Guatemala, one of the least-visited tourist destinations in the world, is filled with wonders from the rainforest to the mountains. As a result, many of the best things to do in Guatemala are still unknown to travelers.
Honestly, if I haven’t spent 2 months backpacking Guatemala. I wouldn’t be able to discover Guatemala’s true wonder and beauty.
But now after my trip, I can say I have seen a good part of Guatemala and I am ready to share with the world some of the best places to visit in Guatemala.
However, you don’t have to spend 3 months as I did. With this list, you will be able to see most of the places in a 2-week Guatemala itinerary.
Our bucket list will tell you what to do in Guatemala and things to see on your Guatemala vacation!
What To Do In Guatemala: Best Guatemala Attractions
Best Things To Do In Guatemala
1. Hike Volcano Acatenango and Watch Volcano Fuego Erupt
Want to see an active volcano erupt and be alive to tell your friends about it? Then you must come to Guatemala. Hiking Volcano Acatenango is one of the top Guatemala tourist attractions because you get to see the nearby Volcano Fuego erupt. Not only do you get to see it erupt, but you also camp a few kilometers away from it and hear it erupt every 30 minutes throughout the night. It is one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had while traveling.
If seeing a volcano erupt is on your bucket list, then you must visit volcano Acatenango in Antigua.
But before you go, find all the information you need for the volcano Acatenango hike!
2. Admire the Guatamala Landscape at Cerro de La Cruz
Cerro de La Cruz is the most famous viewpoint in Antigua Guatemala. On a good sunny day, you should be able to see Volcano Agua majestically overlooking the entire city (we didn’t get lucky, you can’t see it in the photo).
And on a really good day, you should see volcano Acatenango and Fuego as well.
Don’t miss Cerro de La Cruz, it is a good way to get to know the city of Antigua when you first arrive!
3. Visit a Cemetery!! (For Fun)
Did you know cemeteries are a big attraction in Guatemala? Neither did we. Apparently, Guatemala celebrates death similar to the way Mexico does. This custom can be easily seen during important events such as the Day of the Dead.
They believe that death is a part of the cycle of life and it should be celebrated as well as mourned. As a result, many of these cemeteries, especially the ones in Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango (Xela), are well decorated.
When I visited my first cemetery in Guatemala, I thought the tombstones were statues or some uniquely designed buildings. Never did I think they were actual graves.
To this day, this huge difference in culture between Guatemala and the western world surprises me.
4. Hike Indian Nose at Sunrise
If you are into watching epic sunrises on top of mountains, hiking Indian Nose should definitely be on your bucket list. Located in Lake Atitlan, it is one of the best hikes in Guatemala.
At the beginning of your sunrise hike, you are in complete darkness. Illuminated by nothing but the moon and your phone’s flashlight, you make it up to the top of the Indian Nose. One by one, the volcanoes of Guatemala are lit up: San Pedro, Agua, Acatenango, Pacaya, and so on. It was such a surreal experience and I suggest you don’t miss it!
In fact, we liked it so much that we think it is the best hike to do in Lake Atitlan.
5. Relax at Jorge’s Rope Swing
We didn’t know of Jorge’s Rope Swing when we first arrived at the island of Flores. We were exploring the town of Flores and since it isn’t so big, we were quickly running out of things to do there.
Luckily for us, we met a local that told us we about Jorge’s Rope Swing. Being skeptical at first because we were in Guatemala and usually recommendations from locals go 50/50. 50 percent good and 50 percent a scam.
We are so glad we listened to him because Jorge’s Rope Swing became one of our favorite places in Guatemala.
It is a place with rope swings, a platform to jump into the lake from, hammocks, places where you can relax, eat and drink, or just swim. Jorge’s Rope Swing has an activity for everyone!
Don’t miss Jorge’s Rope Swing when you are in Flores!
6. Hike Volcano Santa Maria (3800m) and See Volcano Santiaguito Erupt
Santa Maria is one of the 37 volcanoes in Guatemala, with some of them being active (such as Volcano Fuego). Luckily, Santa Maria is not one of the volcanoes that is active. However, if you climb volcano Santa Maria, you will be able to see the nearby Volcano Santiaguito, an active volcano that spews out smoke and lava daily.
The timing for Santiaguito to erupt is quite sporadic. We waited 2 hours at the top just to see it erupt but it didn’t. If you really want to see a volcano erupt, then you should definitely hike Volcano Acatenango (No.1 on the list).
So don’t trust the fact that you will definitely see Santiaguito itself, the hike to the top of Santa Maria is rewarding enough to warrant its place on this list. Best thing? You can do it all by hike volcano Santa Maria by yourself for less than 1 USD.
