Guatemala is one of those rare gems that offers a wide range of travel options for adventurers, culture-seekers, beach lovers, and travelers seeking relaxation. It is home to some of Central America’s most culturally significant spots, including the historic colonial architecture of Antigua Guatemala and the cobbled streets of Tikal.
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You can find unique cultural experiences in small towns located in the highlands or on the shores Lake Atitlan. Nature lovers will be attracted to tropical jungles, active volcanoes and mountain lakes.
You can find tranquil beaches along the coasts that are perfect for relaxation and solitude in a hammock. There are many markets throughout the country selling local goods, especially textiles. These only open on specific days of the week.
Mayan Ruins at Tikal
One of Central America’s most important archaeological sites is located in the jungle of northern Guatemala near Belize. Tikal, a well-preserved ruin city that dates back to Mayan times, is one of the most interesting places in Guatemala.
Tikal was home to more than 3,000 structures. They range from temples and pyramids to plazas, acropolis, and even a temple. It was built between 600 BC and AD900. It was one the most important Mayan urban centers for over a thousand years. Today, it is one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites.
The surroundings enhance the experience of visiting Tikal. The jungle’s lush green canopy is populated with birds, monkeys and other wildlife. Steep pyramids rise high above the surrounding area. Tikal National park is located within the ruins and protects rainforest and wildlife habitat.
Tikal is home to many monkeys. Spider monkeys are common at Tikal. If you don’t, you will most likely hear them.
This is the city for you if you are looking to settle down for a while. You can easily fill your days with quality hotels at affordable rates, great food from trendy restaurants, and lots of activities.
Antigua Guatemala is often called simply Antigua. It is one of Guatemala’s highlights and one of Central America’s most beautiful cities. This former capital of Guatemala is surrounded by three volcanoes. It offers a rare glimpse into a city that has been left untouched by concrete buildings and high rises.
Many of the cobblestone streets are lined by old colonial buildings, which include some that show evidence of earthquakes. Amazing churches and convents can be found all over the old city centre.
Many of the buildings are now completely restored. However, there are still cracks from past earthquakes that have left some buildings in ruins. Many times, the ruins were cleverly integrated into newer buildings, including some that are now hotels. There are many museums in the city, as well as beautiful convents that can be visited.
Lake Atitlan, often called the most beautiful lake on the planet, is another place where tourists love to stay. You won’t regret making the trip here. The small villages and towns that surround the lake can be explored for up to a week.
Lake Atitlan can be found in the high country. It is less than two hours from Guatemala City, and less than half an hour from Antigua. It is located in a volcanic crater at 1,538m above sea level. Many of the villages along the shores can only be reached by boat.
The city of Panajachel is the main entry point. You can explore the main street lined with vendors selling blankets and other goods in stalls or alleyways. Then, you can make your way to the waterfront and take a water taxi.
Here boats line up to transport passengers to the villages San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan. Every village has its own unique characteristics, but all have local markets and crafts.
Atitlan has been a popular destination for expats who are interested in alternative lifestyles over the years. There are many spiritual or new age centers that offer everything, from yoga to metaphysical pursuits. Schools are readily available for those who wish to learn Spanish.
The large, isolated town of Chichicastenango is known as “Chichi” and is surrounded by mountains and valleys. It hosts one of the most bustling markets in Guatemala, and its cobblestone streets are alive during Thursdays and Sundays.
It is a market for locals, offering regular goods and vegetables as well as the unique textiles that make it so popular. This market attracts vendors from all over the country, which makes it an excellent opportunity to take photos and watch.
Chichicastenango can be reached by bus from Panajachel in 1.5 hours. This makes it an easy day trip to Lake Atitlan. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to get from Guatemala City, and 3.5 hours to get from Antigua.
Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second largest city and the center of commerce in southwestern Guatemala. The Parque Centro America, and the Neoclassical buildings around it are more commonly known as Xela. Except for the cathedral, most of these buildings date back to the 19th century, when Xela was a significant trading and artistic center.
