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My Top Things To Do in Guatemala After Living 20 Years in the Country

The first time I visited the country years ago was to learn Spanish, it’s a great country with affordable prices for that but instead, I was met with a huge ton of activities, outdoorsy, adventure, and whatever you can imagine was right there in front of me and I started to do all of them and visiting new places, that’s why I know exactly all the best things to do in Guatemala.

From exploring ancient worlds like Tikal or strolling along cobblestone streets in Antigua to soaking in the Mayan culture, and colorful markets. Well, Guatemala’s got you covered! There are many things to do in this country and I have listed the best of them here!

Once ruled by the Mayan Civilization, a country full of mystery and rich history behind it. Offers amazing experiences and breathtaking landscapes that have captured travelers from all over the world.

So, if you ask yourself “What to do in Guatemala for a week?” or “What activities do people do in Guatemala?” read on, because I got you covered.

Things to Do in Guatemala

If you ask someone around the world about Guatemala there’s a high chance they will say Maya or volcanoes, in my several years living and traveling in this country I learned that’s what most people associate it with but the truth is Guatemala is a lot more than that.

This small Central American country is full of life, wealth, and traditions that are worth discovering.

Here are my favorite things to do in Guatemala. Discover these beautiful things you’ll never forget and treasure forever.

Swim in Semuc Champey’s Crystal Blue pools

Semuc Champey is one of Guatemala’s beautiful places to swim because of its refreshing blue pools where you can relax. It is a paradise of natural waterholes, caves, and by far one of the most popular and best waterfalls in Guatemala.

Reaching Semuc Champey is not that easy, but seeing them after a long ride is very rewarding. The good thing is that you can do this as a day trip from Antigua.

The crystal blue pools of Semuc Champey must be included on your bucket list. Some of them are deep and you can dive in, and others are not. There’s a viewpoint on top of a mountain, you can get there by doing a small hike but the views make it worth it.

woman sitting next to a natural pool in semuc champey guatemala
One of my favorite things to do in Guatemala is to sit next to the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, hear the water drops, relax, and enjoy the view.

 Stroll around Antigua, Guatemala

I remember the first time I visited Antigua, I completely fell in love with the town and it became my former expat home for several years, the place where I raised my kids.

I always say that the first thing you need to do is stroll around Antigua and just enjoy the view of the streets, the architecture, and the volcanoes as a backdrop. Make your way to the town’s central park and enjoy the tranquility and people.

The cobblestone streets of this historic UNESCO World Heritage Site will make you feel relaxed and comfortable, and have a peaceful mind far away from any stress.

While exploring the place you’ll see the well-maintained colonial churches. Spectacular Spanish-Baroque architecture, and romantic dining options for your loved ones. There are plenty of quality hotels at reasonable prices and trendy restaurants that serve excellent food and many other things to do like museums, markets, and more. It’s easy to fill your days here.

street in antigua guatemala
Antigua is not big, you can easily walk around the town without issues while enjoying the architecture and the volcanoes on the back.

Is Antigua Guatemala safe?

Walking in Antigua is safe. But make sure that you are still alert when unexpected things happen. Antigua is home of significant festivals and culture to exploit if you’re looking for remarkable memories. Don’t forget to pass by food market of Antigua and buy some things you can only buy in Guatemala.

Planning a Trip to Guatemala?
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The best way to get around is by car

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Roast marshmallows on Lava when visiting Pacaya Volcano

This is a land of volcanoes, and the best thing to do in Guatemala is to climb one. Something my family and I agree on is hiking Pacaya volcano is one of the best experiences to have in this country.

The hike is not difficult but you need a guide since Pacaya Volcano is active. When hiking up, which takes around 2 hours, you’ll be able to see stunning views of the landscape. When you reach the highest point, the scenery of the surroundings is impressive.

Once at the top, you will be able to experience what makes Pacaya Volcano striking to visit, roasting marshmallows on Lava!!!

Bring back your childhood memories! You can also bring some graham crackers or chocolate if you want to experience much more fun!

woman and kids next to a horse while hiking pacaya volcano
Hiking Pacaya Volcano is easily one of the most unique activities in Guatemala, you get to see lava, roast marshmallows, and even eat pizza!

How long does it take to hike Pacaya Volcano?

From 1 hour to 2 hours. Grab your drinks and prepare, the hike from the head trail to the first lava spot takes around 1-2h. Don’t forget your snacls!

