Guatemala is one of those rare places that has a good mix of things to do for travellers looking for adventure, culture, beaches, and a little rest and relaxation. From the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets of Antigua Guatemala to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, the country is a cultural hub in Central America.
Small towns in the highlands and on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan give people the chance to learn about different cultures in a unique way. Nature lovers will be drawn to places like tropical jungles, volcanoes that are still erupting, mountain lakes, cloud forests, coral reefs, and beaches.
If you go down to the coasts, you’ll find beaches where you can lay in a hammock and relax in peace. There are markets all over the country that sell local goods, especially textiles. These markets are only open on certain days of the week.
Mayan Ruins of Tikal
One of the most important archaeological sites in Central America is in the humid jungle of northern Guatemala, not far from the border with Belize. One of the best places to learn about Mayan culture in Guatemala is the well-preserved ruins of Tikal.
Tikal was inhabited from around 600 BC to 900 AD. It has more than 3,000 structures, such as pyramids, temples, plazas, and an acropolis. It was one of the most important urban Mayan centres for more than a thousand years and is still one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites from that time.
The area around Tikal adds to the experience of going there. The jungle has a thick green canopy with birds, monkeys, and other animals living in and around it. The ruins are part of Tikal National Park, which is a biosphere reserve that protects the rainforest and wildlife habitat.
This is the place to come if you’re looking for a place to live for a while. It’s easy to fill your days here because there are lots of things to do and the hotels are nice and the prices aren’t too high.
Antigua Antigua, which is often just called Guatemala, is one of the best things about Guatemala and one of the most beautiful cities in Central America. This former capital of Guatemala is surrounded by three volcanoes and gives a unique look at a city before concrete buildings and high-rises were built.
Old colonial buildings line the cobblestone streets. Some of these buildings show signs of the earthquakes that have been a part of the city’s history. In the old city centre, there are beautiful churches and convents everywhere.
Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán)
Lake Atitlán, which is often called the most beautiful lake in the world, is another place where people tend to stay for a while. You won’t be sorry if you make the trip here. The small towns and villages that surround the lake make it easy to spend a week or more there.
Lake Atitlán is in the highlands, about two hours by car from Guatemala City and an hour and a half from Antigua. It is 1,538 metres above sea level and sits in a volcanic crater. It is surrounded by hills and volcanoes, and many of the villages along its shores can only be reached by boat.
The best place to get in is through the city of Panajachel. After you’ve looked at all the blankets and other goods for sale in stalls and alleyways along the main street, head to the water to catch a water taxi.
Chichicastenango, which people in the area call “Chichi,” is a large town in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by valleys and mountains. On Thursdays and Sundays, one of Guatemala’s biggest and busiest markets takes over the quiet cobblestone streets.
This is a market for people who live in the area. It sells everyday goods, vegetables, and the unique textiles for which it is known. People come from miles away to sell their goods at this market, which makes it a great place to watch people and take pictures.
Quetzaltenango is the centre of business in southwestern Guatemala. It is the second largest city in Guatemala. Most people call the town Xela. The Parque Centro América and the neoclassical buildings around it are the town’s main attractions.
Learning Spanish and hiking in the nearby mountains are two of the best reasons to go to Quetzaltenango. Walking up Volcan Tajumulco, the highest mountain in Central America, is one of the more exciting things to do.
Quetzaltenango is mostly clean and safe, and its altitude of 2,333 metres makes sure that the days are warm, the nights are cool, and there are less mosquitoes. The city is also a starting point for trips to nearby villages known for their hot springs and handmade goods.
Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii and Monterrico (Nature Reserve)
The small coastal village of Monterrico has a laid-back vibe and a beautiful stretch of oceanfront that will appeal to beachgoers and nature lovers. The area around Monterrico is hot and tropical, which is different from the highlands.
The Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii, also called the Monterrico Nature Reserve, is a place set aside to protect sea turtles and mangrove forests. It is home to many different kinds of birds and aquatic life, like leatherback and Kemp’s ridley turtles, because it is both land and water.
Pacaya Volcano, Antigua
With a height of more than 2,550 metres, the Pacaya Volcano gives people a chance to see volcanic activity for themselves. This volcano is near Antigua. Since 1975, it has been constantly erupting lava, which keeps changing how it looks.
On organised tours, you can go on hikes on the volcano with a guide and roast marshmallows over hot spots. As an active volcano, it’s important to remember that hiking here does have some risks.
This beautiful spot is deep in the jungle and can be hard to get to, but it’s worth the trouble. A 300-meter limestone shelf makes natural pools in the river that are great for a quick swim.
The pools are green or turquoise and very bright. The water is calm and warm, and there are lots of animals in the dense forest that surrounds the area.
From Lanqun, tours can be set up to go to this place. You can either walk 2.5 kilometres through the hot jungle or take a bumpy 4X4 ride to get there.
Livingston on the Caribbean Coast
On the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, there is a small town with brightly coloured wooden houses. It is in the middle of the jungle and surrounded by coconut groves. Because of the Maya and Garifuna people who live there, Livingston feels more like the Caribbean than the rest of Guatemala.
The Garifuna are the descendants of escaped slaves, and the Maya are the original people of the area. They have made their own language and culture. There are lots of rhythms in the Caribbean, and in May, when a Garfuna pilgrimage comes to town, there are even more.
There are also colourful events during Easter week and on December 12 (the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe). From Livingston, you can take a boat to the Ro Quehueche and Ro Cocol, or to the Cayos Sapodillas, where you can snorkel and fish.
Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena (Museum of Mayan Costumes)
Visit the Ixchel Museum of Mayan Costumes to see a wide range of traditional Guatemalan clothes, from special ones for ceremonies to everyday ones. On the campus of Universidad Francisco Marroquin is where the museum is.
The large collection of textiles from 120 communities in Guatemala dates back to the end of the 19th century. The exhibits are rounded out by a group of paintings that show the regional clothes. The museum is named after a Mayan goddess who was in charge of weaving and making babies.
Grutas de Lanquín (Lanquín Caves)
The Lanqun Caves are deep limestone caverns northeast of Coban. They have an underground river with different lagoons and interesting rock formations. You can take a tour of part of the cave, which has rough paths and little light.
Thousands of bats live here, and at night, when they all leave the cave at once to go eat in the nearby forest, it’s an interesting sight. If you want to see this unique place, you should plan to tour the cave in the late afternoon and then stay until the sun goes down.