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Best National Parks in Guatemala That I Recommend Visiting After Living in the Country

Guatemala is well known for its natural attractions, it’s home to stunning places like Lake Atitlan or Semuc Champey, but something I learned in my 25 years living in Guatemala is that this country has a LOT more to offer, from lakes that look like mirrors to waterfalls to impressive cave systems. You can find all of that and more in Guatemala’s national parks.

This stunning country has 92 protected areas, making up over 28% of its national territory. Most of these protected areas were created in 1990. That’s why Guatemala is a paradise for nature lovers, animal watchers, and people who enjoy adventure!

Best National Parks in Guatemala to Visit

The amount of nature reserves and national parks in Guatemala is huge, and to be honest not all of them are easily accessible or worth checking out, after living here for more than 20 years and traveling the country a lot I have come up with a list of the national parks and national nature reserves that you can visit in Guatemala

Whether it’s to watch some of Guatemala’s wildlife, learn about local flora and support them, or just for some eco-friendly travel, these national parks sure have something for you.

Here are the best national parks to visit in this country:

Pacaya Volcano National Park

As I said many times, Pacaya Volcano is by far my and my family’s favorite Guatemala’s National Park and volcano, the hike is challenging but you can opt for a horse and you get rewarded with marshmallows roasted in lava! On top of that, you can pair this trip with a swim in one of the many hot springs in Guatemala.

Also, Volcán Pacaya is Guatemala’s most popular hike, so you can expect a lot of people on the trail with you.

Despite being an active volcano, it’s safe to climb and the hike also offers breathtaking views.

woman and kids next to a horse while hiking pacaya volcano
My kids and I agree that Pacaya Volcano is by far the most popular national park in Guatemala, it’s still a challenging hike to the top but it’s so worth it.

Laguna Lachuá National Park, Near Coban

In my opinion, Laguna Lachua is a hidden gem, I know it’s far away from most tourist towns but it’s an amazing place to visit. I remember my first visit, there was nothing around but nowadays, you can find places to stay right on the lake.

This Guatemala National Park is home to an almost perfect circular turquoise lagoon, it’s stunning, and I love how the surrounding flora and the sky are reflected like a mirror on the water. You can swim in the lake and the water is super clean and crystal clear.

The 14,500-hectare Laguna Lachuá National Park is still one of the most beautiful places on earth, despite its challenges, it’s located in the Alta Verapaz department and its closest town is Coban, which is 3 hours away by car. You can find several tours and shuttles that will take you there, it’s a popular day trip from this town.

If you’re visiting it from Antigua or Guatemala City, I highly recommend you stay in Coban since the trip from there to Laguna Lachua is almost 9h, and you will need to spend the night in Coban, unless you are staying in Hotel Laguna Lachuá.

Laguna lachuà central highlands guatemala
Laguna Lachua is a hidden gem and its national park protects a huge amount of flora and fauna, you can easily visit this lake from Coban.

Chelemhá Cloud Forest Reserve, Near Coban

This privately managed protected area comprises 500 hectares of primary cloud forest and is part of the Sierra Yalijux mountain range, said to harbor Guatemala’s highest density of quetzal populations. The reserve forms part of an important migratory corridor to and from the Sierra de las Minas.

Here you will be able to spot an incredible variety of plants, flowers, and animals, many of which are unique to this region.

It’s a great place for nature lovers, here you can find several hiking paths and a better opportunity to spot the Quetzal (which is the national bird), if you want to have some time for yourself head to Chelemha Lodge and try some glamping.

The main entrance is located near the town of Cobán, and you can find guided tours there or in the nearby lodges.

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Candelaria Caves National Park, Near Chisec

I love exploring caves, I did visit Lanquin Caves several times alone and then with my kids but that one is a lot more developed than Candelaria Caves. While it’s true that there are a ton of tours in Chisec that are willing to take you there, you can still feel the rustic experience.

The cave system is huge, it is composed of seven separate caves interconnected by the Río Candelaria and spanning about 22 kilometers. The caves are 20–30 meters wide in places with ceilings typically 10–60 meters high, it’s one of the most popular places in Central America for spelunking.

