6 essential places to visit in Guatemala

Best places to visit in Guatemala - view of Tikal archeological site pyramids and forest

Guatemala is about as diverse as it gets, so it has something for everyone.  Its incredible beaches, ancient architecture, unique traditions, colonial streets, and smoky volcanos mean it packs a powerful punch as far as tourist attractions go!  Not sure where to go on your trip?  Read on for our top 6 places to visit in Guatemala! 

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1 – Antigua Guatemala

View of Antigua Guatemala with volcano and arch, cobbled street.

At the top of our list of essential places to visit in Guatemala is the small colonial city of Antigua Guatemala.  The colorful baroque buildings and winding cobblestone streets are surrounded by several towering volcanos and steep mountains, making it one of the country’s most visually impressive destinations.  

Don’t leave Antigua without seeing the El Calvario Church, the Capuchinas ex-convent, and the Santa Catarina Arch for a glimpse into the city’s unique colonial past.

2 – Tikal archeological site

Tikal archeological site, jaguar pyramid temple.  Best places to visit in Guatemala

Tikal is one of Guatemala’s most visited archeological sites and was once one of the Mayan civilization’s greatest cities. 

Tikal’s amazing constructions such as the Lost World Pyramid, the Jaguar Temple, and the Bat Palace stand in the middle of a thick rainforest.  Take a guided tour for in-depth information about the site’s history and the rainforest’s biodiversity.

If you find yourself in Southern Guatemala during your trip, visit the Quiriguá archeological site for original Mayan calendars and Mesoamerica’s most impressive sculptures! 

3 – Guatemala’s beaches

Best places to visit in Guatemala.  Caribbean Guatemala coast beaches to visit.

We couldn’t recommend places to visit in Guatemala without talking about the country’s beautiful beaches.   Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts boast some of the best beaches on the continent, many of which are famous for having unusual black volcanic sand.  

As well as sunbathing, swimming, and eating fresh seafood all day, the Guatemalan coast is well known for being a great place for sailfish fishing. 

Our top recommended Guatemalan beaches are Playa Blanca and Playa Quehueche on the Caribbean coast near Livingston, or if you’re looking for an all-inclusive experience head to Amatique Bay Resort & Marina Beach.

4 – Semuc Champey National Park

Semuc Champey National Park.  View of limestone bridge and natural pools.

Semuc Champey National Park is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala, drawing swathes of tourists every year. 

It’s famous for its 300m long natural limestone bridge which crosses a series of freshwater pools that are great for swimming.  The intense turquoise color of the pools and the yellow limestone clash to make for an otherworldly landscape. 

The park is a hotspot for hiking, mountain biking, and all sorts of adventure sports!

5 – Lake Atitlán

Best places to visit in Guatemala - View of Lake Atitlan at sunset with man standing on wooden pier.

No trip to Guatemala is complete without a couple of days on the shores of the stunning Lake Atitlán.  The lake was once a huge volcanic crater, and the area’s landscape is dominated by several huge volcanos.

Atitlán is surrounded by small villages and towns, and hotels or guesthouses are available in most!  Panajachel is the biggest town in the area, making it a popular base for tourists.  The town’s streets are full of traditional Guatemalan restaurants, artisanal craft stalls, and quirky tourist bars. 

The younger backpacker crowd tend to stay at San Pedro la Laguna where go-to activities include adventure tourism and all-night partying.

6 – Guatemalan Volcanos

Guatemalan volcano with flowers and lake.

Guatemala is well known as being filled to the brim with active and dormant volcanos, making it an adventure tourist’s dream!  You can climb at least part of the way up most of the country’s volcanos, but make sure to go with a well-known local guide for your safety.

The most visited volcanos are Fuego, Pacayá and Santiaguito, offering unbeatable views, biodiverse protected areas, and challenging hiking trails.  There are countless other smaller or dormant volcanos throughout the country, so you’ll almost be hard pressed not to end up climbing one.

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