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Exploring Guatemala

Our Travel Guide

I used to travel to Guatemala every month for a couple of years.  Flying into Guatemala City was always a bit harrowing.  In those days, it seemed like the government changed hands every time I visited and young men with AK’s were all over the airport.  But the people seemed to endure.  The mix of modern and ancient were everywhere in the city.  It was an amazing blend of traditional and new.  And when you headed into the country-side, Guatemala showed its beauty. Very few countries are as beautiful as Guatemala. Dotted with mountains, rivers, and forests, filled with breathtaking flora and fauna, and inhabited by amiable people, this dreamland is a must-visit destination!

Long before Spain started conquering this hemisphere, Mayan kingdoms and other tribes populated this land. During the Colonial Era, the indigenous people were enslaved and abused. Even after Guatemala became independent in 1821, the turmoil did not stop. Guatemala later went through a coup d’état (1954) and the longest civil war in Latin American history (1960-1996). However, the dust has now settled, and this dazzling country has become a favorite destination for nature lovers and fun-loving tourists from all over the world!

Guatemala at a Glance

Currency: The quetzal (GTQ) is the currency of Guatemala, named after the national bird of Guatemala, the resplendent quetzal. In ancient Mayan culture, the quetzal bird’s tail feathers were used as currency. It is divided into 100 centavos, or lenes in Guatemalan slang. The plural is quetzales

Visa: U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less. Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (Spanish only) or contact the Guatemalan Embassy for the most current visa information. Guatemala is part of the “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Language: Spanish is the official and most spoken language. In addition, there are 22 different Mayan languages as well as two other indigenous languages – Garífuna and Xinca. 

  • Sight Seeing 75% 75%
  • Cost 70% 70%
  • Ease of Travel 65% 65%
  • Activities 75% 75%

“Guatemala is truly the “Land of Eternal Spring”. With outstanding year-round weather, world class archeological sites, and warm and welcoming people, Guatemala is a must-see destination.  Often overlooked for its neighbor to the north, Mexico – visit Guatemala for a truly authentic experience.

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Top Experiences in Guatemala 

Tikal (see main photo)

An invaluable jewel of history surrounded by the dense Peten jungle, the ruins of this ancient Mayan city is a must-see attraction if you are ever in Guatemala! Some of things you do not want to miss when visiting Tikal are the Temple of the Grand Jaguar (arguably the most famous of the Tikal pyramids),  the Lost World Pyramid, and the Temple IV, which is the tallest pre-Columbian structure still standing in the Americas.

The nearest city, Flores, Peten, has plenty of lodging options. There is also a hotel near the entrance to Tikal. For adventurous folks, a great alternative is to camp close to Tikal!

Even though Tikal is pretty far away from most of the attractions mentioned in this article, it is still worth it, to come and see this historic site! If you want to skip the long car ride, some tours may provide air travel tours to Tikal from Guatemala City or Antigua.


Antigua Guatemala

Another priceless piece of Guatemalan history, this old city is located only about a one-hour drive from Guatemala City. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until 1773, when an earthquake devastated the area, causing the capital to be moved to Guatemala City. You can still see the remnants from the earthquake if you visit the ruins of the Church of Candelaria or the ruins of Santa Rosa. Some structures from that time are still standing today!

No visit to Antigua would be complete without stopping by the Santa Catalina Arch, with its gorgeous view to the Agua Volcano or going to capture a glimpse of the entire city from the Cerro de la Cruz hilltop view. Antigua is also a great place to try the traditional Guatemalan candy, including the canillitas de leche, colochos de guayaba, and cocadas. There are also several coffee and cocoa tours, ATV or horseback riding tours, and great hikes to do in and around Antigua. In Antigua, there are plenty of things to do for tourists of all ages and preferences!

Antiqua Guatemala

With a view of the volcano



Hiking Volcanoes

One of the first things a traveler will notice in Guatemala—even from the airplane—is the irregular terrain. Guatemala is riddled with majestic mountain ranges and breathtaking volcanoes. Although Guatemala has thirty-seven volcanoes, only three—Fuego, Pacaya, and Santiaguito—are active. All volcanoes are fun to hike; however, the following offer the best views and experiences:



Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya is the volcano closest to the capital. Even though it is an active volcano, it is not dangerous to hike it. It is a relatively short and easy hike (about 4 hours from start to finish), but the views from the summit are of unparalleled beauty. On a clear, sunny day, specially near the end of the year, you will get a spectacular view of the Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego volcanoes. If you hike the Pacaya soon after an eruption, you may be able to see the red-hot, slow-flowing rivers of lava up close, as well as roast marshmallows in the heat from the lava! At the top, you may also get to see the volcano shooting rocks several feet into the air!



This volcano is in the Chimaltenango department, about two hours away from the capital. Most usually start the hike in the morning, camp near the top for the night, and summit at dawn for a beautiful view of the sunrise! From one of the campsites, there is an impressive view of the neighboring Fuego Volcano which erupts quite often—all while you enjoy a warm campfire and some hot chocolate! If you do not have your own camping gear, there are several local companies that include the gear in their tour.

Fuego Volcano

The view from the campsite at the top of Acatenango Volcano of Fuego Volcano


Since it is the highest volcano in Central America, Tajumulco is a must for any serious hiker! You could do the hike in one day; however, it is recommended to make it an overnight hike, camping near the top and summiting right before sunrise. From the top, on a clear day, you may get to see the Mexican border on one side, and the border with El Salvador on the other side—and maybe even the Pacific Ocean!


The Ipala Volcano is a short but beautiful hike. This hike usually takes around one or two hours. The top, with its crater lake and beautiful tress, is an ideal spot for a picnic!

The Volcanoes around Lake Atitlán

There are several great hikes up volcanoes around Lake Atitlán, including the San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán volcanoes.


Lake Atitlán

The best-known lake in Guatemala, Lake Atitlán highlight’s Guatemala’s beauty, while the surrounding towns are rich in Guatemalan culture. There are many paid activities visitors can enjoy, including paragliding, scuba diving, water skiing, jet skiing, and kayaking; however, there are also plenty of free activities to do, including swimming in the lake, visiting nearby Panajachel, or just relaxing on the dock soaking in all the beauty of Atitlán.

Lake Atitalan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala


Lanquín and Semuc Champey


There are many great things to do in Lanquín, such as camping, glamping, tubing in the Cahabón River, and walking the Lanquín Caves.

A few miles from Lanquín lies Semuc Champey, with its incredible beauty and variety.



Semuc Champey Natural Bridge

Semuc Champey is a natural 300-meter limestone bridge over the Cahabón River. The beautiful turquoise pools that cover the bridge are extremely popular for swimming and sightseeing.

The best view of this natural wonder is from El Mirador. If you start the short hike to El Mirador early, you will get to see many birds, amphibians, and reptiles, as well as the local vegetation.

Once you get to El Mirador, you will see how the Cahabón River goes under the giant rock and goes out some 300 meters later. There is also a gorgeous view of the turquoise pools that are formed from spring water. The hike then takes you to the point where the river goes under the rock. After that, you can walk the path beside the turquoise pools and take a refreshing plunge in one of them!

Kan’ba caves

For an extreme adventure in a cave, make sure to visit the Kan’ba caves! The tour in these dark caves is done exclusively by candlelight, although you may take your own waterproof flashlight if you wish. In the caves, you will be able to walk in the river through different depths, swim in the pools inside, climb a waterfall, and see the majestic rock formations!

There are many more things to do nearby, including jumping into the river from giant swings, swimming in the river, relaxing while tubing down the river, and kayaking.


Rio Dulce National Park

Located near the Atlantic Ocean, connecting Lake Izabal to the Amatíque Bay, Rio Dulce is gifted with all kinds of wildlife and natural beauty. This natural reserve is a home to the endangered West Indian manatee, as well as other animals.

San Felipe Castle

This castle was built by the Spanish on this strategic place to protect from the Caribbean Pirates, as well as to serve as a prison. The fort was abandoned in 1817 but was restored in 1955 to serve as a tourist attraction. The fort, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the biggest attraction in the area!

Transportation in Guatemala

Rent a car

The easiest and most comfortable way to move around in Guatemala is to rent a car. There are plenty of car rental options just outside of La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. If you are planning to go to remote places, you should probably consider renting a 4 by 4 truck. Keep in mind that Guatemala has some very mountainous terrain, which means that traveling on the highways is slow and very tortuous.

Hop on a bus

The normal busses seen all around the city are not very safe, so I would recommend staying away from those; however, there are some formal bus companies that have affordable, safe options to travel deep into Guatemala. Checking in on those could be a good idea!

Taxis and Tuc Tucs

If you need to move around within the city, you can call for a Taxi or an Uber.

For moving around in little towns, you could also flag down a Tuc Tuc, which is like a three-wheel taxi. These are usually unexpensive and safe!


These are only a few of the most beautiful and enjoyable places to visit in Guatemala. Whether you are a nature lover, a history nerd, an avid adventurer, or even if you just want a relaxing vacation, you will find something perfect for you in Guatemala! Just do not forget to bring a good camera to capture all the thrilling moments you are sure to have here!



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