The 12 Best Lake Atitlan Resorts for an Epic Stay

Framed by three volcanic peaks and lush greenery, the turquoise waters that fill the caldera in Lake Atitlan are one of Guatemala’s most spectacular wonders.

So it’s no surprise that new Lake Atitlan resorts are popping up practically once a month!

This stunning, tranquil lake is home to several stunning lakeside towns which fringe the lake’s shores, most only accessible by boat.

These once-sleepy towns are slowly livening up, meeting the demand of people who want to stay in a stunning Guatemalan eco resort in Atitlan with an epic lake and volcano view.

This post details all the best Lake Atitlan resorts, broken down by town, so you can pick the perfect place for your Atitlan getaway!

San Marcos La Laguna Resorts

One of a Kind: Lush Atitlan

🌳 Dense jungle foliage & lush vibes
🌄 Mountaintop sunrise & sunset views
🧘 Yoga classes on-site
🌱 Vegan restaurant on-site

Book your stay at Lush Atitlan here

Our top choice in San Marcos La Laguna is Lush Atitlan, and boy does it ever live up to its name!

This stunning eco hotel was is built into the side of a hill so that its terra cotta roofs and whitewashed walls just barely peek out of the dense mountain foliage. 

Every one of the resort’s rooms is unique and fully personalized. Imagine brushing your teeth in a bathroom with rock-cave walls or lying on your plush platform bed while looking up at rich wood paneling and unique stucco walls. In a way, it’s like each room is its own little adventure!

The resort’s exterior is also something to write home about,  with mountain and lake views as well as beautiful forest and gardens that you can stroll through.

The town of San Marcos is cute but lively, so don’t be surprised if you hear some live music on the breeze!

Lush Atitlan is also the home of a local favorite – La Terraza restaurant – which serves locally sourced plant-based eats.

One bite there and you’ll realize why it has been a quintessential brunch stop in San Marcos for over 15 years. 

To unwind, you can take a yoga class, explore the San Marcos Natural reserve or the town of San Marcos itself (less than a mile away) — all some of the best things to do in Guatemala

Whether you’re an artist, digital nomad, couple, or group of friends, a stay at Lush Atitlan will easily connect you with your natural surroundings.  

Best New Kid on the Block: Kula Maya Boutique Hotel and Spa

🆕 Brand-new construction
🏕️ Geodesic dome glamping with outdoor showers
👙 Gorgeous infinity pool

Book your stay at Kula Maya here!

The lovely Kula Maya may be the new kid on the block among San Marcos’ boutique hotels, but it’s definitely worth the hype.

Kula Maya is designed and built around the element of water – there’s literally a water temple and 4 lakeside geodesic domes that you can actually stay in!

Each of the geodesic domes overlooks the infinity pool and is near to the lake. The idea behind the domes is to give you an indoor-outdoor experience – the best of both worlds. 

Think camping lakeside where you can wake up to the sound of water lapping at the shore… and yet still enjoy a hot, high-pressure outdoor shower in your own private section of a tropical jungle. Pretty neat, huh? 

The domes are homey and spacious, each having a king-sized bed, wood floors, cozy lounge chairs, and a desk in case you need to squeeze in a bit of work (or simply get inspired by the beauty around you!). 

If luxury suites are more to your liking, they’ve got those too. Each suite is designed with natural materials and funky accents (imagine rose gold metal, wood, palm, and chic polished concrete!).

The spaces play with the wild and the natural, giving you an experience that feels both luxurious and rustic.

You’ll certainly feel rested and restored after a stay at Kula Maya (especially if you indulge in their unique spa packages!)

 Drop by for a stay at Kula Maya and be one of the first to experience it. You’ll be glad you did!

Most Immersive: Eagle’s Nest Atitlan

🧘 Yoga, meditation, breathwork, and wellness classes
💃 Ecstatic dance workshops
🧖‍♀️ Included sauna access
🍲 Meals and activities are all-inclusive

Book your stay at Eagle’s Nest here!

The final spot we’re highlighting in San Marcos has been featured on FOX, NBC, USA Today, and CBC. Why is that? Well, the real question to ask is “Why not?!”

Eagle’s Nest Atitlan is an eco resort with a view that will make your jaw drop. The entire place is dedicated towards personal transformation in all of the best ways.  

We’ll be honest: this Atitlan resort isn’t for everyone. If you’re allergic to new age-y, hippie atmospheres, you’ll definitely feel out of place here. But if that’s your vibe, read on!

Eagle’s Nest is not just a hotel but an experience. They’re best known for their “Movement Medicine” events, encouraging an atmosphere of connection and coexistence through ecstatic dance exercises. 

The resort also invites world-class artists and wellness gurus to come to teach classes on various topics: metaphysics, yoga, photography, astrology, you name it! 

You’ll never know who will be teaching, but chances are you’ll learn a lot and grow more into yourself. Just think who you’ll be by the time you leave!

And hey, even if your stay at Eagle’s Nest doesn’t end up being personally transformative, at least it’ll be pretty, with stunning views nearly everywhere you look.

