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18 of My Family’s Favorite Outdoor Activities in Guatemala

Outdoor activities in Guatemala are wide, there’s a lot to choose from since the country’s main attraction is its nature, but there are some of them that are unique and give you that one-in-a-lifetime feeling. From hiking to the top of a volcano to releasing baby turtles, there’s an outdoor activity for everyone.

I lived in the country for more than 20 years, raised my kids here, and together with my husband have a hunch for adventure, we traveled around the country (and the world at this point) so they could do rock climbing, and we came across with an untapped amount of outdoor adventure in Guatemala.

woman and kids holding sea turtles in Guatemala
One of my favorite outdoor activities in Guatemala is releasing baby turtles in Monterrico, the black sand makes it even more unique, and my kids had a blast.

Hike to the top of Acatenango Volcano

By far, one of the most popular outdoor activities to do in Guatemala is hiking to the top of Acatenango and checking out the amazing views of Fuego Volcano spitting out lava, smoke, and ashes.

I did this hike several times and it’s quite challenging since the path is mostly steep, but you can hire a horse or a mule to do a good portion of the trail.

It’s worth the challenge, the tour takes about 6 hours, and I highly recommend camping overnight and checking out the stars and sunrise.

Make sure to visit it during the dry season, from November to February when the weather is dry and clear.

You can book a guided tour online or in Antigua, you can also hire a local guide from the village of La Soledad.

Acatenango Volcano Hike
Hiking Acatenango is not for the faint of heart, I did it a couple of times and it’s very steep but the views of Fuego Volcano make it worth it.

Roast Marshmallows in Pacaya Volcano

This is one of the most active and accessible volcanoes in Guatemala, and while the Pacaya hike is easier than the Acatenango one, it’s still challenging. You can also do it on top of a horse.

It’s my family’s favorite hike since here you are able to see lava flows and steam vents. It takes like 2 hours to complete and it’s suitable for beginners.

You can eat pizza baked in a volcanic oven, and roast marshmallows in the hot spots, which makes this one of the top things to do in the country.

The best time to hike Pacaya Volcano is from March to May when the lava is more visible and the weather is warm.

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Do a Boat Tour in Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, it’s surrounded by volcanos and true Mayan villages, and it’s close to Antigua, making it perfect for a day trip but I highly recommend you stay over, there are several Airbnb on the shore of the lake.

We visited the lake several times each year, it was one of our main weekend getaways, and we even stayed in a glass house near the lake.

But if it’s your first time, chances are that you get to Panajachel, and once on the lake you can do several activities, but the best one is doing a boat tour around the lake and visiting other villages, like Santa Cruz La Laguna and San Juan La Laguna.

But that’s not it, there are other activities like mountain biking, standup paddle boarding, and even swimming on the lake.

Some of the best hiking spots around Lake Atitlan are San Pedro Volcano, Indian Nose, Santa Cruz, San Marcos, and Santiago.

a man kayaking with a kid in lake atitlan guatemala
Hands down the best kayaking and SUP spot in the country is Lake Atitlan, my husband could spend hours kayaking here.

Visit Lanquin Caves

I visited Lanquin Caves several times, I even took my kids there, it’s a cave but most of it is now developed for you to explore. It has lights and well-marked paths.

These are some of the largest and most impressive caves in Guatemala, a network of chambers, passages, and interesting rock formations. It’s home to thousands of bats, spiders, and other creatures.

If you get there for the sunset you can see all the bats leaving the cave to go hunt for food, it’s a magical experience.

The caving tour in the Lanquin Caves takes about 2 hours and is suitable for all kinds of ages.

You can also swim, or tube in the Cahabon River, or visit the nearby Semuc Champey.

woman exploring lanquin caves in san agustin lanquin guatemala
Lanquin Cave is the perfect outdoor adventure for those looking for something different, and it’s still close enough to go for a swim in Semuc.

Take a Swim in Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Guatemala, but more than that one of the best places to take a refreshing dip!

That’s because Semuc Champey is composed of different limestone bridges that cascade one on top of the other and that create beautiful turquoise pools.

This is one of the most beautiful and unique natural wonders in Guatemala, a must-visit, it’s home to a series of turquoise pools, cascading over a limestone bridge, above a hidden river.

Here you can take a swim or tube on the Semuc Champey, and enjoy the views of the pools, the waterfalls, and the jungle.

You can also jump, or slide in the pools, hike to the viewpoint and enjoy the views.

woman sitting next to a natural pool in semuc champey guatemala
My friends and I agree that Semuc Champey is the best spot for a swim, its ponds are super refreshing and clean.

Try Kayaking in Rio Dulce

Rio Dulce is another of my favorite places in the country, it’s true nature and adventure, and the main getaway to Livingston and the Caribbean side of Guatemala

My kids loved kayaking on the river, and there’s so much to explore around that hiring a boat is the best way to fully appreciate the area.

