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

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase something after clicking. Thank you for supporting the free content on this independent site! For more information on affiliate links and cookies, see my disclosure page for more details.

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.


  1. “as I’m allergic to hippie nonsense” … Literally laughed out loud at this. Same, Allison, same. We took our Spanish lessons in San Marcos, and while our school and teachers were great, I’m STILL kicking myself for not getting a photo of one of the bulletin boards in town with all of the offers for what you aptly named “hippie nonsense”.

    1. I know, I wish I had taken photos of them too! So many past life regression and chakra rebalancing and crystal energizing treatments…. thanks but no thanks, I’d rather spend my money on a few more Gallo beers 😛 The yoga was great though!

  2. This article is great! I’ll be in Guatemala in 2 months time so I’m very excited. May I please ask what camera yuu have?
    Your photos are wonderful.

    1. Oh that’s so exciting! You are going to have a wonderful time 🙂 Are you traveling all around Central America or just visiting Guatemala?

      I use a Sony A6000 and highly recommend it for travel. It’s affordable, lightweight, and takes great photos!

  3. Travelling in Guatemala looks absolutely incredible! I want to experience everything on your list. Overall, toasting marshmallows on an active volcano sounds like a one-of-a-kind experience. I’ve never heard of it! Amazing!

    1. I hope you get a chance to go to Guatemala soon – it’s a wonderful place to experience, that’s for sure 🙂 And in Nicaragua, you can go boarding down an active volcano too! They sure love their volcanoes in Central America!

  4. I hope I get a chance to make it to Guatemala. You have made it looks so inviting. And roasting marshmallows on a volcano! Hahaha who would have thought? Certainly not me lol sounds like a bucklist item if I have ever heard one lol

  5. Hippie culture runs deep everywhere there; sip java and fire weed in San P. or duck in a back yard pyramid and stare at crystals in San M. either way, you’ll be parting with a little more cash each day that goes to a good cause, the investments of your expat neighbors back home. Enjoy a day there or better yet, just find a good spot to sit and make your own nonsense at some isolated spot around the lake. Or if you have more time and energy and you enjoy large groups, round up 400 or so of your indigenous friends and tap them to build another evangelical temple, preferably one overshadowing the other architecture and of course overlooking the lake.

    1. San Marcos and San Pedro are definitely full of expats, but I found San Pedro to be a nice mix of locals and expats. It kinda depends how you visit, plenty of homestay options, a great local market, plenty of Guatemalan-run restaurants and companies if you look for them — or you can stay on the main street and only interact with other travelers. Don’t get quite what you’re talking about with the evangelical temple though?

  6. Hi Allison, I loved your blog. If I’m coming for just a week, and want to see Tikal, do you think I’ve got enough time? I’ve lived in Latin America several years, and I’d like to get something off the beaten track when I’m not competing with tourists, especially in terms of the jungle…

    1. Hi Matt! So, if you want something more off the beaten track and you only have a week, I’d recommend basing yourself mostly in San Ignacio, Belize right on the border and going to visit Tikal as a side trip. You could stay in El Retiro instead of Flores if you want to be around fewer tourists – Flores was one of the most touristy places I went to in Guatemala. The problem with only having a week in Guatemala is that the buses take FOREVER between Tikal and points near Antigua/Guatemala City/Lanquin/Atitlan/Xela etc. because of the terrain and poor infrastructure. It’s possible to do overnight buses but I remember them being insanely expensive, like $40, when a day bus would be $12. OR you could do Tikal + Rio Dulce/Livingston area, which I personally didn’t make it to but is definitely less touristy and recommended by some bloggers who have been there (check out Alex in Wanderland’s blog as I believe she went there).

      Assuming you’d be flying into Guatemala City presumably, Tikal is about an 8 hour bus ride away each way…. so it does get a little difficult to squeeze that in in a week. If you fly into Belize City instead, bus is about ~2-3 hours to San Ignacio, then another ~3 to Flores/Tikal – may be easier!

