The Taklamakan Desert (or Takla Makan Desert) is the 15th largest sandy desert in the world, covering 320,000 square kilometers (123,550 square miles). It is located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The desert is seen mainly by those crossing it on the road between the towns of Hotan and Luntai. The famous Silk Road edges around the Taklamakan Desert so travelers of the past could avoid crossing its dangerously dry center. Mummies dating over 4,000 years old have been found in the region, along with other interesting artifacts. The Taklamakan Desert isn’t on the tourist map at all, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
A short distance from Antigua, Guatemala, lies Lake Atitlan (known locally as Lago de Atitlán). The large lake is surrounded by three volcanoes: Volcán Atitlán, Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán. Lake Atitlan is an endorheic lake, meaning it doesn’t flow into a sea. The area surrounding Lake Atitlan is home to many small villages, the people of which practice Mayan culture and wear traditional Mayan dress to this day. There are also a number of Mayan archeological sites in and around the lake. For tourists, the best places to stay are in Antigua, or the town of Panajachel which is on the lake’s shore. A variety of accommodations can be found in either town. Visitors can trek up the volcanoes, enjoy a boat trip on the lake, and visit the nearby Atitlan Butterfly Sanctuary.
The ancient Mayan city of Tikal, located in present-day Guatemala, has structures that date as far back as 400 BCE, though most of the structures were built in the Late Classic Period (600 – 900 CE). One of the largest urban centers of the pre-Colombian Mayan civilization, the city was at its peak at around 700 CE. Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the ruins include five large pyramid temples, a large palace, small pyramids, tombs, and numerous other buildings with a grand total of 3,000 structures. The University of Pennsylvania and the government of Guatemala have contributed to the restorations done on the site in recent years. Travelers can find a variety of accommodations in the nearby cities of Flores and Guatemala City. Fans of the original Star Wars films may know Tikal as the “Massassi Outpost on the fourth moon of Yavin” from Episode IV: A New Hope.