Whether you’re into cute colonial towns, relaxing in tranquil lake-side villages, visiting colorful and ancient markets or whether you fancy climbing an active volcano, Guatemala is the place to go! Nestled between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Guatemala is not only one of Latin America’s poorest countries, but also one of the most naturally and culturally diverse nations. Though it still isn’t the most popular destination for travellers, those who do decide to come here, usually end up having a blast.
Most people only briefly stop Guatemala City, the country’s capital. This is mainly due to the criminal activity, intimidating, armed security guards and crazy traffic. If you do decide to spend a day or two, you might want to visit the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana, two of the city’s main attractions.
Probably the most popular city in the country is Antigua, which was Guatemala’s capital until 1773, when an earthquake destroyed much of the town. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua boasts many beautiful colonial buildings, such as La Merced, the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Convento de las Capucinas. It is nestled in the middle of three gigantic volcanoes, two of which are still active, namely Fuego and Acatenango. The latter is the most popular with tourists, so if you prefer doing something off the beaten track, you might want to consider climbing Volcán Agua (3776m), which can also be done in a day. Antigua is probably the most popular place for taking Spanish classes, though closely followed by Quetzaltenango in the Western Highlands. From here you can visit many indigenous villages, climb some more volcanoes or simply relax in one of natural hot springs, not far from the city. For something unusual, try the full-moon ascent of Volcán Santa María.
If you feel exhausted from all the climbing and the heat, you should head to Monterrico for a relaxing beach break. It is the perfect place for surfing and sunbathing, but you should also visit the Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii which, with its mangrove swamps is one of the main breeding areas for leatherback turtles, the largest of all living sea turtles. Another traveller’s favourite is Panajachel, the gateway to Lago Atitlán. If you prefer a more quiet setting, you might want to head to San Pedro La Laguna, the perfect starting point for climbing Volcán San Pedro and many other hiking and biking tours. Not as well known, but certainly of the most beautiful places in the country are the Grutas de Lanquín and Semuc Champey. Watch your head in the bat-inhibited caves before heading to the turquoise limestone pools for a refreshing swim. Other fun activities include taking a river cruise down Río Dulce to the African influenced town of Livingston. Another mayor attraction is Chichicastenango, which at a height of over 2000 meters boasts one of the biggest and oldest markets in Central America.
No trip to Guatemala would be complete without visiting the world-famous ruins of Tikal, near Flores. Considered by many to be the mother of all Mayan sites, this former indigenous megacity is located smack in the middle of the jungle, making it a prime destination not only for those interested in indigenous cultures, but also for nature and animal lovers. The jungle around Tikal is home to the funny-sounding howler monkey, as well as jaguars, deer and many tropical birds.
The best time for visiting northern parts of the country is from December to February when nights are cooler and precipitation is at a minimum. The rainy season lasts from late May or June until September. Keep in mind that this is also the high time for mosquitoes, so wear long-sleeves and apply repellent.