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. You’ll see why Guatemala is considered to be Central America’s most diverse country, with its rich Mayan cultural history and more than 20 indigenous languages currently spoken in addition to Spanish.
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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. This is an especially great destination for adventurous travelers, with its three active volcanoes, thrilling treks through the Guatemalan highlands, and ziplining tours over waterfalls.
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When To Visit Guatemala
Like much of Latin America, Guatemala has a tropical climate. The lowlands and coastal regions see hot and humid conditions, while the highlands tend to be cooler and drier. Of course, there is a wet season and a dry season, and here are the details so you can plan your perfect itinerary.
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 season, 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.
To make the most of the weather without paying high season prices and dealing with tourist crowds, consider visiting Guatemala during the shoulder seasons. These run from April to May and from September through October. The weather might be a bit more variable, but nothing a light rain jacket can’t handle.
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 its 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 have been 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 out of 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 to 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.
San Pedro la Laguna is another vibrant lakeside town that attracts backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts. Known for its social scene, you’re bound to run into fellow travelers living the lake life, soaking in the culture, and taking Spanish language classes in town. This village spreads over a peninsula at the foot of the San Pedro Volcano. This is a lovely spot for hiking, with trails winding through coffee fields and forests up to the summit, where you’ll get spectacular views of Lake Atitlan, the surrounding extinct volcanoes, and colourful villages below.
Another lovely village that is a must-see while you’re visiting Lake Atitlan is San Juan la Laguna. Located on the lake’s southwest shore, this town is famous for its art scene and authentic feel. While there aren’t as many touristy spots as there are in neighbouring villages, San Juan la Laguna’s indigenous art collectives, beautiful murals, and Mayan craft shops offer lots to see, plus some amazing photo opportunities.
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, which is very active and often billows 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.
If you would like to take Spanish classes, Guatemala offers plenty of opportunities and Colonial Antigua is the perfect place to do it. There are quite a few Spanish schools in town and lots of other travelers and expats who are eager to learn along with you.
Time Needed: 2 days
In almost the direct centre 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 to these natural pools, 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 the Guatemalan highlands.
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 active 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.
Time Needed: 2 days
Located along Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) area is a bit off the beaten path and not as well known as other destinations. Though small, Rio Dulce is packed with natural and cultural attractions.
Named for the river that links Lake Izabal with the Caribbean Sea, the Rio Dulce region is full of lush tropical jungle and waterways that support some of the most diverse ecosystems outside of the Amazon. These rich resources have supported several cultures over centuries and is still home to several Mayan and Garifuna communities. A great way to learn about local culture and support these communities is by visiting a local market.
Other cultural attractions include the Spanish Colonial Castillo de San Felipe and the Mayan ruins of Quirigua. One of Guatemala’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the ancient ruins at Quirigua have some particularly impressive monuments, carved stelae, and sculpted calendars that date back to the 8th century.
The Rio Dulce is wonderful to explore. You can easily spend a day paddling a kayak or SUP down this jungle river, passing by hot springs, hidden waterfalls, and through a dramatic gorge as you get closer to the sea. Rio Dulce National Park encompasses 130 sq km along the banks of the river, protecting its fragile ecosystems.
Nestled on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, Monterrico is a small, relaxed beach town and a popular retreat for both locals and tourists. The beach is known for its jet-black volcanic sand, wild mangrove forests, and annual influx of giant leatherback sea turtles.
If you have time, take a couple of hours to visit Tortugario Monterrico, a sea turtle hatchery that is also home to caimans and iguanas. Depending on what time of year you visit, you can participate in a turtle release, lagoon trip, or a night walk to help locate turtle eggs.
Ultimate Guatemala Itinerary
To make sure you hit most of the best things to do in Guatemala, we 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.