But my favorite draw is that those caves were sacred to the Mayans, which were used as a center for worship and you can still find a lot of ancient artifacts inside.

In Mayan lore, caves are thought to be entrances to the underworld, known as Xibalba. The Candelaria caves are one possible location for the mythical Xibalba; the Chiquibul caves running east-west from the northern Petén department into Belize are another.

If you want to visit these caves, make sure to visit Complejo Cultural y Ecoturístico Cuevas de Candelaria. Entrance to the complex costs $3.50 (two-person minimum), including a guide and a two-hour tour. Another popular option is contacting a tour company online or in Antigua.

inside the candelaria cave in guatemala
Candelaria Caves have something unique and that’s Mayan culture, in many chambers, you can find ancient artifacts and even paintings.

El Salto de Chilascó, Near Coban

My husband and I agree that the waterfalls have something magical, and even more, if it’s the highest waterfall in Guatemala, El Salto de Chilasco, which is 130m (claimed by the locals) tall.

In order to get there you need to contact a tour guide in Coban or online, I don’t recommend that you visit it by yourself even if you’re an experienced hiker.

From the town of Coban, you can take a shuttle to the Chilasco village and there you will find the tourist information center (where you pay a $2 admission fee or a bit more), and hire a guide, from there you walk to a parking lot where you’ll the trailhead.

It can only be reached by foot, and the hike to the fall is about 8km and takes about 1.25 hours or a bit more, the trail is challenging since it’s a bit steep.

El Salto de Chilascó waterfall in guatemala

Biotopo del Quetzal

Biotopo del Quetzal is probably one of the most popular national parks in Guatemala for things like animal watching, hiking, camping, and other nature-related activities. It not only welcomes tourists, but it also welcomes scientists, photographers, and others from all over the world.

This is a 1,044-hectare protected area and is conveniently situated along Highway CA-14 at Km. 160.5, about an hour from Cobán, and I highly recommend that you visit it on your way from Coban, there’s a trail that lasts 2 hours and is a pleasant walk.

There are many other hikes you can do and a designated camp area, it’s an incredible area to explore its thick and lush greenery, and the climate is great, but the best part of it is that you will have a chance of spotting the Quetzal.

Though quetzal birds are easier to spot in the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, the elusive creatures are said to frequent the yard of some local eating establishments, where they like to feast on the fruits of the aguacatillo tree.

quetzal bird on a tree in guatemala wildlife
Tours to spot the Quetzal are incredible and you will enjoy it even if you don’t get to see the bird (it’s very elusive).

Sierra de Las Minas National Park

The Sierra de las Minas is a vast, 242,642-hectare mountain park harboring an astounding diversity of plant and animal life and encompassing different ecosystems, it’s huge and it can be hard to explore.

Since it’s still not a very developed area, your best bet is to contact a local tour operator and ask for it. Most of them will take you to the Santa Rosalía Waterfalls, the trip is exciting and you get to camp there, hike to the waterfall and even rappelling down the fall.

On the other hand, other tours focus only on trying to show you the Quetzal and while it’s not 100% sure that you will spot him, it’s still an incredible adventure.

The park is also home to a healthy population of jaguars, among other exotic species.

The biosphere reserve is privately administered by Defensores de la Naturaleza, a well-known local conservation group with ties to The Nature Conservancy, among others.

Cloud Forest Biological Corridor

The Cloud Forest Biological Corridor (Corredor Biológico del Bosque Nuboso) is a relatively new creation that encompasses a forested area bisecting the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera and Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve.

Its purpose is to provide an uninterrupted biological corridor for many species of animals living in these protected cloud forests.

The corridor covers 28,640 hectares and includes nine communities and eight private reserves. There you can find a ton of local hotels and restaurants, that have begun catering to visitors interested in exploring.

There are several kilometers of nature trails, horseback riding, and inner tubing to keep you busy.

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El Mirador Mayan Ruins

History lovers should head to Parque Nacional El Mirador. A city older than Tikal, El Mirador thrived over 2000 years ago. Its centerpiece is La Danta and is one of the world’s largest pyramids.

But it’s home to several other ancient art that depict scenes from the Popol Vuh, a sacred Maya text, and other Mayan structures.

