of having been washed in contaminated water. Stick to warm, cooked food whenever possible.
  • The local buses may be a little too chaotic for kids (not to mention some adults), so it’s best to go with the pricier shuttles that move between the touristic parts of the country. When visiting Lago de Atitlán, the lanchas (water taxis) are a fun way to get around the different villages, and children under 12 ride for free sometimes, but not always (depending on the captain).
  • There are no car seat laws in Guatemala, and they are not readily available. For those who need a car seat or other specialty items like breast pumps, the chain store Jugueton carries them at a premium, so it’s best to come prepared.
PRF Guatemala: Why origin trips are so valuable to roasters

PRF Guatemala: Why origin trips are so valuable to roasters

Origin trips have become an increasingly important part of specialty coffee, particularly over the past couple of decades. With the growing focus on direct trade and establishing long term, mutually beneficial relationships with producers, these trips provide invaluable opportunities for roasters to forge deeper connections with supply chain actors in producing countries.

In addition to establishing more sustainable relationships with producers, group origin trips also allow roasters to more closely engage with their peers and other industry professionals. In turn, they can broaden their networks even further.

As part of Producer & Roaster Forum’s event taking place in Guatemala this year, the Sourcing Trip Experience (STE) will be held from 3 to 6 March 2024. Created specifically for roasters and green buyers, the STE ticket includes a four-day trip to coffee-growing regions in Guatemala, followed by the two-day PRF forum in Guatemala City on 7 & 8 March 2024.

Read on to find out more about the STE and PRF Guatemala.


Put simply, an origin trip is when coffee professionals from other parts of the supply chain – including green buyers, roasters, baristas, and competitors – visit coffee farms in a producing country.

Although these trips are understandably more geared towards roasters and green coffee buyers, producers from other origin countries can also attend. This can be for many reasons, including to broaden their understanding of different farming practices and gain new insight into new and more advanced processing techniques.

As part of organised origin trips, attendees are taken to several coffee farms – which can span across different regions in a particular country. Guests will generally meet producers and visit farms, including different plots of land and micro and nano lots.

Attendees may also tour the farm facilities. Depending on the size and type of farm, this could include nurseries, grading and sorting areas, and wet and dry mills. Some farms may also have cupping rooms or sample roasting spaces – or even larger-sized roasteries and coffee shops.

Most origin trips are led by a company or an organiser, and bring together industry professionals from around the world. Ultimately, this presents a unique opportunity for roasters and green buyers to meet producers, as well as their peers, and connect in a much more close and personal way.


With a growing number of industry events taking place in producing countries every year, origin trips are becoming a more important part of them. Producer & Roaster Forum – one of the few that places producers at the very forefront – not only hosts a two-day forum in a different coffee origin country, but also organises a Sourcing Trip Experience.

During the STE, roasters and green buyers from around the world will have the opportunity to gain direct and immersive insight into coffee production. They will stay with local hosts on coffee farms in the country in several groups of up to 15 guests – allowing for a more intimate and engaging experience.

Julia Peixoto Peters is the founder of Peixoto Coffee in the US. She was also a guest on the PRF Colombia 2023 STE.

“The experience with [Host Sponsor] Cafe Lumbus was unforgettable,” she says. “The group of people travelling together were compatible, the farms we toured were stunning, the coffees we tasted were exceptional. And more importantly, the Cafe Lumbus team was incredibly generous and hospitable.”

The PRF Guatemala STE Host Sponsors are:

  • Unitrade Coffee – founded in 1989, the company is dedicated to growing, processing, and selling high-quality Guatemalan coffee, with a key focus on nature and sustainability
  • San Miguel Coffees – with over 130 years of experience, San Miguel sources coffee from eight different growing regions in Guatemala, focusing specifically on single origin coffees

STE attendees can expect to take part in a number of engaging activities such as:

  • Visiting farms and meeting producers
  • Observing harvesting and processing
  • Travelling to wet and dry mills
  • Taking part in roundtable discussions and educational activities, including with producers
  • Participating in cupping sessions

How can I apply?