  7. Hi Allison.
    Great article. Visiting Guatemala in April for two weeks with IVHQ, and then planning in doing some sight seeing for a week. Do you think it’s safe to do solo travel/tips in Guatemala?

    1. Thanks Mihir! Guatemala is safe for travelers, I traveled solo as a woman here for 3 weeks. But definitely be cautious of scams. Don’t use an ATM that someone *really* wants you to use and check that there are no card skimmers (check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5z8JZk7bsI) and do not buy a bus ticket from anyone who is not an agency or hotel/hostel. I know quite a few people who got scammed while in Guatemala. I personally had no issues though and found it more comfortable to travel solo as a woman than I did in Nicaragua and Belize, for example (not that either was too bad, bu the cat calling culture in those countries is way stronger)

  8. Hello,
    I just booked my flight to Guatemala for October. I’m there for 10days. I haven’t travelled in 4 yrs and never by myself. I did leave life and backpacked 12 countries for a year with an ex.
    So semi experienced traveller.
    My question is.
    I’m torn on what kind of suite case to use. A actual backpack or a suit case on wheels.
    On my yr trip I found I didn’t need a backpack. Every where I went I could have pulled a suitcase.
    Can you suggest an accommodation in Guatemala City when I fly in at night.

    1. Hi Cassie! I would recommend an actual backpack – the roads/sidewalks in much of Guatemala are not great and you’ll have more flexibility with a backpack. But that’s my personal preference. I didn’t stay in Guatemala City and I don’t know that I would – even just driving through, it seemed a bit chaotic, lots of police sirens, etc. I’d prefer to take a taxi to Antigua and just start my trip there as it is quite close. But that is my personal preference 🙂

  9. Hello Allison! thank you so much for the insightful article. I am going to pin it 🙂 I am heading to Guatemala in a couple of days and this was super useful. I have a question though. I am traveling from El Remate to Samuc Champey and then heading to Antigua I guess I will need to stay one night there. where would be the best place to stay. Do they have cabañas there or I should go to Coban? thank you so much. Cheers 🙂

    1. No problem. I went from Flores (near El Remate) to Semuc Champey and I wouldn’t recommend only staying 1 night. The bus is an all day affair, you need at least 2 nights in Lanquin (the town nearest Semuc Champey). I didn’t stay in a cabana personally but there are plenty of dorms and hotel options in Lanquin so I’m sure you can find what you’re looking for. Coban is a bigger city but there is not too much to see there besides some smaller ruins, and you are still at least 2 hours away from Lanquin/Semuc Champey. Hope that helps!

  10. Wow!!! Thank you so much for this blog. It’s by far the most helpful I’ve found and I can’t wait to read more of your blogs. Just one question – what order did you do all of the towns in Guatemala?

    1. Glad to hear it! So, I came overland from San Ignacio, Belize, so I went to Flores/Tikal -> Lanquin -> Antigua -> Chichicastenango (market + 1 night overnight) -> San Pedro. I only had 3 weeks and was at the end of a 4 month trip so I was pretty beat and just chilling a fair amount of the time! I loved Antigua and San Pedro/Lake Atitlan so that’s where I’d spend most of my time tbh 🙂

  11. Hi Allison!

    Thanks for this super mega useful guide about Guatemala. I am just planning my trip and I am leaving in less than 2 weeks. I have couple questions for you. Do you know what was your daily budget in Guatemala? On what things did you spend the most money? Also, do you know are volcanoes available to be climbed without guided tours?



    1. So glad it was useful! I don’t track my budget officially but I would estimate around $30-50 a day. I spent the most on the day trip to Tikal, shuttle buses, and accommodations. While I took chicken buses in Belize and Nicaragua I didn’t in Guatemala out of convenience – distances are quite long even with a shuttle bus – but also for safety. I wouldn’t recommend climbing any volcanoes without a tour due to the risks (especially around Atitlan as I’ve heard of muggings etc) but the best areas for hiking are near Antigua, Xela, and Atitlan.

