8 Epic Places To Visit In Guatemala

top places to visit in guatemala

Majestic volcanoes, turquoise rivers, charming colonial cities and ancient Mayan ruins hidden in the jungle – there is just so much to love about Guatemala.

Guatemala is one of the least developed countries in Central America which means that you’re in for a lot of incredible jungle adventures, super friendly locals and amazing cultural experiences.

After spending some time in Guatemala it became clear that it was one of our all-time favorite countries in Central America (which is hard to admit, to us it’s like the equivalent of asking who your favorite kid is).

In our post below we have compiled a list of all the best spots in Guatemala for travelers. The great thing about these places is that you can visit them all in less than 2 weeks or visit them individually over different short trips.


8 Incredible Places To Visit In Guatemala:


Semuc Champey

Traveling to Guatemala’s Semuc Champey is almost like a rite of passage for those who consider themselves to be adventurous backpackers.

In Lanquín, the small town near this destination, you won’t find the casual family vacationers or 5-star hotels. If you’ve made it this far, it means that you like your adventures to be a bit rugged, off the grid and harder to reach.

Although it takes some effort and grit to make the journey to visit Semuc Champey, you’ll be well rewarded with one of the coolest experiences of your life.

So what makes this place so special?

The main attraction here is the stunning turquoise blue limestone river, the pride and joy of this region and no doubt one of the most beautiful destinations in Guatemala nature-wise.

Most people that come to visit Semuc Champey end up staying a few days and make Lanquín their home base. Although you won’t find any super-fancy spa resort here, there are plenty of awesome eco-style hotels to choose from.

Our favorite was the Zephyr Lodge, a hostel geared towards fun young people. Although we didn’t get to stay here overnight (our campervan literally could not make it up the road), we did come here to enjoy a few drinks in the pool for sunset.

The Semuc Champey River itself is located about an hour drive from Lanquin. The roads going there are almost impassable for a regular car so we knew better than to drive there ourselves. Instead, we arranged a ride on this heavy-duty truck that is used as the main transportation option in this region.

To get a ride to the Semuc Champey River we just asked around the locals in Lanquín the day before. You can also sign up for a tour like this one that will make all the arrangements for you and eliminate all the hassle – especially for those who don’t speak Spanish.

To explore the Semuc Champey River you should set aside the entire day. Besides the hour drive there and back, you’ll want plenty of time to swim in the different limestone pools, explore the nearby caves and take a hike to a wooden platform overlooking the river.

To get good photography shots of the river, we brought along our DJI Mavic drone. Note that when shooting water you might want to use a circular polarizing filter (CPL) to remove glare in the water and to enhance the color.

Location: San Agustín Lanquín, Guatemala

Where To Stay: Lanquín – click here to browse hotels and hostels in this region

Cost: 50 Quetzal ($6.50) entrance fee to go on your own plus 20 Quetzal ($2.60) for the ride there

Tour Option: $30 to go on a tour like this one that includes transportation, entrance fees to the river, caves and a guide

Lake Atitlán

No trip to Guatemala would be complete without spending a few days (or in our case – a few months) relaxing at the beautiful Lake Atitlán.

There is just so much to love about Atitlán and the little communities around the lake really cater to every type of traveler. You have San Pedro La Laguna, the backpacker central full of fun hostels, bars, and restaurants. There is San Marcos, the little hippie paradise known for massage spas, yoga retreats, and health foods. And then there’s Panajachel where you’ll find traditional streets markets, amazing textiles and tons of awesome local food spots.

During our time at Atitlán, we mostly stayed in Panajachel but we made plenty of day trips around the lake to explore the other towns.

My favorite activity by far was hiking to the Indian Nose overlook near San Pedro La Laguna village. We did this hike in the morning for sunrise with the help of local tour guides that we arranged in San Pedro the night before for 75 Quetzal ($10 USD).

The guides picked us up in a car from San Pedro La Laguna at 4 am and drove us to the location where we hiked in the dark until we reached the viewpoint just as the sun started rising over the lake illuminating 7 different volcanoes in the distance.

Another favorite spot of ours was the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in the San Marcos village. This nature reserve is located within a few minutes walk from the San Marcos boat dock and features a beautiful wooden platform with a 40 ft drop into the lake for the brave and adventurous.

We spent a few hours here jumping off the platform, swinging off ropes and swimming in the lake before heading for a healthy and refreshing lunch in the town.

Our favorite thing to do in Panajachel, our home base during our time in Atitlán, was just walking around the town, roaming through the local markets and finding beautiful textile goods like blankets and carpets.

Panajachel also has a few fun night spots like the mixology bar Simoneta where the friendly bartender made us the most delicious craft cocktails with fresh juices, herb-infused syrups, and other creative ingredients. 

With friendly locals, epic sunrises and delicious food, Atitlán is just one of those places in Guatemala that is easy to fall in love and hard to leave.

Where To Stay: Most popular towns to stay at are San Pedro, Panajachel, and San Marcos.

Tour Option: If you’re short on time, you can also visit Lake Atitlan as a day tour from Guatemala City or Antigua. Check out these tour options below for more info:

Tikal Ruins

There are so many incredible ruins to visit in Guatemala, but the Tikal Ruins are by far the most impressive.

