Planning a trip to Guatemala can be overwhelming. For such a small country, you’re probably thinking that there are countless things to see. I felt the same way, too! We spent almost 2 months exploring ancient ruins, colonial cities, limestone pools and volcanic lakes and still didn’t manage to get through our list of amazing things to do in Guatemala!
Because Guatemala is covered in volcanoes and mountains, getting around can be a bit of a pain. (To say the least!) However, to make things easier, I recommend the tourist shuttles that can take you to all the best places to go in Guatemala. How much you manage to see depends on how long you stay in the country. Just got a couple of weeks? Rather than spending most of your days in transit, I’d stick to a couple of key areas. Got longer? You can take your pick and go at a pretty relaxed pace.
Tip: Just be aware that when you enter Guatemala, your 90 day visa also counts towards the time you’ll spend in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua! If you’re travelling through Central America, this is well worth knowing!
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t manage to fit in all the top things to do in Guatemala. The main places that we missed were on the Carribean Coast since we decided to focus our trip on the more volcanic regions of the country. This didn’t bother us too much, though, since beaches aren’t what we came to Guatemala to see in the first place!
Regardless of what you want to see on your trip, I hope you find some inspiration in this list of the best things to do in Guatemala!
22 Amazing and Fun Things to do in Guatemala
I’ve split this post into a few different sections to make it easier for you to navigate- just jump to where you want to go and you’ll find the best things to do in that place!
Things to do in Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan steals the title of most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen in my life and, since I grew up on Loch Lomond’s doorstep, you’ll know that’s a prize I don’t give away lightly!
A lot of traditional Mayan villages line its perimiter however, to really appreciate its beauty, you need to get out on top it. Kayaking is probably the most popular way to explore the lake but I always like to be awkward and do the opposite of everyone else. That’s why, I decided to explore Lake Atitlan by SUP!
This was my first ever stand-up paddleboarding adventure and it’s something I hope to do again, soon. (It was also one of my favourite things to do in Guatemala!) The lake is lovely and calm so its the perfect place for beginners to get started.
Shop for Textiles in Chichicastenango
Although not technically on Lake Atitlan, textile lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the traditional Mayan market at Chichistenango. Not only is this an amazing (albeit a little touristy) place to shop for fabrics, it’s also rich in Mayan culture and packed full of colour! This is one of the most quintessential things to do in Guatemala.
Explore the Villages of Lake Atitlan
We spent a month on Lake Atitlan, working from the secluded village of Santa Cruz. It’s a gorgeous place to base yourself- not so great for WiFi thristy digital nomads, but that’s another story for another day- and has loads of places to explore. One of my favourite things about Lake Atitlan was the amount of different villages to check out. Whether you want to do yoga and drink kombucha in San Marcos, party with backpackers in San Pedro or get up close with local life in Santiago, there’s plenty of things to see in Lake Atitlan.
Do a Sunrise Hike at Indian Nose
If catching an amazing sunrise is on your list of things to do in Guatemala, then the crudely named Indian Nose is the place for you. The hike to the top takes just 45 minutes making it the perfect activity for lazy hikers who love big rewards. Tour companies leave from both San Pedro and San Marcos and, although I wouldn’t usually take a tour for such a short hike, I’d recommend using one in this case. There have been reports of travellers being mugged on the way up so I wouldn’t risk it. Especially when you consider that the going cost of the guided hike + shuttle and breakfast is just around 100Q. ($14/£10)
Hike Volcan San Pedro on Lake Atitlan
Of all the volcanos that line Lake Atitlan, San Pedro is the most common to hike. You start this hike at the backpacker mecca that is San Pedro so, it’s super easy to get to. You’ll need a full day to conquer San Pedro since its just shy of 10,000 feet. At the time of writing, the entrance fee to get on to the mountain is 100Q per person and includes a guide.
