Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Guatemala

  • Published 2022/08/10

Guatemala is one of the most diverse countries on the South American continent.

It’s sure to impress you with its breathtaking landscapes, stunning volcanos, lush canyons, tropical jungles, and fantastic beaches.

The country is also known for its distinctive culture, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, marvelous colonial cities, splendid coffee, delicious food, and so much more.

Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Guatemala, and the country shares its borders with other gorgeous Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Guatemala’s history goes back thousands of years, all the way to the Mayan Civilization.

That said, it’s filled with beautiful and fascinating historical sites that will take you back to another era.

This country is a little paradise and a perfect mix of old and new worlds coming together.

It is the perfect place if you love adventure and being surrounded by picturesque landscapes.

Here are some of the best things to do in Guatemala:

Take in Lake Atitlán’s Natural Splendor

Scenic view of Lake Atitlán

Dana Harper /

Perched in the beautiful Western Highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is a stunning volcano lake.

It is the deepest lake in Central America.

It is renowned as one of the most gorgeous lakes in the world, and it attracts tons of people from around the globe.

Located only a two-hour drive from Guatemala City, Lake Atitlán perfectly showcases the natural splendor that Guatemala is known for.

It is ringed by several small traditional Mayan towns that serve as gateways to the lake.

Lake Atitlán can only be accessed with boats that you can rent from the shores of nearby villages and towns.

You can easily spend a week or two here to explore the charm of all the quaint villages and towns.

Panajachel store near Lake Atitlán

Lucy.Brown /

Panajachel is the most famous town, and it serves as a transport hub for the whole area encompassing the lake.

You can explore the world-famous textile market of this town before heading to the lake.

Other villages are also quite noteworthy and famous for their local craft, along with the relaxed and scenic atmosphere.

You can enjoy several activities once you reach the lake.

Angling is a very popular activity here, and all the surrounding towns provide boating trips where you can enjoy fishing while appreciating the unrivaled views.

You can also enjoy scuba diving to catch sight of archaeological treasures at the bottom of the lake.

Moreover, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the lake from above by hiking up the scenic Indian Nose.

Make sure to watch the sunset from the lake, as the sight of the sun sinking below the volcano is out of this world.

Gorgeous sunset over Lake Atitlán

thewada1976 /

Appreciate Antigua’s Magnificent Architecture

Main street in Antigua Guatemala

SL-Photography /

Situated in Southern Guatemala, Antigua is one of Central America’s most beautiful and famous cities.

It is known for its Colonial edifices, Spanish architecture, peaceful hermitages, and so much more.

This city is also the home to one of the oldest universities in Central America, the University of San Carlos, which was established in the 17th century.

Surrounded by volcanoes, Antigua offers awe-inspiring views of the natural diversity prevalent throughout the city.

Exterior of Iglesia de la Merced at Antigua

Aleksandar Todorovic /

The best thing that you can do in this city is sightseeing.

You can walk on the cobblestone streets and see tons of remarkably stunning architecture and the colonial past with your eyes.

Must-visit sites include Iglesia de la Merced, Cerro De La Cruz, Santa Catarina Arch, and the hilltop viewpoint.

Make sure to explore Antigua’s culture by going to the local markets, too.

Scenic view of Cerro De La Cruz at Antigua

JackKPhoto /

Experience Traditional Mayan Culture at Chichicastenango Market

Colorful textiles at Chichicastenango Market

Francky38 /

Located in the tiny Mayan town of Chichicastenango in the western highlands of Guatemala, Chichicastenango Market or “Chichi” is one of the largest and most renowned markets in Central America.

The market is open only on Thursdays and Wednesdays and hosts thousands of visitors at once.

You can easily spend hours walking on the cobblestone streets, exploring the market.

Fruit and vegetable stands at Chichicastenango Market

bumihills /

You will get to enjoy all kinds of things here, including traditional Mayan handicrafts, local delicacies, fresh produce, traditional clothing, handmade clothing, the famous Guatemalan coffee, and so much more.

Chichicastenango Market is primarily known for its colorful and vibrant textiles, so make sure to check those out as well.

Straw baskets for sale at Chichicastenango Market

ElHielo /

Shower under the Waterfall at Grutas de Lanquín

A girl exploring the caves at Grutas de Lanquín

nobito /

Grutas de Lanquín or Lanquín Caves are large limestone caves near the city of Cobán, which the ancient Mayan people once considered to be the “heart of heaven.”

The cave system extends for many kilometers into the Earth and consists of several distinctive rock formations, a local religious shrine, a waterfall, and an underground river.

The caves are crammed with thousands of bats.

Tens of bats in Grutas de Lanquín /

If you visit during the sunset, you can see thousands of bats leaving the caves and going to the forest at once.

The formation of bats is very dense, and they cover the sky fully.

Apart from this, you can climb the rocks, swim in the pools of water, and check out the waterfall.

You can also take a guided tour to see all the attractions better.

Do not forget to carry a flashlight as the caves are quite dark and slippery.

