Q & A with Lily Martinez de Grijalva, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Martsam Travel, Antigua, Guatemala. 22 years in operation, honored by Trip Advisor in 2015 with a Certificate of Excellence.
“A full-service operator covering multiple destinations in the Mayan World.”
WHAT DO TRAVELERS LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR COMPANY?
They like that we are an independent family-owned and managed business, that we are native Guatemalans with a deep knowledge of our culture, nature, and society, and that we also have a long history and much experience in the tourism industry. They trust us to provide an authentic introduction to the Mayan World. It is a World that offers a tremendous amount of cultural and biological diversity.
We are a tailor-made company, so we adjust our packages according to our clients´ needs. That said, for the first-time visitor, we would recommend the “Highlights” tour. This is a 7-day tour that goes to Antigua, Lake Atitlán and Tikal. Visitors can enjoy a sampling of Guatamalan culture, adventure and archaeology.
For those with more time, we may suggest “Maya Paths.” This tour combines several countries (Guatemala, Honduras and Belize) within an amazing 15-day experience. We visit ancient sites, hike volcanoes and swim the beautiful reefs off the coast of Belize.
I would say it’s best to visit our website and send us an inquiry using our online form.
Well, we have more than 700 bird species! The type of bird depends on the habitat. For example, in the montane forests you can see Mockingbirds, Jays, Woodpeckers, Warblers, Owls, and Sparrows. In tropical forests you will find many types of Parrots. In the dry scrub lands, you typically find Roadrunners and Orioles. Hummingbirds are plentiful, and to the ancient Mayans these beautiful tiny creatures were the inspiration for folklore and jewelry!
In the nature parks, visitors are likely to see – or at least hear – monkeys! We have lots of howler monkeys and spider monkeys. Other very common animals are opossum, raccoons, armadillos, river otters, squirrels, and skunks. We do have wild cats like jaguars and ocelots, but they usually hide and stay away from humans.
We often bring visitors to the coffee farms of Antigua. La Azotea is a favorite place. It is a multi-generational farm where the owners still preserve the old system way of harvesting coffee. We go through a museum-like exhibition which introduces us to the history of Guatemala coffee, a guide explains how it grows and is processed, and in the end we get to enjoy a freshly made cup of coffee.
WHAT ARE THE HOTELS LIKE OUTSIDE OF GUATEMALA CITY?
They range from B&B style inns to 5-star boutique hotels. In regions where tourism is not yet well developed, there are guest houses with basic but good services to choose from.
DO YOUR TOUR PACKAGES INCLUDE MEALS?
We normally include only breakfasts - these are served at the hotels or inns. For lunch and dinner, our customers can choose for themselves, and we can also offer recommendations to local restaurants if they like. The exception is for our birding tours – for these we arrange all meals since birdwatchers wake up very early and finish late in the day.
The traditional Guatemalan diet is based on tortillas, beans and corn tamales, and this can get a bit dull after a while. So we say take a taste of the local specialties. A few examples would be Pollo en Jocon (chicken with potatoes in a green tomato sauce), Ceviche (a mixture of raw seafood, tomatoes, onions, lemons, and spices), or Kak Ik (a Q’eqchi ceremonial stew with turkey, tomato, bell peppers and spices).
WHAT ABOUT SAFETY MEASURES WHILE TOURING CENTRAL AMERICA?
We take safety and security issues very seriously. For example, we travel only in the main roads, and we do not travel at night. We stop only in places that we know quite well. In the parks, we stay on the marked trails and do not venture off. Our drivers and guides are dependable and add another layer of protection and security. We tell our customers to make photocopies of important documents before arriving and to keep the originals locked in a safe place and only carry the copies around, especially when visiting busy places like food or craft markets. Exchange money only inside of banks.
WHAT IS GUATEMALA DOING TO PROMOTE ECOTOURISM?
In the past ecotourism was led mainly by NGOs, but now it is the mission of many small local private companies and community organizations. The Environmental Minister of Guatemala has also stated his intention to expand sustainable tourism practices throughout our country.
They can stay in the family-owned lodges and avoid the big chain hotels. They can opt for guided nature and jungle treks. They can visit ongoing community projects, donate to associations that support rural families, and pay fair prices for locally-made handicrafts.
WHAT ARE MARTSAM'S CHARITABLE PROJECTS?
Creative Projects Guatemala (PROCREA) is administered by the Martsam Travel Foundation. We offer integrated solutions to children and their families who live in extreme poverty and lack many basic resources.
Our work involves 3 key areas: Education, Organic Food Production, and Energy-Saving Stoves. For example, we support a primary-level school in the community of San Andres Ceballos, Sacatepéquez. As for the stove project, the goal is to replace indoor open fire cooking - which is very dangerous - with clean-burning, safe, and affordable cooking appliances.
You can read more about our social programs here: www.procrea.org
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