You can hire a tour that will take you to the Castillo de San Felipe, an incredible old fort. Also, close to it are Lake Izabal and the hot springs in Finca Paraiso.

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal
My kids loved kayaking around Rio Dulce but the best way to know the area is by taking a boat tour, I highly recommend that.

Learn How to Surf in Monterrico

Monterrico was my family’s main beach getaway in the country since it’s a popular spot for surfers from all over the world to go, it has several surf schools. My kids took private surf classes there and they had a blast.

It offers a long and black sanded beach, which makes it unique, and it faces the Pacific Ocean and a network of canals surrounded by a mangrove forest where you can do kayaking or SUP.

It’s the perfect day trip from Antigua, since it’s only 2 hours and a half away by car. You can find several shuttles but it’s easy to drive there by yourself.

But what really makes Monterrico stand out is the baby turtle release to the ocean, it’s an incredible activity and a must-do. I always recommend scheduling trips around this date (which is typically done from September to January).

people at beach in monterrico guatemala
While Monterrico may not be the best beach for swimming, it’s for surfing and my kids had a great time learning to do it.

Learn About the Mayans in Tikal National Park

Tikal Mayan ruins are by far the most popular archeological site in the country, it welcomes a ton of tourists each year and many of them travel to the country only to visit this park.

It’s home to a huge amount of ancient artifacts, stelae, pyramids, and squares that the Maya built ages ago, you can even climb and get inside some structures. There’s also a museum, restaurants, hotels, and a camping area.

The Mayan ruins are surrounded by a thick rainforest that’s teeming with wildlife, and as you walk around you sure will spot some animals like monkeys, spiders, and others.

I highly recommend that you camp or stay in the park and do the sunrise tour, it’s magical and a one-in-a-lifetime feeling.

The canopy tour in Tikal National Park takes about 2 hours and is suitable for beginners and families. You can also explore the park on foot, and learn about the history and culture of the Maya civilization.

woman in front of tikal temple guatemala
Tikal is a MUST visit, I loved camping overnight and watching the sunrise over the Mayan Ruins, it’s magical.

Try Zip-Lining in Ixpanpajul Natural Park

This is one of the most beautiful natural parks in the country where you will find hills, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls, covered by a lush tropical rainforest.

You can zip-line over the forest, and enjoy the views of the landscape, or walk right next to the treetops on its hanging bridge.

The canopy tour in Ixpanpajul Natural Park takes about 3 hours and is suitable for everyone who’s up for an adventure.

Not only that, you can also hike, bike, or ride a horse in the park, and visit the nearby attractions, such as the Petencito Zoo and the Mirador del Rey.

kids doing outdoor activities in guatemala
Guatemala is a country that offers a lot of attractions for travelers who love nature and outdoor activities, making it a top destination for an adventure holiday.

Check Out the Hanging Bridge in Atitlan Nature Reserve

Lake Atitlan is already amazing by itself, but the Atitlan Nature Reserve makes it even better, here you can find a lot of different attractions to explore like a coffee plantation, butterfly farm, and hanging bridges. It’s a good place to take a walk, explore, and have a connection with nature.

It also has viewpoints and is one of the best! It offers views of the volcanoes and the lake. Usually, a visit to Atitlan Nature Reserve takes about 2 to 4 hours and is suitable for everyone!

You can also hike, do a canopy tour, swim, and do cliff jumping to the lake!

Check Out the Chamber in Actun Kan

A single-chamber cave, with a high ceiling and a wide floor, decorated by various formations and fossils, makes Actun Kan the most accessible and family-friendly cave in the country.

You’ll be able to enjoy the views of the interesting rock formations and inner pools as well as the history and legends of the cave.

The visit to Actun Kan takes about 2 hours and is suitable for beginners and families, the cave is well signposted, so it’s to follow but I recommend going with a guide.

You can also hike, or bike, in the surrounding area, or visit the nearby Flores Island and Lake Peten Itza.

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Visit Old Mayan Sites in Candelaria Caves

Candelaria Caves are also impressive cave systems, and those offer a more rustic experience. You need to hire a guide in order to visit the caves! Here you won’t find man-made structures, it’s mostly true and raw cave exploration.

The Candelaria Caves were used by the ancient Maya for ceremonies and rituals, making them the most sacred and historical caves in the country. You can in fact still see several of the ancient artifacts inside the caves, as well as sculptures, paintings, and offerings.

The caving tour in the Candelaria Caves takes about 4 to 5 hours and is a complex adventure, you sure need preparation and a guide to make a successful trip.

