Though compact, Guatemala is a mountainous country and the number of sights is such that you could spend years trying to tick them all off. Our grand tour covers the highlights if you have just a couple of weeks, concentrating on the outstanding attractions. The other two routes focus on ancient Maya ruins (and their rainforest setting) and the western highlands, with its spectacular scenery, fiestas and markets.
A holiday in Guatemala but don’t know where to start? Our “Grand Tour” puts you on the right track.
Guatemala’s former capital – a mandatory stop – is a heady vision of cobbled streets, colonial mansions, Baroque churches and the nation’s best dining scene.
Highland town renowned for its unique blend of Maya and Catholic religion and a huge twice-weekly market.
3 Lago de Atitlán
Idyllic lake, surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with Maya villages, with all kinds of activities on offer – from scuba diving to studying Spanish.
Refined and very easy on the eye, Flores is a pocket-sized colonial gem that juts into the azure Lago de Petén Itzá.
The Maya World’s number one archeological site, the ancient name for this pivotal Classic Maya city may have been the aptly named “Place Where Gods Speak”.
6 Semuc Champey
Gorgeous kingfisher-blue series of limestone pools in the tropical forests of Alta Verapaz; close by you’ll find some impressive cave systems and a forest-fringed river to tube.
7 Río Dulce
An astonishing sight, this magisterial gorge system is the highlight of Guatemala’s Caribbean region.
8 Guatemala City
An untamed capital that gets a bad press, but contains the nation’s best museums and a lively cultural life.
Guatemala’s northernmost department of Petén contains hundreds of astonishing Maya sites; other ruins are scattered around the country.
1 Lago de Petexbatún
Stunning jungle-fringed lake ringed with Maya ruins – Aguateca is the main attraction but Dos Pilas also has a fascinating history.
2 Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo National Park
This protected reserve harbours the huge Maya site of Yaxhá in a breathtaking location on the banks of an emerald lake, and Nakúm, with well- restored ceremonial buildings.
Lording it above the surrounding rainforest, Tikal’s giant temples, palaces, plazas and monuments make it a superstar Maya attraction.
4 El Mirador
Two thousand years ago this Preclassic city was approaching its peak, today it’s the most enigmatic, remote and ultimately rewarding of all Petén’s ruins.
This affluent Maya trading town is little-visited but worthwhile, with a stupendous palace and a lovely location.
A modest site in the south of the country, with a collection of giant, carved stelae out of all proportion to its size.
Just over the border in Honduras, Copán boasts an astounding hieroglyphic stairway, some exquisite carving and, close by, the lovely town of Copan Ruinas.
If you’ve an eye for a souvenir, this market (Thurs & Sun) is bursting with colourful clothing, eye-dazzling textiles, ceramics and leather.
An isolated region of evergreen hills and forested mountains, bowl-shaped valleys and some of the most traditional Maya villages in the nation – it’s a huge draw for trekkers.
3 Todos Santos Cuchumatán
Only reached at the end of a vertiginous journey from Huehuetenango, this Mam village is famous for its textiles, walking trails and breathtaking scenery.
4 Quetzaltenango (Xela)
Guatemala’s second city is coming into its own with an expanding cultural scene, a great base for forays to the region’s sights.
5 Laguna Chicabal
A short ride from Xela, this near-circular volcanic lake makes a perfect day-trip.
6 Fuentes Georginas
A high-altitude natural hot-spring spa, half-way up a volcano – the ideal place to soak away an afternoon.
Often overlooked, you won’t find many souvenirs at this huge Maya market, but its energy and colour is authentic and mesmeric.
8 Lago de Atitlán
Not only is the volcanic scenery out of this world, this lake is also the ideal place to kick back and paddle a kayak, learn some Spanish or just invest in some hammock time.