Rock formation in Grutas de Lanquín

Walter Rodriquez, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bathe in Turquoise Pools in Semuc Champey

The waters of Semuc Champey

Galyna Andrushko /

Located near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín, Semuc Champey is a glorious natural monument in Alta Verapaz.

It consists of a 300-meter limestone shelf that creates a series of natural water pools of a stunning green or turquoise color.

You can enjoy swimming in the calm pools of warm and beautiful water.

Aerial view of the beautiful Semuc Champey

Hugo Brizard – YouGoPhoto /

The nature preserve is surrounded by dense green jungles consisting of diverse wildlife, and it also provides copious extraordinary views that you can appreciate while swimming.

However, it is quite tricky to get to Semuc Champey because it is located in a remote area.

You can take shuttles from nearby towns such as Lanquín, which will get you there in about eight hours.

People swimming in Semuc Champey

Milosz Maslanka /

Roast Marshmallows at Pacaya Volcano

Smoke coming out of Pacaya Volcano

Byron Ortiz /

Located near Guatemala City, Pacaya Volcano or Volcán Pacaya is one of the country’s most active and famous volcanoes.

Visitors can witness live volcanic activity with their own eyes.

The volcano was dormant for over 70 years but has been active since 1961, and its lava explosions continually alter its look.

You can climb the volcano with a local guide who will lead and take you through the sandy terrain.

People roasting marshmallows at Pacaya Volcano

Pavel Tvrdy /

You can even roast your own marshmallows over the heat of the volcano.

The best time to start hiking is in the afternoon,

You will be able to reach the highest point by evening, and you can gaze at a glorious sunset while enjoying your roasted marshmallows.

Although, be careful while hiking as there is lava and smoke in the air from the volcano’s constant eruptions.

Glowing red flank of Pacaya Volcano

Rainer Albiez /

See the Mayan Ruins of Tikal

Daytime view of the Ruins in Tilak

Leonid Andronov /

Located in the glorious northern rainforests of Guatemala, near the border of Belize, Tikal consists of the complex ruin of the ancient city that was most probably known as Yax Mutal.

It is the most remarkable archaeological site in Central America, with more than 3,000 structures dating back to the fourth century BC.

The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and part of the Tikal National Park since the 1960s.

The history of the settlement of Tikal goes back as far as 1000 BC.

Tikal or Yax Mutal was a significant city for the Mayan Civilization.

Pyramid stele complex at the Ruins of Tikal

THP Creative /

The city was at its peak during the Classic Period (600 to 900 CE).

With its planning and establishment of palaces, plazas, pyramids, intricate systems of time-counting, delicate Mayan art, and so much more, Tikal economically and culturally dominated the Maya Region.

The city is believed to have had a population of more than 90,000 before its subsequent decline and depopulation.

By 900 AD, Tikal, much like the rest of the Mayan Empire, succumbed to the destruction brought on by some warfare, droughts, and epidemics.

People sitting on the Ruins of Tikal

photosounds /

After the late classic period, no significant monuments were built, and many elite monuments were burned or destroyed.

The ruins of this glorious city are very prevalent in Guatemala’s Tikal.

The closest city to Tikal is Flores, from where you can drive for an hour to reach the Heritage Site.

This historical city is the perfect place to take a step back and reflect on the rich history of the impressive Mayan Civilization.

The site is surrounded by tons of greenery and nature, which contribute a lot to the beauty of this place.

Mayan pictograph at the Ruins of Tikal

T photography /

Experience a Blend of Modern and Traditional Mayan Cultures at Quetzaltenango

Daytime view of Fuentes Georginas

Matyas Rehak /

Locally known as Xela, Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second-largest city and the commercial center of the country’s southwestern part.

The city has several attractions spread all over, including volcanoes, hot springs, mountains, rivers, 19th-century architecture, cathedrals, and so much more.

You can explore and experience the city’s natural landscape by hiking Volcan Tajumulco (Central America’s highest peak), relaxing in the hot sulfur springs of Fuentes Georginas, and diving in Lake Chicabal, the massive crater lake.

Forest trail at Volcan Tajumulco

Cam Jones /

The city of Xela is the perfect blend of the traditional Mayan culture and the dynamics of modern life.

You can look into the vivid culture of the city by seeing the colorful Catholic churches, visiting local markets, and eating traditional food.

You can cover this beautiful city’s major attractions in about two days.

Quetzaltenango is located near Chichicastenango Market and Lake Atitlán, so you can easily travel to this city.

The waters of Lake Chicabal

Inga Locmele /

Experience Livingston’s Distinctive Culture

Traditional soup in Livingston

Jose Luis Samayoa /

Perched at the mouth of the Gulf of Honduras’ Río Dulce, Livingston is a unique little town in Guatemala.

This town’s vibrant and eccentric culture is a mix of Caribbean, Guatemalan, and African influences.

Livingston’s population consists of several people from Africa and the Caribbean, brought here centuries ago by European colonists.

The locals are called “Garífuna,” and they have a very distinct language, lifestyle, music, food, and much more.

Make sure to try one of the most popular local dishes, tapado, a stew made with seafood, coconut broth, and the local home brew known as gifiti, a local specialty made with rum soaked in many herbs and roots.

