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Just Like Home: Connecting to My Hispanic Heritage in Central America

Growing up Guatemalan, my family celebrated our rich Hispanic culture the way many do: through good food, big gatherings, and lots of music! My grandparents always talked about the serene beauty of their homeland, and as soon as I caught the travel bug, I knew I needed to see for myself. From ascending Mayan ruins and swimming along the Belize Barrier Reef to a bowl of chicken soup that tasted just like my grandmothers—it was an experience I'll never forget.

Evelyn Salazar
EF Ultimate Break traveler

A girl on a hammock with palm trees around her.

About me

Hi! I’m Evelyn Salazar, a 25-year-old living in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m a photographer, content creator, and communications student, and I build airplane parts for work! But my favorite thing in the world is to travel. I’ve been on three EF Ultimate Break trips—Belize (with a stop in Guatemala), New Year's in Costa Rica, and New Year's in Ireland—with another planned for New Year's in London and Paris. The Belize and Guatemala trip was my very first one, and it meant so much to me because I’m Guatemalan. It’s where my lineage is from, and if you didn’t know, Belize actually used to be part of Guatemala back in the day, so it’s also part of my roots!

Growing up Guatemalan

Going on this trip is something I will always hold near and dear to my heart. It’s my favorite EF Ultimate Break trip for many reasons, but first and foremost because I felt connected to my ancestors and historical roots. My mom and her family were all born in Guatemala. They lived in Guatemala City, and my great grandparents lived in one of the smaller zones. My grandparents would always tell me stories about their youth and how beautiful the country is. It’s called the “Land of Eternal Spring” because of its incredible climate, stunning scenery, and rich spirit of the Mayan civilization. And Belize is no different: super tropical vibes.

My favorite parts of being a Latina are the food and family culture, plus the music! My grandparents make the absolute best salsa. My favorite Guatemalan meal is called Chillaquillas, which is basically tortillas dipped in egg batter, then fried with queso fresco inside, served with rice and black beans. I always tell people about this dish and they'll say, “You mean chillaquilles?” Which are something similar, but those are Mexican. I’ll say, “Noooo, ChillaquillAS!” There’s a saying though in the Guatemalan culture that if you have bad eyesight, you shouldn’t make Chillaquillas because the egg batter won’t rise—something to do with whipping the eggs incorrectly and them not coming out fluffy. My grandma has 20/20 vision though, and hers always come out perfect. There are a lot of interesting superstitions I grew up with; I think that’s just part of the Latino culture. We love our myths and superstitions. Some are really funny, like, never let a broom sweep your feet or else it increases the chances of you being single in life. LOL!

Music was a big part of our culture, too, especially because my grandpa, Papa Lulo, was a musician. He’d always play his guitar and sing for the family. He was in many bands and would perform and sing at larger get togethers. It’s one of my favorite parts of my culture: how important music is for the soul and heart.

A girl snorkeling in Belize.

Catching the travel bug

As I got older and wanted to start traveling, I knew that one day I’d really want to head to Central America. Definitely to visit Guatemala, but Belize too, because my grandparents always complained about how the British took that part of Guatemala and would say it’s still a part of their country!

I wanted to see this place I’ve been hearing about my whole life. I wanted to visit places like Tikal, where the Mayans built large temples which are now ancient ruins. The Mayans are a part of my heritage and I have always been so fascinated with them—learning about the Mayan Calendar in school and the mysterious wonders they built. How cosmic and advanced they were like many other ancient civilizations. And how they just disappeared.

That’s why when I saw EF Ultimate Break had a trip to Belize, I instantly knew that’s where I wanted to go first. Especially because, at the time, the trip included a day at Tikal National Park in Guatemala, an iconic ancient Mayan citadel and forest. The trip was more Belize focused as a whole (and has since been updated to be Belize-only), but all my life I heard about how Belize was previously part of Guatemala and still a huge part of my ancestry. I just felt like this was my time to truly get closer to my roots and heritage.