Take a Cookery Class
Guatemalan cuisine doesn’t get a great rep. Before we visited, we were told by travellers in Mexico to make sure to keep hot sauce in our handbags. I wasn’t wowed by everything I ate but, there are definitely some yummy dishes worth trying.
I was pleased to squeeze in an afternoon taking CECAP’s cookery class in Lake Atitlan since taking cooking classes has been one of my new favourite hobbies. Plus, I can now say that I’m an expert at making tamales, pepian and chocolate empanadas!
Offer a Blessing to Maximon
Probably the best diety of all time, Maximon is a Mayan God who’s famous for loving a good time. He’s a heavy smoker and loves a drink so, if you decide to pay him a visit in Santiago, you should choose your offering accordingly. (Quetzalteca Rum and cigars are his favourites, apparently!)
Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan
Things to do in and around Antigua
Hike Volcan Acatenango and Watch Volcan Fuego Erupting!
Whoever designed Antigua’s gorgeous streets, churches and architecture was clearly a genius. Whoever chose where to put it on the map clearly wasn’t!
Surrounded by volcanoes, Antigua is the perfect city for outdoor adventurers. Hiking a volcano was at the top of our list of things to do in Guatemala and we chose the beast that is Acatenango!
Acatenango sits at 13,000 feet high, meaning it’s definitely not for the faint of hearted. The hike is pretty brutal but, when you reach camp, you can spend the night sipping cocoa and watching Fuego erupting.
My biggest safety tip for travellers wanting to hike Acatenango is to do your research and go with a reputable tour company. There are loads of hostels offering cheap tours but, from what we’ve heard, you get what you pay for. We went with Old Town Outfitters and felt safe and well taken care of the whole time. You can read my review of our experience hiking Acatenango with them here.
Roast Marshmallows on Volcan Pacaya
Those looking for a volcanic adventure within easy reach of Antigua- but who aren’t quite as keen on Acatenango, should consider Volcan Pacaya! This hike can be done in a day but at 8,372 feet, it’s still no walk in the park. Its main trump card? The fact that you can roast marshmallows on the lava!
Wander the Colourful Streets of Antigua
During your trip to Antigua, you should definitely drag yourself away from the volcanos for long enough to wander the city’s colourful streets. With its cobbled alleyways, pastel-hued churches and, of course, the famous yellow arches, the whole city is ready for its close up!
Don’t miss my Digital Nomad’s Guide to Antigua!
Drink as Much Guatemalan Coffee and Chocolate as you Can
This part of the world is renowned for its coffee and chocolate so it’d be a shame not try some while you’re there. (That was my excuse, anyway!) We loved coffee shops like Bella Vista Coffee in Antigua where we could drink our coffee while looking out over the volcanos!
The chocolate was also pretty good but, just keep in mind that in Central America it’s more common to drink chocolate than to eat it. I recommend bringing home blocks of organic drinking chocolate to give out as gifts (or keep to yourself!)
Where to Stay in Antigua
We decided to stay in an Air BnB but I’ve heard great things about Bigfoot Hostel for backpackers. For something a bit different, Earth Lodge looks like an amazing place to stay in Antigua with unbeatable views out over the volcanos!
Things to do in Quetzaltenango (Xela)
Learn Spanish in Quetzaltenango
If you’re going to be travelling through Latin America, learning Spanish is essential. We learnt Spanish with Utatlan Spanish School in Quetzaltenango and, in just a week, made loads of progress! You can read my thoughts on learning Spanish in Guatemala here. (Spoiler alert it’s a pretty cool and cheap place to study!) This is definitely one of the most worthwhile things to do in Guatemala.
Hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan
The Western Highlands are home to some the most beautiful places to see in Guatemala. If you’re going to focus on any one part of Guatemala, I’d make it here. It’s within easy reach of Guatemala Airport and just a hop, skip and jump from both Mexico and El Salvador’s borders.
