Guatemala has a lot to offer: colorful markets, indigenous culture, active volcanoes, and, most importantly, people who are high on life. This place is a treasure house of history, culture, and adventure. Therefore, the list of the top things to do in Guatemala is quite long.
Guatemala is a Central American country that lies south of Mexico. It borders the Pacific Ocean and has a short coastline on the Caribbean Sea’s Gulf of Honduras. El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize are their neighbors. Exploring the best Guatemala landmarks may sometimes seem complicated. However, you will be fine if you follow a few basic guidelines.
Most fun things to do in Guatemala
You will be happy to know that the list of the best Guatemala things to do is longer than any other Central American country. While you are exploring this beautiful country, there are high chances that you may miss out on some of the best things to do in Guatemala City.
To avoid such situations, you should plan in advance. Therefore, to save you some time here is an interesting list that you can follow for your trip:
1. Things to do in Antigua Guatemala
Visit the Ruins of Santa Rosa, the Church of Candelaria, and the Capuchins Monastery to see the aftermath of the 1773 earthquake. You may also go rest in Central Park, shop for affordable food at the local market, stroll through the streets admiring the grand, European-style architecture, or take a tour of the Chocolate Museum,
There are many historical and budget-friendly things to do in Antigua Guatemala. However, sightseeing is the most pleasing way to view Antigua and its colonial past up close and personal. The Cerro De La Cruz, the hilltop viewpoint, Iglesia de la Merced, Santa Catarina Arch are all worth seeing.
Antigua is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala, irrespective of your duration of stay. This was Guatemala’s capital city during colonial times before a major earthquake destroyed Antigua in 1773. After that, Guatemala City became the capital of the country. Antigua still boasts many architectural relics from its former glory despite the damage.
There are a plethora of inexpensive backpacker hostels to choose from, and the city is small enough to explore on foot. In addition, banks, ATMs, currency exchanges, and medical clinics and pharmacies are all within easy reach in Antigua.
Small tip: Check if your hostel has any special offers or discounts in the area. There are far too many good hostels in Antigua to mention them all, but the majority of them provide discounts at partnered bars, cafés, and restaurants, as well as savings on tours.
2. Learn a bit of Spanish while at Guatemala
Learning a language while traveling is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a culture. In Guatemala, Antigua is perhaps the most popular place to study Spanish. There are numerous affordable Spanish schools, like Antigüea Spanish Academy and Don Pedro de Alvarado Spanish School.
One of the best things to do in Guatemala is to learn a little Spanish to communicate more effectively with the natives. It also helps you travel because you can communicate better with the locals. Moreover, you can understand menus, street signs, transport schedules and better navigate your way about the country.
Xela is one of the most excellent Guatemala landmarks to study Spanish because it is a small town with a lot more native speakers than Antigua. However, you can also find good Spanish around Lake Atitlán and Flores.
3. Volcano hiking
As you already know, there are several volcanoes in Guatemala, and exploring those is part of the top things to do in Guatemala. Because Guatemala lies on the tectonic plate boundary, the movement of these plates has caused the Earth’s surface to bend and mold into magnificent structures over time. As a result, Guatemala currently features 37 volcanoes, three of which are active. This results in some spectacular hiking options and natural scenery.
Here is a list of some of the most famous volcanoes that adventure-lovers prefer to visit:
Volcán Acatenago, which stands at 3,975 meters tall, is a famous volcanic hike in Guatemala. You can complete this trek in a single day because it takes about 5-6 hours to reach the top from the trailhead.
The hike’s starting point is about an hour’s drive from Antigua. However, the majority of hikers choose an overnight trip. It is because they may view Volcán Fuego from there, while it is spouting lava at night.
Small tip: The less expensive overnight tours cost roughly 200 to 300 Q, but the food and equipment aren’t as good as the more expensive ones, which cost 400 Q. Because the hike is challenging and gets very cold, it may be wise to utilize one of the more expensive tour companies. However, the cost difference isn’t significant, and in this case, paying a little more for a better experience is well worth it.
San Pedro Volcano
Volcán San Pedro, located in Lake Atitlán, is another notable volcano hike option in Guatemala. Hiking up San Pedro, which stands at 3,020 meters, takes around three hours and takes you through dense vegetation. You can hike with or without a guide; however, the entrance fee is 100 Q and walking with a guide costs typically the same, so you might as well have a local guide with you.
It is Guatemala’s and Central America’s highest volcano. Because it is 4,220 meters above sea level, you may want to spend a few days around this location before hiking. This will allow your body to acclimate to the altitude. Moreover, the journey up Volcán Tajumulco begins at roughly 3,000 meters above sea level, so you won’t have to climb the entire volcano to get to the top.
While you can hike in one day, you should plan an overnight hike, so you don’t have to hustle. Moreover, you will have more time to enjoy the scenery in that case. Xela, commonly known as Quetzaltenango, is the nearest city to Volcán Tajumulco. Therefore, starting from Xela is the best idea.
You can also hike Volcán Pacaya if you stay in Antigua and want to do a less strenuous volcano hike. However, because this volcano, which stands at 2,552 meters, is still active and had a large eruption in 2010, you can only trek it with a guide.