For roasters and green buyers interested in attending the PRF Guatemala STE, tickets are available here. A PRF Guatemala STE general ticket covers:

  • Full access to the Sourcing Trip Experience from 3 to 6 March 2024, including farm visits, roundtable discussions, cuppings, and more
  • Access to the PRF Guatemala two-day forum on 7 & 8 March 2024, including an exhibition, lectures and presentations, workshops, and competitions
  • Accommodation and food for three nights and four days (from 3 March to 17:00 local time on 6 March)
  • Organised dinners and/or events with Host Sponsors

Additionally, at the two-day forum, a STE VIP ticket will include:

  • Fast track entry to the event
  • VIP lounge access and dedicated VIP wifi
  • Access to an exclusive coffee brew bar and private food service
  • VIP dinner

Following the STE, participants will return to Guatemala City to attend the PRF two-day Forum at the Anacafé venue on 7 & 8 March 2024.

Other important details to note include:

  • International STE attendees must first fly to Guatemala City. The pick-up point will be at Guaco Café (on the ground floor of the Anacafé building) on 3 March 2024. Please ensure to arrive in Guatemala City with enough time to be at the pick-up point promptly
  • Costs of international flights are not covered with the STE ticket
  • Everyone who purchases a STE ticket will attend an onboarding call to provide further details
  • If more than one person attends per roastery or company, they will be placed with different hosts in different groups
  • Accommodation, meals, and transportation are not provided and the costs of these expenses are not covered before or after the STE (prior to 3 March and from 6 March onwards)
  • Health and travel insurance are required


For many roasters and green buyers, the experience of attending an origin trip is an unforgettable one. First and foremost, it allows them to deepen their understanding of the supply chain and coffee production. Moreover, it provides them with direct access to the people responsible for growing, selling, and exporting coffee.

During the PRF Guatemala STE, attendees can participate in deep, meaningful, and sometimes challenging discussions with producers, exporters, and other supply chain stakeholders. Ultimately, this is one of the most rewarding and mutually beneficial ways to build long-term relationships through which attendees can buy different coffees for years.

This could mean finding an exporter who can pre-finance shipments and handle logistics, discussing how to consolidate a container with other roasters, or buying coffee Freight On Board (FOB).

As part of the experience, attendees will also meet some of Guatemala’s leading producers, and see first-hand how they grow, harvest, and process their coffee.

Sourcing new coffees

Another major part of origin trips is looking for new coffees. Whether roasters are searching for different varieties and processing methods, a reliable new base for an espresso blend, or a competition coffee, events like the STE are some of the most effective ways to find new options.

Jason Kew is the founder of Coffee Project China, and was a PRF Colombia 2023 STE guest.

“Forest Coffee’s farm was amazing, and they were great hosts with an amazing location and food,” he says. “Cupping with the producers was a good experience, the farm tours were delightful, and there are endless opportunities for future business. We are looking to introduce the brand in the Chinese market.”

Additionally, as roasters and green buyers will attend cuppings organised with and by producers on the PRF Guatemala STE, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about particular coffees they are interested in purchasing.

Every year, more and more roasters and green buyers are understanding the value of attending origin trips to develop their businesses and expand their networks.

Hundreds of roasters have attended STE over the years and established lifelong partnerships with producers from prominent origin countries. To find out more about tickets for the STE, you can find more information here.

You can stay up to date with all announcements for PRF Guatemala here, or by subscribing to the newsletter here.

Please note: The STE ticket does not include any accommodation for the nights of 6, 7 & 8 March. It also covers no costs once attendees return to Guatemala City after the STE.

Photo credits: Hacienda Cafetera La Pradera

Perfect Daily Grind


Armed conflict in Chiapas spills over the Guatemalan border, damages Mexico’s tourism industry

Armed conflict in Chiapas spills over the Guatemalan border, damages Mexico’s tourism industry

The armed conflict in Chiapas is spreading beyond the state’s borders. While federal and local governments continue to talk about peace, evidence that large sections of Mexico’s poorest state are under the control of drug traffickers is mounting daily, contradicting this official narrative. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG, in its Spanish acronym), the two most powerful criminal groups in Mexico, are fighting a turf war for control over this southern region in a conflict that has taken an especially heavy toll on the civilian, peasant and indigenous population. The consequences of the violence are also beginning to spread to the international sphere: tourist agencies in France, the United Kingdom and Belgium have decided to stop taking clients to the Lacandon Jungle, while across the border in neighboring Guatemala, authorities have reported incursions and gun battles between members of the CJNG and government forces.

