Guatemala is one of the most varied places on the Earth. It has 37 volcanoes, 360 microclimates, lakes, beaches, and land on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. These are the best things for every kind of traveler to do in Guatemala. Are you ready to fall in love with this wonderful country in Central America? Let’s get started.
If you talk to anyone who has done this hike, you’ve probably heard great things about it. Hiking up the Acatenango Volcano is like no other hike you’ve ever been on. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, but only three of them are still active.
It takes 4–6 hours of hiking to get to a base camp on the side of the Acatenango Volcano where it all starts. From this camp, it’s not Acatenango that stands out, but the nearby volcano called Fuego.
Fuego is a very active volcano that is right next to the Acatenango camps. It explodes every few minutes, giving all the excited hikers a show of exploding lava. The volcano erupts every four to five years, and the last time it did so was in December 2022.
Antigua, Guatemala is probably one of the first places you’ll visit in the country. It’s often just called “Antigua.” Most tourists go to Antigua, Guatemala, because that’s where tours of the Acatenango Volcano begin.
Antigua Guatemala means “Old Guatemala,” and for good reason, it is a very popular place for tourists to visit. Part of the fun of visiting Antigua is getting lost in its cobblestone streets while enjoying historical tours of the city, shopping, markets, great restaurants, and street food.
The Church of Our Lady of Mercy, which is what Iglesia de La Merced means in English, was built in 1545. But two earthquakes destroyed it, and it wasn’t put back together again until the 1700s. 4
ChocoMuseo / Chocolate Museum
You can’t go to Guatemala without trying some of their chocolate. At the ChocoMuseo in Colonial Antigua, you can find out about the history and culture of chocolate.
A fun, interactive, hands-on experience that shows you how cocoa beans are turned into delicious, amazing chocolate. The chocolate museum has a factory where chocolate is made from cocoa beans from Guatemala.
They also have a chocolate-making workshop where you can play, eat, and learn how to make chocolate in a beautiful way. You can try both raw and roasted cocoa beans, as well as chocolate tea and other chocolate drinks.
Tikal Mayan Ruins
Many people think that the “best Mayan ruins in the world” are in northern Guatemala. We did too. This is interesting because the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, are only a few hours away from Tikal.
Dave and I and Deb would all agree that Tikal has more to offer tourists than Chichen Itza. One reason is that the ruins are in Tikal National Park, which is a safe place. This is a special place with ruins that have been dug up and ruins that haven’t been dug up yet.
But the temples are amazing in and of themselves. The North Acropolis 1 is the tallest and most impressive, and the Plaza of the Seven Temples is one of the largest plazas in Tikal.
Lake Peten Itza
Lago Peten Itza, also called Lake Peten Itza, is a beautiful lake in northern Guatemala that is close to Tikal. It is best known for the city of Flores, which is a great place to start exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
We seemed to spend a lot of time in this laid-back town with cobblestone streets and pastel buildings when we were in Guatemala. Along its shores, there are beaches and other Maya ruins.
There are now some high-end resorts on Lake Peten Itza, so it’s a great place to stop on your travels through Guatemala to sit back, relax, and take in the view.
Reserve Maya Biosphere
The Maya biosphere reserve is the biggest rainforest in Guatemala and the second largest in Central America. The huge reserve is where Tikal is located. This reserve is an important tropical forest that is not in the Amazon.
It is made up of three wildlife reserves and four national parks. The reserve can only be described as nature at its best. It is more than 2.5 million acres big, and animals like jaguars and pumas live there.
You can expect to see a lot of spiders, parrots, crocodiles, and spider monkeys. You might even run into a jaguar if you’re lucky. Set aside a day or two to get the most out of it.
Lake Atitlan is a unique spot in Guatemala. It is a huge lake that is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. Along its shores are small towns, making it a nice place for travellers to chill out for a few days.
At 1500m above sea level, it’s not quite as hot as it would be at sea level. It is still warm enough to swim in the lake in the afternoon. Around the lake, people also like to take boat tours, kayak, hike, take yoga classes, watch the sunset, and go on guided tuk-tuk tours.
San Pedro La Laguna
The largest “backpacker-friendly town” is San Pedro, which has lots of cheap food, good shopping, and cheap places to party at night. It’s not the most peaceful place, but it has a fun atmosphere. \
This small town southwest of Lake Atitlán has a lot to offer people who like to be outside. Take Spanish lessons or a cooking class in the home of a local person.
Explore coffee plantations while riding a horse, hike the Indian Nose trail for beautiful views of Lake Atitlán, and shop at local markets for fresh food and hand-made souvenirs. Spend an entire day exploring the Lake and taking in its sights and sounds.
Towns near Lake Atitlán
There is also San Marcos. It is popular with tourists because it is on Lake Atitlan, but it is much smaller and less busy than San Pedro. San Marcos is known as the “hippie town,” and many yoga-loving ex-pats have moved there.
The other less common choices are Santa Cruz, which is mostly populated by locals and has only a few places to stay or eat, or Panajachel, which is the largest city but doesn’t have much to offer tourists. You can also travel by boat to Santiago Atitlén and San Antonio.
San Juan La Laguna
Southwest of Lake Atitlán, San Juan La Laguna is not too far from San Pedro. When in Guatemala, you should stop by this cute town. People often say that San Juan La Laguna is an artsy town because its streets are full of beautiful art murals in bright colours.
There are lots of things to do here, like going to Cerro de la Cruz to see beautiful views of the towns, drinking locally grown artisanal coffee, going to the local market to shop for textiles, taking cooking classes, and going to other towns around Lake Atitlán.
You can book this highly rated tour to see the villages of the indigenous people of Guatemala and the villages in the mountains. Take a public boat across the lake to San Juan La Laguna, a colourful village.
Sign up for lessons in Spanish
One of the best things you can do to make your trip stand out is to learn Spanish. If you know some basic Spanish, it will be much easier and more fun to talk to people there. There are many Spanish schools for people who don’t speak Spanish.
Antigua, Guatemala, Lake Atitlán, and Quetzaltenango are popular places to take Spanish classes (Xela). Once you get there, it’s easy to find a course.
Atitlan Reserve for Nature
The Atitlan Nature Reserve is just outside of Panajachel. It is a sanctuary that was built to bring attention to and support the work that scientists and students are doing to protect nature.
Ziplining over waterfalls and coffee plantations is fun for people who like being outside. Nature lovers can go to a butterfly dome. The walking paths are easy, well-kept, and a great place to relax.
You can walk down to the beach or the waterfall. On the grounds, you can also set up a tent and sleep to the sounds of nature.
Semuc Champey national park.
Semuc Champey National Park, which is very well known, is on the other side of the country. Many tourists don’t go because it’s a long bus ride from other places near Antigua. This is a shame because it’s a great place.
In Semuc Champey, the water is a bright turquoise colour and flows through many small waterfalls and natural pools. Visitors can swim in natural pools, jump off waterfalls, slide down them, or find small caves in the area between these waterfalls.
Semuc Champey is great because it is easy to enjoy on a tour or on your own. Lanquin tours leave from hotels, hostels, and the closest town.