Guatemala is often skipped in favour of more famous countries to the south. Do not overlook Guatemala’s indigenous culture, rich history, colonial architecture and spectacular countryside. If that hasn’t convinced you, here’s some of the best things to do on your first trip in Guatemala.
Wander through the cobbled streets of Antigua
Antigua is one of the most spectacular colonial cities in Central America. The city’s cobblestones streets are small enough to get around on foot. Lose yourself among the gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture. You’ll come across pretty little squares, street markets, soaring churches and friendly locals. Gaze upon the backdrop of smoking volcanoes. Antigua is the perfect introduction to this fascinating country.
Cross Lake Atitlán by boat
Lake Atitlán was once called “the most beautiful in the world” by British novelist Aldous Huxley. He wasn’t wrong. Formed over 100,000 years ago. Surrounded by volcanoes and a patchwork of Maya farms. Hugging the lake are several charming indigenous villages. The locals still wear the traditional Mayan dress. A good base is Panajachel from which you can take a boat trip across the lake. If feeling active, hike trails that wind through the volcanoes and pine forests.
Step back in time at Tikal
Step back in time as you walk through the vast ruins of Tikal. A huge complex of Mayan pyramids that soar up through the jungle canopy. As you enter the site, monkeys swing through the trees and toucans show-off their colourful beaks from the branches. Be sure to climb one of the pyramids to get spectacular views across the site. For such an epic man-made wonder, it gets far fewer crowds than other sites like Machu Picchu in Peru.
Shop till you drop
There are dozens of colourful indigenous markets throughout Guatemala. Few markets in Latin America measure up to the ones here. Piled high with handicrafts and textiles, nab a bargain. Wander through the fresh markets to taste some delicious local produce. The fruit in Guatemala is particularly good. The king of markets is Chichicastenango, affectionately referred to as Chichi. On market days (Sunday and Thursday), the place comes alive with more than 20,000 locals who descend to buy and sell their wares.
Dip in the natural pools of Semuc Champey
There are few places on earth as beautiful as the natural pools of Semac Champey. These magical looking turquoise pools surrounded by towering granite cliffs and forest. It might be a pain to reach via a long bus journey, but when you arrive, you’ll realise why travellers come. We recommend hiring a 4 x 4 or taking an organised excursion. In the hot midday heat, you can splash around in the refreshing cool waters.
Look out over an erupting volcano
You’ll need to be fit to climb Acatenango. If you take on the challenge, you’ll see one of the world’s most amazing sights – an erupting volcano. Make sure your prepared before you arrive in Guatemala. You’ll leave very early for the 7-hour climb to the top of the 13,000-foot monster. When you arrive at the top, you can look down on Fuego Volcano which shows off every hour or so by erupting.
Discover Guatemala City
Most skip Guatemala City and head straight for Antigua, but the city has much to offer those who decide to stay. The winding streets are home to some of the finest Spanish colonial architecture in the country. Enjoy mouth-watering restaurants and street food. Explore historic ruins, fine parks, some excellent museums, local markets and excellent nightlife. You won’t regret a few days in this fascinating city rarely visited by gringos.
Visit a coffee plantation and sip a brew
Guatemala produces some of the finest coffee beans in the world. The industry is vital to the country’s economy. There are plenty of places to tour the farms and learn about the production from bean to cup. Much of the best coffee is exported, so it can be hard to get a good cup of coffee in much of Guatemala. Of course, at a plantation, you can sip on some fine Guatemalan brews. Whether you’re a coffee lover or not, this is an experience not to be missed.
Ready to start exploring Guatemala? Call one of our Latin American travel experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 to start planning your trip or email us here.