7. Roast Marshmallows With Lava at Volcano Pacaya
Want to make smores to reminisce the good old summer days? Well, you can do that in Guatemala on Volcano Pacaya!
On a tour to hike volcano Pacaya, you will be able to roast your marshmallow using the volcanoes lava! How crazy is that?! Don’t worry it is nothing dangerous and your kids or clumsy friends won’t fall into lava or anything. The lava is underground and there are tiny holes on the ground where you can stick your marshmallow through to roast it!
Roast marshmallows with lava from a volcano? Bucket list check!
Secure your spot with one of our recommended tours down below:
8. Take Spanish Classes at One of the Best Places in the World
Guatemala’s second-biggest city, Quetzaltenango (or Xela) is one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish. Want to know why?
1. The schools offer 1-on-1 classes at a very low price.
2. The learning method in Xela is “total immersion“, meaning not only will you take classes every day, but you will also have to use what you learn every day at the supermarket, at the restaurants, and more. None of the locals speak English.
3. Homestay options are offered at an extremely affordable price. Often times, the homestay option includes 3 meals a day and your own private room for a fraction of the cost of the hotels and hotels.
Under those circumstances, it is not surprising that you learn Spanish much quicker than anywhere else. It is also a good way to travel slow and get to know Guatemala culture.
Find out which Spanish schools are the best in Quetzaltenango (Xela).
9. Explore the Ruins in the City of Antigua
The city of Antigua has been labeled as a UNESCO Heritage Site due to the amount of cathedral, monasteries, and other important monuments. However, many of those are in ruins now because of the many devastating earthquakes that have happened here, especially the 1773 Guatemala earthquake.
In fact, Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala. But after all those earthquakes, the capital was moved to the present-day Guatemala City. Antigua was actually abandoned after the 1773 Guatemala earthquake because the damage was too overwhelming. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that development began again.
As a result, many of the buildings you see in Antigua are photograph and memories of the past, especially the many ruins you will be able to see in Antigua.
Top Places to Visit in Guatemala
1. Yaxha Ruins
Yaxha Ruins are located in the Peten region of Guatemala near the city of Flores. Yaxha is the third largest ruin in Guatemala, just after Tikal ruins and El Mirador.
What is so special about the Yaxha ruins beside the massive temples is the location. Yaxha is located off the beaten path, meaning it barely gets any tourism. It is usually outshined by its neighbor Tikal ruins.
As a result of the lesser foot traffic, wildlife is abundant in this area. Tarantulas, different types of monkeys, birds, they are everywhere.
Yaxha is definitely a hidden attraction in Guatemala and something you cannot miss when you come to visit.
Secure a spot at Yaxha ruins with one of our recommended tours down below:
2. Hobbitenango, a “The-Hobbit”-Themed Eco-Lodge
Hobbitenango, or “Land of the Hobbis”, is actually what it sounds like, a “Hobbit”-themed eco-lodge up in the mountains of Guatemala. If you have ever been to Hobbiton in New Zealand, this is something similar, but without the heavy price tag.
Easily accessible from the popular city of Antigua, you can go to Hobbitenango as a day-trip or stay overnight in one of their “hobbit holes”
Their motto is “disconnect to connect”, so come spend some time here away from the crazy city life. Take a walk on one of the nature trails with your loved ones, take some cute photos at one of the hobbit holes, or play some games with your family and kids!
Read our experience at Hobbitenango before going!
3. Chichicastenango, Guatemala’s Biggest Market
Looking for some of the best hand-crafted items or souvenirs in Guatemala? Come to Chichicastenango!
Chichicastenango is the biggest outdoor market in Guatemala and it is filled with everything you need and everything you didn’t know you need. Figurines, handicrafts, authentic Mayan food, juices, smoothies, Mayan calendars, anything you could imagine.
The market is the biggest on Sundays but it is definitely big enough on the other days.
Chichicastenango is a good day trip from the cities of Quetzaltenango, Lake Atitlan, or Antigua.
Don’t forget to check out the cemetery while you are in Chichicastenango. It is one of the most culturally different things to see in Guatemala!
4. Tikal Ruins, Once the Mightiest City of Maya Civilization (A Must On Any Guatemala Bucket List)
Tikal Mayan ruins, one of the most magnificent ruins in all of Mesoamerica, is located in the heart of the rainforest in the Peten region.
If you have no idea why Tikal was so important, let me tell you. Tikal used to be the capital of the Mayan civilization and the most powerful kingdoms of the Maya. As a result, the area of Tikal is enormous and it would take you days just to visit its many temples. If you thought Chichen Itza in Mexico was amazing, Tikal will surpass all your expectations.