📍Mirador del maravilloso Lago Atitlán desde San Antonio Palopó 📷 Photo by : @edgardojosed #LosRinconesDeMiGuate 🇬🇹 »»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»» #guatemala #visitguatemala #travel #volcano #travelphotography #naturaleza #traveling #amazing #wonderfulplaces #instatravel #paisaje #adventure #photooftheday #prensalibre #guatemalacity #amazingplaces #destinoguate #naturephotography #guategram #exploreeverything #disfrutaguate #travelawesome #photography #explore #natgeotravel #milugarfavoritopl »»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»»
To really see what makes this region special, I recommend doing the Maya Trail; a 3-day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan. The hike passes through indigenous villages and farmlands and follows the trail that the Mayans themselves once followed.
Although we never managed to squeeze this hike in, it’s well worth adding to your itinerary! Much like with Pacaya and Acatenango, I’d recommend doing this trek with a reputable hiking company, such as Old Town Outfitters. It should go without saying, but you shouldn’t attempt a hike like this on your own.
Vist La Iglesia de San Andreas de Xecul
Like most other Latin American countries, catholocism is strong in Guatemala. Interestingly, though, Guatemala’s own branch of catholocism is heavily influenced by its Mayan past. A place where you can see the marriage of these two institutions for yourself is La Iglesia de San Andreas de Xecul.
This colourful church is very much a place of catholic worship- but its bright facade is a million miles away from the muted churches you see in Europe. It’s easy to reach the church from Quetzaltenango.
Conquer Central America’s Highest Peak, Tajumulco
Another day in Guatemala, another volcano to conquer! You could say that hiking a volcano is one of the ultimate things to do in Guatemala! Tajumulco is Central America’s highest peak, sitting at 13,845 feet. The hike takes 2 days to complete and by camping on the volano overnight, you can enjoy sunrise views of Guatemala’s volcaninc line.
Soak in the Hot Springs of Fuentes Georgina
After hiking all those volcanos, you’ll probably have a few aches. It’s a good thing then that Xela is also home to some of Guatemala’s best hot springs. Fuentes Georginais the place to go to soak your banged up traveller’s body. The biggest attraction of the hot springs is its natural jungle-like setting in the middle of the mountains, but those steamy baths definitely aren’t to be sniffed at! If you were starting to think that there are no relaxing things to do in Guatemala, I hope this has proven otherwise.
We found the secret ecological pools and spent hours there completely alone… but the communal pools were still gorgeous! #hotsprings #guatemala #xela #quetzeltenango #gypsylife #gypsysoul #wanderer #wanderlust #nature #naturalbeauty #serenity #traveler #fuentesgeorginas #naturalhotspring #naturalhotsprings
Where to Stay in Quetzaltenango (Xela)
I recommend spending some time studying Spanish in Xela and living with a local family. That’s what we did while we were there and had a more enriching experience because of it. If you’re just passing through for a couple of days, though, The Black Cat Hostel comes well recommended for backpackers in Xela. Latam Hotel is a great option for anyone looking for a bit of luxury. It’s close to the city centre but also has a rooftop pool with mountain views- the best of both worlds!
Things to do in Semuc Champey
Caving in Semuc Champey
Personally, this wasn’t one of my favourite things to do in Guatemala. However, that’s not to say that you won’t love it. Actually, the odds are that you probably will since I was the only big baby in my group who hated this activity!
In Semuc Champey, you can take a candlelit cave tour. While this might sound pretty romantic, it involves crawling through a cave holding a candle. If you’re claustrophobic (or simply hate having candle wax dripping all over you), I’d avoid this activity! If not, I’m sure like the rest of the
weirdos people in my group, you’ll have a great time!
Relax in Limestone Pools at Semuc Champey
Wherever you decide to stay in Semuc Champey, you’ll be offered one of the popular Semuc Champey day trips. Although you can tour the area by yourself, I doubt that you’d actually save any time or money by doing this. Our tour took us to the candlelit caves and on a hike to the main viewpoint. The main highlight, though? Relaxing in the limestone pools at the end!
