WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GUATEMALA?
Mysterious and captivating, and far from the mass tourism of its Mexican neighbor, Guatemala offers its visitors a rich culture, superb natural spaces and an exciting heritage, with its colonial cities and vestiges of the Mayan civilization that will delight photographers.
On this page, you will be able to discover the essential experiences not to be missed in Guatemala, its essential tourist sites as well as the activities to be done absolutely.
This selection may be useful in preparing an itinerary and organizing your trip to Guatemala, giving you a taste of the best things to do and places to visit.
As the practical information is evolving rapidly, do not hesitate to leave a comment if there are any points to change or if you want to share good tips for travelling to Guatemala.
Here are 10 must-see things to do and see on a trip to Guatemala:
1. TIKAL RUINS
The well-preserved ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal are Guatemala’s number one attraction, but also one of the most incredible archaeological sites to visit in Central America. Temples, squares, palaces and other monuments of impressive size can be found here, surrounded by the tropical forest and howler monkeys and the many birds that live there. Tikal is located in the north of the country, 68 km from Flores (accessible by minibus on a day trip). Tikal is also accessible from Belize.
2. ATITLÁN LAKE
An idyllic lake located at an altitude of 1538 meters in a volcanic crater, surrounded by three spectacular volcanoes and small Mayan villages. There are many activities to do: kayaking, scuba diving, yoga, trekking in the mountains to watch the sunrise, taking Spanish classes or simply relaxing. To visit Lake Atitlán, most visitors stay in the city of Panajachel or from there go by boat to the hotels of the villages scattered around the lake (San Marco, San Pedro…). The lake is 18km by 12km for a maximum depth of 320 metres.
3. THE COLONIAL CITY OF ANTIGUA
The former capital of Guatemala is one of the best preserved cities of colonial heritage in Central America, with its cobbled streets, colonial mansions, the Arch of Santa Catalina, and old Baroque churches and convents. It is the ideal place to acclimatize to the country and a good base to explore the region and the surrounding volcanoes.
4. CLIMB THE PACAYA VOLCANO
Guatemala has a dozen volcanoes, some of which are still active. Located near Antigua, the 2552-metre-high Pacaya volcano is one of the most accessible. Organized excursions from Antigua offer treks on the slopes of the volcano and allow you to discover the volcanic activity up close and admire the surrounding landscapes. Plan a full day of visit.
5. THE NATURAL POOLS OF SEMUC CHAMPEY
One of Guatemala’s most beautiful natural wonders: you can discover turquoise natural pools carved out of limestone rock, as well as many caves. To get there you must first go to Lanquín (the nearest town, about 10 km away) and then take a 4×4. Also worth seeing: the K’anba caves
- Recommended accommodation: El retiro
6. RELAX IN LIVINGSTON
Accessible only by boat, Lívingston is located along the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Lívingston is more like the Caribbean than the rest of Guatemala because of its Garífuna population, descendants of slaves and indigenous Mayans who have created a distinctive culture and language. The place is still spared by mass tourism, we go there to relax, eat grilled fish and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Consider a boat trip on the Río Dulce (between the city of Río Dulce and Lívingston): we pass through spectacular gorges 100 metres high and we see many birds.
7. CHICHICASTENANGO MARKETS
For those who want to bring back memories, Chichicastenango has the largest Indian market in Guatemala, which is held every Thursday and Sunday. You can find an incredible amount of local craftsmanship, colorful clothing, pottery, masks, belts as well as everyday products, fruits, vegetables etc…. Chichi is an hour and a half by bus from Panajachel. Also to be done: take a look at the very colourful cemetery.
Also known as ‘Xela’, it is the second largest city in the country, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes and located at an altitude of 2300 meters. Xela is a good base to explore the region, many things to do (villages, markets, mountain excursions…). From Xela you can also access the Tajumulco Volcano (4220 metres), the highest peak in Central America, as well as the natural hot springs of Fuentes Georginas on the slopes of the voclan Pico Zunil.
9. SEE TURTLES IN MONTERRICO
The small village of Monterrico is located in a rich nature reserve on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. The large, sparsely populated beaches around Monterrico are nesting sites for three species of marine turtles. If you come at the right time, you can see them laying (during the night). Go there: shuttles connect Monterrico and Antigua every day (2h15 by car).
10. THE RUINS OF EL MIRADOR
For the more adventurous, the archaeological site of El Mirador is much more difficult to access than Tikal but apparently even more impressive because it contains the largest Mayan pyramid in Central America (70 meters high) and the site is still largely buried in the jungle. It is located in the far north near the border with Mexico. To get there you have to do a 4/5 day trekking in the jungle under difficult conditions (mosquitoes, mud, spiders…). The departure is from the village of Carmelita, 85 km north of Flores (4 hours drive from Santa Elena) ideally in the dry season between February and April.
- More info: turismocooperativacarmelita.com
MORE THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN GUATEMALA
If you have some time in Guatemala, here are some other places to visit that are worth a look:
- In Guatemala City: the Archaeological Museum, the Popol Vuh Museum
- The Candelaria Caves: the largest caves in Central America
- El Boqueron Canyon: accessible from Rio Dulce (towards El Estor).
- Yaxhá: a Mayan archaeological site accessible from Tikal.
- The small colonial town of Flores, located on Lake Peten (often combined with a visit to Tikal)
- Take Spanish courses: many schools between 160 – 250 $US per week
- Detour to Honduras: the ruins of Copán not far from the border
THE MUST-SEE IN GUATEMALA ON GOOGLE MAP
- You will find a list of all the sites mentioned here on this Google Map link