Guatemala Best Places to Visit
Looking for Guatemala's top places to visit? Look no further. This list of Guatemala's top destinations will take you to the large and tropical Lake Petén Itzá; the charming colonial city of Ciudad Vieja, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1541; the world’s best Mayan ruins, including Quiriguá, and many more exciting activities! Visiting these destinations ensures you will have an authentic experience as you soak up the nation's history and culture, and meet Guatemala's people — some of whom are modern day Mayans.
On trips to Antigua, you can arrange for a memorable mix of architectural, cultural, and volcano tours. It served as the capital of Guatemala from 1543 until 1773, and the nobility left behind some beautiful architecture.
The town is most famous for its colonial architecture, which you can see on educational walking tours of the city, where you'll learn about the many times the city had to be rebuilt — local Maya burned it down in 1524, it was buried by an avalanche in 1541, and an earthquake leveled the city in 1773. You can learn more about this dramatic history at the museums inside the Palacio de Ayuntamiento and the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel.
Incredible scenery surrounds the city, and it beckons travelers to explore. You can hike to the peaks of the Agua, Acatenango, and Pacaya volcanoes. Cloud forests in the area mean you can take interesting bird watching tours. For more local culture, follow a guide to traditional markets in towns where there are large Maya populations, like the nearby town of Chichicastenango.
Visitors have flocked to Panajachel since the 1960s, when it emerged as a popular hippie destination. It can serve as a comfortable home base while you explore the lake and its scenic surroundings.
Get out onto the lake to kayak to attractions that you can't see anywhere but Lake Atitlán — like Santa Catarina Palopó, one of the many villages in the area where you can meet modern-day Mayans and shop for local handicrafts. See more nature on a tour around the perimeter of the lake, on a biking or horseback riding tour.
Stay in accommodations with glorious views of the lake and boutique interiors. In contrast to the tranquil surface of Lake Atitlán, Panajachel’s nightlife includes a few boisterous spots where you can grab a few drinks. During the day, you can find sunny cafés that serve fresh fruit smoothies and high-end restaurants that cater to an out-of-town crowd.
Travelers on their way to see Semuc Champey and the Lanquín caves typically spend the night in the nearest town, Lanquín. Lanquin is also the setting-off point for rafting tours of the class III and class IV rapids of the Río Cahabón. This is a remote town that takes a bit of a bumpy ride to reach, but it’s well worth it to see the incredible formations that the river has carved into the limestone terrain.
It take a bit of athleticism to get into the Lanquín Caves, so get ready for a bit of a squeeze. Inside, a rope keeps you from getting lost — only a small portion of the cave is open to visitors. Your guide will provide a cave to illuminate the dramatic interior.
Semuc Champey is the showstopper. Climb to a high-up viewing platform to observe its jewel-toned pools separated by thin walls of limestone. From the ground, you can admire how the river flows from one pool to the next, in a series of mini waterfalls. Spend your afternoon swimming in the pools and lounging on the rocks. Simple accommodations in the area offer practical places to unwind between caving, rafting, and nature walks.
Travelers come here to see a part of Guatemala where time more or less stands still, thanks in part to the cobblestone streets and colonial churches. It’s a part of Guatemala that has remained fairly unchanged due to its location in the western highlands.
Vendors and shoppers alike wear traditional clothing and haggle for daily necessities. On trips to the famous local market, you can browse the colorful displays of masks, textiles, jewelry, and pottery — decorative handicrafts that make for a distinctive souvenir. It’s customary to haggle, giving you the chance to interact with the vendors and get to know the culture a little bit better.