Surrounded by several important countries like Mexico, Belize and Honduras, Guatemala is a fascinating country in Central America. With a racially diverse population of the Maya people, European settlers, Afro-Carribeans, and more, Guatemala is home to many rich traditions and history. Besides trade and agriculture, tourism is one of the main drivers of the Guatemalan economy. And thanks to ancient Mayan sites like Quiriguá in Izabal and Tikal in the Peten, natural reserves in Coban, the colonial grandeur of Antigua and the stunning natural areas of Semuc Champey, Lake Atitlan, etc., Guatemala is now firmly established on the tourist map. Add to that the colourful markets, museums, pulsating nightlife spots and delicious cuisines of the country, it is undeniably an irresistible travel destination. To learn more about the best places to visit in Guatemala, scroll down and check out our list of recommendations.
In Guatemala’s capital city, confusingly called Guatemala City, there are a number of attractions for visitors and residents alike. Guatemala’s largest and most populous city also has a rich history spanning the Mayan civilisation through the Spanish conquests to the Guatemalan independence revolution. To explore this vibrant city, it is essential to understand that the city is divided into zones. In the central area, Zone 1, check out the Spanish colonial-era buildings like the National Palace and the Catedral Metropolitana at Plaza Mayor. In Zone 4, admire the amazing street art or explore the museums of Zone 10, including Popol Vuh Museo and Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena. There is also the Zona Viva with its many bars, discotheques, restaurants and clubs. Plenty of markets, shopping areas, trendy cafes and coffee shops can be found across the city.
Half-Day Guatemala City Explorer Tour
Duration: 3 hour
Flores is a small town on the island of Lago Petén Itzá, and it is connected to the mainland by a causeway. The town itself is very small and one can walk around it in about 15 to 20 minutes. Most visitors use Flores as a base to explore the nearby Mayan ruins, but there’s plenty to see and do in Flores itself. The charm of this city lies in its colonial-era structures, including a central plaza, church, Spanish-style buildings and cobblestone streets lined with myriad restaurants, cafes and bars. Parque Central (Central Park) and the conservation centre at Petencito Zoo are worth a visit too. You could rent bicycles or hire a boat or canoe to explore the island. Swimming is another popular activity here. And of course, a visit to the mesmerising Tikal ruins with its Mayan structures and monuments, including the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, Temple IV, is a must too.
Famous for its vibrant markets, Chichicastenango is a city high up in the mountainous region of Guatemala. On Thursdays and Sundays, Chichicastenango hosts one of the largest markets in Central America. At the market, vendors selling every kind of goods and articles can be found. Visitors will be especially thrilled with traditional items like handicrafts, incense, pottery, grindstones, wooden boxes, machetes, textiles, masks for traditional dances, poultry, meats, tools, and many more fascinating objects. And if you’ve had your fill of shopping, Chichicastenango also offers some historic sites that you can explore. There is the 15th-century church of Iglesia de Santo Tomás, the Mayan shrine of Pascual Abaj, the archaeological museum of Museo Arqueológico Regional, and several other sites to visit in Chichicastenango.
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4. Puerto Barrios
Located in the Gulf of Honduras, Puerto Barrios is a port town on Guatemala’s eastern coast. A thriving port once known for its links with coffee and banana plantations, Puerto Barrios has now evolved into a modern city attracting many cruise ship passengers. It offers attractions like Las Escobas nature preserve which has a number of natural waterfalls and pools, native animals like jaguars, bird-watching opportunities, local flowers and plants, etc. Visitors can enjoy shopping at the many markets or at La Pradera Mall. Buzzing nightlife, excellent restaurants and bustling downtown attractions are also available here. The Mayan ruins of Quirigua and the Garifuna culture of nearby Livingston town can be enjoyed from Puerto Barrios too.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua, is a well-known tourist destination in Guatemala. Tourists throng to this old city for its beautiful Spanish colonial-era architecture, well-preserved ruins of monasteries and churches, myriad festivals and the thriving food and drink scene. On your visit to Antigua, admire the amazing architecture and history of the San Francisco Church, La Merced Church, Santo Domingo Monastery, Captain General Palace, and more. Eat delicious local food at restaurants, wander around the cobblestoned streets, shop at local markets and don’t forget to click a picture under the famous Santa Catalina Arch!
Antigua Guatemala City Tour
Duration: 6 hours
Experience the rustic charms of the Guatemalan countryside in Jalapa. Surrounded by towering mountains, lush green valleys and intersected by many rivers, Jalapa has a mild climate that makes it the perfect spot to take a relaxing vacation in Guatemala. The presence of several volcanoes in the area enables visitors to enjoy a soak in the hot springs of Balneario Los Chorros or relax in the natural spa at Agua Tibia. You can also shop for local handicrafts, leather products, cheese and other dairy products, textiles, etc. in Jalapa.
Surrounding Guatemala’s largest lake, Lake Izabal, Izabal is an important area along the eastern coast of Guatemala. It stretches from the Río Dulce town to the coast of the Caribbean Sea. Visitors to Izabal can indulge in a range of water activities like swimming, fishing, sailing, boating or observing the wide variety of flora and fauna found here. Natural and archaeological sites like the Castle of San Felipe de Lara and Quiriguá Archaeological Site are worth exploring too. You can observe the Garifuna culture from up close or shop for local arts and handicrafts.
As a renowned spot for eco-tourism in Guatemala, Cobán is very rich and diverse in its variety of flora and fauna. Several nature reserves like Laguna Lachuá National Park, Las Victorias National Park, etc. abound in natural features like waterfalls, caves, and lush forests laden with rare birds, flowers and plants. In Cobán, you can also visit a working coffee plantation or check out sites like the El Calvario Church, Museo Principe Maya, etc. Nearby attractions from Cobán include the famous Semuc Champey pools, Sachichaj waterfall and Languín caves.
Panajachel’s location on the shores of Lake Atitlán makes it the ideal stopover point for tourists on their way to explore the wonders of the lake. The best sunsets on the lake are said to be viewed from the town of Panajachel. Visitors can stroll down the Calle Santander, pay a visit to La Galeria, one of the oldest art galleries in Central America, check out the Museum Lacustre Atitlan or admire the decades-old Casa Cakchiquel that is said to have housed many famous celebrities, writers, revolutionaries and artists.
Situated up in the highlands of western Guatemala, close to the western border of Mexico, is the town of Huehuetenango. Nicknamed ‘Huehue’ by the locals, this is an important town on the trade route to and from Mexico. Stunning mountain scenery, shopping for handicraft items and enjoying local coffee can be enjoyed here. The restored ruins of Zaculeu, a Mayan site, is the main tourist attraction. Pilgrimages to the Catholic church of Nuestra Señora de Chiantla are also very popular in Huehuetenango.
From stunning mountain scenery to laidback coastal towns, Guatemala has an immensely diverse geography that makes it a very attractive tourist destination. Add to it the warmth and hospitality of the locals, and Guatemala becomes a vacationer’s paradise. While planning your holiday to this amazing country in Central America, do remember to check out our recommendations for the best places to visit in Guatemala.
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