Things to see and do in Guatemala
Attractions in Guatemala
Careen through the jungle
Thrill-seekers can get their kicks with a canopy tour, which involves flying through the jungle via a series of cables. Guatemala's rainforests are the perfect place to try this adrenaline-inducing activity and there are various opportunities for canopy tours around Antigua and Tikal.
Climb Mayan pyramids
Guatemala's most famous archaeological site, Tikal, is 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 3,000 structures including temples and palaces as well as many species of wildlife, among them monkeys, anteaters and tapirs.
Known more commonly as Xela, the city of Quetzaltenango (Guatemala's second biggest) is ringed by three towering volcanoes and shelters a predominantly Mayan population. Use it as a base to discover nearby Mayan hamlets as well as for hikes to sacred lakes, sulphur pools and cloud forests.
Embark on a jungle adventure
Guatemala's great outdoors are easily accessible at Ixpanpajul Nature Park. This pocket of protected subtropical rainforest is ideal for hiking, biking, horse riding and even canopy touring. You may even encounter some of the park's many feathered inhabitants or a cheeky monkey or two cavorting in the canopy alongside you.
Enjoy Caribbean costal living
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 Río Dulce, giving it an isolated, island feel. Thatched cabins, hammocks and rustic beachside bars and restaurants serve traditional, hearty cuisine and belt out music with a hip-swaying beat.
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 bolster the region's appeal.
Get to know Guatemala City
Most travellers don't linger in Guatemala's sprawling, traffic-clogged capital. But if you can withstand the fumes and frenzy, there are some enticing hidden gems to uncover, including Parque Central (bordered by the National Palace and the Cathedral), the enormous relief map in Minerva Park, and the city's wonderful art and archaeology museums, specifically the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Hike an active volcano
Despite a series of recent eruptions, the highly active Volcan Pacaya 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 from nearby Antigua.
Lounge on black sands at Monterrico
Escape to the Pacific Coast's Monterrico, which offers remote black sand beaches and a laidback atmosphere. Spot sea turtles nesting on the volcanic sand and arrange to get involved with release programmes arranged by conservation organisations. Horse riding along the beach, visiting the mangrove swamps and learning Spanish are other popular activities in this region.
Purchase local handicrafts
Survey superb craftsmanship throughout Guatemala at towns like Jocotenango (renowned for its ceramics) and San Antonio Aguascalientes (feted for textiles). Salamá is a good place to buy silver, clay and leather handicrafts, while Momostenango (City of Altars) is the place to go for traditional handwoven ponchos.
See the shimmering Lake Atitlán
One of the world's most ancient lakes, the glistening surface of Lake Atitlán is framed by three volcanoes: Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro. Go waterskiing, swimming, boating or scuba-diving and visit some of the small towns and villages that dot the shore, such as the bohemian San Pedro de la Laguna and the Mayan Panajachel.
Shop for souvenirs at Chichicastenango Market
This mountaintop Mayan town is most famous for its colourful market. On Thursdays and Sundays, indigenous vendors pile into the main plaza and adjacent streets to sell handicrafts, textiles, food, flowers, pottery, medicinal plants, animals and household and farming items. It provides a wonderful insight into the local culture.
Swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey Natural Park is one of Guatemala's most pristine beauty spots. 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.
Take to the water
Guatemala's waterways are ideal for adventurers: Río Dulce and Lakes Izabal and Atitlán are a windsurfer's paradise, with the latter also popular for altitude diving. Fast-moving rivers, such as El Cahabón, El Chiquibul, El Motagua, La Pasión and El Usamacinta, are ideal for boating and shooting rapids, while the Cahabón River near Semuc Champey is prime tubing territory.
Travel the Río Dulce by boat
Take a boat trip from Livingston along the Río Dulce, which wends its way through steep cliffs, dense vegetation and lakes to Amatique Bay. Its waterways pass through mangroves, lagoons and the natural hot springs of the Chocón Machacas Biosphere. Keep an eye out for manatees splashing about as you float along.
Walk the cobblestone streets of Flores
Flores, situated on an island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, is used as the main gateway to Tikal, but the tiny town is well worth visiting in its own right. A jumble of red-roofed buildings, which houses bountiful craft shops and cafés, it is the perfect place to enjoy sunset over the lake.
Wander colonial Antigua
Take a trip to the former capital, Antigua, with its colonial buildings, huge central square and lively festivals. Despite the damage wrought by countless earthquakes, floods and fires, Antigua remains 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.
Guatemala Tourism Institute (INGUAT)Address: Centro Cívico, 7A Avenida 1-17, Zona 4, Guatemala City, 01004
Telephone: 2421 2810 or 1 801 464 8281 (toll free within Guatemala) or 1 800 464 8281 (in the USA).