Guatemala played host to the seventh Central American Travel Market (CATM) held in the enchanting colonial city of Antigua, October 18 – 20, 2010, at the fabled Casa Santo Domingo (www.casasantodomingo.com.gt) …perhaps the most exquisite setting on earth. The international trade fair brought together the Central American tourism sector including tourism boards, tour operators, hoteliers, and airlines with hundreds of travel professionals and media from around the globe to promote regional growth. An annual event, a different Central American country hosts the fair each year showcasing the myriad facets of this magical isthmus, the seven stunning sister nations of Central America: Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Pre-tours in the host country precede the fair and post-tours in one of the other Central American countries follow. “Centro America: tan pequena…tan grande…” (Central America, so small, so big) This year, Guatemala pulled out all the stops for a sensational success.
Opening ceremonies were held in the Plaza Atrio with special invitee, President Alvaro Colom Caballeros. A Traditions and Legends Cultural Night, Ruta del Peregrino (“The Pilgrim’s Route”) followed, which led fairgoers through Antigua’s ancient cobblestone streets to the Convento La Merced with folkloric music, dances and drama. Spectacular Santo Domingo del Cerro feted a gala dinner “Guatemala Moderna” and the Fiesta CATM 2011 for Panama was celebrated in exuberant fashion at the Jardin Real de Santiago. What is clearly evident: one need venture no farther than Central America to experience soul-stirring adventures of a lifetime.
Roberto Robles, Director of INGUAT the Guatemala Tourism Board informed attendees that “Guatemala has recently become one of the main emerging markets in Latin America attracting investors from all over the world. The tourism sector is the first source of income for the country’s foreign exchange.” Guatemala, “the heart of the Mayan world”, enchants visitors with its dazzling natural beauty, its fascinating cities, its fabulous archaeological sites and incredible history, intertwined in radiant hues and amazing designs on the loom of destiny. This year, a multi-pronged marketing strategy included such diverse topics as Maya cosmovision and the expanding health and medical tourism market. Guatemala’s greatest treasure? Surely the gracious Guatemalans themselves! Visitors are welcomed with heartwarming hospitality.
The spectacular highlands, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Tikal, are among the most-visited regions. However, the Maya Caribbean reveals enchanting treasures of its own.
For adventure with a capital “A”, travelers drive east from the capital towards Lake Izabal, the country’s largest lake with a colorful history of intrigue and piracy. First, a stop at the archaeological site of Quirigua with its sky-high stelae, one measuring over thirty-three feet. Visiting El Castillo de San Felipe is a rush. Accommodations nearby include Nana Juana Hotel & Marina (www.hotelmarinananajuana.com) which now boasts fabulous bamboo rooms and “flagship” suites overlooking the Rio Dulce. Boating to Livingston, a Garifuna village on the Caribbean Sea through canyons of splendor adds another wildly exotic twist. A tiny slice of Guatemala is wedged here between Belize and Honduras. When traveling north towards Flores, the challenging “skyway” at Ixpanpajul (www.ixpanpajul.com) is sure to thrill when swinging on aerial bridges over the jungle canopy. And then you arrive in Peten! Yes, Tikal is the natural draw, but there’s Yaxha and the island of Topoxte to explore without the crowds. Temples and pyramids to climb with breath-taking vistas, canoes in which to sail over Lake Yaxha (with crocodiles lurking). It truly doesn’t get much better than this.
A welcome new addition to the attractions of the host city of Antigua is the La Reunion Golf Resort & Residences, located just eleven miles from the city, where golfers can enjoy “a beautiful challenge” on the 18-hole Dye-designed Fuego Maya Golf Course. (www.antiguagolfresort.com.gt)
Those arriving in the splendor of Antigua are well advised to consult “La Antigua Guatemala Prepare to be Amazed,” a directory of some of the finest hotels, restaurants, tour companies, language schools and shopping experiences, (www.gotoantiguaguatemala.com) combining tradition and history.
