if you are traveling to Guatemala, here are the best things to do in this beautiful country. Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxing on an exotic beach, or planning a family vacation, there’s something for everyone. This Central American country is one of the most exciting and colorful. Guatemala offers everything from lush rainforests and active volcanos to colonial architecture and ancient Mayan cities. So if you wonder what to do in Guatemala, here is the best guide to making the most out of your visit to this captivating country.
What To Do in Guatemala?
Colorful and magical, Guatemala is one of the most diverse and engaging countries in Latin America. As a native Guatemalan (now an ex-pat living in Florida), I have compiled a list of my favorite destinations in Guatemala. You will find many lists of the best things to do in Guatemala.
I promise this list will continue to grow as I discover more beautiful Guatemalan destinations. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Guatemala with kids, you can get some ideas here. As I travel with my kids to Guatemala a couple of times a year, we love discovering new things to do as a family.
Best Things To Do In Guatemala
Often overlooked by travelers who think it is a destination meant for the adventurous, Guatemala has something for everyone. Guatemala has everything. From solo travelers to families, budget travelers, digital nomads to sightseers looking for unique experiences!
Take A Trip Back in Time to Antigua Guatemala
Walking through Antigua Guatemala’s cobblestone streets feels like a trip back in time. This 500-year-old city has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But much more than being a historical treasure, Antigua is a humming city. Surrounded by majestic volcanoes, this charming city is full of Spanish Baroque churches, some of them in ruins.
Bright-colored mansions with walls framed by flowing bougainvillea give postcard-perfect views around every corner. From visiting its magnificent churches and monasteries to learning how to make traditional dishes and riding a mule through a coffee plantation, there are many things to do in Antigua Guatemala. So better to plan to stay for a few days.
Discover the Mayan Ruins in Petén
The dense jungle-covered area of Petén in Guatemala used to be inhabited by the Mayan civilization. As a result, it is full of ancient cities. Most are covered with vegetation, and some are yet to be discovered. Most people travel to Petén to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Tikal park is one of the most incredible ancient cities in Guatemala. Here is a complete guide to visiting Tikal that includes everything you need to know before seeing the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world.
Visit Beautiful Lake Atitlán
Considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlán has inspired poets and writers for decades. The Mayan people have regarded it as a sacred place for centuries. Yet, even the most beautiful pictures of lake Atitlán fail to capture its essence. Ever since I was a kid, Lake Atitlán always seemed like a magical place to me. There’s a mystical air, positive energy that goes beyond its beauty.
Of volcanic origin, the lake encircles stunning volcanoes. Its shores overflow with charming and quaint towns like Santiago Atitlán, with its flourishing indigenous culture. San Marcos is the perfect refuge for those who want to connect to the cosmic energy of the lake. There’s plenty to do from feeding coatis at the Reserva Natural de Atitlán in Panajachel and paragliding in Santa Catarina Palopó. And don’t forget to kayak in Santa Cruz La Laguna or visit the pottery makers in San Antonio Palopó.
Take a Magical River Ride In Rio Dulce
About 5 hours from Guatemala City, Rio Dulce (Sweet River) connects the largest lake in Guatemala with the Caribbean coast. Take an enchanting boat ride through Rio Dulce to experience the natural beauty along the shores. There are few roads in the area, and the river is the primary means of transport. It is also a way of life for those living there. From the spectacular Boquerón canyon and the hot springs at Finca Paraiso to the wildlife, you will find that Rio Dulce is one of the most beautiful destinations in Guatemala.
Rio Dulce is also the home of one of the oldest Spanish Colonial forts in the area, the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. It was built in 1644 at the entrance of Lake Izabal. This historical site is one you should not miss. The city of Livingston, where the river meets the Gulf of Honduras, offers a unique look into the Garifuna culture. It is the best opportunity to sample the delicious traditional Caribbean dishes unique to this area.
Yaxha Ruins, The Ultimate Destination for History Buffs and Adventure Seekers
Discover the magic of the ancient world at Yaxha, the unique Mayan ruins nestled in the heart of Guatemala. Explore the breathtaking beauty of this well-preserved site and immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of one of the most advanced civilizations of the pre-Columbian era. From towering pyramids to intricate carvings, Yaxha is a true hidden gem waiting to be uncovered.
Take A Dip in the Turquoise Waters of Semuc Champey
With its turquoise waters and verdant lush rainforest, Semuc Champey (where the river hides beneath the Earth) is a stunning destination. In my opinion, Semuc Champey is the most beautiful place in Guatemala. But, unfortunately, it’s hard to capture its beauty in images! But this series of clear pools formed above a natural bridge beneath the Cahabon river is the best example of Guatemala’s striking and unspoiled natural beauty.
It is a little challenging to get to, only adding to its magic. It has yet to be invaded by hordes of tourists, keeping its beauty untarnished. Swim in its beautiful pools, hike to the “mirador” to look at it from above or take a guided tour to explore the water caves to get the complete experience.
Explore the Lost Wonders of the Maya: A Journey to Iximche
The Iximche Mayan ruins in Guatemala are an underrated attraction that offers a unique glimpse into the Mayan civilization’s history and culture. Set amidst breathtaking natural scenery, these ancient ruins are a must-visit destination I highly recommend.
