A Mayan city deep in the jungle, turquoise colored pools and active volcanoes that glow at night – Guatemala is a beautiful country with plenty of things to do to satisfy travelers on any budget.
The local food tastes great, and there is never a shortage of tortillas or Gallo, the local beer. Most of my travels from city to city were done by day and by minivan, and I found it both safe and convenient. Depending on where you’re going the routes can be several hours long, and windy. Tourist shuttles will pick you up at your hotel/hostel and drop you off at your hotel at the next destination.
Here is a list of my favorite places to visit in Guatemala.
Put a visit to this ancient Mayan city on your must-do list. Archeologists estimate that the Maya settled in Tikal in about 900 BC. There are thousands of structures in Tikal National Park, and it’s about 575 square kilometers.
I did the sunrise tour and walked through the jungle for about 45 minutes before we got to the temple where we would watch the first glimpse of the sun. At this hour, you’ll also see and hear howler monkeys waking up.
Bring a jacket, headlight, and comfortable shoes because you will be walking up and down stairs to get to these magnificent temples. I chose to go at sunrise because I wanted to avoid large crowds of people, but the park was not very busy in January.
The tour will cost you about 370 Quetzales ($50 US), and that includes your ticket to the park, transportation from Flores and the additional fee of 100Q to watch the sunrise.
Getting here – Located 45 minutes from Tikal, the town of Flores is a very convenient location to stay in to get to the park. From January 6 – 15 locals have parties every night to honor Cristo Negro de Petén. There is live music, people dancing on the streets, a fair, and fireworks almost every night.
Video of Flores:
One of the highlights of my visit to Guatemala is visiting Semuc Champey. Located approximately 45 minutes from the town of Lanquin, swimming in the pools at this natural monument is quite an unforgettable experience. I chose to stay in Lanquin because I was so tired from the long bus ride. Most shuttles arrive at night, so you have an opportunity to get settled in before heading on the tour the next day. I paid 160Q ($22 US) which includes your entrance to the pools and a cave adventure. We started the trip with a one hour visit to the cave. You’ll hold a candle the entire time while swimming and walking through this cave. After the cave, you’ll visit a gorgeous waterfall before eating lunch.
Try not to get too full, because you’ll hike up the Mirador for a chance to see the pools from above. The hike is not that strenuous or long, but you will need water and insect repellant.
After the hike, you can store your stuff in lockers before getting into the crystal clear pools. Here, you’ll have about an hour to swim from pool to pool.
Things to bring: towel, bathing suit, sunscreen, flip-flops, and sneakers. Headlamp, food, a lock for the lockers and insect repellent.
Lake Atitlan – Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos
Once you get to Lake Atitlan, you’ll have plenty of options on what to do, see and where to stay. After a nearly 11-hour bus ride, I arrived in Panajachel at night, with intentions of staying in another town the next day. In the morning, I decided I would take the boat to a new town each day for a day trip instead of packing up my suitcase again.
Panajachel – Here you’ll get an excellent view of the sunset and in my opinion the best view of the San Pedro Volcano. You’ll want to buy most things here because it’s much cheaper than the other towns. During the day, it doesn’t get that cold, but at night you will need to bundle up. I stayed at Dreamboat Hostel for 50Q, and really enjoyed the family style dinners every night.
San Marcos – A small town on the lake with options for places where you can do yoga. Here you’ll find locals selling Guatemalan souvenirs, hippies selling crystals on the street and health food stores. You can also swim in the lake here if you want to.
San Pedro – Better known as the more lively, party town, San Pedro is the home of El Rostro de la Maya or Indian Nose hike. You can also hike up the San Pedro Volcano for 100Q. My friend and I had lunch here and took a tuk-tuk up to the first mirador, we then hitchhiked to the second mirador and soaked in the view of the lake. You can go kayaking here as well. Keep in mind that the last boats back to the Panajachel are around 5 pm.
Surrounded by volcanoes, this Unesco World Heritage site is less than an hour from Guatemala City. The city is easy to get around, and there is no shortage of places to stay. There is a local market where you can buy just about anything. You can also try haggling to get a better deal. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars as well and street vendors who stay open late.
I recommend visiting the Chocolate Museums to satisfy your sweet tooth. They will also give you samples of different kinds of chocolate.
Most people who visit Antigua, don’t leave without climbing Acatenango – an overnight trip to see the Volcano de Fuego. You can also climb up the Pacaya Volcano during the day or go on an evening hike to watch the sunset from here.
Have you been to Guatemala? What is your favorite place to visit? Let me know in the comments.
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