Eagle’s Nest is an all-inclusive experience, so all activities, 3 meals per day, and access to the sauna are all included with your stay. 

When it’s time for sleep or personal time, you can kick back in your room. But first you’ll have to decide if you want to stay in the Fox Queen Cabin, Elephant Queen Cabin, Boa Twin Cabin, Asteroid Queen Cabin (and yes, each room is just as unique and awesome as it sounds!). 

If you want to save some money,  you can opt to go community-style and stay in one of the dormitory rooms.  

However you choose to spend your time at Eagle’s Nest, you’ll connect more with your body, health, and community, all while enjoying one of the most unique resort vibes ever.

This isn’t like any old all-inclusive!

Santa Cruz La Laguna Resorts

Best Place to Unwind: Hotel & Restaurant Arca de Noe

🏊 Private beach rental & direct lake access
🔥 Fire pits, hammocks & lounging areas
🌅 Sunrise & sunset views

Book your stay at Arca de Noe here!

Want to experience a restful stay right on the waterfront? We thought so! 

At Arca de Noe, you can stay in your very own beach or waterfront bungalow. If renting a private beach is your thing, you can do that too!

This place is hands down the best place for sitting. Yep, just sitting around – one of life’s most overlooked comforts. 

There are lovely porches, stone patios, and terrace gardens everywhere with comfy chairs for sitting and taking in the views.

Oh, there’s also a fire pit and plenty of hammocks scattered around to add a little variety to all that lounging. 

Wake up early if you can to catch both the sunrise and the sunset against a volcano backdrop overlooking the water. 

While it may be hard to make yourself go inside at the end of the day, the rooms themselves are pleasant retreats in their own right. 

Made with natural elements, the rooms are simple but have little details to keep you charmed and comfortable (they offer standard, double, and triple rooms for parties of all sizes). 

While the hotel is right in the center of Santa Cruz La Laguna, it is also a small world by itself. Whether or not you explore beyond its borders is completely up to you.

Hostel, Budget Friendly: La Iguana Perdida

💵 Budget-friendly hostel
🤝 Friendly, social atmosphere for solo travelers
🤿 Scuba diving school on-site

Book your stay at La Iguana Perdida here!

At La Iguana Perdida (“The Lost Iguana”), you’re actually more likely to be “found” than “lost.” 

Travelers from around the world come to this hostel-style destination, so you just might meet your next travel buddy at the bar or restaurant! 

Dinner at La Iguana Perdida is an all-you-can-eat buffet, so you’ll have plenty of time to mingle, or if you’re the talented sort, you can show off your skills at their open mic Wednesdays. 

Another reason we love this hostel is because it is so darn colorful! Wall murals, comfy bedspreads, and painted murals evoke the vibrancy of your surroundings and stir your spirit of adventure. 

Thankfully, La Iguana Perdida has access to tons of local activities – which you’ll now be able to afford more of, since La Iguana Perdida offers rooms for all budgets.  

If you’re a diver (or want to be), La Iguana Perdida is definitely the place for you! 

Home of Ati Divers, La Iguana Perdida has the only dive shop in Lake Atitlan, which offers a variety of PADI certifications and fun dives. If you need to check the Altitude Specialty course off your dive list, they’ve got you covered! 

They offer that PADI certification, and you can finish it in a day.  

Never been scuba diving before? Perfect! Ati Divers will teach you so that you can explore Lake Atitlan from a new (and literally immersive!) angle. 

The One With the Treehouse: Atitlan Sunset Lodge

🌳 Treehouse with beautiful views
💻 Good WiFi
🌱 Vegan restaurant on-site

Book your stay at Atitlan Sunset Lodge here!

If you’re a digital nomad looking for a long-term stay with character, check out the beautiful Atitlan Sunset Lodge

This charming little lodge even has a treehouse room with a workstation with a view to die for. 

If the treehouse is already booked, you can stay in any of the lodge’s other 4 independent apartments, all of which have spectacular views of Lake Atitlan and its three volcanoes.  

Each apartment (including the treehouse) has a fully equipped kitchen, a large seating area, a dining table, purified drinking water, and good wifi. 

When it’s time to get out and about, you can relive your childhood on the wooden swing, try out stand up paddle boarding on the lake, or relax in the sauna or solar-heated hot tub.  

When it’s time for dinner, you can mosey on over to the resort’s new, lakefront lounge area for drinks before dining at Restaurant Okaniko, the plant-based wonder that even non-vegans love.

Whether you’re looking for your next nomadic home base, a memorable trip with friends, or a romantic getaway, Atitlan Sunset Lodge is sure to dish up plenty of excitement during your visit.

San Juan La Laguna Resorts

Bird Watchers’ Paradise: Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan

🦜 Bird-watching paradise
🌳 Secluded, natural location
🌊 Direct waterfront access

Book your stay at Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan here!

Whether you’re a proud birder or someone who simply enjoys being in the company of feathered friends, Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan is the place for you! This hotel with a B&B feel has a specialty in bird watching.  

You can observe local wildlife while sitting on your private balcony, relaxing in one of the hotel’s many common areas, or flexing your binoculars on the bird watching deck! 