  12. Great post! I’ll be there soon but only going for 6 days. I’m wondering what type of activities or sightseeing towns, villages, etc I can do around Antigua? I will be heading there after I land and starting my trip there. Also, if I want to make it out to Tikal, roughly how many days would I have to take out of my trip? I figured I can do Antigua the day I arrive as I will arrive in the morning, then head out the next day to a village around Antigua. Not sure about the in between but I do want to be back in Antigua the day before I have my flight. So, 1 day in Antigua and not sure about the rest. Would I have time to do Xela, Tikal or Lake Atitlan? Should I stick to the surrounding towns and hit Tikal next time I am in Guatemala? Should I catch a flight straight to Flores right after I land and grab a hostel there? Helllllpp… also traveling w my 56 yr old mother.

    1. Hi Yadi! With only 6 days I suggest picking only two places. I would pick Antigua and Atitlan, as they are closest together by bus, or opt to fly to Flores and then visit Tikal and then fly back to Antigua. Antigua deserves a few days in my opinion so I’d do 3 days in Antigua, 3 days in Atitlan with day trips and save Tikal for another visit. It’s actually easy to get there via Belize if you plan a trip to Belize in the future (San Ignacio to Flores is quick and easy).

  13. Typo found:
    “the bloggers aren’t lying wrong”

    I blog to. You can delete this comment if/when you fix it. Thanks for the article!

  14. All of my PTO is allotted for the year, but my boyfriend is going to Guatemala on a solo trip this October. He will be there for 2 weeks…I am passing along this valuable info! TY!

  15. I LOVE your blog. Thank you so much for all the great info! Guatemala will be my 45th country. I’m an experienced solo traveler, but for the past 5 years I’ve been traveling the globe 2-3 destinations a year with my 2 teen daughters (now ages 15 & 17). We want to do about 18-20 days in Guatemala and maybe a bit in Belize over Easter school break. They LOVE adventure.
    Please share any advice you may have on how best to utilize our 2.5 weeks given its around Easter. Any experience with surfing in Guatemala? And is fitting in Belize for 4-5 day’s even doable?
    Thanks much!!

    1. Hi Dara, thanks! 45 countires – you’re quite well traveled! 18-20 days is great for Guatemala and Belize.

      I’d suggest Antigua for Easter if you don’t mind crowds and paying extra for it – Semana Santa celebrations there are insane! No experience with surfing so can’t help there, sorry. I’d suggest something like this if you can swing it – fly into Guatemala City, head to Antigua (4 days), head to Lake Atitlan (3 days), head to Flores (3 days), head to San Ignacio (3 days), head to Caye Caulker or San Pedro (4 days) and leave out of Belize city. There’s a few extra days in there that you could play with 🙂 While I liked Semuc Champey/Lanquin, it’s pretty out of the way for your trip, so I’d skip it in favor of more time in Belize. You could also do the same thing but in reverse to match up with Easter if that makes more sense and you want to see the celebrations in Antigua. Hope that helps!

  16. I enjoyed reading your blog, very helpful. I have a question I was wondering if you could help answer. We are planning a trip to Guatemala and Honduras in January. We would like to visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan and attractions in this area. We then plan to take a bus to Rio Dulce and travel the river up to Livingston. We would like to spend a couple of days in this area and then will hop on a bus to meet some friends in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. So my question is do you think 8 days is enough time to do the touring in Guatemala or should we make our trip a little longer?

  17. Great blog! Very beautiful photos and descriptions of some amazing places in Guatemala!

    Just one thing, you mention Las Grutas de Lanquin, but you are actually describing the K’an Ba Caves, which are located right next to Semuc Champey. The Grutas de Lanquin are actually located right in Lanquin and are a very different experience than the K’an Ba Caves. I live in the area, and this is a common mistake travellers make!

    Thanks for the great read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *