It’s not often that you find a destination that offers something for everyone, but Guatemala is one of those exceptional places. Antigua Guatemala, with its colonial architecture and cobblestone walkways, and the Mayan ruins at Tikal make the country a cultural mecca in Central America.
Unique cultural experiences can be had in the small communities of the highlands and along the shores of magnificent Lake Atitlan. Nature enthusiasts will be drawn to the region’s tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountain lakes, cloud forests, coral reefs, and beaches.
You can find tranquil beaches perfect for lounging in a hammock if you travel along the coast. Local goods, especially textiles, can be purchased in weekly markets held all across the country on specific days of the week. This guide to the greatest Guatemalan tourist destinations will help you make the most of your time in this stunning country.
Top 7 Places To Visit In Guatemala
Backpacking in Guatemala is sure to be an exciting adventure, whether your goals are to reach the top of a volcano, stroll between Mayan communities, explore ancient ruins, or indulge in the delicious local cuisine.
A pro-tip: if you don’t have a general schedule in place, it can be difficult to explore all of the best attractions in Guatemala. If you put some thought into your itinerary, you’ll have a fantastic time on your trip.
1. Mayan Ruins of Tikal
One of the most important archaeological sites in Central America is located in the steamy rainforest of northern Guatemala, not far from the border with Belize. One of the best places to visit in Guatemala to learn about Mayan civilization is the ruined city of Tikal, which has been remarkably well preserved.
More than 3,000 structures, including pyramids, temples, plazas, and even an acropolis, may be seen at Tikal, which was occupied from about 600 BC to AD 900. Throughout the course of a thousand years, it served as one of the most prominent Mayan urban centers, and it remains one of the major Mayan archaeological sites from that era.
The natural beauty of the area adds to the overall atmosphere of a trip to Tikal. The jungle’s steep pyramids tower over the greenery and the birds, monkeys, and other animals that call it home. The surrounding rainforest and fauna are protected by Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve.
2. Antigua Guatemala
This is a great place to call home for a while if you’re seeking for a city to call home. Hotels of high quality may be had for a reasonable price, and both the food and the atmosphere at the area’s hip eateries are of high quality.
Antigua Antigua, the capital city of Guatemala, or simply Antigua, is often considered to be among the most visually stunning places in all of Central America. This once-major Guatemalan city is largely untouched by modern concrete buildings and high-rises thanks to its location in the shadow of three volcanoes.
3. Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán)
Lake Atitlán, often called the most beautiful lake in the world, is another popular tourist stop. You should come here because it is worth the trip. The little towns and villages that surround the lake are perfect for a week or more of sightseeing.
Up in the mountains, less than two hours from either Guatemala City or Antigua, is where you’ll find Lake Atitlán. Several of the communities on its shores can only be reached by boat due to its location in a volcanic crater 1,538 meters above sea level and its isolation from the rest of the world by hills and volcanoes.
Panajachel is the most common starting place for visitors. After perusing the shops and alleys along the main drag selling blankets and other things, head down to the docks to hop on a water taxi.
4. Chichicastenango Market
Chichicastenango, or “Chichi” as the locals name it, is a sizable town amid the mountains and valleys of Guatemala. On Thursdays and Sundays, one of the largest and busiest markets in Guatemala takes over the normally quiet cobblestone lanes.
Typical grocery store fare, fresh produce, and the region’s signature textiles may all be found at this bustling local market. This market attracts vendors from far and wide, making it a fantastic place to people-watch and take photographs.
From Panajachel, a day trip to Chichicastenango on Lake Atitlán is only a 1.5-hour bus ride away. From Guatemala City, it takes around 2.5 hours, and from Antigua, it takes about 3.5 hours.
As the economic hub of southwestern Guatemala, Quetzaltenango is not only the country’s second-largest metropolis. The Park Central América and the surrounding Neoclassical structures are the town’s main attractions, although the locals just call it Xela.
Apart for the cathedral, most of these structures date back to the 19th century, when Xela flourished as a center for commerce and the arts. Learning Spanish and exploring the neighboring mountains are two of the best reasons to travel to Quetzaltenango.
One of the more daring choices is to hike Central America’s tallest summit, Volcan Tajumulco. Quetzaltenango is 2,333 meters above sea level, therefore the city has warm days, mild nights, and fewer bugs in addition to being quite clean and safe.
Excursions to the several local towns, which are famous for their hot springs and handicrafts, depart from the city.
Monterrico is a little coastal community that offers a relaxing atmosphere and a beautiful stretch of shoreline, perfect for beachgoers and wildlife lovers both. In contrast to the cool highlands, the climate surrounding Monterrico is often tropical.
The beach is stunning, but the large waves make it unsafe for swimming. The Monterrico Natural Reserve, also known as the Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii, was established to save mangrove forests and sea turtles. A wide diversity of birds and marine species, such as leatherback and Kemp’s ridley turtles, call this area home.
7. Río Dulce and Livingston
Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala, with geothermally heated waterfalls and wildlife-rich mangroves along its shores. The lake’s waters flow into the Ro Dulce, which ultimately reach the Garifuna settlement of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. Tourists on their way to the shore often stop here to have a ride down the river in a hired boat.
The marinas, restaurants, and bars along the river that cater to visiting sailors create a warm, international atmosphere despite the river’s hot, humid, and lush surroundings. You can sleep soundly in the superb Tortugal, a boutique guesthouse on a harbor, or you can take a pickup to one of the more secluded, riverbank jungle hostels, such as Hotelito Perdido.
Guatemala is the heart of Mayan civilization in Central America, and its dramatic volcanoes, black sand beaches, biodiverse jungles, bustling Mayan communities, and breathtaking Tikal ruins have made it a popular tourist destination. There’s a lot to see in this area.
Antigua, the country’s former capital during the Spanish era, has some of the greatest dining and most gorgeous buildings in Central America, topping off the country’s vast natural attractions.
Everything in Guatemala, from the thriving Mayan culture of Chichicastenango to the placid waters of Lake Atitlán and its ring of guardian volcanoes, has an air of the mysterious about it.