For those who aren’t as into the bird-watching scene, the hotel also offers horseback riding adventures as well as free kayak rentals. 

And everyone enjoys the on-site restaurant overlooking the lake because in addition to having excellent eats, it’s designed after the style of the local, 200-year-old church. How cool is that?

The location of Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan is secluded, which means you’ll need to walk for a few minutes before finding a tuk tuk to take you into town, but that’s exactly why the birds flock here.

And there’s really no need to go into town unless you want to. Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan is located right on Lake Atitlan, guaranteeing fantastic views and immediate access to water activities. 

Each room comes with a private bathroom with solar-heated showers and plenty of room to relax and unpack. A free breakfast is included, including organic coffee for the early birds in your group. 

Beyond being a bird paradise, its gardens and home-grown produce, Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan truly lives up to the “eco” in its name while still offering a great value for guests.

4-Star Glory: Sababa Resort

🏊‍♀️ Stunning infinity pool
🌟🌟🌟🌟 star luxury
🤳Instagram-worthy grounds
🌊 Direct lake access with dock and sundeck

Book your stay at Sababa Resort here!

From its soothing, natural color palette to its gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, gardens, and terraces, Sababa Resort makes all of your 4-star travel dreams come true.

The entire place has a manicured look and feel in all of the best ways. Even the alarm clocks in the rooms match the rest of the decor!

But we hope you won’t have to set your alarm clock (unless you just want to watch the sunrise… then fall back in bed) so you can spend time relaxing in the beautiful surroundings!  

Wake up after a luxurious night sleep to enjoy garden views from your room. Read a book or take your coffee in your room’s seating area or outside on your own private patio. 

When you’re ready, take a dip in the infinity pool or rest on its submerged chaises (yup, they’ve really thought of everything here). 

You’ll love looking around at the thatched roof cabanas, all of which give off true resort vibes. And just wait until you see it lit up at night!

In addition to gawking and pinching yourself to ask if it’s real, Sabana Resort has plenty of activities to keep your interest. 

It has its own dock, sundeck, onsite coffee shop, and beachfront for exploring.

There’s plenty of outdoor furniture for sunbathing and taking in the lakefront scenery (don’t forget to slather on some eco-friendly sunscreen!). 

If you don’t feel like visiting the town center, there’s plenty on-site to keep you busy: you can play a game of pool or rent a set of wheels and cycle around the area.  

Whatever you do, make sure you have your phone handy to snap plenty of pictures.  From its buffet breakfast, tree-stump tables, and geometric pathways, Sababa is Instagram-worthy at every turn.

Santa Catarina Palopo Resorts

Life-Size Zen Garden: Tzampoc Resort

🤳 Beautiful, Instagrammable grounds
🏊‍♀️ Lovely infinity pool
🧖‍♀️ Lush spa and sauna offerings

Book your stay at Tzampoc Resort here!

If you’ve ever wanted to live in a Zen garden, visit Tzampoc Resort

The architecture here is soothingly sand-colored, filled with curves, giant stone features, and high walls, making you feel like you are walking through the swirls of your mini  Zen garden at home! 

But you won’t need a Zen garden for stress-release here! 

You can relax basically everywhere: soaking in the resort’s hydro-massage hot tub, walking through its terraced gardens, swimming in its gorgeous infinity pool, and swaying in hammocks (did we mention that some of these might be in your own room?!). 

Strolling around the resort, you can admire village views, Indigenous artwork, green lawns, and lush gardens and trees. 

If you need to unwind even more, try out one of the local offerings at the spa, or rest in the firewood sauna.

Tzampoc is only 4 miles away from Panajachel for when you need the creature comforts of a larger town, although it may require a boat trip to get there (which we don’t think you’ll mind!)

Resident Hot Spring: Villa Santa Catarina

♨️ On-site hot spring bath
🚤 Easy lake access
🏊‍♀️ Large lap pool

Book your stay at Villa Santa Catarina here!

Imagine all of the wonders that Guatemala’s Atitlan region has to offer, plus a hot spring bath! That’s right, Villa Santa Catarina has its very own hot spring for your enjoyment.

Founded in 1971, this resort has had time to get its act together – and is apparently doing something right to keep guests coming back year after year.

Located on the shores of Lake Atitlan, this resort features 33 standard rooms and 5 junior suites, all with access to a beautiful lap pool (ya know, in case the lake isn’t enough!). 

Fireplaces, natural elements, pretty tiles, marble details, hanging plants, and, of course, the hot springs pool, all come together to make Villa Santa Catarina exude major resort vibes. 

You will also see lots of colorful accents that will remind you of the stunning hand-crafted textiles that are made in the Palopo region. Every room is beautiful; you can’t go wrong!

Panajachel Resorts

Coffee Lover’s Paradise: Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan

In-house coffee house with proprietary coffee
🏖️ Private beach access on the lake
♨️ Jacuzzi and sauna with epic views!

Check out Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan here!

For coffee connoisseurs, there’s no question of where to stay during a visit to Lake Atitlan. Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan is built on the site of what was a coffee plantation before the opening of the hotel in 1989! 

