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Caribbean Guatemala with Mayan ruins? You bet. Situated between Belize and Honduras, the short Caribbean coast of Guatemala displays a panoply of history and beauty.

Starting from our cruise ship stop at Santo Tomas de Castilla, we boat our way through the dense jungle on the Rio Dulce for two hours – and back 500 years. At a strategic bend in the river stands the Castillo de San Felipe, a restored Spanish fort originally built in the 1500s to guard the Spanish trade route against early pirates. Sir Francis Drake, perhaps? With its cannons aimed along the river, the fort commanded full control of Rio Dulce and was a formidable presence.

After lunch at adjacent Banana Palms Resort, we bus an additional 1,000 years back to the Mayan ruins of Quirigua. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Quirigua was thought to be an important way station along Mayan trade routes that stretch along the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America.

The buildings and courtyard in the 75-acre site are clear examples of Mayan culture and architecture. The 22 stelae, large upright stones with sculptured surfaces, tell the tales of Quirigua’s great events and were chiseled between A.D 750 and A.D 805.

A short bus ride back to the ship at Santo Tomas brought us back to the present time much impressed with Caribbean Guatemala.

Video of portion of boat ride up the Rio Dulce:

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