This week, ATC Touroperadores, which describes itself as “the first tourist agency operating in Chiapas since 1984,” announced that the “French, British and Belgian agencies that we represent have decided to stop taking tourists anywhere in the Lacandon area,” one of the state’s main attractions. In justifying its decision, the company said that “for more than three months, the tourism environment has been drastically disrupted in certain regions of Chiapas” as a result of “situations that took place in the past two weeks involving three groups of French tourists,” though the agency did not providing any further details about these “situations.”

However, in the same statement, which was shared on the company’s social media, ATC mentions incidents involving foreign tourists in which company vehicles were forced to advance through “rock-throwing and gunfire. In the statement, the company also refers to threats and extortion by organized crime: “Armed men, armed to the teeth, will say: ‘You can pass through here with tourists, but you have to pay,’ and then they tell you what time you can enter Bonampak [an archaeological site] — in their cars, of course, which you also pay for — and then tell you that you also have to pay a security guard, with the title of tourist guide, who accompanies you the whole time, and then they ask you for a thousand pesos and you can’t negotiate anything, because the person is carrying a pistol on his belt and there’s a guy behind him with a rifle, and so you pay either way, and if there’s an ‘operation,’ then they don’t let you through at all.”

“And then,” the statement continues, “you realize that the Lacandon and Chol natives have an offensive force capable of confronting the Mexican Army and the National Guard, and so you say, loud and in the open: ‘This state is screwed!” The affected area, where ATC says it will no longer operate, is home to the Mayan archaeological sites Yaxchilan and Bonampak, among other attractions. The US State Department advises citizens to “exercise increased caution to due to crime” if traveling to the State of Chiapas.

The violence spreads to Guatemala

More and more, Guatemala views its shared border with Mexico with apprehension. Authorities in the Central American country have alerted Mexico’s Foreign Ministry to the growing presence of CJNG members in their territory. The criminal group has gained strength in the region of Frontera Comalapa and Motozintla, municipalities linked by a highway that the cartel blocks and unblocks at will, using its own checkpoints. The population is fleeing the area, displaced by the violence and a lack of protection in the absence of a significant state presence, and spurred by fears of being killed or forcibly recruited by organized crime.

Specifically, in recent weeks, the CJNG set up a checkpoint on the border between Motozintla, on the Mexican side, and in Cantón Cheguate, on the Guatemalan side. According to the Mexican newspaper Milenio, the criminals were heavily armed and wore bulletproof vests. According to the outlet, those same cartel members were involved in the initial confrontation with Guatemalan armed forces that took place during the second week of January, when an armed unit of the cartel crossed into Guatemala and clashed with a military unit, which returned fire and managed to capture two of the attackers. Both confessed to being from Chiapas and belonging to the CJNG. The police also located two safe houses.

Guatemala has deployed 2,000 military personnel to Cantón Cheguate. The strategy is part of an operation that has been underway for months, aimed at reinforcing the border in the face of disorder and violence in Chiapas. Last September, Guatemalan authorities announced the deployment of more than 300 soldiers to the Department of San Marcos, which shares a border with Motozintla, Amatenango de la Frontera and Mazapa de Madero in Mexico. In December, 10 Guatemalan chicken sellers disappeared in Frontera Comalapa. They were never heard from again.

Chiapas has yet to get a break from the violence as it deals with the daily consequences of the infiltration of organized crime, with no government counterweights others than an increasing militarization that has not managed — or, according to many human rights organizations working on the ground, has not even tried — to tackle the problem. The population displaced by the violence is in the thousands, while massacres have become part of the daily vocabulary and the region suffers a growing sense of abandonment — a sense that the only law governing the territory is the one imposed by drug traffickers.

Even the Church has raised its voice in open protest. This is how the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas summarized the situation in a message published this Thursday: “We unite our voices in protest to testify to the endless abuses and injustices that our towns and communities are experiencing, especially the insecurity, violence and territorial disputes provoked by organized crime, in the face of which all three levels of government are either overwhelmed, permissive, or colluding in the system of control that these groups exercise in Mexico […] This has had very serious consequences for our municipalities and our communities, including: violence and confrontations between armed groups and drug traffickers, which result in kidnappings, disappearances, forced displacements of people and entire families, as well as the loss of assets and savings that these families have earned through so much effort […] On top of this — out of fear of reprisals, impunity and the non-exercise of the rule of law — people do not want to report crimes to the authorities. This has also created power struggles between organizations that have been manipulated by political parties, caciquismo, and corrupt local officials and businessmen.”

