Spanning a mountainous slice of Central America, Guatemala is loaded with incredible natural, historical and cultural appeal. As the birthplace and heartland of the ancient Maya, the country is in many ways defined by the legacy of this early civilization. Here's our list of the best things to do in Guatemala.
The hike up Acatenango can be challenging, with steep terrain and a high altitude, but the reward of reaching the summit is well worth the effort. From the top, you can witness breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes, including lush forests, picturesque villages, and stunning sunsets over Fuego's smoking peak.
Camping overnight on the mountain is also a popular option, allowing you to witness the awe-inspiring sight of Fuego's lava flows in the dark.
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You’ll find the ambience unhurried and enjoyable, with a sociable bar scene and a superb choice of restaurants adding to the appeal. Antigua's language schools are another big draw. Students from around the globe come here for language learning — among the many things to do in Guatemala.
Most visitors race through Guatemala City, keen to get to Antigua’s colourful colonial streets but we strongly recommend that you stay in the Guatemalan capital a little longer. Our list of reasons to stay a while in Guatemala City will tell you why.
These lush, rain-drenched highlands are hard to reach and have proved notoriously difficult to control. Today’s relaxed atmosphere of highland Maya colour and customs conceals a bitter history of protracted conflict.
Todos Santos is a great place to simply hang out but it would be a shame not to try a traditional sauna (chuc; a small stone sauna, shaped like a beehive) while you’re here – most guesthouses will prepare one for you.
Throughout the year he’s looked after by a cofradía. Such is Maximón’s fame these days, and the number of tour groups visiting Santiago, that locals actually use one tourist-geared Maximón house (which outsiders are directed to) and a second location where they can pay their respects to the powerful folk sinner-saint in peace.
You’ll only likely be invited to the latter – a crepuscular pagan shrine where stuffed animals hang from the ceiling and incense and tobacco fill the air – if you have good local connections. Make a contribution to fiesta funds if you do get an invite.
Towering above the rainforest, Tikal, 64km from Flores down a smooth paved road, is possibly the most magnificent of all Mayan sites. The ruins are dominated by five enormous temples, steep-sided limestone pyramids that rise to more than 60m above the forest floor.
Around them are thousands of other structures, many semi-strangled by giant roots and still hidden beneath mounds of earth. The site itself is surrounded by the Parque Nacional Tikal, a protected area of some 576 square kilometres that is on the edge of the much larger Reserva de la Biósfera Maya.
If you want to explore Mayan ruins that are little known to the general public, read our guide about discovering Mayan ruins at Lago de Petexbatún.
Some factors to consider when choosing a Spanish language program in Guatemala may include the length of the program, the location, the teaching method, and the cost. It may also be helpful to read reviews from past students to get an idea of the quality of the program.
Despite a fast-increasing number of visitors from all over the world, it has managed to remain a largely unspoiled and genuinely friendly place. Many travellers are seduced by Copán’s delightfully relaxed atmosphere, clean air and rural setting.
This tailor-made Mayan expedition takes you all over Guatemala, from Antigua over Chichicastenango to Lake Atitlán. Take a day trip across the border to Honduras to visit the Mayan ruins of Copán before continuing to Guatemala's Caribbean coast: Rio Dulce awaits before you head to the ruins of Tikal.
The birdlife in this area is exceptional, with white herons, sea eagles, and squawking parakeets among the stunning tropical scenery. If you're very lucky, you may even spot a manatee – dawn is the best time to try.
Guatemala's culture and archaeology is one of the most fascinating ones in the world. On this tailor-made trip to Unparalleled Guatemala, you will get to know the locals of several places: Mayan food in Antigua, the Quiché people in Chichicastenango, the Mayan ruins of Tikal and much more.
The collection includes prehistoric sections, some wonderful stelae from Machaquilá and Dos Pilas, a re-creation of a royal tomb from Río Azul, spectacular jade masks from Takalik Abaj and a terrific replica of a beautifully carved wooden lintel from Tikal’s Temple IV.
The current period of eruption began in 1965, and colonial records show that it was also active between 1565 and 1775. Today it certainly ranks as one of the most accessible and exciting volcanoes in Central America, and a trip to the cone is an unforgettable experience. The best time to watch the eruptions is at night when the volcano can spout plumes of brilliant orange lava.
