Top places to visit in Guatemala

New to Guatemala? looking for an idea of what you can find? we have prepared a two-part list for your convenience:

  1. The most visited destinations, places that most travelers choose and make Guatemala famous around the world.
  2. Places you shouldn't miss that probably you didn't know about (it's impossible to cover them all but we created a nice list).

Guatemala's most visited destinations

La Antigua Guatemala. Full of color, and by far probably the most visited destination due to it's beauty and proximity to Guatemala City. It's location allows you to reach other famous places in short time. What makes it so unique? the beauty of colonial architecture that really makes you travel to the past, comfortable hotels and restaurants with exquisite decorations, besides it's packed with art, color and culture on every street. You can have a wonderful experience giving it as little as one day if you are short in time, but ideally: spend from two days and a whole week to get the most of the colonial city, it's museums, temples, restaurants and colonial architecture.

Tikal, the Maya City. The kind of place everyone will be asking "did you visit the temples? how was the experience?". Located in the heart of a National Park in the middle of the tropical jungle in Petén, provides a wonderful experience, the Mayan temples are impressive and the wildlife at the reach of your hand. Travelers from around the world have found Tikal absolutely fascinating with it's history, architecture and famous panoramic view from the temples, it's a don't miss destination across the Mayan Route. Sure, there are plenty of Maya cities nearby and all across Guatemala that you can include on your trip but if you have to choose just one, go for Tikal. It's not nearby Guatemala City but you can get there on an overnight bus (ideally, while you rest) or any time of the day actually. Short in time? tight schedule? take a flight to International Airport Mundo Maya and get back to Guatemala City the same day ready for dinner.
Lake Atitlán. Considered among the most beautiful lakes in the world, the breathtaking views and landscapes combined with blue sky and colorful sunsets will stay in your memories. It's guarded by three volcanoes with several towns around, providing a different cultural experience (rumors say it's 12 towns with the name of the apostles, but yes it's just a rumor), the prices are quite affordable, from cheap to luxury. Take a boat, try the local food at any of the many restaurants with regional food, take as much sun as you need or climb a volcano. Besides Antigua Guatemala Atitlán is one top choices of travelers to stay for good, many of them remain living here. And yes is one of those places where you can get amazing experiences on a low budget.
Semuc Champey. Where the river hides under the rocks. This is a natural paradise with crystal clear waters surrounded by a humid forest. The panoramic view is excellent, the river is truly beautiful and it suddenly disappears under the rocks and continues a hundred meters ahead. There are complex and interesting (fascinating!) cave systems all around that you can explore on a nice adventure. Some cave systems like Lanquín are quite famous and have dry routes inside. Other cave systems around offer you a full of water experience.
Iximché. The last Maya city, it holds a great history and cultural influence and remains as a sacred destination where you can witness a Maya Ceremony. It's size is modest, not comparable to Tikal but that's not a negative description, just a reference in scale. It's well located, accessible from Guatemala City at approximately 45 minutes and surrounded with a wonderful forest. Besides there are lots and I mean lots of options for food with amazing flavor, colorful and interesting restaurants around Iximché and Tecpán, a region already famous due to the restaurants.
Chichicastenango. A colorful town famous around the world thanks to the local culture and market days. It has a wonderful economic activity primarily based in agriculture. There are two churches in the center of the town/city with a great cultural heritage. The main church construction is a mix of Maya influence and Spanish Catholic influence, why? come here and learn the history, and why some rituals are performed outside and some inside the temple. It's a classic touristic destination usually combined with Atitlán and Iximché. It is also a sacred destination where Maya Ceremonies are celebrated, specially a Pascual Abaj.
Quetzaltenango / Xela. Wonderful city in the western highlands with amazing culture and art. There are manifestations in it's architecture all around, specially with Italian influences, some enjoy the Europe feeling right away. It has an amazing variety of cultural sites, coffee-bars, music and restaurants in general. It's very peaceful and don't ever leave without trying the different kinds of bread. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, it is also a city well known for it's landscapes and weather. Do you enjoy sport rock climbing? this is the best place, try Cerro Quemado, besides being a nice hike there are sports routes ranging from 5.9+ to 5.12 with some for trad climbing around too. You can also visit the towns around with a very active agriculture tradition, or climb a volcano, a nice place to start with little to no difficulty is Chicabal, with a lagoon at it's crater.
Yaxhá. Wonderful Maya city of great scale. It's located 45 minutes from Tikal, what's different? there is a beautiful lake (Yaxhá), it's actually a complex named Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo, three main and large Maya cities, Yaxhá is the most accessible, right away when you enter the site. There is another beautiful city named Topoxté located in an island of the same name, it's considered to be the establishment of a royal family. What's different from Tikal? there is more wildlife at your hand, amazing colorful birds and longer walks (if you want to), the Mayan Temples give you great panoramic views, specially Temple 216.
Izabal. Here you can find water and fun. Find nearby the Maya site of Quiriguá, occupied by royalty. Cross the Río Dulce (Sweet River) on the longest bridge in Guatemala and visit the Castillo de San Felipe (San Felipe Castle) the guard of the region during past piracy episodes. There are natural treasures all around and you can visit many of them by boat. Due to the past volcanic activity in the region most of the beaches have dark sand, but Izabal holds some surprises like Playa Dorada (Golden Beach) with lots of nice rocks with yellowish and golden colors, or just hit a fantastic white sand beach at Playa Blanca or Punta de Palma. Another destination nearby due to the culture and spirit is Livingston, you might want to put everything on one single tour experience.
Climb a volcano. There is a volcanic belt crossing the country providing amazing landscapes, there are three active volcanoes: Santiaguito, Fuego and Pacaya. All of them offer a different experience but Pacaya is the most noble, easy of access and near Guatemala City where you can watch the lava from close distance, you don't need special physical condition. If you are looking for a different experience consider the top picks: Agua (quite close to Antigua), Acatenango (amazingly beautiful) near Antigua, or San Pedro next to Lake Atitlán with a quite awesome panoramic view. Another good choice is Tajumulco, this is the highest volcanic peak in Central America, located in San Marcos and offering a terrific view.

