Guatemala is one of the most fascinating and memorable countries to visit if you enjoy culture, cuisine, and outdoor adventure.
There are so many things to do in Guatemala that you’d need a lifetime to do them all, from exploring the archeological site of Tikal to climbing steaming volcanoes.
My Guatemalan-born husband and I have traveled the country’s landmarks and hidden gems from coast to coast. We’ve chosen our favorite day trips, attractions, and points of interest in this post to help you plan an unforgettable vacation in Guatemala even if you only have one or two weeks.
Here are our recommendations for places to visit, traditional Guatemalan foods to try, and fun things to do in this Central Central America country nestled between Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador.
List of 10 Things To Do In Guatemala Today
1. Visit Atmospheric Antigua
Antigua, Guatemala’s former capital, is one of the best places to visiting Guatemala. Antigua has so much to offer that you could easily spend a week there at El paredon/el mirador.
There’s no escaping the charm of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is less than 45 minutes from Guatemala City, the country’s current capital of Latin America.
Its open-air markets brimming with tropical produce, well-preserved colonial churches, Spanish-Baroque architecture, and diverse dining options make it an ideal destination for exploration. The massive Volcan de Agua towers over the city, adding to its beauty and allure Guatemala itinerary.
Take a short walk from Antigua’s leafy central park or tikal national park to Meson Panza Verde for romantic dining where the evening setting is as memorable as the cuisine. Candlelit tables are nestled among the dramatic stone arches of an ancient mansion, and the international menu has been carefully crafted to showcase Guatemalan market fare in a refined manner at San Juan.
Antigua is home to many important festivals, including the Semana Santa processions and el Dia del Diablo, the pre-Christmas Day of the Devil, in addition to its many boutique hotels and Spanish language schools Parque Central.
2. Climb a Guatemalan Volcano
Climbing one of Guatemala’s many volcanoes is a thrilling experience. Climbing Pacaya volcano is one of the most memorable excursions, especially in the afternoon when you can see the sunset.
Pacaya is the best place in Guatemala to roast marshmallows over lava because it is an active volcan fuego. Definitely something to put on your bucket list!
Volcán de Agua is another landmark in Guatemala.
This dormant volcano stands 12,336 feet (3760 meters) tall! However, it is rated as a moderate hike, and the average person takes about five hours to reach the summit. The summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. On clear days, you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Hiking Acatenango Volcano or fuego volcano is another adventurous option if you want to climb a volcano and camp there overnight.
It is best to do this excursion with an experienced guide and an accredited tour company for the best experience and safety. Before making a reservation, make sure to check the local safety conditions at northern guatemala.
3. Explore Guatemalan Food and Drink
Guatemalan Food and Drink, While Guatemala is best known for its colorful indigenous weavings, volcanoes, and dramatic scenery, its food is also a draw.
While many people associate Guatemalan cuisine with black beans, rice, and tortillas, the country actually has one of the most distinct cuisines in Latin America.
Traditional Guatemalan cuisine is quite diverse and has a lot to offer, with epicurean roots that are a unique blend of Mayan, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences.
Stop by Sabe Rico restaurant in Antigua for a taste of traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Although the black bean soup with parmesan-like cheese from the Zacapa region is a good starter, serious foodies come to sample the enduring favorite chile rellenos at world nomads.
4. Visit the Chichicastenango Market.
If you only have time to visit one Mayan market town in Guatemala, make it this one in the Guatemalan Highlands north of Lake Atitlan.
Although it is more touristy than other Mayan markets (such as Solola), it is rich in history and continues to function as a working market and hub for Mayan towns in the highlands.
The K’iche’ and other modern Maya continue to dress in traditional woven clothing, proudly expressing their cultural identity, heritage, and religious beliefs through color and ritual pattern. This vibrant market is held on Thursdays and Sundays.
While you can visit Chichicastenango on your own by chicken bus or minivan, it’s easier and less expensive (less than $15 USD per person) to take a direct shuttle from Panajachel or Antigua, or even on a shore excursion if you’re visiting by cruise ship at mayan culture.
While it is possible to travel to Chichicastenango on your own, when it comes time to leave, you will be competing for space with the locals (and all their goods).
When it comes to getting a seat, they are faster than you. You may have to wait for quite some time for transportation. The following are the top things to do in Chichicastenango:
- observing indigenous Mayan rituals on the steps of the 16th century Santo Tomas Church, shopping for weavings, textiles, and other hand-made goods at the open-air craft market, visiting one of Guatemala’s most colorful cemeteries, browsing the produce market (go to the second floor for the best photos), visiting the Pascual Abaj shrine, and exploring the small but fascinating Museo Regional de Chichicastenango.
Hiring a local guide in Chichicastenango is worthwhile because they will keep touts at bay, introduce you to sights you might otherwise miss (impromptu processions or ceremonies), and help you navigate this chaotic, colorful, and sensory-overloading experience.
5. Experience Semana Santa Or Holy Week in Antigua
The unique festivals and celebrations of Guatemala are definitely worth planning an entire trip around. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is deservedly famous among the country’s religious celebrations. Spending Easter in Guatemala is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The religious processions that wind their way across the alfombras or carpets of fruit, flowers, and colored wood shavings in Antigua are a highlight of the Americas’ largest Easter celebration.
