10 essential places to visit in Guatemala

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There are many places to visit in Guatemala, a small country, located in the heart of the Mayan world, perfect for any type of traveler, due to its great diversity, where you can enjoy from the adventure of climbing an active volcano to bathe in a natural pool in the middle of the jungle.

Although we must bear in mind that natural wonders are not the only attraction of this country, since these, next to the ancient Mayan ruins, the beautiful colonial cities, the lakes surrounded by volcanoes or the endless markets together with a rich gastronomy, Guatemala has become one of the fashion destinations in recent years.

We visit many of its wonders and based on our experience, we have made a selection of what we believe are the 10 most important places to see in Guatemala. We start!

1. Tikal

visit in Guatemala

The Tikal National Park, declared a World Heritage Site, is one of the best archaeological sites in the world and one of the must-see places in Guatemala. Located in the middle of the jungle, it was hidden by the jungle and abandoned by the Mayans for more than 1000 years, until it was discovered in 1848 and just over an hour from Flores, this important city of the ancient Mayan civilization is formed by a multitude of temples, steles and pyramids, which we are sure, will captivate any traveler.

There are several prominent places to visit in Tikal such as the monumental Great Plaza that is surrounded by high pyramids and large buildings, the Acropolis, the Temple 57 meters high, the Temple of the Jaguar and the Temple IV, the perfect place to see a magnificent sunset over the jungle.

Although the visit can be done in several hours, we recommend you arrive early in the afternoon to see the sunset in the park and sleep near the entrance, so you can visit the site early the next day, with few people.

Our lodging in the park was the Tikal Inn, located a few meters from the Tikal entrance, a perfect location, both to see the sunset and the next day, to be able to visit.

2. Antigua

visit in Guatemala

The city of Antigua, a World Heritage Site, is one of our favorite cities in the world and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Guatemala.

This ancient capital of Guatemala stands out for its stone streets, the beautiful pastel colored facades of the colonial houses, the old churches and convents, and for being surrounded by three impressive volcanoes, which give you unique and unforgettable perspectives. In addition, the city has a backpacker atmosphere and a very cozy traveler, in which the charming cafés, craft shops, local markets and a magnificent gastronomy are mixed, perfect to satisfy the most demanding stomachs.

Besides wandering, something essential, some of the places you cannot miss in La Antigua are the Plaza Central, the Cathedral of Santiago, the Convent of Santa Clara, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Carme Church, the Convent of the Capuchinas, the Church and Convent of La Merced, the Arco de Catalina and the Mirador del Cerro de la Cruz with stunning views of the city and its volcanoes.

3. Lake Atitlán

visit in Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, located more than 1,500 meters above sea level and surrounded by the volcanoes of Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro volcano, is another of the most impressive places to visit in Guatemala.

On the shore of the lake, located among the most beautiful in the world, you will find several villages that maintain the Mayan culture and tradition, which are also a highly recommended place to relax and rest thanks to its many meditation, yoga and massage centers. Another of the remarkable things in them is their good gastronomic offer, with several restaurants of healthy and vegetarian food that will make the days that you spend here, they become unforgettable for you and your stomach.

One of the best things to do in this area is to visit the towns of Lake Atitlan, most of them with the names of saints and among those surprised by Santiago Atitlán, where if you know how to look, you will meet Maximón, also called the smoker god.

Other highlights of the lake are the backpacking village of San Pedro la Laguna, the quiet villages of San Marcos la Laguna and San Juan La Laguna, the Mayan villages of Santa Catarina de Palopó and San Antonio de Palopó, and the magnificent viewpoint that is located before reaching the touristy Panajachel, the gateway to the lake.

The most common way to get to Lake Atitlan is by shared van from Antigua to Panajachel, although if you have little time it is advisable to stay in this city, as we did when staying at the Regis Hotel Spa with an excellent location and excursions by shared or private boat to different towns.

4. Semuc Champey, one of the places to visit in Guatemala

visit in Guatemala

Semuc Champey Natural Park, away from civilization and located between thick forests, is one of the most authentic places to see in Guatemala. Its most famous place is the natural pools of turquoise green water produced by the waterfalls of the river that crosses it and that have made Semuc Champey considered by many as the most beautiful place in Guatemala. And sincerely we have to say that they do not lack reason if we observe it from its spectacular viewpoint, from where before giving you a relaxing bath in the pools, you can enjoy some really incredible views.