Destinations you should add to your itinerary

Sure there many, impossible to make one list but here are some places you won't usually see promoted as much as the top destinations. And here is why you should go there:

Ceibal and Aguateca. Both are Maya cities located in the Petexbatún, in the region of Petén (where you can also find Tikal). What makes this cities so interesting is their historic value, the many monuments of Ceibal and the temples of Aguateca, the last one specially is located on a guarded area that is probably the most difficult of the Maya Civilization to invade (they had a tradition of building cities on difficult spots for defensive purposes). You can get to Sayaxché in 1 hour from Tikal, and from there reach Ceibal by ground transportation or boat, Aguateca is only reachable by boat on a wonderful natural experiences. None of the sites are remote (term usually given to far or difficult access cities), but are separated from the usual crowds and that's a gift already.
Las Verapaces. Trust me, if you have one week available you can spend it completely here. Historically it was one region and then divided into Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. Both have truly amazing natural sanctuaries, rivers and waterfalls, not to forget wonderful bird watching experiences. There is a colonial architecture legacy and gastronomic variety too. While you can find hotels all around, the most precious places to stay are log cabin like or the ones into the forest. Semuc Champey is one of the most commonly visited attractions, but trust me there is more than Semuc here worth your time.
Acasaguastlán. Easily a one day trip from Guatemala City or Antigua, Acasaguastlán holds noble and beautiful colonial architecture examples in both churches (San Cristóbal and San Agustín), both located in separated towns with the same names. The whole region offers historical and cultural experience, the sacred imagery preserved is quite beautiful and don't forget the wide variety of gastronomical gifts all around. It's included in several of our tours as a cultural and colonial stop, and also as a refreshing break during some trips. Come here on a one day tour or stay the night on a full service hotel with amazing decorations, swimming pools, geology museum and more.
Quiché. A true gift both in cultural matters and in natural wonders: rivers, mountains and valleys, quite different from the rest of Guatemala, very special. Discover hidden waterfalls and crystal clear waters just like aqua clean streams. There are colonial style churches and the bread is an invitation to a different dimension because here most people live a total different lifestyle and it's manifested on everything they do. Beyond the quite visited destination Chichicastenango you can reach the main city Santa Cruz, and ahead to the north many exquisite landscapes. Enjoy this feeling of having this natural treasures just for you, in a magical feeling of privacy.
Huehuetenango. Visit mountains, valleys, Maya sites and special natural destinations away from crowds. This region is rich in nature as it is in variations because there are different micro climates. Discover the Cuchumatanes, a wonderful mountain region with beautiful panoramas, blue skies and rocky landscapes. Visit Dieguez Olaverri, a traditional must see lookout with an unforgettable view, or go horseback riding. Here you can find amazing places just like Laguna de Magdalena (Magdalena Lagoon), a true mirror of the blue sky on a paradise like region. The mountain regions can reach 13,000 ft. above sea level
Guatemala City and the Historic Center. You would be surprised on the many different attractions available worth your time, from shopping places, markets, museums, restaurants and monuments, to historical streets and avenues, many are located all around the City, and many more in the very heart of the Historic Center.

Some travelers enjoy cities, some avoid them and both have their good reasons for each choice. Do you like blend in all the people on their daily life? or do you want to avoid crowds and go around Guatemala City on a night tour? You can enjoy Guatemala in different levels or combining all the options:

  • The Historic Center as a destination itself. Give it time and join a nice guided walk with a professional guide (we can provide a professional historian and researcher, expert in Guatemala's history). This experience changed my view of the city and my ability to pay attention to very important details, while also discovering places and corners were the destiny of the nation changed forever.
  • A gastronomic experience all over Guatemala City. Yes you can go deep into Guatemala's flavors and cuisine all over the country, and in some cases it's impossible to taste some local specialties variations without visiting the towns. Yet, Guatemala City has a wide variety of places offering all in the same place while also combining a cultural and historic experience. Traveling and enjoying the meals it's what's all about right?
  • Discover and enjoy the whole Guatemala City. Sure you can visit all the fun places the people from the City visit every week, and sure you can have lots of fun there too. You don't have to go deep into the historic details to have a nice experience, join a fun trip and go shopping, or visit special places that make you feel outside the city and have become hideouts from the crowds.
  • Half day / an afternoon / a night in Guatemala City. I got the chance to meet several travelers waiting for their flights just sitting there and waiting for the afternoon to come, why? they didn't know the safe things you can do in half a day in Guatemala City. And by "safe" I mean like no chances of loosing your flight. You can even have a fun quick visit during the night while the streets are quite peaceful without the crowds and traffic, enjoying narratives of the monuments and historic buildings and combining this with a nice dinner outside your hotel restaurant because there are plenty of places to choose from.

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