The jungle surrounding the ruins is home to jaguars, pumas, and rare harpy eagles.

It’s only accessible by a five-day hike through the jungle, and camping in isolated camps or by taking a private helicopter, it’s a whole adventure.

La Danta Pyramid Mayan site of El Mirador
La Danta is the highest pyramid in the world and El Mirador is the largest Mayan city ever built, visiting it is a whole adventure that includes camping in the wild, and several hours of walking.

Río Dulce National Park

I love the contrast of Rio Dulce life with the rest of Guatemala, this is almost a hidden gem and the fact that it’s so diverse and is home to so many activities makes it unique.

I love taking a leisurely boat tour or just kayaking through Parque Nacional Río Dulce. The lush mangroves, limestone cliffs, and turquoise waters create a unique setting.

Make sure you keep an eye out for manatees, crocodiles, and exotic birds.

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal
My kids and husband agree that Rio dulce is one of the best places to kayak in Guatemala, it’s stunning and you get to see monkeys and even manatees!

Semuc Champey National Park

There’s not much I can say about Semuc Champey, it’s my family weekend getaway, it’s like 10 hours in the car from Antigua but you can stay in Lanquin or on the banks of the Cahabon River.

You can swim in the stunning pools, hike to the mirador, explore the nearby caves, and even do tubing on the river!

If you’re a water enthusiast, Parque Nacional Semuc Champey is your haven.

woman sitting next to a natural pool in semuc champey guatemala
I don’t know how many times I visited Semuc Champey, and it never stopped surprising me, it’s definitely one of the best national parks in Guatemala

Guatemala’s Environmental Problems and Protection

All volcanoes in Guatemala are protected areas, including biosphere reserves, national parks, biotopes, natural monuments, wildlife refuges, and private nature reserves. CONAP (The National Protected Areas Council), created in 1990, is fully in charge of administering all of Guatemala’s protected areas along with CONAMA (National Environmental Commission).

Unfortunately, with so many issues at hand, the Guatemalan government doesn’t put enough emphasis on preserving and protecting these areas the way it should. CONAP is extremely underfunded and understaffed. Logging, sewage runoff, and trash disposal are still huge problems. However, the largest problem these parks face, especially the Petén is deforestation.

Nowadays, a lot of the protection comes from private organizations and since 2005 the Guatemalan government has been stepping up to the plate by training a special police force designated for the protected areas, mainly the Maya Biosphere Reserve where the majority of the logging and wildlife poaching still exists.

Thanks to tourism and environmental interest, the park system can build ranger stations with excellent facilities, well-marked trails, and comfortable guest accommodations.

With this in mind, please visit as many of these National Parks in Guatemala as you can and contribute by not collecting any of the natural materials: animals, plants, rocks, shells, etc… Just think, if everyone who visited Guatemala collected something, there would be nothing left!

Make sure to dispose of your garbage properly!

FAQs

Is it safe to climb Volcán Pacaya?

Yes, Volcán Pacaya is considered safe for hiking. Follow local guidelines and enjoy the breathtaking views.

How do I reach El Mirador ruins?

You can access El Mirador via a five-day jungle trek or a private helicopter ride.

What’s the best time to spot quetzals at Biotopo del Quetzal?

Early mornings and late afternoons offer the best chances of seeing these elusive birds.

Can I swim in the pools at Semuc Champey?

Absolutely! The pools are perfect for swimming and cooling off.

Are there guided tours available for Laguna Lachuá?

Yes, guided tours are available to explore the beauty of Laguna Lachuá and even a hostels/camping area near the lake.

    Conclusion

    As you can see the Guatemala national parks are all great! So which of these parks or reserves are you going to choose to meet face-to-face with the wildlife of Guatemala?

    You’ll be treated to wonderful vistas along the way and to an opportunity to see the gradual progression from agricultural fields to dense cloud forests.

    I know there are a ton of things to do in Guatemala but I highly recommend that nature lovers take their time in here and spend some time in at least a couple of these parks, reserves, or caves. You won’t regret it!

    List and Information About Guatemala National Parks

    Looking for More Inspiration?

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2024

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