Guatemala things to see and do

Tourist offices

Guatemala Tourism Institute (INGUAT)

Centro Cívico, 7A Avenida 1-17, Zona 4, Guatemala City, 01004, Guatemala
Tel: 2421 2810 or 1 801 464 8281 (toll free within Guatemala) or 1 800 464 8281 (in the USA).
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1600.
www.visitguatemala.com

Things to see and do

Canopy tours

Thrillseekers can try canopy touring and fly through the jungle attached by a series of cables which are fixed from tree to tree. Guatemala’s rainforests are the perfect place to try this and there are various opportunities for canopy tours such as around Antigua and Tikal.

Chichicastenango Market

This mountaintop Mayan town is most famous for its colourful market. On Thursdays and Sundays the market comes to life with indigenous vendors selling everything from handicrafts to textiles, food, flowers, pottery, medicinal plants, animals and household and farming items. It provides a wonderful insight into the local culture.

Flores and Lake Peten Itza

The unusually located town of Flores, situated on an island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, is used as the main gateway to Tikal, but the area is worth visiting in its own right. A jumble of red-roofed buildings house craft shops and cafés – the perfect place to enjoy sunset over the lake.

Lake Atitlan

Visit one of the world's most ancient lakes, the beautiful Lake Atitlan, framed by three volcanoes: Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro. Small towns and villages dot the shore, including the bohemian San Pedro de la Laguna and the Mayan Panajachel. Waterskiing, swimming, boating and scuba diving are all popular activities.

Livingston

Livingston is a colourful, lively town on the Caribbean coast and exudes all the charm of its Garifuna residents. It can only be reached by boat along the Rio Dulce, giving it an island-feel where thatched cabins, hammocks and rustic beachside bars and restaurants serve traditional, hearty cuisine and belt out music with a hip-swaying beat.

Monterrico

On the Pacific Coast, Monterrico offers remote black sand beaches and a laid-back atmosphere. Sea turtles come to nest on the volcanic sand and there are conservation organisations running release programmes that visitors can get involved with. Horse-riding along the beach, visiting the mangrove swamps and learning Spanish are other popular activities.

Quetzaltenango

Known more commonly as Xela, the city of Quetzaltenango (Guatemala’s second biggest) is ringed by three towering volcanoes and sits at an elevation of over 2300m (7546 ft). The population is predominantly Mayan and there are great opportunities for visiting surrounding Mayan villages as well as sacred lakes, sulphur pools and cloud forests.

Semuc Champey

The pristine beauty of the Semuc Champey Natural Park is one of Guatemala’s most hidden gems. Turquoise pools and waterfalls cascade down to a 300m (984 ft) limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River, and activities include caving, tubing and hiking amidst the unspoilt jungle in the heart of Lanquín.

Antigua Guatemala

Take a trip to former capital, Antigua, with its colonial buildings, huge central square and lively festivals. Despite countless earthquakes, floods and fires, Antigua is one of the country’s most beautiful cities where multi-coloured, single-storey buildings, tropical gardens, plazas, fountains and cobbled streets create a postcard perfect image.

Explore the highlands

Explore the unique highlands region of Western Guatemala (known in Spanish as El Altiplano), inhabited by the greatest number of modern day, indigenous Mayan groups - many of whom still speak the languages and uphold the sacred rituals of their ancestors. Great mountain passes and unspoilt beauty add to the appeal.

Go fishing

Whether it’s coastal fishing, deep-sea adventure or relaxing by a lake rod in hand, Guatemala has some good fishing opportunities. Lakes and rivers good for fishing include El Lago de Izabal, El Petén, Río Dulce and Alta Verepaz. The Pacific Coast is a world-class location for sports fishing. Sea fishing is rated highly off San José.

Guatemala City

See the sights of Guatemala City, which include Parque Central, bordered by the National Palace and the Cathedral. Not to be missed is the world's largest Relief Map (of the Republic) in Minerva Park, and the city's wonderful art and archaeology museums, specifically the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Local handicrafts

Survey superb craftsmanship throughout Guatemala at towns like Jocotenango (for ceramics) and San Antonio Aguascalientes (for beautiful handwoven textiles). Salamá is a good place to buy silver, clay and leather handicrafts. Momostenango (City of Altars) is recommended for traditional handwoven ponchos.

Mayan sites

Guatemala’s Mayan ruins are one of the highlights of a trip and the best way to understand the ancestry of the people. The spectacular ruins of Tikal should be top on the list, but other impressive sites include: El Mirador, Uaxactún, Ixlú, Yaxhá, Aguateca and Quiriguá, home to the largest Maya-carved stellae yet discovered.

Río Dulce boat trip

Take a boat trip from Livingston along the Río Dulce, which winds its way through steep cliffs, dense vegetation and lakes to Amatique Bay. Its waterways pass through mangroves, lagoons and natural hot springs of the Chocón Machacas Biosphere, home to manatees.

Tikal

The wonders of Guatemala’s most famous archaeological site are hidden deep within the rainforest where 70m (230ft) high pyramids poke through the canopy – once home to an estimated 100,000 Maya. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains more than 3000 structures including temples and palaces and is home to many species of wildlife including monkeys, anteaters and tapirs.

Volcan Pacaya

Just outside of Antigua is the active Volcan Pacaya. It last erupted on 27th May 2010 but despite this is still one of the most hiked volcanoes in the country. Red hot molten lava slowly pours down the summit and huge dust and lava fields create an impressive landscape. The volcano can be hiked in an afternoon with an organised tour.

Watersports

Río Dulce and Lakes Izabal and Atitlán are good for windsurfing, with Lake Atitlán also popular for altitude diving. Guatemala's fast-moving rivers, including El Cahabón, El Chiquibul, El Motagua, La Pasión and El Usamacinta are ideal for boating and shooting rapids. Tubing can also be done along the Cahabón River near Semuc Champey.

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