Colour and cautious hope on a ‘bling bling’ bus journey through Guatemala

Colour and cautious hope on a ‘bling bling’ bus journey through Guatemala

The country’s remodelled US school buses showcase both its passion and problems
The chicken buses come barrelling past, a flash of colours accompanied by blaring horns and exhaust pipes. In a former life, these extraordinary-looking vehicles were sprayed yellow and tasked with ferrying children to and from school in the US. Stand on almost any roadside in Guatemala and you’ll see their Central American reincarnation. They roar preposterously around bends beneath volcanoes and belch black smoke into narrow, dusty town centres, vying to attract passengers. The buses are privately run, so owners get to choose the style of their fleets. The more ostentatious the better. Chrome is popular, so are stars, wings, curved lines and bright clusters of lights. Their engines are modified for a dangerous extra oomph. Yet their names are calmer, often tending towards the saintly or abstract: Saint Thomas, Little Princess, The Beautiful Foreigner, Fortune, Hope. Hope is something Guatemalans have lacked recently. Though the country has the largest economy in Central America, it is also one of the most unequal. Indigenous Guatemalans, who make up almost half the population, are twice as likely to be affected by poverty. Each year thousands of people attempt to immigrate to the US. A recent authoritarian slide has raised the stakes further in an election year but, for most, change is a distant prospect. When the first round of presidential elections took place last month, familiar names featured prominently among the more than 20 candidates. They included Sandra Torres, a former first lady, and Zury Ríos, the daughter of the country’s former dictator. Throughout Guatemala’s turbulent recent history its chicken buses, known as las camionetas (vans) or las burras (donkeys) in Spanish, have been a fixture of everyday life. (The tourists’ name “chicken bus” is thought to have come about because live poultry used to commonly be wedged in the luggage racks.) The main form of transport between and within cities, the vehicles reflect some of the country’s knottier problems, including crime and inequality. Extortionists routinely demand bus drivers pay up to pass through their territory; workers who commute into the capital Guatemala City because they can’t afford to live there face long traffic jams on top of their already long hours. Travelling by bus, therefore, offers a way to trace the contours of the country at a crucial moment. The first stop on my journey is a wood-panelled office in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, thousands of miles away from Guatemala City. Adam Thoma sits at the desk from which he runs 422 Sales, an auction house started by his father in the early 1980s. Before bus-buying moved online, the company was the leading seller of second-hand school buses in the US. Thoma, a laid-back 41-year-old with a pearly smile, speaks fondly about the glory years of the family business during our video call. Their most successful day was when they offloaded 764 buses at one auction in August 2000. Back then, in-person sales were the only way to secure one. Buyers who didn’t live in the US had to travel up from Mexico and Central America, which was, and still is, by far 422’s largest market. “Guatemalans can buy a decent used vehicle at a reduced rate and still operate it for 10 or 20 years,” Thoma says. Perhaps longer, if you follow the rule one client shared with him: “If the bus starts in the morning and has brakes working on one wheel, we’ll use it.” Occasionally, customers send him photographs of their reconstructed buses. Taking a framed picture off the wall, Thoma singles out a flamboyant green and red vehicle from Guatemala. “They definitely do the best work down there,” he says. A week later, I set off on a sunny June morning from Guatemala City to meet Juan Estrada, a loyal 422 customer who lives in Escuintla, a city not far from the Pacific coast. At the main bus station in Villa Nueva, part of the capital’s metropolitan sprawl, burras of all colours judder to a halt. Mine turns out to be a rather plain green-and-white model, but its interior is relatively plush, with new high-backed green seats that are surprisingly comfortable. There are a dozen passengers on board, as we cruise past scores of political posters and descend gently towards the sea, past maize fields below the steep