Although Guatemala has been on backpackers’ radars for years, this incredibly diverse country is seeing a boom in tourism. Travelers from all over the world are coming to discover lush jungles, peaceful beaches, colonial towns, and Mayan ruins of Guatemala.
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It’s also a great destination for adventurous travelers with lots of hiking, surfing and other adventure activities. No matter what your travel style is, there’s something for everyone in Guatemala.
When to Visit Guatemala
The wet season in Guatemala lasts from May to October and is not the best time to visit. Especially if you plan on hiking, as the rains can leave trails muddy and unpassable.
The dry, which runs between November and April does draw in more tourists, but the weather during this time of the year certainly makes it worth running into a few more tourists. If you plan your visit during the dry season, you’ll also have the chance to attend a number of exciting holiday celebrations that take place during the dry season.
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Best Things to do in Guatemala
Time Needed: 1-2 days
Tikal is perhaps the most famous of all the Mayan ruins in Guatemala. Tucked deep in the rainforest in the northeast corner of the country, Tikal National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the things to do in Guatemala that is on every traveler’s list.
Tikal is perhaps most famous for it’s Plaza of the Seven Temples, a collection of seven tall stone pyramids to discover and explore. These pyramids were important buildings in the Mayan civilization that were thought to be constructed in 600 BCE. There are actually over 3,000 buildings and structures in Tikal National Park, but only a comparative few have been excavated and reconstructed.
To get the most fo your visit to Tikal, we recommend joining a guided tour to learn more about the history of each temple and hear stories of their ancient past.
Tikal is also an awesome place for hiking. Many of the main sights are quite far apart and the entire complex is huge, so make sure to bring your walking shoes and be ready to explore. For an amazing experience, come for sunrise or sunset.
Time Needed: 2 days
Most travelers come to Flores, the gateway to Tikal, exclusively to visit the Mayan ruins nearby. However, if they’re only visiting for this purpose, they’re really missing out. Flores is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala for its beautiful lakeside location and colonial charm. While there, you can visit the Ruins of Uaxactún, an ancient sky observatory that is considered the oldest in Mayan history.
When you want to relax, spending time at Lake Peten Itza is just the thing to do. You can rent a canoe and kayak in order to paddle around yourself, or if you’d rather you can take a boat cruise. There’s a famous rope swing not far from the town where you can hang out and swing into the water.
If you want even more nature, then a trip to Ixpanpajul Natural Park is perfect for hiking and ziplining. The park is only 15 minutes from Flores.
Time Needed: 3-4 days
As one of the most stunning lakes in Central America, Lake Atitlan has become more and more popular over time. It’s the perfect place to swim, take a boat ride, or relax surrounded by stunning nature and a stately volcano. There are lots of day tours operating from nearby cities, but spending 3-4 days is much better if you want to be able to fully enjoy life on this beautiful and unique lake.
Visiting the beautiful lake towns along the shore is one of the most unique things to do in Guatemala.
Start in Panajachel, where you can eat, drink, and shop for souvenirs at your leisure. Santa Cruz is an excellent place for getting immersed in local life. You can also go scuba diving here to explore some of the structures that have sunken into the lake. The lake is also a popular destination for those looking for yoga and wellness experiences, as the lake region is popular with wellness enthusiasts and yogis of all levels.
Atitlan is an amazing place to relax and take life at a slower pace. If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Guatemala that will rejuvenate you, a visit to Atitlan is a perfect choice.
Time Needed: 2 days
For a true outdoor adventure, Acatenango Volcano is one of the best things to do in Guatemala. This towering giant is located right near another volcano, Fuego Volcano, that is very active and often billowing clouds of smoke.
Hikers hit the trail to reach the summit of Acatenango to watch the sun go down and rise over Fuego Volcano and experience the thrill of camping on one of Guatemala’s most incredible mountains.
This hike is a 2-day overnight and is extremely challenging. It should only be attempted by adventure junkies in great physical shape. Make sure to carefully vet your tour provider for safety standards before booking your tour.
Time Needed: 1-2 days
Right near Acatenango Volcano, you’ll find the town of Antigua, a colourful town with cobblestone streets and decorative buildings. It’s an excellent place to spend a few days touring, relaxing, practicing yoga, and eating your fill. For even more culinary excitement in Antigua, you can take a cooking class, visit a local farm, tour a coffee plantation, or visit the chocolate museum.
In addition, one of the best things to do in Guatemala is to learn Spanish and Antigua is the perfect place to do it. There are quite a few Spanish schools in town and lots of other travelers and expats that are eager to learn along with you.
Time Needed: 2 days
In almost the direct center of Guatemala, you’ll find Semuc Champey, a stunning nature reserve. It is most famous for its beautiful limestone pools that have collected along the river and become beloved swimming holes. To get there, you’ll need to book a tour or journey into the jungle by bus.
Once there, you can swim, tube, or hike up to an incredible overlook called El Mirador. You can also explore the nearby KanBa Cave, a unique cave that is usually explored by candlelight in groups. Don’t miss this natural wonder, as it’s one of the best places to visit in Guatemala.
Time Needed: 1 day
If you aren’t up for the extreme challenge of hiking and camping on the Acatenango Volcano, then Pacaya Volcano might be a better choice. Also close to Antigua, the Pacaya Volcano is much easier to explore and summit. A hike to the top takes around two hours and offers views of the entire valley. You’ll also be able to see a stunning lagoon, as well as other volcanoes on the horizon. The trek can be done as a guided group tour, or you can go at it solo.
Ultimate Guatemala Itinerary
To make sure you hit most of the best things to do in Guatemala, we’d recommend spending at least one to two weeks in the country. You can spend longer, of course, and that will give you time to visit some of the coastal areas, smaller towns, or Guatemala City, the country’s capital.
If you love history, the outdoors, and adventurous travel, then Guatemala should be on your bucket list. The country is diverse, inexpensive, and full of natural beauty. It’s safer than ever to visit and it’s becoming more popular with each passing day.
This list of best things to do in Guatemala is really only the beginning, as the country has so many unique hidden gems and experiences just waiting for travelers to discover.