Go for a Bike Adventure in El Zur Mountain Bike Park

Guatemala seems to be specifically designed for mountain bikers. The list of single tracks, jeep tracks, and dirt roads that crisscross this country is endless. Just Antigua Valley alone has hundreds of miles to ride and explore.

You can even find dedicated parks for mountain biking as well as different tours, my kids loved the night and sunrise tours.

You are sure to get the full experience as you grind up big climbs, race down steep descents or roll along well-carved tracks checking out the countryside, enjoying coffee plantations while peering at volcanoes that might cough up a bit of smoke at any given moment.

night rider bike tour, bikes on a pick up
Guatemala is a very outdoorsy country, don’t be afraid of exploring its hidden paths and embark on adventurous activities. My kids and husband loved doing mountain biking and climbing!

Visit Tikal Mayan Ruins

Visiting Tikal is by far one of the most popular things to do in Guatemala, and it’s usually the first thing people do as soon as they arrive in the country.

While there are tours you can take from Antigua, I highly recommend you take at least 2 days there, stay in one of the towns close to the park like Flores Island or El Remate, and take the sunrise tour, which is one of the best way to experience Tikal.

The vast archaeological site of Tikal National Park became historical, even being portrayed in movies. No wonder why Tikal Mayan Ruins were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, there are a lot of wondrous Mayan temples to figure out in its jungle setting, and you can climb pyramids and go inside some buildings too.

Tikal is populated by birds, monkeys, and other wildlife, making it the perfect way to enjoy Guatemalan wildlife at the same time.

kid wildlife tikal temple guatemala
I visited several times with kids and teens and all my visits were unique, I discovered something new each time!

When was Tikal founded?

600 Before Christ. Tikal was settled down by at least 600 b.c, the classic period of Mayan history was from 250 to 900 a.d and most of the city buildings were built during this period.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out the El Mirador, Guatemala: Complete Guide to the Lost Mayan City

Take a boat ride on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan is by far my favorite place in Guatemala, it’s simply stunning and no words can describe it. It’s a unique lake that’s surrounded by small villages and volcanoes, I visited Lake Atitlan several times per year and each time was a remarkable experience.

Taking a boat ride on Lake Atitlan should be included on your list to take a glimpse of this romantic setting and peaceful ambiance.

You’ll see the volcanoes surrounding the lake. Take a tour of small towns, traditional Maya villages, and coffee plantations. Take a deep look at the local culture across the lake.

There are lots of adventures to do in Lake Atitlan, plus it’s a perfect environment to get away from stress and relax. It’s no surprise that people often end up staying much longer in Lake Atitlan than expected.

Woman near a pool taking a photo of Lake Atitlan in Panajachel
One of the few places I can’t put into words is Lake Atitlan, it’s unbelievably stunning, and taking a boat tour or kayaking is hands-down the best thing to do in Guatemala.

Can you swim in Lake Atitlan Guatemala?

There are no existent rules for swimming in Lake Atitlan. This means that you can swim in the lake. Take your precautions and don’t swim around boats, that will make the drivers mad.

Essential Travel Resources

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🏡Where to Stay – Here are Suggestions


This is my favorite place to look for accommodations, it offers different types, a ton of locations, and good price options.

🗺️Get Around Hassle-Free


This one is the perfect option to look for different transportation options between cities, from flights, buses, and taxis to minivans and more.

🛫Find Cheap Flights


Whenever I need to fly, I head to this website for low-cost flights.

Learn Spanish in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Now, there are a lot of things to do for you to learn Spanish, for example, you can take online classes, tutorials, and more. Yet, learning Spanish in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, makes it a whole different experience and will be a lot easier for you to understand everything.

Xela is the second-largest city in Guatemala. The country is populated with Spanish-speaking people and the city is home to some of the best and most affordable schools in the country.

The city is stunning, its architecture unique like it’s frozen in time too and it’s surrounded by a lot of activities and places to visit like Volcan Cerro Quemado.

cerro quemado quetzaltenango guatemala
My family and I mainly visited Xela to do rock climbing in Cerro Quemado, as well as hiking to the top of it. I highly recommend it and enjoy those breathtaking views!

Take a horseback ride on a Volcanic Beach in Paredon, Guatemala

Some people might say that Guatemala isn’t known for its beaches, and that may be true but there are good beaches in the country. On one side you have the Caribbean and on the other side the Pacific, you can find beaches with white and yellow sand but also the unique fine black volcanic sand!

Most Guatemalan Beaches got this black sand from tiny fragments of basalt left by volcanic activity that occurred thousands of years ago. You can do many things on a Volcanic Beach such as surfing, fishing, and lodging. But what you shouldn’t miss doing is taking a horseback ride, one of my favorite experiences.