sides of a volcano. An hour later, I’m in Escuintla, where I find Estrada’s bus garage down a cobbled side street. Estrada, 49, is wearing a green grease-stained polo shirt. He leads me to a messy office strewn with equipment, where pride of place is given to a picture of Jerusalem’s skyline, a common possession for Guatemalan evangelicals. As we begin talking buses, Estrada becomes animated. He started driving buses at 18, he says, even though he didn’t have a licence. Not long after, Estrada travelled to his first bus auction in the US and returned behind the wheel of his boss’s new purchase. Despite running his own company now, he frequently drives buses back from the US down through Mexico, a trip in the thousands of miles. “All the journeys are an adventure. Each one has its own story.”
Estrada promised himself that he wouldn’t travel to the US this year, either to add to his collection of nine local buses or to buy for his resale business. But he recently returned from his third trip in less than six months. He jokes that he just can’t shake his “vice” even though, with supply much lower than in the past, second-hand bus prices have soared (a 10-year-old bus costs between $5,000 and $15,000, says 422’s Thoma). US school districts cling on to vehicles for longer, the effect of the 2008 financial crash and then the pandemic. They used to be sold after 10 years, but now it is closer to 20. Yet though Estrada’s margins are tighter, he is following his passion. “The majority of owners have been born and brought up with buses. We carry this in our blood. We love them,” he says. Just as he inherited his father’s company, he wants his 11-year-old son to take over one day. “It falls from generation to generation.” The same is true for the bus painters and mechanics of Ciudad Vieja, 30 miles north, where I head next, whizzing through lush landscapes on another camioneta. Although only a small town, its 16 burra workshops make it the chicken bus revamp capital of Guatemala. At Horacio’s, the oldest of them, I talk to Henry González, whose grandfather started a vehicle repair shop nearby more than 70 years ago. In the dim light of the workshop, González explains the story of Guatemalan camioneta know­how. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the US bus manufacturer Blue Bird had a factory in the country, which drove local interest and technical knowledge, he says. Over time, the burras’ designs — González calls it their “bling bling” — grew more elaborate. “Sometimes they put lights on them, televisions inside. They look like a disco,” he says, somewhat disapprovingly. His words are vindicated the following evening when the strangest and most extravagant camioneta I’ve seen bumps its way along the cobbles of Antigua, a pretty colonial town heaving with tourists. Its front is a beacon of red light and its body pulses blue, like some improbable deep-sea creature. Over the road from Horacio’s is the San Jorge workshop, another family-run affair. Giovanni Rodríguez, a muscular, tattooed 36-year-old, whose jet black hair is gelled upright, shows me his handiwork. He is in the process of painting a bus, predominantly white and blue. On the upper back corner, the initials of its owner curl satisfyingly. Much of the bus is still coated in masking tape and newspaper — mainly from the sports section and the Guatemalan equivalent of page-three pin-ups — to protect it from stray paint. When it is finished, the name La Humilde (The Humble One) will billow beneath its windows in red and yellow. As we fight to be heard over the noise of a metal grinder that’s remodelling a bus bound for El Salvador, conversation turns from aesthetics to an ugly but endemic problem in Guatemala: extortion. “It’s always existed,” sighs Rodríguez, before confiding that La Humilde’s owner has to pay what the gangs euphemistically refer to as renta (rent). If he refused, his drivers would probably be killed. For more than a decade, the Association of Widows of Public Transport Drivers in Guatemala City has helped those affected by the killings, offering work courses for bereaved women and arranging school support for their children. Lilian Maribel Pérez decided to set up the organisation after a spike in homicides in the late 2000s — almost 200 bus and taxi drivers were shot dead in 2009, she says. The number of deaths is still high; more than 500 bus drivers were killed in acts of violence between 2010 and August 2022, according to the Guatemalan newspaper La Prensa Libre.