A bottle of liquor at Livingston

Fotos593 /

Apart from the eclectic culture, Livingston is blessed with marvelous natural landscapes.

Its natural beauty can be explored by visiting Los Siete Altares, which features natural pools and low waterfalls that are perfect for relaxing.

You can also visit the famous Punta de Manabique, where you can enjoy birdwatching and spot wild animals, including turtles, crocodiles, jaguars, reef sharks, monkeys, and so much more.

You can also catch beautiful sunsets and sunrises from several easily accessible beaches.

A waterfall at Los Siete Altares

Lauren Squire /

Watch Baby Turtles Hatch from Eggs in El Paredon

Baby turtle at El Paredon

MenCre /

Located about a 2.5-hour drive from the hustling Antigua, El Paredon is a hidden gem on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast.

This small fishing town is filled with stunning beaches, lush mangroves, and captivating views.

It is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a laid-back holiday while sunbathing in the heavenly sunshine.

You can spend quality time here, away from all the noise and bustling of all the other Guatemalan cities.

Sunset over El Paredon

valfaro /

You can also take surfing lessons to ride the beautiful waves of the ocean and enjoy breathtaking sunsets.

Besides surfing, one of the best things to do in the town is to watch turtles hatch from their eggs.

It is one of the few places where turtles lay so many eggs.

You can watch baby turtles hatch out of their shells in El Paredon from June to November.

Baby turtles heading towards the ocean at El Paredon

noga f /

Go on a Shopping Spree at Oakland Mall

Interior of Oakland Mall

randreu, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Guatemala City, Oakland Mall is a retail mall with the most cutting-edge characteristics in terms of its architecture, interior design, and business mix.

Various customer favorite shops are exclusive to Oakland Mall.

Furthermore, a distinctive commercial mix and family-friendly entertainment are found at the mall.

Side facade of Oakland Mall

Rene Hernandez, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To provide more comprehensive entertainment for families, it offers fun for the youngest visitors with a toy train, a two-level carousel, youngsters, and Oakland Park.

Visit the Rooftop at the Oakland Mall, which has eight different restaurants and a central plaza on the ground floor, and a gym, spa, and cafe on the second floor, among other facilities.

Take a Photo of Breathtaking Landscapes at the Rio Dulce

The waters of Rio Dulce

Milonk /

The Rio Dulce, or Dulce River, is one of Guatemala’s most cherished natural treasures.

Explore the magnificent forests along its banks.

This river meanders its way through forests, canyon gorges, and small settlements as it flows from the Caribbean Sea.

Waterlily covered waters of Rio Dulce

Matyas Rehak /

Boat cruises are a popular option to view the breathtaking landscapes around the river.

You may also visit the Castillo De San Felipe, a 17th-century castle and former jail that highlights some of the most stunning views of the Rio Dulce.

Daytime view of Castillo De San Felipe

Byron Ortiz /

Reconnect with Nature at the Parque Zoológico La Aurora

An elephant in Parque Zoológico La Aurora

Byron Ortiz /

Parque Zoológico La Aurora, also known as La Aurora Zoo, is a zoological park in Guatemala City.

It is among the biggest gardens in the city.

Three distinct regions at the zoo allow visitors to admire animals from Asia, America, and Africa.

A tea house at Parque Zoológico La Aurora

Byron Ortiz /

In 1924, the zoo was established in the city’s southern region as a part of the vast Parque Reforma entertainment complex, which also included a hippodrome, several museums, and parks.

Explore Parque Zoológico La Aurora and get in touch with nature.

Flamingos at Parque Zoológico La Aurora

rokosvisualvibes /

Appreciate the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura’s Architecture

Exterior of the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

Aleksandar Todorovic /

The Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, also known locally as the Palacio Verde, is recognized as Guatemala City’s icon in its architectural environment.

It served as the President of Guatemala’s office and was one of the most significant structures in the Guaelamat.

Interior of Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

nobito /

The structure, which has a location known as Kilometro Cero or Zero Kilometer, is the starting point of all the roadways in the Republic.

Currently utilized as a museum, the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura is also where significant government business is conducted.

Include this well-known tourist hotspot on your itinerary for your trip to Guatemala.

View of Palacio Nacional de la Cultura's courtyard

nobito /

Dine with Friends at Las Carnes de Rodrigo

Las Carnes de Rodrigo established itself as Guatemala’s top steak and seafood restaurant with fusion cuisine.

The restaurant has a team of experts with over 20 years of combined expertise in the steakhouse industry.

Every day, fresh seafood and the best foreign meat cuts are available for their customers to enjoy.

The original and exclusive Marrow Show offered by Las Carnes de Rodrigo ensures that you will have an extraordinary culinary experience.

The restaurant also offers event spaces, gardens, play areas, and free parking.

Final Thoughts

Guatemala, located south of Mexico, is home to several breathtaking natural landmarks.

Many tourists go to this tourist hotspot to see the numerous archeological sites.

Be ready to be astounded by Guatemala; if you appreciate history and if you’re up for an outdoor adventure.

Don’t miss out on an enjoyable trip!

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