You can also visit the nearby archaeological sites, of Tikal, El Mirador, Uaxactun, and Yaxha, as well as the nature reserves.

inside a cave in guatemala

Try Tubing in the Cahabon River

Flowing from the Alta Verapaz region to the Caribbean coast, passing through waterfalls, and caves, the Cahabon River is one of the main attractions in San Agustin Lanquin and is perfect to pair with a visit to Semuc Champey and Lanquin Caves.

It is the perfect place to practice rafting or tubing and enjoy the views of the landscape, and the thrill of the adventure.

You can find several hotels, eco-lodges, and hostels around the lake and those offer a unique stay for those who want to wind off.

Most of the rafting or tubing tours on the Cahabon River take 4 hours or less, and there are different rapids levels, so talk about it with your tour guide.

Ride a Horse o Do an ATV Tour in Antigua

Antigua is one of the main attractions of the country, and here is where I lived and raised my kids for more than 20 years, it’s small but comfy and stunning, also, being surrounded by volcanoes makes it even more special.

Around Antigua you can find a ton of different fincas (farms) and most of them offer coffee plantation tours, canopy tours, and yes, horseback riding tours. I personally love the horse ride tours, it’s amazing.

Now, for the most adventurous like my husband and kids, they did a lot of mountain biking around Antigua, as well as ATV tours, which is an amazing way to explore the colonial town and its surroundings.

Make sure to check out the nearby attractions, such as the Cerro de la Cruz, the Santa Catalina Arch, and the San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

woman and kid riding a mule finca filadelfia antigua
I enjoy horseback rides a lot, and I have done it in several countries but for some reason doing it in Antigua hits differently, totally recommended.

Try Mountain Biking in Coban

Coban is one of those places that have this mountain-chill feeling to it, and the temperatures are usually 25° and drop to 15° at night sometimes. The building is interesting since there’s still a lot of colonial influence.

Being located in Alta Verapaz, Coban is surrounded by mountains, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls, covered by a lush tropical rainforest suitable for many outdoor activities.

You can take a horseback ride or do some MTB in Coban, and enjoy the amazing views of the green landscape.

There are a few other nearby attractions you can visit, like Biotopo del Quetzal, the Candelaria Caves, and the Lanquin Caves as well as Semuc Champey.

mountain biking in guatemala

Go for a Paragliding Adventure in Panajachel

Paragliding is not for the faint of heart but I highly recommend you do it at least one time in your lifetime and there’s no better place for that than Panajachel. It’s arguably one of the best ways to see Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes.

Panajachel is one of the most popular villages on the lake since it’s its main getaway, and here you can find a ton of different activities, but due to its location on a high and steep hill, overlooking Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes, it’s perfect for paraglading.

It’s an exhilarating adventure that offers a unique perspective of the stunning surroundings.

You can also kayak, hike, or bike around the lake, or visit the nearby nature reserves and villages.

panajachel lake atitlan guatemala

Try to Spot the Quetzal in Biotopo del Quetzal

The Quetzal is truly stunning but it’s even more when you see it in person, which is not an easy task. Going out looking for the bird is an adventure by itself and one I highly recommend since it will let you explore the country’s nature.

Most of the tours to look for the Quetzal take place in the Biotopo del Quetzal (which is like a national park). It’s Nestled in the Alta Verapaz region.

But it’s not only about the Quetzal, that place is home to some incredible nature, and other animals and you will be able to spot rivers, waterfalls, and more.

The most popular activities here are birdwatching, and wildlife watching in general. There’s a designated camp area and a couple of hiking trails that are worth checking out.

quetzal bird on a tree in guatemala wildlife
One of the biggest draws of doing outdoor activities in Guatemala like hiking or trekking is having the opportunity to spot the the resplendent Quetzal.

Go on a Birding Day Trip to the Maya Biosphere Reserve

I know birding (bird watching) is not for everyone, but it’s one of those things you NEED to do at least once and Guatemala.

Now, there are several places to do birding and several companies like Cayaya Birding that are offering tours, but I recommend that you go to the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Peten Department, which is a huge protected area. It’s home to Tikal, El Mirador, and several other Mayan Ruins.

Why? It’s HUGE and almost unspoiled, it’s also home to more than 500 species of birds, including macaws, eagles, herons, and owls.

Best Time to Visit Guatemala for Outdoor Activities

After living in the country for so long I traveled around during most seasons, and the best time to visit is during the dry season, from November to May, which is also the high season you will find most places crowded but the climate is pleasant!

You can travel to Guatemala during the rainy season, which is the one that has the least amount of tourists around but it can be super rainy, some attractions may be unavailable and flights can get delayed.

Guatemala welcomes tourists all year round, many people get here for the Holy Week, others to release baby turtles, and many others explore its nature and enjoy outdoor activities.

woman and kids next to a horse while hiking pacaya volcano

How to Get Around

Getting around Guatemala is not hard since it’s a relatively small country, but tourism is part of the day-to-day life here and that leads to many, many options to get to attractions.