The hotel is still surrounded by coffee plantations and continues to honor its heritage through its very own coffee house onsite (although you can also order a cup of joe at its restaurant, El Cafetal, which serves farm-to-table dishes from the hotel’s organic garden).

What goes better with coffee than beautiful scenery and art? Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan has all of this and more. 

With beautiful landscaping, a private beach, a stunning outdoor swimming pool with a child-friendly wading area, and temporary art exhibits, the hotel is a feast for the the eyes. Even the jacuzzi and sauna have beautiful views! 

For a truly unique experience, visit the Atitlan Nature Reserve & Butterfly Sanctuary that is adjacent to the resort.

In case you can’t bear to leave, the hotel offers long-term rentals. It’s also great for families because it offers bungalows for groups of all sizes. 

With fully-equipped kitchens and living room areas, San Buenaventura de Atitlan can be your new home away from home.

So what are you waiting for? Whether you love coffee or just need a getaway, stay at San Buenaventura and explore the coffee groves and forests.

Best for Infinity Pools and Making Vows: Jardines de Lago – View Property Here

👙 Stunning infinity pool
👰 Dock and arbor perfect for weddings
🏖️ Private beachfront access

Book Jardines del Lago here!

Looking to tie the knot? Jardines del Lago is your place. I mean, the resort has a wedding ceremony dock and natural arbor for crying out loud! 

 Its lush foliage and private beachfront guarantee your wedding photos will be ones to drool over for years to come. 

Speaking of pictures, the infinity pool at this place is absolutely stunning, and definitely worthy of an Instagram photo shoot during your stay.

The resort’s bright and comfortable rooms have modern decor and lake, garden, or courtyard views, and there are lots of chairs and hammocks for guests. 

Jardines del Lago is another resort that has stood the test of time (open since the 1950s!). 

Since it first opened its doors, it has been dedicated to customer service and sustainability.

Whether you’re tying the knot, taking a little getaway with your partner, or just celebrating your relationship with yourself you’ll see why this place is so special!

21 Unforgettable & Fun Things to Do In Guatemala

I had always wanted to visit Guatemala. The coffee, the picturesque landscapes, the beautiful handwoven textiles, the ongoing Mayan culture… the list of fun things to do in Guatemala just goes on and on. And in 2017, I finally did.

I spent three weeks exploring this beautiful country, which is not nearly enough — you need at least 4 to 6 weeks to really see all the top places to visit in Guatemala.

Partly, this is because the not-great transportation situation means that you’ll be spending lots of long days on cramped shuttle buses in transit.

However, if you have a short amount of time, check out this 2-week itinerary for Guatemala to best help you maximize your time.

But it’s worth every moment in transit to see natural wonders like the emerald pools of Semuc Champey, the manmade wonders of Tikal, the ring of tiny towns circling the magical Lake Atitlan, and the beautiful colonial cities that dot the map of Guatemala.

Come see for yourself and you’ll understand just how much there is to do in Guatemala, and why it left such a profound mark on my memory.

The Absolute Best Things to Do in Guatemala

Visit the natural pools of Semuc Champey

If you’ve ever spent any time on Instagram or Pinterest, visiting Semuc Champey is undoubtedly one of your top things to do in Guatemala.

It’s popular for a reason:  the bloggers aren’t lying. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my lifetime, and for me, the #1 must do in Guatemala.

That said, getting there is quite a hassle and had me questioning if it was worth it many times over.

Even taking a direct tourist shuttle will take you upwards of 8 hours from Flores or Antigua, the two closest popular tourist destinations. Cobán is closer, but doesn’t offer much to tourists.

You essentially have to spend two full days on a cramped bus in order to get to Lanquín.

Once you’re there, all that transit-induced rage will float away as you behold the most beautiful turquoise pools you can imagine. No filter needed, y’all: this is truly the best of Guatemala.

One of the best things to do in Guatemala - Semuc Champey!

Where NOT to Stay: DO NOT stay at Zephyr Lodge, even if it comes highly recommended by others on the road. I got horrible food poisoning there, and I wasn’t alone.

At least 10 other travelers I spoke to had food poisoning there, and at separate times than I did — meaning it’s likely an ongoing hygiene issue. I rarely ever get sick, so something was seriously amiss here.

Where to Stay Instead: I’ve heard great things about Hostal Vista Verde and it’s actually owned by locals instead of expats who just want to force you to eat and drink at their overpriced, unhygienic restaurant (no I’m not bitter). Check availability, ratings, and prices here.

Visit the Mayan market in Chichicastenango

Mayan culture is alive and well in Guatemala, and nowhere is this more obvious than in Chichicastenango’s twice weekly markets where you can buy all sorts of handcrafted souvenirs and things from Guatemala.

Chichicastenango (mercifully abbreviated to Chichi) is one of the most popular market towns, as it is only a 2 hour bus ride from Antigua.

It’s a frequent choice for day trips and for tourists interested in culture it’s one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

You can typically arrange for a roundtrip shuttle on Thursdays or Sundays, or you can take local transportation – a chicken bus – if you don’t value your life are brave and don’t mind being squished three to a seat while the driver swerves wildly around curves.