Nelly Karina Jerez, Honduran Tourism Minister, expressed delight at the continued expansion of tourism to her country, vouching for the safety of its infrastructure.
Ana Lucia Funes of the Honduras Institute of Tourism (www.letsgohonduras.com) noted that the marketing initiative of “Todo esta aqui” (“Everything is here”) accurately describes the wonders of Honduras. Besides the Bay Islands and Copan, there are “off-the-beaten-path” circuits which explore the intriguing Lenca culture in remote mountainous colonial cities. The spectacular Bahia de Tela project is underway with the first hotel scheduled to open in 2012.
Beautiful “Be One With Belize” boasts of many cultures but “one” people! Divers can enjoy unparalleled diving on its world-famous barrier reef. Ralph Capeling of the Splash Dive Shop (www.splashbelize.com) based in Placencia said, “In addition to diving, we arrange tours to the Cockscomb Basin wildlife sanctuary, to the archaeological site of Lubaantun (where the crystal skull was discovered!), and boat rides to Laughing Bird Caye, a World Heritage Site.” Amazing Mayan sites beckon explorers in Belize; think Caracol and Lamanai! Exuberant nature offers myriad activities for the sports enthusiast. For a romantic rendezvous, Victoria House on Ambergris Caye will be certain to please. (www.victoria-house.com)
“Unica…Original!” The latest “Survivor” television “reality” show was filmed in Nicaragua. General manager Albalorena Amador joked that the Hacienda & Ecolodge Morgan’s Rock (www.morgansrock.com) in San Juan del Sur was considered too perfect to be the stage for the series! Truly Nicaragua’s countless natural and historical attractions are becoming ever more visible in the tourism sector. The immensely charming colonial city of Granada is “akin in ambiance to Antigua itself on a much smaller scale” commented Juan B. Pasos, the general manager of the exquisite Hotel Alhambra. (www.hotelalhambra.com.ni) Intriguing Apoya Lagoon located less than an hour by Managua and twenty minutes from Granada “casts a paradisal spell,” noted John-Marc Gallagher, general manager of Norome Resort & Villas. (www.noromevillas.com)
Declared a biosphere reserve and UNESCO world heritage site, amazing Ometepe island, situated inside Lake Nicaragua, provides such thrills as climbing up volcanic peaks and discovering ancient petroglyphs half-hidden on verdant hillsides. Solentiname (www.solentinametours.com) boasts a cadre of talented artists and artisans creating sought-after works of art, paintings and balsa wood carvings. The list goes on and on.
El Salvador touted its effective new marketing campaign of “El Salvador. Everything Included.” A tiny jewel of a country, it offers such exquisite hostelries as Los Almendros de San Lorenzo hotel & restaurant (www.hotelsalvador.com) in the charming colonial town of Suchitoto. El Salvador is committed to preserving and developing its tourism sector in a sustainable manner.
Costa Rica of “no artificial ingredients” fame still reigns supreme as the most polished sister of these seven alluring sister nations. Maintaining the very highest of standards, Costa Rica provides excitement yet safety, world-class infrastructure yet pristine nature. Tico Times associate publisher Abby Daniell noted that “pura vida” has captured hearts worldwide. Amazing new and renovated properties keep springing up around the country, such as the luxurious Mountain Paradise Hotel (www.hotelmountainparadise.com) near the Arenal Volcano.
The Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforest-alliance.org) promotes sustainability and works to conserve biodiversity around the globe. Costa Rica has been a leader in embracing the “green” concept, so vital to the health of our planet.
At the very crossroads of the continents, Panama scintillates with vibrant energy.Panama City is the most cosmopolitan city in Central America. Business travelers, Panama Canal cruisers, retirees searching for a “place in the sun”, adventurers, boaters, honeymooners…all can find what they seek in this intoxicating land and more. Rolando Pereira, commercial manager of AeroPerlas, TACA’s regional airline, said, “Bocas del Toro is catching up with Contadora island in popularity.” Hundreds, even thousands, of foreigners have taken up permanent residency here. Panama will be the host of CATM 2011 next fall. See you there!