Top Things To Do In Guatemala

Views from Antigua

Views from Antigua

Best Attractions In Guatemala:

1. Lake Atitlan

Considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Atitlan is a large freshwater lake a few hours west of Guatemala City, surrounded by 3 volcanoes and plenty of forest. Which means it is a great place for hiking and enjoying impressive views, though a lot of tourists just end up taking it pretty easy during the day and then partying hard at night. Lake Atitlan is also surrounded by a number of small towns, each accessible by a network of cheap boats/water taxis. Each town comes with its own style and flavour and something different to offer.

For this reason it worth choosing which town fits your own style of travel.

  • San Pedro is popular with  backpackers,
  • Santa Cruz is less accessible than the other towns and and pretty laid-back (people who know Guatemala well or are returning to Lake Atitlan for a second time often visit Santa Cruz.
  • Panajachel is the most touristy and much less interesting than the other towns, though does offer great views over the lake.
  • San Marcos is quite alternative and full of hippies (some of which have travelled so far down the hippie road you cannot have a sensible or coherent conversation with them).
Cross on the hill (Cerro de la Cruz) overlooking Antigua

Cross on the hill (Cerro de la Cruz) overlooking Antigua

2. Antigua

In four months of travelling through Central America, Antigua was the most picturesque town we visited. The town is full of old Spanish colonial buildings, cobblestone streets and quaint little houses with lush garden courtyards. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala, meaning it is scattered with grand old buildings and churches, either sitting as ruins from the destruction of earthquakes or lovingly maintained. Looming over Antigua is the Volcano of Agua, which adds further to the atmosphere of the town and makes for great photo opportunities.

Antigua is also popular with tourists (voted the #1 destination in Central America according to Trip Advisor in 2012) meaning there is a number of easily accessible tourists attractions and plenty of great cafes, restaurants and bars to enjoy. In our 3 week visit, we were constantly finding great new hangouts around town. And once the town becomes just a little too quaint you can head up into the several volcanoes which surround the town to do some real adventuring.

Ruins of Tikal

Ruins of Tikal

3. Tikal and Flores

Tikal is considered one of the premier Mayan ruins for travellers. It is a large site located deep in the forests of Northern Guatemala, surrounded by jungle and not over-run by tourist buses, all of which helps add to its allure. As an added bonus Tikal is home to howler monkeys, which are an attraction in their own right. And for those looking for something a little extra, you can reportedly pay a little more to sleep in the ruins over night. Flores is a small town situated on an island in Lake Peten Itza, full of old Spanish colonial buildings. Though not quite considered to be a tourist attraction in its own right, Flores is a convenient and picturesque location for basing yourself for a visit to Tikal.

Antigua Locals

Antigua Locals

4. Chichicastenango Markets

Every Thursday and Sunday in the town of Chichicastenango a large and very colourful Mayan market operates. Guaranteed to be the most colourful markets you’ll see in Central America. The Chichicastenango Markets are full of Mayan men, women and children in traditional Mayan get-up.  These markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants, animals and tools. For those not looking to buy a pig or chicken the markets are a great place to observe modern Mayan culture. People representing Mayan groups from across the country are reportedly represented at Chichicastenango Markets.

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View from Volcan de Acatenago

5. Hike a Volcano

Guatemala has 34 volcanoes, meaning that as you travel through the country an opportunity to climb one is bound to present itself. For this reason we don’t recommend any particular one, each has their own pros and cons depending on how strenuous you want to get on your adventure. The most popular volcano to climb is Pacaya, it can be done in about half a day, offers the chance to see lava and is easily accessible from Antigua and Guatemala City. Guatemala also has the highest volcano in Central America (Volcán Tajumulco; 4220m, 13,845f) – reportedly a relatively easy climb. Others require you to travel with two armed guards from bandits, if your into that sort of thing. Here is a quick overview of a couple:

  • Pacaya (2,552m/8,373 ft) is by far the most popular, an easy couple of hours walking, with the possibility of lava and great views.
  • Volcan de Acatenago (3975m/13,041 ft) is best suited to a two day hike. It takes 8 hours to reach the summit, so why not stick around the sunset and sunrise? A fantastic hike, see our account of it here and our tips on how to climb it (what to bring, what to expect etc).
  • Volcán de Agua (3,761m/12,339 ft), which dominates the Antigua skyline but has a reputation that you might get robbed will climbing it. There are no scheduled tours up this one but tour companies can organise special excursions (as long as you are willing to pay extra for 2 security guards carrying shotguns to accompany you). If you are, it reportedly takes approximately 13 hours up and back down again.
  • Having watched Volcan de Fuego (3,763m/12346ft) erupt approximately 10 times in the space of 2 hours I don’t know how keen I would be to climb this one, but apparently it is safe to climb up until a certain elevation.

Get religious at Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week):  Antigua is regarded as the largest celebration of Semana Santa in all of Central America. There are processions, reenactments, elaborate alfombras (carpets) and so on. There is a good chance Semana Santa in Antigua is quite unlike any festival you have ever been to.

 

Map of Guatemala Travel Destinations:

Map Of Guatemala Travel Destinations

Map Of Guatemala Travel Destinations

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5 Responses

  1. March 12, 2014

    […] Guatemala – Another popular country to  visit. Good for people wanting to observe the  modern day Mayan culture. Also has the highest rated attraction in  Central America on TripAdvisor (Antigua, old Spanish town). Has  something like 30 volcanoes so it is almost mandatory to visit a volcano  when you visit. Learning Spanish and  enjoying some great coffee are also popular. Read More Here. […]

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    […] Top Things To Do In Guatemala […]

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    […] and Will (baby called George?) from runawaytravellers.com say that Antigua […]

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    […] Antigua, maybe because we covered it fairly early on in our trip. Read more about travel tips or things to do in […]

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    […] tours can be pricey  in Belize. If you are looking for a cheaper destination, head somewhere like Guatemala […]

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