If you’re short on time or don’t want to deal with the hassle of public transit, you can go with a guided tour from Antigua, which also includes time at Lake Atitlan. Book that guided tour here!

Seeing a Mayan market is one of the best ways to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and tradition that have been passed down from generation to generation. It’s also a great way to peek into the life of locals who eke out a living by farming, weaving, collecting honey, and more.

Try learning a little Spanish before you go — English is not widely spoken here, as often, Spanish is already the second language of the Mayans living here — and be sure to bargain (respectfully, that is). If you want an authentic cultural experience, this is one of the top places to go in Guatemala.

I spent one night in Chichicastenango and was glad I did versus just doing a day trip – it was great to get off the tourist trail a bit, as most people don’t stay overnight here.

We visited a small museum, Museo de Mascaras Ceremoniales, where we received a guided tour from the owner and taught about so many facets of Mayan life.

Later, we had a meal with our next door neighbors at our Airbnb who were opening up a hotel/restaurant — a great experience with locals who rarely get to interact with visitors outside the market!

Read More: The Colorful Sunday Market of Chichicastenango

Where to Stay: There aren’t many hotels in town, but the best-rated is by far Hotel Chalet, and the price is reasonable as well. You can also visit as a day trip from San Pedro, Panajachel, or Antigua (more recommendations to follow). Check out ratings, reviews, and availability of Hotel Chalet here.

Climb Acatanenango and witness a live volcano erupting

Thanks to Kate of Our Escape Clause for letting me use this photo!

NOTE: Yes, Fuego is the volcano that erupted in June 2018, killing many people who live in the villages on its slopes. No one climbing Acatanenago was hurt, as far as I’m aware. Antigua and the area excluding the immediate area around Fuego volcano are safe and prepared for tourists, so don’t let the volcano scare you away. 

Climbing Acatenango is not for the faint of heart. To be honest, I didn’t attempt it because I’m extremely prone to altitude sickness and have failed to climb mountains of similar height.

Everyone I spoke to who did the Acatanenango hike said it was one of the most amazing sights they’ve ever seen — and also that it was supremely difficult and very cold sleeping overnight there at the top. Research your guide wisely, as they can make or break your trip.

Many of my friends took tours that didn’t equip them properly: not enough food, not enough layers, thin sleeping bags, and all sorts of other cut corners that made the trip a bit miserable.

As a result, I strongly recommend pre-booking a tour that has a solid reputation.

Doing the research, I found that this Acatanenango tour to be positively reviewed – when I cross-checked the GYG reviews with Trip Advisor, I saw over 350 5-star reviews with no mentions of the issues that many other volcano hikes have (lack of food, lack of warm layers, etc. like I mentioned above.)

Book your Acatanenango tour with a reputable company today!

Safety Note: It should go without saying, but I always recommend you use travel insurance, especially if you’re going to do be doing potentially dangerous things like volcano hiking!
I use and recommend World Nomads for their affordable prices, thorough coverage, and ease of use.

That said, if you’re better at handling altitude than I am, Acatanenango is one of the can’t-miss things to do in Guatemala.

My friends over at Our Escape Clause did it and have a great guide about hiking Acatanenango if you’re curious for more information.

Where to Stay: For those on a budget, I recommend staying at Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel – fantastic design, chilled out vibe (I’m far beyond the age of party hostels), delicious breakfasts, friendly local staff… You truly can’t beat it in Antigua. The rooms are small but so well-designed I didn’t care at all. Check prices and availability here.

If you have a mid-range budget, I’d recommend Casa Elena (check prices, reviews, and availability here), which is a guest favorite for excellent breakfast and rooftop patio with a view of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua. For 5 star luxury at a surprisingly affordable price, Porta Hotel Antigua is one of the city’s highest rated hotels. In addition to the beautiful rooms, it has a gorgeous patio and pool area with an excellent, affordable in-house spa. Check prices, reviews, and availability of Porta Hotel Antigua here.

Take classes at a Spanish school

Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish. Prices vary wildly, so don’t be afraid to ask around and get a good idea of what’s on offer. Wondering where to go in Guatemala to learn Spanish? 

Antigua is definitely one of the prettiest cities in Central America, making it a popular spot to settle down for a few weeks and take Spanish lessons. It has the most Western restaurants and amenities as well due to the large expat community, making it pricier but perhaps a little more comfortable.

If you want a more local experience while you learn Spanish, Xela is well-known for being a Spanish language hub, and supposedly it’s one of the cheapest and most interesting places in the country to learn the language. I didn’t have a chance to visit Xela during my 3 weeks in Guatemala.

San Pedro La Laguna is another popular destination for Spanish learners, and has a fun party scene and lake views to boot, truly giving you the best of Guatemala.

Where to Stay: If you really want the best language learning experience, I recommend doing a homestay — it’s usually quite affordable, provides total immersion, and connects you with locals.

My street in San Pedro La Laguna

Kayak in a volcanic crater in Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is simply stunning, and there’s no better way to enjoy the serenity of the lake than by going for a kayak ride surrounded by water and volcanoes all around you.

