Guatemalans have a furious appetite for spectator sports and the daily papers always devote four or five pages to the subject. Fútbol (soccer) tops the bill, and if you get the chance to see a major game it’s a thrilling experience, if only to watch the crowd. There’s a great website, w guatefutbol.com (Spanish only), dedicated to the national sport – the two big local teams, both from Guatemala City, are Municipal and Communications. Otherwise, baseball, boxing and basketball are all popular.

Hiking

Guatemala has great hiking, particularly volcano climbing, which is certainly hard work but almost always worth the effort – unless you end up wrapped in cloud, that is. There are 37 volcanic peaks; the tallest is Tajumulco in the far west, which at 4220m is a serious undertaking, and should only be tackled when you’ve been acclimatized to an altitude of over 2000m for a few days. Among the active peaks, Pacaya is a fairly easy climb and a dramatic sight (although not always actively spewing lava, as the tour companies’ photographs would have you believe). Trekking trips up volcanoes and along highland trails are organized by a number of tour groups in Antigua, Nebaj, Quetzaltenango, San Pedro la Laguna and Santa Cruz La Laguna.

Sadly, there have been some occasional attacks (often armed, but usually non-violent) on hikers climbing volcanoes, and around the shores of Lago de Atitlán. Incidents happen randomly, so take some precautions: it’s much safer to walk in a group, and check the security situation before setting out.

Sport-fishing

There’s excellent ocean and freshwater fishing in Guatemala. The Pacific coast offers exceptional sport-fishing, with some of the best waters in the world for sailfish, as well as dorado, mahi mahi and some blue marlin, jack crevalle, yellow and black tuna, snapper and bonito. Most companies operate out of Puerto Quetzal or Iztapa. The Caribbean side, including Lago de Izabal, also offers excellent opportunities for snook and tarpon. In Petén the rivers and lakes are packed with sport fish, including snook, tarpon and peacock bass, and lakes Petexbatún, Izabal and Yaxhá all offer superb fishing.

A four-night fishing package including an 8m boat, captain, meals, transport connections and accommodation in Iztapa costs from US$2565 (based on four anglers). If this is beyond your budget and you’re looking for a more casual arrangement, talk to the local fishermen in Iztapa, Sayaxché or El Estor.

Whitewater rafting

Guatemala’s dramatic highland landscape and tumbling rivers also provide some excellent opportunities for whitewater rafting. Trips down the Río Cahabón and seven other rivers are organized by Maya Expeditions, 13 Av 14–70, Zona 10, Guatemala City (t 2363 4955, w mayaexpeditions.com), giving you the chance to see some very remote areas and also visit some of the country’s most inaccessible Maya sites. Children as young as 6 can raft some rivers.

Caving and tubing

Caving is another popular activity, especially in the area north of Cobán where you can explore great caverns and tube down underground rivers. The northern Alta Verapaz region, particularly Lanquín, Chisec and Candelaria and Finca Ixobel are the places to head for.

Mountain-biking

There are terrific mountain-bike trails throughout the highlands and several professional operators organizing trips. Maya Mountain Bike Tours and Old Town Outfitters, both in Antigua, have excellent bikes and tours, staring at about US$35 for a half-day escorted ride. Further west, Atitlán Tours organizes excellent mountain-bike excursions around the crater of Lago de Atitlán while The Bike House in Quetzaltenango is a specialist operator in the Xela region.

Kayaking

Two of the best areas for kayakers are the Río Dulce region with its stunning gorge and myriad jungle tributaries, and the sublime shoreline around Lago de Atitlán. Hotels in both these places offer kayaks for rent or contact Los Elementos in Santa Cruz La Laguna, a kayaking specialist, for expert advice and guided paddles.

Scuba diving

The seas off Guatemala have little to offer compared with the splendours of the neighbouring Belizean or Honduran coastal waters. Nevertheless, there are some diving possibilities, including Lago de Atitlán, where the professional ATI Divers offer instruction, training and fun dives.

Surfing

There is some surfing in Guatemala, but with a strong undertow along much of the Pacific coast, conditions are not ideal. Nevertheless there’s a growing surf scene at Paredón, near Sipacate, where you’ll find a great new surf lodge (see Escuintla and around), boards for rent and instructors (US$15/lesson). You’ll also find reliable breaks at Iztapa. Global Surf Guatemala (t 7832 1075, w globalsurfguatemala.com) offer regular surf trips (US$219) to El Salvador.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

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