Before going to Semuc Champey, I’d seen photos aplenty of Semuc Champey since most bloggers cite it as one of the top places to see in Guatemala. The sceptic in me assumed that it would look nothing like the photos but, truthfully, the water really is that turquoise and the place is worth all the hype it gets.
Where to Stay in Semuc Champey
Things to do in Flores
Go Back in Time at Tikal
No matter how many Mayan ruins you’ve seen on your trip to Central America, Tikal is still well worth a visit. In all honesty, I’d say that if you’re only going to visit one ruin site while you’re there, this would be the one to choose.
Tikal is set in the middle of the jungle and is like no where I’ve been before. Some of the ruins are still comletely covered in grass and only around 15% of the site has been excavated. (The things you learn when you have a guide!)
Most people decide to go for sunrise but, with a 3am wake up and a slim chance of actually seeing the sunrise, we decided to skip it and go for the regular morning trip instead.
Where to Stay in Flores
Most people base themselves in Flores when visiting Tikal and that’s what we did, too. We stayed at Los Amigos Hostel which had a great restaurant and the cheapest tour company in town- definitely book your onward travel here and don’t get ripped off by other transport companies like we did! It’s also possible to camp at Tikal if you don’t mind being kept up by howler monkeys all night! (Although, admittedly, this would be a pretty cool thing to do in Guatemala!)
Things to Do in Guatemala City
Treat Yourself in Guatemala City
A lot of people fly into Guatemala City and take a shuttle straight to Antigua. It’s understandable; the city is known for being one of the most dangerous in Latin America. In 2016, there was a whopping average of 101 murders each week.
It doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of place you’d want to go on your holidays. But, ironically if you’re looking to completely pamper yourself, this is the place to do it. You’ll find lots of luxurious things to do in Guatemala City with boutique hotels, spas, cute cafes and restaurants aplenty. If you’re going to be flying out of la capital, I’d spend a night there to treat yourself before the official end of your trip! (Just make sure to do your research on the best areas to stay, use Ubers around the city and exercsie the same level of caution as you would in any of the world’s major cities!)
Where to Stay in Guatemala City
Theatre International is regarded as the best hostel in Guatemala City. For a spot of luxury, you’ll find most of the usual big hotel brands like Radisson and Barcelo, as well as smaller boutique options like Adriataka.
Things to do in Eastern Guatemala
Soak up Caribbean Vibes in Livingston
Livingston is Guatemala’s own little corner of the Caribbean with a strong Garifuna culture and a landscape like nowhere else in the country! Although the beaches definitely won’t rival those of nearby Mexico, Belize or Costa Rica, it’s well worth a visit, even just for onward travel purposes alone. From here, you can take boats to Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Chill out on Rio Dulce
One of the most popular ways to get to Livingston is via the Rio Dulce but, actually, this is a pretty worthwhile place to visit on its own. We missed out on exploring this part of the country but friends we met in Semuc Champey said it was a highlight of their trip! You can kayak on the lake, take wildlife viewing boat trips and even visit a hot spring waterfall. Yup, a waterfall that’s a hot spring…. all my regrets about not going are based on that last point!
Where to Stay in Rio Dulce
Most people decide to base themselves in Rio Dulce and just visit Livingston as a day trip. This is a pretty smart idea since there are loads of amazing riverside hotels and hostels to choose from. Dreamcatcher Eco Lodge looks like a great choice for backpackers and flashpackers alike.
I hope that this list has helped you discover some amazing and fun things to do in Guatemala! The country really is incredibly varied so I recommend spending a big chunk of time there so you can appreciate everything it has to offer. Whether you prefer photography and architecture, jungles and ruins or lakes and volcanoes, you’l be completely spoiled with the amount of places to see in Guatemala!
Have you been to Guatemala? Leave me a comment and let me know the highlight of your trip!
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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and references to companies that offered me complimentary experiences in return for online exposure. As always, all opinions are my own.