The water tends to get really rough and choppy in the afternoons, and clouds and rain have a tendency of settling in after 3 PM.

Make the most of your morning and go for a morning kayak, then stop by for a 5 quetzal (less than $1) fresh juice afterward!

It’s absolutely worth splurging on one of these great eco resorts in Atitlan if you can afford it, because waking up for the sunrise over Lake Atitlan is a magical experience.

If you don’t have time for an individual trip to Atitlan, I recommend doing a guided full-day tour that leaves from Antigua, which includes a boat ride through the lake.

Where to Stay: I stayed at Casa Felipe for a week and enjoyed it just fine, although the beds are ridiculously hard. Better yet might be a cheap room at Playa Linda (check prices and availability here) or Cabaña del Arco (check prices and availability here) which are both quite affordable and have gorgeous lake views.

Climb the pyramids of Tikal

The ruins of Tikal are easily the most well-known of the Guatemala tourist attractions, and with good reason. Star Wars nerds will immediately recognize the lush jungle setting of Tikal.

Tikal is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the largest sets of ruins in the former Mayan empire, and it’s in remarkably good shape. Some of the pyramids you can climb; others, you can only gaze upon from afar due to the need to preserve them.

I recommend going on a guided tour to get the most information possible. This one departs from Flores and lasts 8 hours and includes lunch and an English-speaking guide.

Book the best – book your Tikal tour today online!

Where to Stay: I recommend staying in Flores for the most transportation and tour options. For those looking for a hostel, Casa de Gretel is the best-reviewed option (I personally stayed at Amigos and was not a big fan — too loud and the rooms were super stuffy). Check prices and availability at Casa de Gretel here.

For mid-range options, check out the affordable but adorable Hotel Isla de Flores, which has a rooftop pool with views of Lake Peten. Check prices and availability here.

Woke up at 4:30, arrived by 6, and nearly no one there!

Stroll the colorful streets of Flores

Flores is a teeny tiny island in Lake Peten, and it’s been painted so colorfully that it’s hard to walk anywhere without stopping to take a ton of photos.

Of all the tourist places in Guatemala, Flores is probably the least authentic in terms of culture.

But it’s a great base for Guatemala points of interest like Tikal, and the lake is perfect for sunsets and quick dips in the water.

It’s easy to get to Flores from Guatemala City, or even from neighboring San Ignacio, Belize if you are doing an overland Central America trip!

Lake Peten-Itza, Flores

Get spiritual in San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos is the hippie hub of Atitlan, and one of the more backpacker-filled places in Guatemala. People say that Lake Atitlan holds mystical powers, swearing that they have more intense dreams while they’re there.

While that may well be the altitude, the hippies are undeterred and have colonized the little town of San Marcos.

There are tons of yoga classes on offer with lake views, or you can sign up for a longer-term yoga or meditation retreat. There are also plenty of vegan and vegetarian food options here.

It’s not a place I’d stay for that long, personally, as I’m allergic to hippie nonsense.

That said, it’s definitely a nice place to relax when in Lake Atitlan, which in my opinion is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala.

Where to Stay: I didn’t stay overnight in San Marcos (went as a visit from San Pedro), but there are lots of retreat options if that’s something you’re interested in!

Party (or just relax) in San Pedro

If you’re a party person, San Pedro La Laguna is your spot on Atitlan. There’s one main “backpacker street” with plenty of restaurants, bars, and party hostels if that’s the vibe you’re after.

Hostal Fe is the big party hostel, with a lakeside lounge area just a stone’s throw from Bar Sublime, the late night spot in Atitlan.

I’m not a big party hostel person (read: party hostels are the bane of my socially anxious existence) so I stayed at a hostel called Casa Felipe, which is pretty low key.

Despite the party scene in San Pedro, there are also lots of opportunities to interact with locals. I went to the market on the top of the hill nearly every day, and stopped to buy tortillas from different vendors who worked out of their houses.

San Pedro really has a mix of both experiences, so it’s a nice place to base yourself when in Atitlan. Personally, I think San Pedro is one of the best places to go in Guatemala if you want to relax and unwind.

You can also do an overnight hike on the famous San Pedro volcano for epic sunrise and sunset views over Lake Atitlan.

Where to Stay: Like I said before, Casa Felipe is a good option if you want a hostel (just keep in mind the beds are like rocks). There are also some good mid-range options like Playa Linda or Cabaña del Arco with stunning Lake Atitlan views.

My lakeside “office” for a day in San Pedro La Laguna

Check out the smaller towns of Atitlan

The most popular touristic towns ringing Lake Atitlan are Panajachel, San Pedro, and San Marcos.

But make sure to take a day trip or even stay a few nights at one of the other less visited towns in Atitlan, like Santiago Atitlan, Santa Clara, or San Jose.

You’ll get a more complete picture of Mayan life in this special part of the world that truly offers the best of Guatemala.

If you’re only visiting Atitlan on a day trip from Antigua, check this tour to make the most of your day: it covers San Juan la Laguna, San Pedro, and Santiago Atitlan.