Try Easter dishes like Bacalao a la Vizcaina, pacaya (palm fronds) in salsa, and traditional drinks like fresco de chilacayote ( a sweet gourd refreshment with sugar cane syrup).
6. Visit Rio Dulce and Lake Izabel
Rio Dulce is a town in the department of Izabal that connects Lake Izabal to the Caribbean Sea and the city of Livingston.
Rio Dulce is a popular sailing and yachting destination, as well as the entrance to El Peten, which is home to Tikal and numerous archeological Mayan sites South America.
If you want to spend a few nights in Rio Dulce, there are many eco-lodges, river fincas, and hostels.
Spend some time in Rio Dulce exploring the Castillo de San Felipe, a stone fort built in 1652. It was strategically important for centuries after the Spanish built it to defend against raiding forces from the British, French, and Dutch. The fort now provides panoramic views from various lookout points.
7. Boat tours along the Rio Dulce can also be taken to see fishermen in traditional dugout canoes as well as a diverse range of wildlife.
Because this low-lying area has a lot of mosquitos, you should wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect yourself from mosquito-borne viruses like dengue fever, zika, and chikungunya.
These emerald green waterfalls deep in Guatemala’s Maya highlands will transport you to the fantasy world of Oz. Getting there is half the fun.
To avoid disappointment, plan ahead of time how to visit Semuc Champey, taking into account the time of year, where to stay, and costs.
Pass through the misty coffee town of Coban on your way to Lanqun, a popular tourist destination known for its cave system of bat-filled chambers. It is an absolute must-see.
After a torturous drive through green-clad mountains, just when you think the road can’t get any worse, you’ll arrive at the necklace of turquoise pools cascading through dense cloud forest.
This is not a journey to be attempted in a rented car. If you don’t have a 4 X 4, you’ll need to hire a truck to get from Lanquin to Semuc Champey. Plan to spend the night in Lanqun or Semuc Champey due to poor road conditions.
8. Visit Monterrico’s Black Sand Beaches
Traveling through a mangrove lagoon on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast will bring you to this stretch of black volcanic sand beach surrounded by a mighty surf.
Visiting these black sand beaches is one of the best things to do in Guatemala, and Montericco is a favorite haunt of Guatemala City backpackers, surfers, and weekenders.
Still, it’s a peaceful place where you can relax in a simple beachside cabana, snooze in a hammock, explore a lagoon, or grab a surfboard and ride the waves. One of the best things to do in Guatemala is to visit Monterrico beach, which is only an hour away from Antigua.
9. Xela Day Trip to Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs
Body and soul can be balanced at these hot springs in Guatemala’s highlands near Quetzaltenango. These mineral-rich thermal waters are found in an area long revered by the Maya.
Begin with a hike through the cloud forest past the Zunil and Santo Tomás volcanoes, followed by a soak in the legendary, healing waters.
The pools, carved out of rock and obscured by swirling steam, are housed within a well-equipped facility that includes locker rooms, showers, and eating areas.
10. Explore World-Class Museums in Guatemala City
While Guatemala City’s incredible traffic makes it tempting to skip the city entirely, its fine museums make it worthwhile to spend at least a day or two in the country’s capital. The following are the best galleries, attractions, and museums to visit in Guatemala:
- Archeological Museum of Popol Vuh
- Guatemalan National Archeology and Ethnology Museum
- The National Gallery of Art (directly across from the Guatemalan National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology)
- Indigenous Textiles and Clothing Museum, Ixchel
- Minerva Park (with its relief map of the country)
- The Palacio Nacional and the Cathedral, with their memorials to the thousands of men, women, and children killed during the civil war.
If you stay in one of the Zona Viva hotels, you’ll be close enough to many of these attractions to fit them into a one or two day itinerary.
Itinerary Planning: Because the distances between major attractions in Guatemala are great, it is impossible to see everything in one week. If you want to see the main points of interest, allow at least two weeks.
The Guatemala Tourism Office (INGUAT) is the country’s official tourism agency. They have a Panajachel office at the intersection of Calle Santander and Calle Principal (near Pollo Campero) that has useful maps for planning Guatemala tours or day trips.
Coban: The Park Hotel and Resort, located outside of Coban, offers inexpensive bungalows with a typical Guatemalan buffet breakfast and serves as an excellent base for exploring Alta Verapaz.
Ferry docks in Panajachel: Panajachel has two docks. A shared boat to San Pedro la Laguna costs 25 Q (approximately $3) and takes about 30 minutes.
What To Do In Guatemala: Frequently Asked Questions
What do people in Guatemala do for fun?
Outdoor sports are the most popular recreational activities. White-water rafting near Acatenango Volcano, kayaking on inland Lake Atitlán and along the Pacific coast, spelunking in the Petén plateau’s limestone labyrinths, and volcano climbing and mountain biking in the sierras above Antigua Guatemala are among the most popular.
Is Guatemala suitable for tourists?
Guatemala is not the safest place to travel. It has extremely high levels of violent and petty crime. You should be vigilant and take all possible precautions to reduce the possibility of something going wrong.
What is Guatemala’s most well-known feature?
Tikal is one of Guatemala’s most important pre-Colombian Maya ruins, as well as the country’s most popular tourist destination. It is located in the country’s east, and many people prefer to visit Tikal from Belize City rather than the capital, Guatemala City.