Lívingston is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating places in Guatemala, with a distinct atmosphere and charm that draws in many visitors. While opinions about it tend to be sharply divided, with some enjoying its languid rhythm of life and slightly ramshackle appeal and others finding it shabby, it is still a must-visit destination among the many things to do in Guatemala.
Whichever your take, Lívingston certainly offers a welcome break from mainstream ladino culture: Carib food is generally excellent and varied, and Garífuna punta rock and reggae make a pleasant change from merengue and salsa.
The lakes are encircled by the dense jungle, swamps, savannah and wetlands of the Monumento Natural Yaxhá–Nakúm–Naranjo. The 370 square kilometres harbour big cats, two species of crocodile and dozens of other reptiles. The monument also houses prolific birdlife: spoonbills, the giant jabiru stork, eagles and vultures.
Hemmed in on all sides by volcanoes and steep hills, the lake is at least 320m deep and measures 18km by 12km at its widest point. Depending on the time of day its waters shift through an astonishing range of blues, steely greys and greens as the sun moves across the sky. Mornings are usually calm, but by early afternoon the xocomil wind makes boat travel quite a rock’n’roll experience.
This perfect tailor-made Guatemala Family Adventure Tour takes you throughout Guatemala. Visit the active Pacaya volcano on an easy trek and watch the lava; enjoy a canopy ride through the middle of the rain forest and observe the nature just as the birds see it and enjoy Lake Atitlan by kayak.
Camionetas are old North American school buses, with limited legroom, and the seats and aisles are usually crammed with passengers. While travel by second-class bus may be uncomfortable, it is never dull, with chickens clucking, music assaulting your eardrums and snack vendors touting for business.
The celebrations start with a procession on Palm Sunday, representing Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and continue through the week, climaxing on Good Friday. It is a great honour to be involved in the procession but no easy task – the great cedar block carried from La Merced weighs some 3.5 tonnes and needs eighty men to lift it.
With a temperate climate and gorgeous scenery all around, Nebaj makes a good base for hiking – Acul and Cocop are both within striking distance – though some places can also be reached by microbus if you’re not feeling so energetic.
You will visit the most popular destinations including the Western Highlands, Tikal and Antigua on this tailor-made trip to the Best Of Guatemala. Enjoy the different types of activities like exploring the Mayan pyramids in the middle of the virgin jungle or having one of the best cups of coffee surrounded by a unique landscape.
Guatemalan coffee is known for its rich, full-bodied flavour with a chocolate or nutty taste and hints of fruit or citrus. It is often described as having a complex flavour profile with balanced acidity. The coffee is grown at high altitudes on the slopes of the volcanoes that dominate the landscape of Guatemala, which helps to give it its unique flavour.
Just a few years ago very few visitors made it to this remote part of Guatemala, but the secret is now definitely out, and the pools are very much a key stop on the Central America backpacking trail. That said, you can usually find a peaceful corner without too much difficulty.
Until the 1980s, it was assumed Mirador was a city from the Classic era, but this theory has been totally overthrown. We now know that Mirador was a Preclassic capital of unprecedented scale, and its fall around 150 AD was just the first of two catastrophic collapses suffered by the Maya civilization.
Inside there is a maze of tiny rooms and staircases, plus plenty of cannons and panoramic views of the lake, making it a must-see attraction among the many things to do in Guatemala. Beyond the Castillo de San Felipe the broad sweep of Lago de Izabal opens before you, with great views of the fertile highlands beyond the distant shores.
Popular tourist centres tend to have more varied menus and plenty of choice for vegetarians, and in Antigua and Lago de Atitlán you can feast on a wide selection of global dishes. Most meals in Guatemala traditionally revolve around the basic staples of beans and maize, though diets are changing due to increased exposure to international cuisine.
Explore the fascinating city of Antigua and learn about local culture on this Gastronomic and Cultural Half-Day Tour. Your expert guide will expose you to the wonderful local foods found within the city. See the city's markets, visit traditional restaurants and admire the colonial architecture.
Find more inspiring ideas for your exotic journey in our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world. When considering a Caribbean destination, take a look at Belize, where you will also find plenty of exciting things to do. Or make your choice using our guide to Central America: an adventure travel paradise.
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