A girl standing in front of the entrance sign for Tikal National Park in Guatemala.

Being there

Hands down, it was the best trip of my life. Being in Belize and being surrounded by all the tropical trees, the ocean, the food, and culture was so humbling and soul lifting. My tour group was amazing. I met some of the kindest and enjoyable people who just added to the experience. I remember the whole time just feeling so grounded and connected to everything around me. From the decor all over the cities, the gifts and artwork people were selling, the food, the music—it all reminded me of my grandparents.

At one point in the trip, these lovely ladies made us a chicken soup after one of our activities, and it tasted exactly like my grandmas. It almost made me cry because in that moment, just eating soup, I felt so connected with her a whole country away. Everything was so warm and familiar, even though I had never been here before! What a wild feeling.

I can’t tell you what my favorite part of the trip was because the whole thing was great. Visiting Tikal was unreal, and climbing to the very top of the ruins was so much work but also so rewarding. Being surrounded by so much history and beauty in nature was surreal. Being able to speak Spanish to the locals and say my family is from Guatemala—and seeing them get so excited about that—was amazing. Snorkeling in the world’s second largest barrier reef was insane! I love the ocean, so seeing all the magical local sea life was really cool.

“Belize” text over a beach with palm trees, a turquoise ocean, and a thatched-roof hut on a dock.

What Hispanic Heritage Month means to me

As a Latina living in the USA, Hispanic Heritage Month in September reminds me a little more of how grateful I am to be Latina and come from such a rich culture. I love how beautiful the Spanish language is and how colorful its people are. I love how so many things are romanticized and how music is important. I love the silly superstitions that we believe in and how expressive our community is. This is what Hispanic Heritage Month means to me—a celebration of my culture’s values and contributions to current day.

Traveling to other countries has humbled me a bit, and makes me thankful to be where I am. While travel is a beautiful thing, it should also be uncomfortable at times, because your eyes are opened to the unfortunate reality that some people face across the world. Traveling reminds us how privileged we are to have water and electricity at our fingertips, while others don’t. But you also get to experience how kind people are and how, regardless of their culture, religion, or societal norms, most of us value the same things that truly matter in life: like family, love, health, and happiness. It’s an incredible thing.

A group of travelers outside at a restaurant.

Tips for anyone thinking about booking an EF Ultimate Break trip

I love EF Ultimate Break. They are a company I stand behind 100%! You don’t have to worry about any of the planning, you just pay and go! The payment plans are great, and I think it helps make the trips more accessible to everyone. The group travel aspect is what initially caught my interest, because I wanted to feel safe and have people to enjoy the experience with.

My biggest tip is this: don’t be scared about going by yourself, because you will make friends and meet awesome people. Tons of travelers book solo. I’ll never forget, on my 21st birthday during that Belize trip, I had 30 other people in my group singing Happy Birthday to me by the pool, and my Tour Director even got me TWO cakes! I cry when I rewatch the video of that, because even though I was alone with a group of strangers I had just met a week earlier, I felt so loved, cared for, and seen. It truly was the perfect way to spend my 21st. I highly recommend EF Ultimate Break, especially for anyone who wants to dig a little deeper and get closer to their roots like I did.

Belize: Rainforests, Reefs & Ruins

10 days. 4 cities.

Land, air, and sea to the tropical max. Zoom through the jungle canopy on a zipline and trek through San Ignacio to unearth the treasures of Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. Then, once you’ve caught your breath, sprawl out on some of the best beaches in the world, tube down a lazy river, snorkel, swim, and splash in the crystal-clear water until the Belizean sea cows come home.

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by Evelyn Salazar

Evelyn is a creative professional, photographer, and videographer in the digital media realm, as well as a composite technician who builds airplane parts for F35 military jets. She’s a huge music and concert lover and enjoys traveling to new places. Next on her list are Greece, Egypt and Kenya. She loves her dogs, lizard, and rabbits.

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