Central America is in fashion and one of its most interesting countries that offers a very complete experience to the traveler is Guatemala. There is so much to see and do in Guatemala . From natural paradises like Semuc Champey, active volcanoes or special lakes like Atilan to charming cities like Antigua or Flores. To this is added that Guatemala is located in the middle of the Mayan world and, therefore, houses jewels such as the archaeological site of Tikal or that of Yahxá. So, as you can see, even if it is a small country, there are many essential places to visit in Guatemala that deserve you to dedicate at least a couple of weeks to them.
Read on and discover what to see in Guatemala .
- Tikal, the essential thing to see in Guatemala
Making a list of places to see in Guatemala and not including Tikal would be a real sin. This is one of the most beautiful Mayan cities in the region and one of the largest archaeological sites in the world. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 and, although the inhabitants of the Petén never lost knowledge of its existence, it was not visited by explorers and archaeologists until 1948. After being hidden by a dense tropical forest for more than a thousand years, the excavations and studies allowed to conclude that Tikal was the capital of one of the most important kingdoms of the Mayan culture.
Visiting Tikal is an essential thing to do in Guatemala for many reasons. In the first place, because being face to face with the Temple of the Great Jaguar , located in the so-called Great Plaza, is an overwhelming experience. In addition, Tikal is still surrounded by thick jungle that is home to howler monkeys and a huge variety of birds, including toucans and the fabulous quetzal. Therefore, our advice is that you go at dawn , when there are fewer visitors and more possibilities to see wildlife.
The starting point for most excursions to Tikal is the charming island of Flores . Located on Lake Petén Itza and linked to the mainland by a bridge, its network of cobbled streets and colonial-style houses make it one of the most beautiful places to see in Guatemala. Walking it will not take you more than a couple of hours, but there are several excursions to do in the surroundings such as a visit to San Miguel or the Actún Kan caves and their slow pace will surely make you stay longer than expected.
- Lake Atitlán
Few places in the world give off an energy as strong as Lake Atitlán. Located 1,560 meters above sea level and embraced by the San Pedro volcano , the Atitlán volcano and the Tolimán volcano, the lake is a perfect place whether you are looking to learn about Guatemalan culture or want to take a break and relax. The towns on the shore of the lake are characterized by preserving the Mayan culture and tradition despite the fact that tourism has grown exponentially in recent years. Our favorites are Santiago Atitlán and San Juan la Laguna , quieter and with charming corners that will conquer you.
In addition, the peace that is breathed in Lake Atitlán makes it one of the best destinations to practice yoga or do a meditation retreat. San Marcos La Laguna has achieved world fame for being one of the most beautiful towns to improve the practice. If non-stop is your thing, don’t worry, among the many things to do in Guatemala there is also hiking and Lake Atitlán also offers many opportunities. The best known routes are the ascents to the San Pedro Volcano and the Nariz del Indio .
Antigua is one of the most beautiful cities in Central America and, therefore, one of the essential places to see in Guatemala . The old capital of the country was declared a World Heritage Site and strolling through its cobbled streets flanked by colored houses is a true delight. Not only that, like Atitlán, Antigua is embraced by volcanoes. Perfect volcanic cones as the Volcan de Fuego , the Volcan de Agua or acatenango surround it and the best place to contemplate, if the sky is clear, is the Cerro de la Cruz , a few minutes walk from the center. Even so, the postcard of the Arch of Santa Catalina With the Agua volcano in the background it is one of the most beautiful images to see in Guatemala.
It will be difficult to leave Antigua. It is a city that captivates both for its historical enclaves and for its craft shops, charming hotels and gourmet cafes . Guatemalan coffee is among the best in the world and in Antigua there are more and more coffee shops where you can explore its flavors.
- Acatenango Volcano
If you are moderately in good shape, do not think about it, one of the best things to do in Guatemala is to climb to the top of Acatenango. From here you get the best views of the Volcán de Fuego , which is active and it is possible to see the fumaroles and, at night, the lava. The climb will take you about 5-7 hours, depending on your physical condition, and you will spend the night in a tent at the base camp. At dawn, climb to the top of Acatenango, at 3,769 meters, to enjoy an epic sunrise.
Keep in mind that this ascent is demanding and that it is necessary to go with a well-equipped guide. There are many agencies in Antigua to organize the excursion and rent the material and clothing you will need. And, most importantly, find out about the current situation, since in 2018 there were a couple of major eruptions and we do not want you to put your life in danger.
If you want a similar but simpler experience, from Antigua you will find many excursions to the Pacaya Volcano .
- Rio Dulce
And to end this list of the essential places to see in Guatemala, we are going to the Caribbean side . Río Dulce constitutes a huge aquatic ecosystem in which you can not only enjoy the landscapes, but also fauna such as manatees, crocodiles and a lot of birds. The best way to get to know it is on a boat, which will take you for a walk along the river until you reach the Castillo de San Felipe , an old Spanish fortress to protect against the pirates that threatened the area.
In addition, Río Dulce is the access point to visit another of the places that we advise you to see in Guatemala: Livingston . This small population of fishermen located in the Caribbean of Guatemala will help you learn about the Garífuna culture, that of the descendants of the black slaves who came to this area of the world.