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 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.
Guatemala is home of the modern-day Maya, and the town of Quetzaltenango is known locally by its Mayan nickname, Xela. There’s an interesting contrast in cultures here, with distinctly European architecture lining the streets. While you're here, you can opt for upscale hotels that echo the grand look of the colonial surroundings.
Experience more Maya culture on a tour of the local villages of Nebaj and Chajul. On the way, you might see villagers making a local specialty of black salt.
You can take a ride down the city streets in an old-fashioned tram car. A guided city tour might take you to see a Guatemalan cemetery, where you can start to appreciate the elaborate traditions that celebrate the dead. Tours of the colonial era churches introduce you to the city’s rich history.
Venture outside the city to see natural wonders like Santa Maria Volcano. You might take a longer trip out to Lake Atitlán, which you can tour on a bike or a boat ride.