In this area of the country it is highly advisable to book the accommodation with time because there is not much hotel supply. We chose El Portal de Semuc Champey, in which they have private cabins and a good restaurant, being a perfect lodging to know this impressive place.

The best way to get to Semuc Champey is by shared van from Flores, in a journey of around 7 hours.

5. Mercado de Chichicastenango

visit in Guatemala

In Chichicastenango, every Thursday and Sunday, the most important indigenous market in Central America is celebrated and another place to see in Guatemala that you cannot miss. Located in front of the Church of Santo Tomás, the Chichicastenango market, expands throughout its main square to the surrounding streets forming rivers of tourists and locals that from early morning to sunset are mixed with all kinds of products that They range from beautiful crafts to souvenirs, including vegetables, incense, fruits, seafood and even traditional fabrics that color the market.

We recommend you arrive early so you do not find too many people and especially be careful with your belongings in the crowds, because although we did not have any mishap, they told us that it is not uncommon for someone friend of someone else’s , to make yours in the market.

The most common way to visit the market is by stopping on the route that will take you from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, although if you stay in Antigua you can book a shuttle, which leaves at 7 in the morning, or a private transport, it will take you about 3 hours to the market.

6. Yaxhá

visit in Guatemala

Yaxhá, located to the north of Petén, is one of the least known Mayan jewels and another of the places to visit in Guatemala essential. This archaeological site with large buildings and pyramids located in the middle of the jungle and on the banks of the Yaxhá lagoon, not having the fame of Tikal, allows you to enjoy its ruins almost in solitude, something that we assure you, you will never forget.

Some of its most interesting places are the Game of Ball, the Causeway of Las Canteras, the Great Astronomical Complex or Plaza F, the spectacular plaza of the North Acropolis, and the most important structure of Yaxhá, the Temple of the Red Hands or structure 216, from which you have unique 360 degree views of Yaxhá.

7. Livingston

visit in Guatemala

When you arrive by boat to Livingston, the Caribbean of Guatemala and cradle of the Garífuna culture, shipwrecked from the African slave ships that ended up mixing with the indigenous people of the area, especially gifted for music and dance, who settled in this area In the 18th century, it seems that you are no longer in Guatemala.

When you walk through the streets of Livingston you will feel a bit in Africa, where you can share their tradition, culture and gastronomy, which we recommend eating at the Buba Mama, a restaurant that has been passed down from generation to generation until today.

To get to Livingston, one of the places to see in Guatemala, the only option is to take a shared or private boat from Rio Dulce or other nearby towns, as it is not accessible by road.

8. Quiriguá

visit in Guatemala

Quiriguá, a Mayan archaeological site, forms next to Antigua and Tikal, the three World Heritage Sites that Guatemala has, also being one of the best places to visit in Guatemala , especially for its incredible stelae carved in stone full of inscriptions and symbols old The majority of stelae that can reach up to 10 meters in height are concentrated in the Great Plaza, although it is also worth visiting the Acropolis to see several zoomorphic figures, representing different animals, both mythical and real, carved in stone blocks. , with great precision.

Quiriguá is just over an hour’s drive from Río Dulce and travelers usually stop at this site on the way to the Mayan ruins of Copan, located in Honduras, which you can meet with this day trip to Copán from Guatemala City or this one that leaves from Antigua.

9. Rio Dulce

visit in Guatemala

Río Dulce, a protected area to visit in Guatemala, joined Lake Izabal with the Caribbean Sea forming a large aquatic ecosystem, which has become another of the most essential places to visit in Guatemala. A boat route along the river will take you along a canyon with limestone walls up to 150 meters and full of tropical vegetation, which will leave you speechless, as well as try your luck, since Rio Dulce is also famous for being the place where the manatee lives, a mammal in danger of extinction, and crocodiles.

At the mouth of the Dulce River with Lake Izabal is the Castillo de San Felipe, a Spanish fortress that was built to protect itself from the pillage of buccaneers and pirates and is another place you cannot miss in this area of Guatemala.

10. Church of San Andrés Xecul

visit in Guatemala

The picturesque church of San Andrés Xecul with a colorful facade is the last recommendation of the list of places to visit in Guatemala. This church of Catholic origin is said to have been without a parish priest for years and the locals finished the work based on their Mayan culture and tradition, making their predominant color the facade, the mustard yellow that represents the color of corn and is the food most important of the Mayas, he became the true protagonist.

In addition, its dome full of colors or the figures of the angels with boots and socks, make the church unique and a great tourist attraction for this small town.

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