Guatemala’s Oriente, or eastern region, is home to the low, dry, hot provinces of El Progreso, Jalapa, Jutiapa, Zacapa, Chiquimula and Izabal. The population of this region is mostly ladino, or mestizos with little or no indigenous ancestry. There are a few small pockets of indigenous populations, and some black Caribs (garífuna) on the coast, notably in the village of Livingston.
Visitors will want to check out the impressive Mayan site of Quiriguá, Guatemala’s most important ruins outside of the Petén. You may also want to take a boat trip on the Río Dulce to or from Lake Izabal, and visit lively Livingston.
While you’re visiting ruins, hop over the border and into Honduras to see the magnificent site at Copán, not far from Guatemala. The city of Esquipulas is home to the Cristo Negro, or the Black Christ, a dark-skinned wooden carving of Christ that draws thousands of visitors and pilgrims every year. The festival of the Cristo Negro, on January 15, is packed. The Cristo Negro makes its home in the impressive Basilica de Esquipulas.
On the northern shore of Lake Izabal sits the Castillo San Felipe, a more-or-less preserved Spanish fortress built in 1595. It protected Izabal from Caribbean pirates and served as a military prison. Not far from the castle is the Parque Nacional Río Dulce, a large protected natural area home to many species of birds and animals.
The small town of El Estor has little of interest, but is a good place from which to explore the lake region. On the coast, the town of Livingston is worth a visit, as it is home to a pocket of black Caribs and their Garífuna culture. There is a local festival of dancing and partying in late November, but the town is lively any time of year.