Every day, backpackers hike the volcano, but having a local guide with you ensures your safety. You can hike Volcán Pacaya within a day. This will eliminate the need to camp overnight, and at the summit, you can cook marshmallows over the volcano’s heat!
4. Feel the serenity of the Rio Dulce wilderness
The Rio Dulce, or “Sweet River,” is a river in eastern Guatemala that originates near Livingston and flows inland. The lush jungle that surrounds the river offers a never-ending supply of adventure. You can enjoy Rio Dulce by exploring the wilderness and taking day trips to the river’s beautiful natural treasures.
Visiting the Rio Dulce National Park, which is open to the public and is free to access is a great option too. You may hire kayaks, hike to tiny villages, swim, relax, and take in the beauty of nature in the park.
For only 20 Q, you may take a boat ride in the breathtaking El Boqueron Canyon or soak in the natural hot springs of Finca Paraiso. Because these attractions are created by nature, the admission costs are pretty low. Therefore backpackers may easily afford to participate in these activities.
You can access the Castillo De San Felipe for 20 Q. The Spanish built this historic castle to protect their critical commercial port along the river during colonial times. It is now a fascinating piece of history that travelers can visit in the Guatemalan jungle.
5. You cannot miss the beautiful Lake Atitlán
Take the local boats from town to town to feel the local way of life. Panajachel, with the best local market, San Pedro, with a spectacular outlook and a lot of backpackers, San Marcos, with many yoga retreats, health food stores, and spiritual centers, and San Juan, with vivid street art and loads of local handicrafts, are all must-see villages in Lake Atitlán.
These four towns are very touristy, but they are well worth visiting. Also, visit smaller villages like Santa Cruz, Santa Catarina, Santiago Atitlan, and San Antonio to see the more local aspect of Lake Atitlán.
Exploring Lake Atitlán, which has a flourishing Mayan culture and an abundance of natural beauty, is perhaps one of the best things to do in Guatemala.
During you visit to Lake Atitlán, you can also enjoy some workout. You can cliff jump, kayak, paddleboard, or wake surf, in the lake. Besides, you can go zip-lining at the Nature Park or paragliding over the lake.
6. Explore the lively Chichicastenango Market
Chichicastenango Market, about two hours from Xela, is one of the best places in Guatemala to experience genuine Mayan culture. This is one of Central America’s largest marketplaces, and it’s open on Thursdays and Sundays. You can take a chicken bus with the locals to and from surrounding communities in Lake Atitlán and Xela or take a shuttle with the people.
Beautiful, vibrant threads are delicately weaved into every piece of apparel, handbag, wallet, headgear, and accessory. The crafts are lovely, and it’s fascinating to observe how the villagers support themselves by selling their work to tourists.
Spend hours roaming through Chichicastenango’s massive outdoor market once you arrive. In addition to all the local handicrafts, you can discover ready-to-eat local dishes, fresh produce, and other food products. This is the spot to go if you want to buy some genuine Mayan souvenirs to take home after your trip to Guatemala.
7. Visit the marvelous Mayan Ruins
Visiting the magnificent Mayan Ruins of Tikal is undoubtedly one of the most fun things to do in Guatemala that attracts visitors all year. Tikal, like other well-known Mayan ruins in Mexico, such as Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan, offers the same stunning old architecture and feeling of history. However, it is one of the most unconventional locations in Guatemala, with fewer visitors.
Tikal is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1979. However, it is yet to gain popularity as Mexico’s Mayan Ruins. This makes for the perfect opportunity to travel back in time without having to struggle through swarms of tourists.
Tikal is one of the best tourist attractions in Guatemala that you can visit without a guide. While having a tour guide can assist you in navigating the vast grounds and learning more about the significance of the ruins, going without one gives you more flexibility and saves you money.
Safety tips for places to visit in Guatemala
Generalizing a country into specific safe or unsafe categories is impossible. So, here is a list of some safety guidelines that will ensure that you have the perfect vacation:
Be more careful after sunset
If at all possible, avoid wandering around late at night. And if you do, make sure you’re traveling in a group or hiring reliable transportation. Of course, you can always stop inside a hotel or restaurant in a city and ask them to contact a vehicle for you.
Keep your valuables hidden
Be aware of what valuables you have with you. While bad things can happen even when you use common sense, there are some situations that you can avoid if you are aware of your surroundings.
Pay attention to local advice
There are several roads that you can avoid to stay away from muggings. Many locals, for example, will advise you against walking between some of the areas near Lake Atitlan. Please pay attention to what they’re saying.
Solo travelers should preferably find some company
You may meet solo travelers, many of whom are women. So, it is possible to travel through Guatemala on your own. If you’re traveling alone, though, it is better to look for fellow travelers at hostels to go exploring with during the day.
There are many fun things to do in Guatemala, whether you’re backpacking through Central America or planning a solo trip. The ones you find in the list above are only part of the very long list. The only issue will be figuring out how to squeeze everyone in! Besides, if you put all of the obstacles aside, Guatemala is a charming country with a lively culture and limitless opportunities for adventure.