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.
Whilst you're exploring Mayan temples, summiting volcanoes, and strolling down 18th-century cobblestone streets, take a moment to reflect on how the nation almost seamlessly melds the past with the present, and its cities exist in the shadow of the great outdoors. All of these destinations offer you ample accommodation options, and typically have excellent restaurants to choose from, so you'll have plenty of access to Guatemalan food — a hearty treat sure to fuel your adventures.
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
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- Where Is The Best Surfing in Guatemala?
There is so much to discover in Guatemala — the beauty of nature, a vibrant and colourful culture, history through archaeology, and so much more. But, did you know that Guatemala is also home to a burgeoning surf scene?...Surf getaway destinations
When you want a break from the waves, but aren't ready to leave the sun and sand, there are plenty of Guatemalan beaches to choose from — some of which are frequented by locals. You may find the dry season (November to early May) to be the best time to visit Guatemala — especially if outdoor adventures are at the top of your to-do list, but keep in mind that the Caribbean coast can see rain throughout the year.
Prepping for your surf getaway
As with most forms of international travel, the easiest way to get to Guatemala is going to be by air, but if you're so inclined, the actual voyage can be part of your adventure if you want to enter the country by land or sea.
Guatemalan entry requirements are fairly simple, and require little more than a passport valid for 3-6 months past your intended length of stay (pending your country of origin), and proof of onward travel.
The most important things you can bring with you to Guatemala are insect repellant and sunglasses, but since you'll likely be planning all kinds of adventures across multiple terrains, we recommend consulting our "What Should I Bring to Guatemala?" page.
- Where Is The Best Fishing In Guatemala?
One of the incredible things about Guatemala is that it's a country where no two vacations have to be alike. You can indulge your passion for Mayan culture, go on a beach getaway, enjoy days of leisure as you do nothing but rest and relax — or, you can go on a spectacular fishing getaway. ...That last one sounds good... Guatemala is home to remarkable oceanic and lake fishing. Incredible sailfishing can be had at Iztapa, which is located along Guatemala's Pacific coast about 90 minutes from Guatemala City. In fact, Iztapa is hailed as the "Sailfish Capital of The World," having set world records for single-day catch-and-release. Lake fishing can be enjoyed at Lake Atitlán, where you may be able to hook largemouth bass.
How do you make this fisherman's fantasy a reality? It starts with understanding the best time to go to Guatemala. In general, Guatemala's dry season is November to May, but your Anywhere Travel Consutlant will offer you the best advice! The Caribbean coast can rain anytime of year, and they might have inside intel on when the fish are most likely to bite!
When you've determined when you're going to book your fishing adventure, it's time to figure out how you're going to get to Guatemala and make sure you're prepared to meet Guatemalan entry requirements. Many visitors will air travel most convenient, and will require little more than a vaild passport and proof of onward travel — however, it's still best to verify this information prior to your departure.
The last step, when it's finally time to pack, find out what you should bring when you're heading off to do the best fishing in Guatemala.
Not only are you going to do some of the best fishing in Guatemala, you're going to come back with some of the best travel stories ever!