Compared to countries like Costa Rica and Mexico, Guatemala flies under the radar when it comes to Latin American travel. Perhaps it’s due to safety concerns (with common sense, the country is safe to travel to) or the fact that there just isn’t as much information out there about Guatemalan travel — but whatever the reason, those who overlook this beautiful country are missing out.
We’re going to break down the best of travel in Guatemala.
City Break: Antigua
Just 45 minutes from Guatemala City, Antigua is a hub for travel within (and beyond) the country. While it might be a bit more touristy than some of the smaller Guatemalan towns, the beautiful colonial architecture, good food, and proximity to excellent day trip locations make it a worthy place to spend some time.
A popular site to see while in Antigua is Pacaya Volcano. The volcano is about an hour and 15 minutes from the city and one of the most active in Central America. The hike up is moderately difficult and takes about two hours from the welcome center, though there are rest stops along the way.
Lakeside Escape: Lake Atitlán
One of the most well known areas of Guatemala is Lake Atitlán — and for good reason. The lake itself is beautiful and offers lots of activities, and is arguably one of the best places to watch the sunset. Budget more time than you think you might need here (a week would be good). There are numerous villages that sit around the lake, each one offering something unique to visitors. San Pedro and Panajachel are the busiest of the towns, best avoided if you’re looking for a more local experience. San Marcos is a laid back village with a hippie vibe, Santa Cruz is a secluded spot high on the mountainside, and San Juan is known for colorful textiles and women’s weaving cooperatives,
Tikal is among the most impressive of the various Mayan ruins in Guatemala, thought to be inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD. It’s a massive site situated in the middle of the jungle and surrounded by lush vegetation. Due to its size, Tikal is best seen with a knowledgeable local guide who can explain exactly what you’re looking at as you walk around. There are plenty of group tours, but if you’re looking for a more private experience, plan to visit the ruins in the later afternoon after the buses have gone home. If you decide to stay at a lodge in the park overnight, you’ll be able to have the beautiful experience of seeing Tikal at sunrise — with very few other people around.
Nature: Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is a 1,000-foot natural forming limestone bridge that crosses the Cahabón River. It’s hidden in the jungle not far from the town of Lanquin and is popular due to its six turquoise pools that visitors enjoy swimming in. The nearby caves are privately owned and can be accessed with a guide. Guests who want to be a little more active can go tubing down the river or take a 45-minute hike up to El Mirador, a lookout with gorgeous views of Semuc and the mountains surrounding it.
Chichicastenango Market is the largest native market in Central America and a must-see spot for most visitors to Guatemala. The town itself is a traditional Mayan one, located up in the western highlands, and the market takes place every Thursday and Sunday. On market days, thousands of vendors come to sell their handmade goods, including textiles, traditional clothing, pottery, decorations, and fresh produce. It’s a busy place, but since it’s still mainly a local market, ‘Chichi’ offers lots of culture and an opportunity to buy authentic souvenirs.