En route to Pérez’s home, which doubles as her office, I board a 28-year-old bus driven by Jimmy Gómez. He fills up at a petrol station near the historic centre of Guatemala City. Previously a long-haul lorry driver, Gómez only started his job two weeks ago, but he understands the risks. “Eight drivers were killed on my route in 2022,” he says matter-of-factly, as we arrive at the bus station and he edges us into a parking space. Asked if he fears for his safety, Gómez offers a come-what-may response: “I have God in my heart.” The widows’ association is near a busy ring road. Pérez shuts the window grills to reduce the noise. She tells me bluntly she has little time for the country’s politicians, who haven’t given her organisation any support. “Unfortunately, our authorities have always been indifferent to violence. There’s never been a government that could really combat the criminality that there is in Guatemala,” she says. Going to the police is often not an option, she says, citing corruption. Pérez knows of only a handful of murderers who have been convicted in the past decade for killing bus drivers. “You feel very impotent because you can’t do anything. There is nowhere you can demand justice.” Guatemala also suffers from severe financial inequality. A small number of families hold enormous influence, while one in two children is malnourished and decently paid work is scarce. Many young girls are driven to leave homes in the provinces and move to the capital to seek jobs cleaning, ironing and cooking in the houses of the affluent. Some 300,000 people perform this role across the country, according to Centracap, an organisation that offers them help and training and which battles to win them rights in law. Early one Friday, I arrive at Bethsi López’s home on the outskirts of the capital to accompany her to work. The 4.45am start is necessary because López, who looks younger than her 34 years, is keen to beat the traffic. Almost two decades after arriving as a 17-year-old in Guatemala City, the single mother of two still works six days a week for wealthy families. The demands of the job are tough enough without the length of her bus commute, which can take up to six hours return. She limps because of problems with the tendons in her feet. We reach the bottom of a precipitous hill, cross a footbridge and board a brightly lit camioneta. It’s a bit of a squeeze, but we find a seat and López starts to recount the challenges and the loneliness of her work, for which she gets paid between £9 and £15 a day. “It’s a solitary life,” she says, explaining that she barely talks to anyone except her two daughters. We discuss the discrimination workers face. Racial abuse towards the indigenous women who make up most of her sector’s workforce is particularly prevalent, López says. Some families abuse their powers in other ways too. An hour and a half after our bus sets off, we near the leafy neighbourhood where she works, on a hill east of the city. It is only a little more than 20km from her home, but it might as well be another world. The place is quiet, the air is fresh and large condominiums are everywhere. Joggers pad along its quiet roads as López shuffles towards the entrance to her boss’s gated community to work. Guatemalans desperate for a country with more equality and less corruption cheered during the “Guatemalan Spring” of 2015, when president Otto Pérez Molina and vice-president Roxana Baldetti were booted from power and imprisoned for crimes committed in office. But under the next two leaders, democracy went further into retreat. Few I met on my travels realistically thought this slide would be halted by the presidential elections. Nevertheless, on the eve of the vote, thousands left Guatemala City for their family homes in other towns to exercise their democratic right. Accompanying some of them, I set out for Nebaj by bus. The town is in the western region of Quiché, a place ringed by idyllic cloud forests but haunted by a brutal past. It is the home of the Ixil people, against whom the army unleashed waves of massacres during the civil war that started in 1960 and lasted until the mid-1990s. Asked if he fears for his safety, bus driver Jimmy Gómez offers a come-what-may response: ‘I have God in my heart’
My journey takes me through Los Encuentros, a camioneta crossroads just north of Lake Atitlán, where I wait to change buses. On an overcast Saturday afternoon, the tinkling bell of an ice-cream salesman seems hopeful. But the burra ayudantes — boys and men who tout their buses over competitors’ and tie luggage on the roof rack while their camioneta zips along the road — have more luck. Boarding a stylish red, white and black bus, I squash beside two other adults on a bench designed for two US children. As we race into the hills to Nebaj, the music on board is typically loud and upbeat. The following morning, large queues form at the outdoor polling station beside Nebaj’s main square, where Gabriel de Paz is expecting me. Like most Mayan men in the town of his generation, the 62-year-old farmer is dressed in local indigenous attire: a smart red and black jacket and a straw hat. As we move to the quiet of a nearby building, de Paz tells me how his youth was violently uprooted by war. When the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, known as the EGP, took up positions in the surrounding hills, the state military made its presence known and razed dozens of local villages, in a cruel bid to cut off potential support for the insurgents. Its actions were particularly grisly under the brief dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled for 17 months in 1982 and 1983. De Paz’s family escaped into the mountains, often staying in hiding for months at a stretch. He still has nightmares in which soldiers pursue him, destroy his animals and send in planes. Like many others, he cannot afford the psychological support he needs. Added to this untreated trauma, de Paz was worried: that Zury Ríos, whose father’s troops killed thousands of Ixil people, could become the next Guatemalan president. Ríos had campaigned in the region and her party’s mayoral candidates were expected to do well in parts of Quiché. To de Paz, the possibility that Ríos could be elected, after decades of denying her father’s crimes, was hard to fathom. Yet many are unaware of their history, he says. After our discussion, we walk to the cemetery, where de Paz points to the final resting place of victims whose remains were only discovered 10 years ago. “Some people say there wasn’t genocide. But how can they deny it? When there are graves here,” he says. As I turn the light out that evening, a child in the street beside my hotel shouts with high-pitched delight that other candidates are beating Ríos. The scale of her defeat is revealed the next morning as plummeting support consigns Ríos to sixth place in the presidential race. Though to de Paz’s sadness, Ríos’s party’s mayoral candidates are elected in the nearby municipalities of Cotzal and Chajul. But there’s reason for optimism. Bernardo Arévalo, a rare anti-corruption figure, claimed a surprise second place in the presidential vote, thanks in part to the fact that more Guatemalans chose “voto nulo” than voted for any other single candidate. The political elites or pollsters had not expected it, and hope is in the air. A 23-year-old student in Nebaj tells me the country “had finally started to open its eyes”. Though Arévalo is due to take part in second-round elections in August, the election results were disputed and called before the courts. As one Guatemalan friend texts me, even if there is a fresh start, “It will take a lot to clean the shop when it has been dirty for such a long time.” I re-read her message, which is otherwise full of cautious hope, on my chicken bus home, as cheerful Mexican ballads blast from the speakers. For a brief moment, Guatemala’s political outlook coincides with the radiant colours of the country’s camionetas.