I highly recommend that you rent a car and drive by yourself, especially if you will be doing outdoor activities, it’s not hard to do and can be cost-saving in the long run.

But most tourists here move around using shuttles and taxis, you can arrange transportation with most tour operators or any other shuttle service in the country, but costs can add up quickly.

What I don’t recommend is using the local buses or “chicken buses”, they are often slower, and usually crowded and can be uncomfortable to travel in.

Tips for Traveling Safely and Responsibly

No matter what transportation option you choose to get around, you should always travel safely and responsibly, and while Guatemala is safe most of the time, it’s still a good practice to follow these tips:

  • check the weather and road conditions before traveling.
  • avoid traveling at night or in bad areas.
  • carry your valuables and documents with you or leave them in a safe place.
  • have a map, a phone, and an emergency contact.
  • inform someone of your itinerary and plans.
  • respect the local culture and environment.

Things To Pack

Packing is always the most important step of any trip, especially if you are planning to do some outdoor activities, pack too much and you will have issues coming back (you won’t have enough space for gift or new stuff), if you don’t pack enough you may miss something!

That’s why packing lists are important and here are my essentials for a trip to Guatemala:

  • Essential travel documents, passports, emergency contacts, etc.
  • Hiking boots
  • Rain Jacket
  • Backpack
  • Hats
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • First aid kit, prescription medications, etc.
  • Portable charger
  • Local currency, cash, and USD.
  • Reusable Water Bottle
fuentes gregorianas hot spring guatemala
You can find a lot of hot springs in Guatemala, and many of those are still 100% natural, making it a great option for an outdoor activity in the country.

Where to Stay

I highly recommend that you stay in Antigua, it’s a stunning town that has a lot to offer but also it’s the perfect headquarters for a vacation in the country since most tours can be done from here and transportation and shuttles can easily pick you up here.

Also, I have stayed at several hotels around Antigua and those are my favorites:

Selina Antigua: Budget- Friendly

Selina Antigua is more geared to the modern travelers, it’s one of the best options for digital nomads and prices are great. It offers co-working spaces, has a trendy design, and is usually visited by backpackers.

You can opt for a private room or shared dorms. It has a pool and gardens to sit and relax but its biggest draw is the rooftop bar with volcano views.

  • Address: 6a Avenida Norte 43A, Antigua, Guatemala
  • Phone: +502 7832 1386

Hotel Soleil La Antigua: Mid-Range

Hotel Soleil La Antigua in my opinion is the closest one to be a resort, it does a good job combining comfort, good location, and amazing amenities.

This hotel offers spacious rooms, gardens, and a lovely pool area. It’s close to the central park, making it an ideal base for exploring the colonial town.

It also has a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the surrounding volcanoes.

  • Address: 9 calle Poniente, Cuidad Antigua 03001, Guatemala
  • Phone: +502 7879 4444

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo: Luxury Option

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is a living museum, blending ancient ruins with modern comforts. It used to be an old monastery repurposed to be a hotel.

The hotel itself is a museum and you can stroll around its courtyards and discover archaeological sites within the hotel. The rooms are elegantly decorated, and the on-site restaurants serve delicious Guatemalan cuisine.

It has a museum that you can ask to visit and learn more about Guatemala and its culture.

  • Address: 3a Calle Oriente 28 A, Antigua, Guatemala
  • Phone: +502 7820 1220

FAQ

Is Guatemala safe for travelers?

Yes, I lived more than 20 years without issues and raised my kids here too, but stick to well-touristed areas, exercise caution at night, and be aware of your surroundings!

Do I need a visa to visit Guatemala?

It depends on your nationality and the length of your stay. Most visitors from North America, Europe, and Australia can enter Guatemala without a visa for up to 90 days. However, some countries may require a visa or a tourist card. You can check the visa requirements for your country here.

Do I need vaccinations before traveling to Guatemala?

Yes, if you have never visited a tropical country I highly recommend that you consult your doctor for advice on required and recommended vaccinations.

Can I drink tap water in Guatemala?

No, avoid tap water all the time. It’s best to stick to bottled or filtered water. Avoid ice in drinks unless you’re sure it’s made from purified water.

Can I use US dollars in Guatemala?

Yes, especially in tourist areas. However, I recommend that you have some local currency (quetzals) for smaller purchases.

Looking for More Inspiration?

I have been traveling and living in Guatemala for over 25 years
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Tips

If you want to travel without the hassle and confusion – check out a complete guide for traveling to Guatemala.

Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out a complete guide to all the best places to visit in Guatemala.

Food

Guatemala has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 15 Guatemalan Food and Dishes.

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Last Updated on July 16, 2024

One thought on “18 of My Family’s Favorite Outdoor Activities in Guatemala”

  1. These are all really great tips! Guatemala is definitely the right place to embrace nature adventures.

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