Studying Spanish and hiking in nearby mountains are two of the top reasons to visit Quetzaltenango. One of the most adventurous activities is to climb Volcan Tajumulco Central America’s highest peak.
Quetzaltenango, at 2,333m, is a safe and clean city. It also has cool nights and warm days. It is also a great base from which to explore nearby villages known for their hot springs or handicrafts.
Monterrico and Biotopo Monterrico–Hawaii (Nature Reserve).
Monterrico is a small beach village that will appeal to those who want to spend some time on the oceanfront and enjoy a laid-back atmosphere. The area surrounding Monterrico is tropical and hot, unlike the high-inland areas. Although the beach is not ideal for swimming, it is beautiful.
The Biotopo Monterrico–Hawaii, or Monterrico Nature Reserve is a reserve that protects mangrove forests and sea turtles. It covers a vast area of land and water and is home to a wide range of birds and aquatic life. This includes leatherback and Kemp’s ridley turtles. You can take boat tours through the swamps, which offer great opportunities to view wildlife and birds, especially in the morning hours.
Pacaya Volcano, Antigua
You can witness firsthand volcanic activity at the Pacaya Volcano which rises to over 2,550m. This volcano is located near Antigua and has been active continuously since 1975. Lava explosions change its appearance constantly.
Guided tours allow you to hike up the volcano with a guide and roast marshmallows in the hot spots. There are some risks involved in hiking on this active volcano. Horses are an option if you’re looking for a less strenuous way to reach the top.
Although it is difficult to reach this spot deep in the jungle, it is well worth the effort. Natural pools are created by a 300-meter limestone shelf in the river. They are perfect for quick dips. The pools are vibrant green and turquoise. The area is rich in wildlife and has a calm, warm water.
Lanquin can arrange tours to this location. You can either hike 2.5 kilometers through the humid jungle heat or take a 4X4 ride.
Livingston, Caribbean Coast
The Caribbean Coast of Guatemala has a small community with brightly painted wooden homes, nestled in the jungle amid coconut groves. Livingston is more Caribbean-like than the rest of Guatemala due to its Garifuna population, descendants of exiled slaves and indigenous Maya.
They have developed a unique culture and language. The rhythms of the Caribbean are abound, and they rise during May when a Garifuna pilgrimage visits town. Also, colorful celebrations are held during Easter week as well as on December 12, the feast day of Virgin of Guadalupe.
Livingston is the starting point for boat rides on both the Rio Quehueche, Rio Cocoli and the Cayos Sapodillas. This allows for fishing and snorkeling. Taxi is an easy way to get to the best beaches, which are located just outside the town.
Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena, Guatemala City
The Ixchel Museum for Mayan Costumes offers a comprehensive overview of traditional Guatemalan costumes. It includes everything from regular clothes to ceremonial pieces. The museum can be found on the campus of Universidad Francisco Marrquin.
The large collection of textiles, which originated from 120 Guatemalan communities, dates back to the 19th Century. The exhibits are complemented by a collection of paintings that illustrate the local costumes. The Mayan goddess of fertility, weaving and the museum’s name is a tribute to her.
Address: 6A Calle 6, Guatemala City
Official site: https://museoixchel.org/home
Grutas de Lanquin (Lanquin Caves)
The Lanquin Caves are located northeast Coban. They are limestone caverns that contain an underground river and various rock formations. A portion of the cave can be toured, with some rough walkways and low lighting.
This cave is home to thousands of bats. They make an entertaining spectacle by leaving the cave in a mass exodus every night to feed in nearby forests. This unique cave is worth a visit. You can tour it in the afternoon, and then stay until sunset.
The caves also contain a religious shrine, which is considered sacred by local indigenous people.
Museo Popol Vuh, Guatemala City
The Museo Popol Vuh is a great place to spend a few hours if you are in Guatemala City. It is one of the most important museums in the Mayan world, and houses a rich and extensive collection of colonial and Mayan art. A large collection of masks and pottery, as well as gems, tools, and statues are on display.
Address: 6 Calle Final zona 10, Universidad Francisco Marroquin