The Iximche Mayan ruins are in Tecpan. They are about an hour’s drive from the city of Antigua and about two hours from Guatemala City. This is the perfect stop if you’re going from Antigua to Atitlan!
A Mystical Adventures Inside Candelaria Caves
The Candelaria Caves are usually not on most lists of the best things to do in Guatemala. The only reason for that is that they are not as well known. However, growing up in Guatemala, I visited the Candelaria Caves for the first time as a teenager. To this day, those memories are some of my favorites! This trip into the most extensive cave system in Central America was one of the most exciting and fun adventures I’ve ever been on.
My favorite part of the Candelaria Caves is that many caves have skylights letting light in. So you can see the verdant rainforest outside, making this a unique experience. You can also go tubing in the river inside the caves, which is sure to be an unforgettable adventure!
Uncovering the Treasures of the Quirigua Ruins
Embark on a journey back in time and discover the rich history of the Maya culture in the stunning Quirigua ruins. Nestled in the lush jungle, these well-preserved ruins offer a unique glimpse into the grandeur of the Mayan architecture and artwork.
The towering stela monuments offer a window into the advanced culture and beliefs of the ancient Maya. So pack your bags, and let’s set off on a journey to discover the beauty and mystery of the world of the Mayas!
Experience Market Day in Chichicastenango
If you are wondering what to do in Guatemala, visiting its most colorful market is a must! It is Guatemala’s biggest outdoor market but also its most historic one. Its vibrant stalls are full of colorful Mayan textiles, traditional wood carvings, and other Mayan goods that are for sale.
Climb a Volcano
Whether you’re an experienced mountain climber and decide to take on a challenge by climbing the Acatenengo volcano or leisurely ride a horse up an active volcano and roast marshmallows on the hot volcanic rocks with the kids, there’s a volcano climbing experience for everyone in Guatemala.
With over 33 volcanos across the land, many are easily accessible from Guatemala City, Antigua Guatemala, or Xela. Getting to experience a volcano from its summit, as opposed to just enjoying its commanding beauty from below, is an adventure you’re sure to cherish forever.
Visit the Black Sand Beaches of the Pacific
Guatemala’s Pacific coast features hundreds of miles of volcanic black sand beaches. So far from the white sand beach postcard pictures, Guatemala’s Pacific coast is quite different. Yet, I find these black sand beaches to have a special energy and appeal. And since there are no big hotels or resorts, nature here takes center stage.
Although there are many different beaches, Monterrico is the most popular as there are many small hotels here. However, don’t expect lavish resorts or turquoise waters. But rather an untamed natural beauty that is sometimes rough around the edges, an ocean that refuses to be tamed, and small villages whose people depend on fishing and agriculture.
Check out my article about Guatemala’s Pacific coast for tips and recommendations on what to do and where to stay on Guatemala’s Pacific coast.
Don’t Forget The Best Things To Do In Guatemala City
Many people traveling to Guatemala skip Guatemala city. However, this modern metropolis, the largest and most developed in Central America, offers a unique look into Guatemalan life, culture, and history.
Plan to spend a couple of days there. Be sure to include in your itinerary a visit to the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena. You will learn all about the fantastic Mayan weaving techniques and colorful designs: Plus, you can visit the historic downtown area and the trendy and artsy 4 Grados Norte.
Do not miss sampling the delicious traditional Guatemalan food in the city. The up-and-coming chefs use local flavors to create unique dishes you won’t find anywhere else. And If you want to try the best dishes, this starter guide to Guatemalan food is for you!
More Amazing Things to Do In Guatemala:
If you’re planning a trip to Guatemala, you’ve come to the right place! From the best destinations to kid-friendly activities, I’ll share my love for my home country. Here are amazing things to do in Guatemala to make your trip a memorable one:
- The Best Things To Do With Kids In Guatemala City: The capital city is full of fun things to do. However, kid-friendly activities are not always easy to find. So I thought I would share the best things to do in Guatemala City with kids. And the best part is most are not only fun but also educational activities; a huge plus for any parent!
- Getting Close To Nature At Auto Safari Chapín: Located in Escuintla, Auto Safari Chapin is a great day trip for families and animal lovers. Whether you are visiting or living there, it is one of the best things to do in Guatemala with kids.
- Luxurious And Magical Jungle Getaway At Las Lagunas Hotel: If you want to experience the Guatemalan jungle in a magical setting, Las Lagunas boutique hotel is the ideal choice. It is minutes away from the Santa Elena airport and a short ride from Tikal. It is the ultimate jungle getaway!
- Best Things To Do In Lake Atitlan With Kids: Looking for the best things to do in Lake Atitlán with kids? Here are lots of fun options! It includes all our favorite things to do around the lake, from Panajachel to smaller towns like San Antonio Palopó.
- Porta Hotel, The Best Hotel In Antigua Guatemala For Families: if you’re looking for a family-friendly hotel in Antigua, this is it! With beautiful colonial architecture and a kid-friendly pool, Porta Hotel is the best one in Antigua Guatemala for families.
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