Guatemala FAM With Sunny Land Tours

Guatemala FAM With Sunny Land Tours

It’s the “Center of the Mayan World” and center of the American continents, with a lingering landscape from the two great kingdoms—Mayan and Spanish—and a vibrant indigenous population comprising nearly half the population. But Guatemala is also known as the “Country of Eternal Spring” because of its year-round temperate climate, making visiting there as cool as a spring breeze.

You can experience this one-of-a-kind destination on a 5-day Sunny Land Tours itinerary starting at $499/adult. The adventure starts in the capital with an overnight at the Barcelo Guatemala City, then ventures to Antigua Guatemala, whose blend of ruins and restored colonial buildings earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Founded by the Spanish in 1543, Antigua was the country’s original capital, but once that was moved to Guatemala City in 1773, Antigua remained suspended in time, its cobblestone streets and walled courtyard gardens surrounded by volcanoes, keeping the modern world at bay.

Chichicastenango: A Buyer’s Market

The tour moves on to the town of Chichicastenango, a Mayan cultural center and home to the country’s most colorful and picturesque open-air market, selling handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, candles and brilliantly woven textiles. Next door, the 400-year-old church of St. Thomas seems to hover in a cloud, which upon further inspection, turns out to be continually burning incense, creating a mystical aura and aroma that permeates the town square.

From there, you’ll visit Lake Atitlan, a crater lake in the Guatemalan highlands, one of the region’s deepest lakes and considered the most beautiful by many a traveler, including famed author Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”).

Atitlan is the ideal place to explore Guatemalan folklore. Twelve indigenous villages surround the lake, their inhabitants descended from the Quiche, Cakchiquel and Tzutuhil nations.

Powerful 6.1 earthquake rocks Guatemala, tremors felt in El Salvador

Powerful 6.1 earthquake rocks Guatemala, tremors felt in El Salvador

6.1 magnitude earthquake strikes Guatemala southern coast, causing evacuations and damage, with tremors felt in neighboring El Salvador.

In a late-night seismic event, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake rattled the southern Pacific coast of Guatemala, as confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The tremor, striking just past midnight on Friday, caused alarm among residents, leading to evacuations and initial reports of structural damage.

The quake’s impact extended beyond Guatemala’s borders, being distinctly felt in El Salvador. Despite the late hour of the occurrence, there have been no immediate reports of casualties. However, the event prompted a swift response from local and neighboring authorities, with El Salvador’s officials labeling the quake as “strong” and actively monitoring the aftermath.

The epicenter of the earthquake was pinpointed near Taxisco, a Guatemalan town situated roughly 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) south of the capital, Guatemala City. The tremor triggered alarms in the capital, inciting fear and leading to precautionary evacuations among the residents.

According to the USGS, the depth of the earthquake was measured at approximately 108 kilometers (67 miles). This significant depth often plays a role in mitigating the surface impact of seismic events.

One notable instance of damage occurred in San Pablo Jocopilas, a town northwest of the epicenter. Here, portions of a church’s facade succumbed to the quake’s force, as reported by CONRED, Guatemala’s emergency services agency.