As one of the best tourist attractions in Guatemala, any trip to Guatemala would not be complete without a visit to the Tikal ruins.
And if you are adventurous and want to camp in Tikal National Park and watch the sunrise the next morning, make sure you read this guide.
5. Flores Island
Flores is a beautiful island located in the Peten region of Guatemala. It is completely surrounded by water on all 4 sides, with only one tiny bridge that connects it to the mainland.
Cross that bridge and you will immediately notice the charm of Flores. Colorfully painted houses, rooftop bars and restaurants with views of the lake, and the vibes are much more cheerful.
It is definitely a perfect relaxing spot for your Guatemala vacation. Make sure you check out some of these top things to do in Flores Guatemala while you are there.
6. Semuc Champey’s Natural Pools and Cave
Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Guatemala. Located near Lanquin, many travelers take the 8-hour ride from Flores or Antigua to see this beauty with their own eyes.
Semuc Champey is a series of turquoise natural pools that you can swim in.
There is no better way to escape the Guatemala heat than jumping into one of those refreshing pools.
After you are done with the pools, make sure you check out the cave at the entrance! The only way you can go in is with a guide and the only way you can explore this cave is with a candle!
It was definitely a little terrifying at times but you cannot miss this bucket list item in Guatemala!
7. Lake Atitlan and The Surrounding Towns and Villages
Lake Atitlan is another place you have to see in Guatemala. Located close to the airport in Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan is very accessible and offers many places to stay.
Lake Atitlan is made up of tiny villages around the lake. The most notable ones are San Pedro, San Macros, San Juan, Santa Cruz, and Panajachel. Each town offers a little bit of something different. For example, San Macros is a hippie town, San Pedro is known for its parties, and San Juan has a big indigenous population.
Come here, explore the little towns nearby, or just relax on the lake. Either way, you will fall in love with Lake Atitlan.
8. The Iconic Santa Catalina Arch In Antigua Guatemala
Santa Catalina Arch is the most distinguishable landmark in all of Antigua. It is the place where foreigners and locals alike come to hang out, take pictures, and have a good time.
The history of the arch is long so I don’t want to bore you. If you want to read it, you can find it here.
Santa Catalina Arch is one of the remaining notable structures of Antigua after the several earthquakes that have occurred.
Visiting the Santa Catalina Arch is one of the top things to do in Antigua.
Packing List For Guatemala Vacation
In Guatemala, you will encounter anything from humid rainforests to dry and cold mountains. Hence, it is important that you have a specific packing list for your Guatemala adventure.
After 2 months in Guatemala, here are some things I would not go to Guatemala without:
1. Sunscreen. Do you want to look like a big red tomato? I didn’t think so! Pack some for your Guatemala trip!
2. Insect Repellent with Picaridin. Insects and mosquitos are rampant in the rainforest area of Guatemala. Pack some or get bitten. Your choice.
3. Filtration Water Bottle. One of my favorite traveler items. It saves money, is good for the environment, and you don’t have to carry water everywhere you go. Definitely a must-have item.
5. Rain poncho or raincoat. This should be self-explanatory. Raincoast or rain ponchos are literally lifesavers especially when you are out on a hike.
6. Warm Clothing! This is very important because you will be at high altitudes at times. Especially for your hike on volcano Acatenango, you will need a lot of warm clothing for that.
Safety in Guatemala
When I first started traveling in Guatemala, I was deathly scared about the safety of Guatemala. All the rumors about pickpockets and armed robbery did nothing but made me anxious.
But after spending 2 months in Guatemala in 2019, I can say Guatemala is definitely safer than most people think.
The days of armed robberies are mostly gone in tourist areas, but can still happen in cities like Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City.
However, there are a few things you still need to be aware of:
1. Hikes in Lake Atitlan (San Pedro volcano and Indian Nose), as well as the roads that connect the villages, are filled with bandits. Bandits are locals that will exhort you for money by saying there is an entrance fee to the hike (which there isn’t) or telling you something bad might happen if you don’t give them money. Go with a tour guide.
2. Public transportation, also known as “chicken buses” are commonplace for theft. Many travelers have reported having their things stolen while riding the chicken buses. Watch your things carefully while riding it.
3. Avoid going out late at night and walking in the streets by yourself, especially if you are under the influence.
A common question I get is “is Antigua Guatemala safe or dangerous?” The short answer. Yes, it is safe. Here you can read more about the safety of Antigua Guatemala.
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These 17 top things to see or do in Guatemala will definitely sweep you off your feet. What do you think about this Guatemala bucket list? Let us know in the comments!
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