Taller de diseño de circuitos turísticos. Foto: ASPIRE De derecha a izquierda: María del Carmen Orantes, investigadora del Proyecto ASPIRE, Nathaly Morán Espino, estudiante de tesis, Food Business & Marketing - UVG Claire Dallies, asesora de tésis, Depto de Turismo Sostenible -UVG

New gastronomic tourist routes in Guatemala


By: Janine Sazinsky

By Claire Dallies, Bianca Contreras & María del Carmen Orantes

With an abundance of unique and delectable gastronomic offerings in Guatemala, the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPORT) Sustainable Tourism Commission (COMITURS) seeks to expand food-based tourism in Guatemala. Among their greatest challenges however, among many, has been ensuring travelers receive quality service throughout the region. The degree of difficulty compounded even further after the SARS-COVID pandemic.

Nathaly Morán, estudiante de Food Business and Marketing. Foto: ASPIRE

Nathaly Morán facilitating a focus group. Photo: ASPIRE

With so much potential, Nathaly Morán, a student in Food Business and Marketing at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), chose to investigate gastronomic tourist routes for her graduation coursework. Nathaly was one of five food engineering students participating in an ASPIRE research assistantship. These assistantships pair students with industry partners to benefit the students’ academic program and industry stakeholders.

Nathaly’s mission was to analyze Guatemala’s gastronomic tourism value chain and propose several food-based tourist circuits with a focus on four regions of the country: Central Region (Guatemala, Sacatepéquez and Chimaltenango), West (Sololá), South Coast (Escuintla and Santa Rosa), and the Verapaces (Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz). She was supported in her work by the Director of the Sustainable Tourism Master’s Degree at UVG (Claire Dallies), members of the AGEXPORT COMITURS, and the ASPIRE team. Nathaly also worked with more than 100 volunteers: representatives of hotels, restaurants and parks, tourism operators, service providers, and community tourism ventures, among others. In addition, 21 hours of workshops were held, and no less than 300 kilometers (186 miles) were traveled.

Planning the routes

Her study was carried out in four stages:

Different stakeholders meet at the workshops in the South Coast. Photo: ASPIRE

Different stakeholders meet at the workshops in the South Coast. Photo: ASPIRE

1. Meeting with associates of the sustainable tourism sector via webinar, and presenting the ASPIRE project and her proposed plan.
2. Conducting regionally-based focus groups, in which information was gathered from local participants, regarding the current state of tourism in their municipalities. An inventory of natural, cultural, and gastronomic tourist attractions was assembled.
3. With the inventory complete, participants met again with Nathaly for a second set of regionally-based focus groups. These groups empowered participants to design proposals for tourist circuits in their municipalities based on the already identified attractions and their knowledge of local tourist services.
4. Finally, Nathaly tested her newly created routes: three of the regions herself and the fourth route, in consultation with tour operators, members of the COMITURS who know the territory, and the local tourist services.

In total, 107 people participated in the focus groups, which built up an inventory of 100 natural attractions, 111 cultural attractions, and 73 dishes. Interestingly, they found the Verapaces region to be the most gastronomically diverse. Collectively, Nathaly and her focus groups cultivated 34 gastronomic tourist routes and decided to share 19 of those.

Participante durante diseño de ruta turística. Foto: ASPIRE

Participants designing one of the tourist routes. Photo: ASPIRE

Nathaly also conducted feedback sessions with industry and community representatives, where respondents praised both Nathaly and the initiative’s underlying effort to support Guatemala’s tourism sector.

A national resource

In all, her extensive fieldwork exploring the multisectoral and multidisciplinary aspects of gastronomic tourist routes in Guatemala was well-received by participants, collaborators, and the tourism industry alike. Currently, plans are underway for the final tourist routes to be published on the ViajeGt website, an open-access website, designed by AGEXPORT, available to everyone.

Nathaly’s thesis sought to understand and bolster Guatemala’s tourism value chain. The ASPIRE project is proud to support such widely beneficial efforts, strengthening links between academia, the tourism industry, and local communities. Nathaly envisions her work not only as a scholarly pursuit but as a tangible resource for both local residents and global travelers. She invites all to embrace the rich tapestry of Guatemala’s culinary delights across its diverse regions, while making the most of the accommodations, dining experiences, and attractions that await along these new adventures.


The ASPIRE Project is a five-year, $15 million project funded by USAID and implemented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), and the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPORT), with the goal of creating a world-class, replicable model for how Latin American universities, in collaboration with the private sector, government, and local communities, can respond to local and regional development needs. The project implements a collaborative approach to research, teaching, innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer, based on the combination of local assets and knowledge with MIT’s experience in the innovation ecosystem.

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