Further affirming the severity of the earthquake, the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) also reported the event, corroborating the magnitude of 6.1. The GFZ’s measurements indicated that the earthquake occurred at a depth of 119 kilometers (73.9 miles). As the situation develops, both national and international agencies remain vigilant, ready to assess and respond to any emerging needs in the affected areas.

Best Volcanoes To Conquer In Guatemala For Beginners

Best Volcanoes To Conquer In Guatemala For Beginners

Guatemala, a haven of natural wonders, invites novice adventurers to conquer its breathtaking volcanoes. Here are three awe-inspiring peaks in this Central American country that promise epic adventures for those just starting their volcanic journey.

Ipala Lagoon and Volcano: Effortless Beauty in Chiquimula

Nestled in Chiquimula, the Volcano and Ipala Lagoon offer a climb that demands little effort. Despite the warm climate requiring hydration precautions, the two-hour ascent leads to a stunning lagoon. An added advantage is the volcano’s broad paths, allowing for a leisurely horseback ascent. Located 165 km from the capital city, the journey to Chiquimula promises a four-hour scenic adventure.

Chicabal Volcano and Laguna: Nature’s Beauty Unveiled

Located in the department of Quetzaltenango, the Volcano and Laguna Chicabal present an enchanting challenge. Scaling its heights rewards adventurers with a stunning lagoon view. The ascent, taking 3 to 4 hours, unveils a nearly perfect cone-shaped colossus.

A crucial note: Laguna Chicabal holds sacred significance in the Mam worldview, adorned with altars on its shores. Visiting is restricted during Mam celebrations in early May.

Pacaya Volcano: A Thrilling Challenge

In the Escuintla department, Pacaya Volcano National Park is one of Guatemala and Central America’s most active volcanoes. Unlike its counterparts, Pacaya demands a certain level of physical fitness to witness its breathtaking landscapes and feel the heat of lava rivers.

Two paths lead to Pacaya’s summit:

  1. La Corona Trail: Beginning in Concepción El Cedro village and ascending to Cerro Chino, this trail offers glimpses of diverse flora and fauna adapted to the unique ecosystem.
  2. Main Path: Starting at San Francisco de Sales village, this route leads from the visitor’s attention center to the volcano’s crater, allowing visitors to experience the volcano’s grandeur.
US restricts visas for over 100 Guatemala lawmakers for ‘undermining democracy’

US restricts visas for over 100 Guatemala lawmakers for ‘undermining democracy’

The United States announced visa restrictions on nearly 300 Guatemalan citizens on Monday due to what it described as “anti-democratic actions” of officials and “other malign actors,” accused of attempting to annul the election won by President-elect Bernardo Arévalo.

The visa restrictions include “over 100 members of the Guatemalan congress, as well as private sector representatives and their family members for undermining democracy and the rule of law,” the US Department of State wrote in a statement Monday.

Since Arévalo’s landslide victory in the summer, members of Congress and Guatemala’s Public Ministry, headed by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, have been accused of attempting to disqualify the results. Raids were ordered on the electoral authority offices, arrest warrants were requested, and last week, the ministry said it had made another request for Arévalo’s presidential immunity to be stripped. The ministry accuses Arévalo, who won on an anti-corruption platform, of money laundering and the alleged use of false documents to establish his party, the Semilla Movement.

Arévalo, who is due to take office in January, responded to the ministry’s allegations last week saying the attempts to malign his party with various crimes, as well as questioning the elections, were all part of an attempted “coup d’état.”

It came weeks after Guatemala’s Congress approved a resolution, requested by the country’s Public Ministry, to remove the immunity of four of the five Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) judges, the body responsible for certifying Guatemala’s election results.

The maneuvers have triggered widespread international condemnation and mass protests in Central America’s most populous nation.

The US State Department on Monday cited the attempt to annul Arevalo’s immunity as well as “the Public Ministry’s announcement of arrest warrants for electoral workers and party representatives,” as “evidence of its clear intent to delegitimize Guatemala’s free and fair elections and prevent the peaceful transition of power.”

Arévalo’s father was Guatemala’s first democratically elected president in 1945 and is fondly remembered for creating the country’s social security system. Arevalo was born in Uruguay, during his parents’ exile from the country. He has promised to bring back the journalists, judges and prosecutors who fled the country in the wake of the government shutting down a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, known as CICIG,