Located in the midst of an overgrown rainforest jungle, a trip to the Tikal Ruins feels like discovering some lost city, Indiana Jones style.

What now is one of the biggest attractions in Guatemala was once a bustling Mayan empire full of life and people.

At its peak, this giant Mayan city included thousands of buildings from temples and tombs to ball game courts, gardens and residential buildings that were all later abandoned around year 900. While most of the buildings still remain buried, some of the biggest temples at Tikal were excavated in the 1950s and are now part of the protected UNESCO World Heritage sites.

At Tikal, visitors can roam around this ancient city, explore temples and even climb above the tree line to see some of the pyramids in their full scale – an activity that will take your breath away (sometimes literally from the steep climb).

Although we visited quite a few Mayan ruins during our journey through Central America, the Tikal ruins were quite unique and like nothing else that we saw in this region.

Unlike most Mayan ruins, the Tikal ruins were built to be skinny and tall. The best example of this type of architecture is represented in Temple IV, the tallest structure in the ancient world.

Walking around the Tikal city grounds is quite the wild adventure itself. To visit the different pyramid structures we had to make our way through narrow overgrown paths where we spotted a ton of wildlife like howler monkeys, birds and these super cute raccoon-like animals called coati.  

Tikal Ruins are located about an hour drive away from Flores. Most people stay in Flores and take a shuttle or sign up for a day tour like this one to visit the Tikal Ruins.

If you want to do it on your own, the tickets for Tikal can be purchased at the entrance and cost 150 Quetzal ($20 USD) per person. This provides visitors with a day pass to roam around this ancient Mayan city grounds.

It’s even possible to visit these ruins for sunrise or sunset, but it does cost extra. For latest pricing check out the official Tikal website here.

Location: Tikal, Guatemala

Where To Stay: Flores, Guatemala – browse available Flores hotels here

Cost: 150 Quetzal ($20 USD)

Tour Option: $70 to go on a day tour from Flores like this one that includes transportation, entrance fee, guide, and lunch

Fuentes Georginas

It’s no secret – I love hot springs! If there’s a hot springs in the area, I will find it, visit it and spend a few hours soaking in it until I look like an old prune. If that hot springs looks as beautiful as Fuentes Georginas in Guatemala, well, that’s just an extra bonus.

When we set out in search of this hot springs from Quetzaltenango, we really didn’t know what to expect. We seek out a lot of places that are a bit off the grid and not often visited by the international travel community. Most of the time places like this can be a hit or a miss but in this case, we hit the jackpot big time, especially for a hot springs lover like me.

The road going to Fuentes Georginas was not an easy drive, but as we learned, there is no such thing as an “easy drive” in Guatemala.

It took us an hour of bumpy driving through foggy, narrow mountain roads before we reached this destination, passing farmlands on the way. We reached Fuentes Georgina’s hot springs right before sunset and we spent the evening soaking in these beautiful natural volcanic springs, long after the sun was gone.

Since we travel in a campervan we were able to sleep in our van in the parking lot, but we did notice hotel rooms at the property for overnight guests.

If you don’t want to stay at the hot springs overnight, you could make a day trip to Fuentes Georginas from Quetzaltenango, the biggest city in this region.

Although the Fuentes Georginas hot springs is not the easiest destination to reach, and for that reason, it’s often overlooked by travelers, it was personally one of my favorite places that we visited in Guatemala.

Location: Zunil, Guatemala

Where To Stay: One option is to stay at the Fuentes Georginas on property bungalows for 190 Quetzal ($25 USD) per night. Or you can stay in Quetzaltenango city, about an hour drive away and take a local bus or tour as a day trip there.

Cost: 60 Quetzal ($8 USD) entrance fee

Pacaya Volcano

When I plan trips to these exotic countries I tend to look up the most epic, picturesque and adventurous things to do in the area. For Guatemala, my research kept circling back to Pacaya volcano, an active volcano just outside of the historical Antigua city.

Pssst. We have written a super detailed post on Antigua itself that you can check out here!  

My friend was coming to visit me in Guatemala so instead of taking her sightseeing (like any other normal person would do), I suggested for us to hike the active Pacaya volcano. Thankfully my friend is just as adventurous (or maybe crazy) as I am so she was in.

The Pacaya volcano is located an hour drive away from Antigua so getting there is a bit of a mission. We had our own personal car to get us there but you can also sign up for a Pacaya volcano tour like this one that will make all the transportation arrangements for you.

If you’re going on your own, you can park your car at the Centro De Visitantes entrance. As soon as you park, you will be approached by locals who will try to sell you on a hiking guide. It takes a few hours to hike to the volcano top and back so most people choose to go with a guide but we opted to do the hike on our own.

I tend to make a lot of stops for photos so I usually try to do outdoors activities without a guide (for their sake as much as mine). Instead of a tour guide, we used Maps.me hiking app to guide us on this trek.

We started the trek early in the morning and as we neared the top we could see a moody cloud layer cover the volcano. Somewhere in the distance, we heard a crackling sound before we saw red lava bursting through the rock and melt down the volcano – all from a safe distance of course.