A good example of a nice beach is El Paredon, one of my kid’s favorite spots and if you want to surf then head to Monterrico, you’ll find several surf schools there.

el paredon escuintla guatemala
While Guatemala is not well known for its beaches, El Paredon stand out a lot and makes the perfect place for a beach holiday.

Release baby turtles in Monterrico, Guatemala

Monterrico is not only popular among surfers, in fact, the beach is better known for hosting one of the most unique experiences in the country, releasing baby turtles!

Having a chance to witness the adorable baby turtle’s release is such a great experience, I have a special place for this activity, I did it with my kids and it was a blast. It’s wonderful.

CECON (Conservation Center of Studies) Allows people to release the turtles from September to February. When the turtle eggs hatch, CECON has a daily practice on the beach selling tickets to raise funds so that people can experience and feel heart-warming by these adorable creatures that are becoming extinct.

The funds that they gathered will be used to continue protecting and preserving baby turtles. If you decide to get involved in this activity, I would suggest refraining from using flashlights or photography with a flash because it might scare these little creatures.

woman holding a baby turtle before releasing it in monterrico guatemala
Checking a volcanic black sanded beach is a unique thing but even better is releasing baby turtles and holding them in your hands, that makes it a one-in-a-lifetime experience!

When is the baby turtle releasing at Monterrico, Guatemala?

Those little sea turtles are released from September to December at the sunset or the sunrise. Around 5000 baby turtles are released every year by The Tortugario

Check out the largest market in Central America in Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango is the largest market in Central America and a whole experience. It’s full of enjoyment, tradition, love, life, and surprises.

You can find many markets throughout the towns and villages of the country, but Chichi is the largest of them all. Vendors are selling a variety of things such as clothing, food, and things you can only buy in Guatemala. There are a lot of sellers in the street and different stalls.

There are churches around the market where people do religious activities and you can see true Mayans. Make sure to walk through the Santo Tomás Church one of the historic churches and the best way to see the merge between Mayan belief and Catholic belief.

Chichicastenango market guatemala
I visited the Chichi Market several times and each time I found something new, from Mayan items to even Mayan rituals merging with catholic belief! It’s the perfect place to learn about the actual Mayas.

What days can you visit the market in Chichicastenango?

You can visit the market every Thursday and Sunday. The citizens of Guatemala come from a lot of different villages and town to sell their goods.

Tip: Guatemala is a safe place for tourists, but be aware!

The biggest issue is theft.

Get travel insurance before starting your journey.

I recommend Visitors Coverage.

See Fuego Volcano Erupting while camping on Acatenango Volcano

Fuego Volcano is one of the active volcanoes in Guatemala that erupt constantly, and you can watch it from a relatively safe distance.

To do this, you need to climb up the neighboring volcano called Acatenango Volcano. You’ll have to stay up for the night and wait until it gets dark for a show that you will never forget!

Camping on Acatenango Volcano is a must-add to your unique things to do in Guatemala. While seeing the Fuego volcano erupting. It is one of the most exciting traveling activities that you need to try.

two guys sitting on top of Acatenango volcano
The hike to the top of Acatenango may not be easy, I did it a couple of times and it demands a lot from you but once you reach the top, the views make everything worth it.

How long does it take to climb Acatenango?

7 hours.
The total time to climb or hike the Acatenango is from 4 hours to 7 hours. The path is straight forward.
 

FAQ

Is Guatemala dangerous to visit?

Guatemala is not a safe place to visit in general. It has high rates of crime and petty crimes. So you should take a lot of precautions and be vigilant to cut problems and risks.

What is Guatemala well known for?

Volcanos, and their volcanic landscapes. The Mayan culture is everywhere and is beautiful. Also, they have the colorful city of Antigua which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What is the best time to go to Guatemala?

The dry season is overall the best time to go to Guatemala. From November to April. The country has a nice climate.

Conclusion

As you can see, Guatemala offers a wide variety of things to do, and I’m sure I didn’t even include everything here.

After over 20 years of living in the country and taking some time to explore its best regions, hotels, restaurants, and destinations I concluded that the very first time that I visited and just did the basics I missed out on so much, and that is because Guatemala’s attractions don’t get as much publicity on the outside as they should.

So I would recommend you give the country more time and talk a lot to locals so they can direct you to hidden opportunities for a fun adventure that might not be advertised on the internet. That is how my family and I have ended up on the best adventures so far.

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Last Updated on June 21, 2024

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