Book your Antigua to Atitlan tour today!

Where to Stay: Check out Airbnb for options in the smaller towns of Atitlan, or organize a homestay with a language school.

Wake up before sunrise to hike Indian Nose

Want to do a quick, rewarding hike in one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala?

Indian Nose is the non-politically correct name for a nearby mountain flanking Lake Atitlan, a short distance from San Pedro.

Tour companies will offer a transfer and guided tour for a reasonable 100 quetzales ($14).

I recommend going with a guide as I have heard stories of people being robbed walking independently to Indian Nose; this should not happen if you have a guide.

If you have a few days in San Pedro, this is one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

Where to Stay: Check out my suggestions above for San Pedro La Laguna.

Image credit Lawrence Murray, Creative Commons

Give back to the local community

There’s no denying that Guatemala is a developing country. The poverty rate hovers around 50%, with indigenous peoples typically far more impoverished than non-indigenous.

If you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in Guatemala, volunteering in Guatemala is a great way to give back to a community that you’ve enjoyed traveling in.

Where to Stay: Varies, depending on what project you want to work on!

Roast marshmallows on an active volcano

Because s’mores always taste better when roasted over lava, am I right?

It’s one of the more blatantly touristy things to do in Guatemala, but how can you resist?

Pacaya Volcano is known for its easily accessible lava fields where you can easily roast s’mores from a safe distance.

There’s no better story than roasting marshmallows on an active volcano, as far as I can tell!

Marshmallows come included on most tours leaving Antigua to visit Pacaya, so join the fun!

This tour leaving from Antigua has nearly a perfect rating on Get Your Guide, which is my preferred platform for booking tours in Central America (where local agencies often overcharge you) since they have easy cancellation and a best price guarantee.

Book your Pacaya trek here!

Image credit Greg Willis, Creative Commons

Where to Stay: Most trips for Pacaya depart from Antigua, so I’d recommend either Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel for budget travelers, Casa Elena for mid-range travelers, and Porta Hotel Antigua for those looking for a super luxurious stay.

Go caving by candlelight in Lanquín

Lanquín is one of the best places in Guatemala if you fancy a bit of adventure.

If you go on one of the popular tours of Semuc Champey, you’ll get a chance to visit Las Grutas de Lanquín, a series of caves which you navigate in the dark — while holding a lit candle in one hand!

There’s a rope you can use to keep yourself afloat – and your candle lit – as your guides bring you into the center of the cave where the brave can do a small cliff jump into a deep pool of water.

This is definitely not for the claustrophobic or the faint of heart. Being a bit of both, I managed, though climbing up a slippery ladder with candle wax dripping down my arm is not an experience I think I’ll repeat!

Where to Stay: Remember my caution against Zephyr Lodge – I’d choose Hostal Vista Verde instead. Money in local hands + no food poisoning = win.

caving by candle, a fun thing to do in Guatemala

Visit the colorful cemetery of Chichicastenango

If you think you’ve seen all the Guatemala tourist attractions, here’s one that’s a bit off the beaten path.

A short walk away from the hustle and bustle of the Chichi market, you can find one of the most colorful cemeteries on Earth.

When I stumbled across it, at first I was puzzled at what I was seeing. Closer inspection revealed that it was indeed a cemetery, painted in a swath of rainbow colors. According to Atlas Obscura,

Steeped in Mayan tradition, the vibrant rainbow of pigments celebrates the afterlife, and can symbolize different family roles, like a color-coded clue to the puzzle of the dead.

Where to Stay: Again, I’d recommend staying at the affordable Hotel Chalet – or come as a day trip from Antigua or Lake Atitlan

Experience Semana Santa in Antigua

Wondering where to go in Guatemala to celebrate Easter? Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the weeklong festivities in many Catholic countries in which they celebrate the life and death of Christ.

Nowhere do they take this more seriously than Antigua, Guatemala. Many roads are shut down for a week for alfombras (rugs), which are made of colored sawdust and placed on the ground in extravagant designs each night — only to be trampled upon by the parades the following day.

Self-flagellation (that’s the fancy term for whipping yourself until you bleed) is also on display, as are fits of open weeping, women carrying enormous floats while tottering down the streets in high heels, loud music, fireworks, the works.

Truly an experience like no other and a thing you must see in Guatemala around Eastertime.

Where to Stay: Easter in Antigua is a BIG DEAL and I can promise you that unless you book in advance you will have basically no options during Semana Santa. So book in advance if traveling during this week — it’s one of the top things to know about Guatemala travel.

I got shut out of Antigua for not booking in advance so be smart and book ahead and be prepared to pay a premium on prices during this week. As before, I recommended Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel for a hostel, Casa Elena for mid-range, and La Porta Antigua for luxury. Prices will fluctuate greatly during this time and increase as Semana Santa grows closer.

Antigua at Easter - a must do in Guatemala

Explore the ruins of Old Antigua

Well, old Antigua is a bit redundant — as the word Antigua means old. But Antigua is short for Antigua Guatemala (whereas signs that just say Guatemala, in fact refer to Guatemala City), as Antigua Guatemala used to be the capital of Guatemala.