From our starting point, it only took us a couple of hours to reach the volcano top, just in time for the morning fog to burn off. The landscape looked pretty surreal and Mars-like with black volcanic rock as far as we could see.

Tip: bring your own marshmallows and sticks to experience roasting marshmallows on top of the Pacaya volcano, an activity that’s a tradition for those who make it to the top.

Location: San Vicente Pacaya, Guatemala

Where To Stay: Antigua – browse top Antigua hotels here

Cost: 50 Quetzales ($6.50 USD) to enter the volcano

Tour Option: This Pacaya volcano tour for $18 will take you to the volcano from Antigua and includes a local guide

Antigua

The wonderful thing about planning a trip to Guatemala is that Guatemala offers so many diverse places to visit – majestic volcanos, fun jungle adventures, relaxing hot springs and super charming colonial cities.

Antigua is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Central America and on the checklist for just about everyone traveling to Guatemala.

Antigua was once the reigning capital city of Guatemala but due to its location, it was prone to earthquakes and volcano eruptions. In 1776 the capital city was relocated to Guatemala City and because of this move, Guatemala City now looks very modern while Antigua was left untouched in its lovely 18t century state with narrow cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings.

Although Antigua itself is not a very big city, we highly recommend setting aside at least 1-2 full days to explore Antigua and its nearby attractions. There is just so much to see in this city from historical landmarks to cute markets and incredible restaurants.

Many of Antigua’s must-visit spots include historical churches like the beautiful Iglesia De La Merced church that was built in baroque style with an elaborate and detailed exterior.

Other churches, like the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, didn’t survive the devastating earthquakes in this region and were left in a semi-ruinous state with a collapsed ceiling and bare towering columns.

But the main attraction of Antigua is the stunning Santa Catalina Arch, a passageway that was once used by nuns to cross the street unseen.  The Santa Catalina Arch, without a doubt, is one of the most picturesque spots in the city. If you wish to get a photo at the iconic Santa Catalina Arch with the Agua volcano as it’s backdrop we recommend getting here first thing in the morning before the tourist crowds swarm the streets.

End your tour of the city by heading out to the Cerro De La Cruz overlook that offers some incredible panoramic views of Antigua below, especially stunning for sunset.

For more Antigua inspiration read our detailed Antigua post here.

Where To Stay: Browse all the best hotels in Antigua

Tour Option: This Antigua tour takes visitors to all the top highlights around the city and coffee tasting

Flores

Flores is a small city located on an island surrounded by Lake Petén Itzá.

This cute little town is very close to the Tikal Ruins so many people stop in Flores before or after visiting the ruins. 

During our time in Guatemala, we spent two nights in Flores. The first night we stayed right outside of Flores in a remote camping spot where we spent the evening paddle boarding, swimming and fishing in Lake Petén Itzá followed by a bonfire with some of our travel friends.

It was one of the most relaxing places that we stayed at in Guatemala with an incredible sunset overlooking Flores and Lake Petén Itzá from our camping spot.

The second day we ventured into the Flores city itself. Although this little island doesn’t have any major tourist attractions, it’s a fun place to walk around and enjoy a few drinks at one of the local cafes.

The entire Flores Island is surrounded by a lake and when the water level rises, the streets often overflood. You can easily walk around the entire island in an hour following these wooden pathways set up on the outer edges of the city.

If you have extra time to spare, a lot of people also hop on a little boat for 20 Quetzal ($2.60 USD) that takes visitors to a popular swimming spot across the lake. This area is known for eco-lodges and fun swings that will fling the brave swimmers deep into the lake.

Location: Lake Petén Itzá

Where To Stay: Check out some of the best hotels in Flores here

Chichicastenango

If you love experiencing local cultures, a trip to Chichicastenango is a must. Chichicastenango town has one of the best markets in Guatemala featuring colorful textiles, traditional clothes, Mayan masks, local foods, and other crafts.

Although Guatemala, like most of Central America, was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, Chichicastenango’s population still remains very indigenous. In fact, 99% of the people that live in Chichicastenango are descendants of the Mayan culture and most residents in this region don’t even speak Spanish.

Although not many international visitors venture into Chichicastenango, those who do, are usually in search of local textiles to bring back home. Guatemala’s markets are known to have incredible textiles (we have a few local blankets of our own that we snatched on our trip) and at Chichicastenango, you’ll find the best deals and biggest variety in all of Guatemala.

The Chichicastenango market is open on Thursdays and Sundays so before you go, plan accordingly. Chichicastenango is located 3 hours away from Guatemala City so you could plan a visit here as a day trip from Guatemala City.

Location: North-west of Guatemala City

Where To Stay: Most people stay in Guatemala City and arrange a tour here for the day

Cost: Free to enter the market


Ready to pack your bags and book your ticket to Guatemala? If you have any questions on any of these places, don’t hesitate to drop us a comment below!

Looking for more Central America inspiration? Check out our travel guide that covers 10 of our all-time favorite spots in Central America.

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PAUL MARMOL

Thank you so much for a very important information about this beautiful country. Good job!!