A major earthquake in 1773 reduced nearly the whole city to rubble, and aftershocks continued for nearly six months. Rather than rebuild in Antigua, they relocated the capital to what is now Guatemala City. It’s a bit eerie to explore what remains of the former capital, but in my opinion, it’s a Guatemala must see.

Where to Stay: See my recommendations above

Explore the cathedrals of Antigua

Wondering what to see in Guatemala’s former capital of Antigua? You’ve got to check out the ornate churches and cathedrals dotting this beautiful colonial city. Catholicism is deeply important to Guatemalans, and even many Mayans have incorporated aspects of Catholicism into their religious practices.

The churches in Guatemala are beautiful, just as ornate on the exterior as they are in the interior. Some of the country’s most stunning churches are located in Antigua, but you’ll find lovely ones in Xela as well.

Check out the Rio Dulce and Livingston region

I have to admit – I didn’t make it to Rio Dulce, not for lack of wanting but for lack of time.

As my flight back home quickly approached, I kicked myself for spending so much time relaxing in San Pedro and not making it all the way north to Rio Dulce which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala.

However, I know I’ll be back in the region to visit Honduras and El Salvador, and Rio Dulce is right on the way to Honduras and places like Roatan and Utila.

Rio Dulce is supposed to be incredibly lush and scenic and rather off the typical tourist trail. So if you’re tired of Antigua and want the real off the beaten path Guatemala — head to Rio Dulce or the beaches of Livingston for something truly different.

Where to Stay: I didn’t make it to this region, but Casa Escondida is a great mid-range option. Villa Caribe is the closest thing to a luxury option in Livingston.

Admire Antigua’s colonial grandeur

Once you arrive in Antigua, you’ll quickly see why this is one of the best places in Guatemala for photography. Antigua reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite cities in Central America, Granada. Only Antigua is a bit more understated in its colorfulness – but only by comparison to Granada.

The shopfronts are painted in all sorts of beautiful vibrant hues, making it the perfect spot for an impromptu photoshoot when you find a wall that matches your outfit perfectly. The cobblestoned streets do nothing but add to the charm!

There are no free walking tours of Antigua that I’m aware of, but there are cheap walking tours if you’d like to join one.

Important Safety Notes for Guatemala

  • I heard about more scams in Guatemala than elsewhere in my 4 months traveling Central America, so be extra wary. Most seem to happen in Flores, where most people enter from Belize. A common one is being told that there is no ATM in Flores (there is) and being directed by a man to take out money at an ATM they bring you to. This ATM is rigged and will scan your card. A couple I knew got their bank account drained. It’s also common to be sold fake bus tickets as you’re being told that they’re selling out, these are the only ones, etc. This is patently false. Buy your bus tickets from your hostel or from an agency, not from anyone on the street. Be aware, and don’t do anything that anyone is pushing you to do if it seems odd.
  • While Guatemala has a higher crime rate than most countries in Latin America, tourists are largely not the targets of violent crime. Still, be aware and alert, especially if you’re traveling solo. I traveled solo in the country as a woman for three weeks and had no issues.That said, this isn’t meant to dissuade you from visiting, especially solo women. In my experience, I had far fewer problems with catcalling and inappropriate male attention in Guatemala than I did in Belize, Cuba, or Nicaragua.
  • Roads are bad in Guatemala, worse than anywhere else in Central America, in my opinion. While I took chicken buses in Nicaragua and Belize constantly, I recommend private shuttles for Guatemala for your safety and comfort. Distances in Guatemala are extremely long between the major tourist destinations, anyway, so you’ll be grateful for the extra comfort even if it adds some dollars to your budget.

7 Things You Must Pack for Guatemala

I’ve written a Belize packing list that easily works for Guatemala as well (as well as this Nicaragua packing list) but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think are the absolute best things to bring.

  • Mosquito repellent & after-care: Guatemala has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Protect yourself from tropical diseases like dengue fever with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Guatemala).
  • Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Guatemala’s humid climate.
  • A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Guatemala is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
  • Filter water bottle or Steripen: Guatemala’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
  • GoPro: From stand up paddle boarding to caving to hiking volcanoes, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice.
  • Backpack with locking zippers: To me, this is a non-negotiable for Guatemala, which has a fairly high risk of petty theft. My backpack’s locking zippers make it clear to a potential thief that I am not a target to be f#*&ed with. It’s visibly quite difficult to get into this backpack with its double-locking zipper (the zippers interlock, and then you can place them through a gold clasp that is not only super cute but also insanely secure). Plus, it’s slash-proof and since it’s worn on your back, it’s not as susceptible to the snatch-and-grab tactic. I swear by PacSafe for the combination of functionality and cute aesthetics, and I love their PacSafe Citysafe backpack. It’s actually cute in addition to having all the baller security features that make you feel pretty much impervious to theft (though of course, you should definitely be careful with your belongings everywhere!).
  • Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re caving, hiking volcanoes, or just relaxing in Antigua, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance!  It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly.