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7 Absolute BEST Places to Visit in Guatemala (2024 Traveler Guide!)

7 Absolute BEST Places to Visit in Guatemala (2024 Traveler Guide!)

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Ah, glorious Guatemala, one of the best countries to visit in Central America. It’s colorful and culturally rich and a tad off the beaten tourist trail which is what we like about it. Sure, it doesn’t have the white sand beaches and glitzy atmosphere of its neighbor – Mexico, and it doesn’t have the cool factor of its Central American comrade Costa Rica, but instead, in Guatemala, you’ll experience a slower pace of life, unique Mayan culture, and stunning natural beauty. 

This unforgettable nation is filled with volcanoes, cobalt-blue lakes (hello, Lake Atitlan), and candy-colored colonial cities like Antigua. Not forgetting, too, that Guatemala is home to the mighty Tikal, which was once upon a time one of the most important Mayan cities in the world. Wandering around its huge, often moss-covered temples, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from Tomb Raider! 

We like to call Guatemala the “country of volcanoes” (sorry, El Salvador!), and it’s home to no less than 37 named volcanoes, three of which are still active. Below, we’ve written about two of the best-known – Acatenango and Pacaya, which are popular because you can hike up them! So cool! You can even spend the night on the side of Acatenango!

I know what you’re thinking: are there really only 7 places worth visiting in Guatemala?! No, there are so many more awesome tourist destinations in Guatemala (namely, Guatemala City, Rio Dulce, and Chichicastenango), but we were super picky when putting this list together. So, you can rest assured that the 7 Guatemalan destinations listed here are the cream of the crop and should absolutely be on your Guatemalan itinerary!

Let’s get started, shall we?! Here are 7 of the absolute BEST places to visit in Guatemala! 

Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite places to visit in Guatemala are:

  1. Acatenanago Volcano – hike to the top of this mighty (and dormant) volcano! We recommend an overnight tour like the one we took so you can see the lava flowing from nearby Fuego Volcano.
  2. Lake Atitlan – exploring this massive lake and all the tiny villages around it is a huge highlight! Don’t miss hiking up Nariz del Indio and kayaking along the shoreline.
  3. Tikal – one of the most famous Mayan ruins sites in the world! You can climb to the top of the temples here and this once-in-a-lifetime tour lets you watch the sunrise from the top!

What are the BEST Places to Visit in Guatemala? 

1. Acatenanago Volcano 

Bailey and Daniel take a photo with Fuego volcano erupting in the background along the acatenango volcano hike
Us posing along the hike!

Kicking off this list of the best places to visit in Guatemala with a bang – Acatenango Volcano, see what I did there – volcano … bang! Anyway, Acatenango is one of the tallest volcanoes in Central America as it’s a whopping 3,976 meters/13,044 feet tall. It’s classed as a stratovolcano, which means that it’s cone-shaped and made up of layers of lava and ash.

Climbing to the top of this mighty volcano was one of the best things we did in all of Central America and something that will stay in our memories forever!

Acatenango is also a dormant volcano and it last erupted in 1972 (which is why you can climb to the top of it). However, the main attraction of this tough hike is the chance to see the nearby Fuego Volcano, which is active and erupts around every 15-30 minutes. As you can imagine, seeing a volcano erupt with your own eyes is truly a bucket-list-worthy experience. 

I will add that the best views of Fuego Volcano are actually at night as then you can see the lava erupting, whereas, during the day, it’s just smoke you’ll see. This is why an overnight tour like this one we took is your best option!

As I said, this hike is quite challenging, although it’s not the hardest hike we’ve ever done. The most popular way to tackle this mighty stratovolcano is on a two-day guided tour. It’s an 11-mile (18 km) round trip hike that would be tough to squeeze into in just one day. Plus, you really don’t want to rush this incredible experience. On a two-day tour, you’ll get to camp on the side of the volcano, which is something we’ll never forget! 

View of Fuego Volcano erupting from the Acatenango overnight volcao hike
The view we had from camp of Fuego Volcano erupting on our overnight hiking tour!

Although it is possible to hike up Acatenango without a guide, we don’t advise it as the trails aren’t marked, and because you’ll likely be hiking some of the trails in the dark, it’s much safer to do this particular hike with a knowledgable guide who knows the way. 

This Acatenango Overnight tour is the one we went with and what we recommend if you’re keen to do a two-day Acatenango tour. It departs from Antigua (which, of course, we’ve included later in this blog post). The distance between Antigua and Acatenango is under an hour, so as you can imagine, this hike is also one of the most popular things to do from Antigua. This particular tour is reasonable at just $99 USD and includes three meals, warm clothing, backpacks, and a head torch. 

On the first day of this well-rated tour, you’ll tackle the easiest section of the hike as you ascend to base camp. Here, you’ll spend the night in a cozy wood cabin – you’ll even be able to see Fuego erupting from your rustic abode, and as I said, it’s quite the sight at night as you can clearly see the lava. Your second morning is an early start as today you’ll be climbing to the summit – it’s here you’ll get the mind-boggling view of Fuego erupting. Overall, it’s a tiring 48 hours, but so worth it! I highly recommend booking your spot in advance as this popular tour can sell out!

tour group photo after hiking to the top of Acatenango Volcano for sunrise
Our tour group at the summit for sunrise!

Alternatively, if you’re short on time and want to get to the top of Acatenango in just a day, then this 4WD tour from Antigua is perfect, especially if you’re not a hiker, as you’ll be transferred as close as possible to the summit (about a 1.5-hour hike away) in a comfortable 4WD vehicle.

Included is a camping-style meal, which will be served at the top, all transport, and a local guide. It’s a lot pricier at $1,070 USD per person if you’re booking online for two people (or cheaper for larger groups), but you’re paying for the luxury and convenience of being driven pretty much to the top. We will add that this tour isn’t recommended during the rainy months (from May to August) as the wet and muddy terrain can make driving difficult. The guide also isn’t 100% bilingual but can provide general instructions in English.

If you’re based in Guatemala City (a 2-hour drive from the volcano). Then, this two-day tour from Guatemala City is an excellent option as it includes three meals, a professional bilingual guide, an overnight stay in a private high-altitude campsite, as well as sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and comfortable tents. Prices for this two-day group tour start at approximately $300 USD per person, but that varies on the group size, and there’s a minimum of 4 people needed to book. 

Related Read: Another volcano trek in Central America is the hike up Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador! It’s a lesser-known hike, but we loved it!

2. Lake Atitlan 

View of Lake Atitlan and Panajachel from San Jorge
How beautiful is Lake Atitlan!?

We couldn’t put together a list of the best places to visit in Guatemala and not include Lake Atitlan! This is not only the huge lake itself, but the whole area – a series of tiny, authentic Mayan villages that are sprinkled around the cobalt-blue volcanic lake.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful destinations in Central America, and because there are so many awesome villages here, deciding which one to base yourself in can be an overwhelming decision. But, lucky for you, I’m here to help!

The first thing I’ll say is that it’s a good idea to have an idea about what kind of vacation you want to have before picking a place to stay. For example, if you’re keen to learn Spanish, head to San Pedro, one of Guatemala’s most vibrant backpacker hubs and one of the best spots to improve your language skills. Meanwhile, if you’re after a relaxing escape, look no further than the teeny-tiny village of San Juan, which is a popular destination with hikers as it’s where the famed Indian Nose hike starts. 

Lake Atitlan is the third biggest lake in the country but that’s not its only claim to fame. It’s also the most beautiful in our opinion as it’s framed by three volcanoes and the color of the water is the most magnificent deep shade of blue.

A slower pace of life is welcomed in the villages surrounding the lake, and staying here is the perfect opportunity to glimpse Mayan culture. Two Mayan tribes – the Kaqchikel and the Tz’utujil – call this region home, and on the streets of the villages, you’ll often see the local women wearing colorful Traje – traditional clothing that is woven by hand.  

Now, let’s dive into the best villages and towns to stay in for visiting Lake Atitlan. Which one you choose depends on the type of vacation you’re after. 

San Pedro, or to use its full name, San Pedro La Laguna, is probably the most popular tourist hub on Lake Atitlan. It has a large backpacker population, so you’ll find many trendy cafes and happening bars here. It’s also easily accessible by both road and boat, unlike many other villages on Lake Atitlan. 

One of the best things to do in San Pedro is learn Spanish. A typical Spanish program here involves one-on-one lessons with a personal language teacher for 4 hours in the morning, so you’ll have the afternoon to explore the rest of the town. You can expect to pay about $150 USD for a week of Spanish courses, though this varies slightly from school to school. The best Spanish schools here include Lake Atitlan Spanish School and San Pedro Community Spanish School

Other must-dos in San Pedro include learning about the area’s history at the Tzunun’Ya Museum and seeing how the local women create the colorful Mayan textiles you see everywhere at the Teixchel Women’s Weaving Association. You can also join a 6-hour-long weaving workshop for $56 USD here, during which you’ll make your own scarf using a backstrap loom. 

the indian nose mountain on Lake Atitlan.
If you turn this picture sideways, there’s the profile of a face, with the peak being the “nose” of Nariz del Indio.

Another popular tourist destination on Lake Atitlan is the tiny village of San Juan, which is just 2 km/1.2 miles by road from San Pedro. It offers a much quieter and more relaxed vibe than its more vibrant neighbor, and it is also the starting point for Lake Atitlan’s most famous hike, the Indian Nose (aka Nariz del Indio). This 2,863-meter (9,300-foot) mountain resembles a face, and hence, the ridge of the mountain was nicknamed the “Indian Nose.” It’s a fairly challenging hike to the top, but the views of San Juan, San Pedro, and Lake Atitlan are so worth the leg strain!   

The starting point for the hike up La Indio Nariz is on the outskirts of the village (see the map location here), where you’ll see a small booth. You must pay a small fee to access the trail. Many travelers opt to do this 3.8-mile (6.1 km) hike alone (without a guide), although we tend to advise against this due to the high chance that you’ll be confronted by a bandito along the trail. These banditos are typically just local farmers whose land you are hiking through, and they will ask for a fee from you (usually around 20-40Q which is equal to about $3-5 USD) to continue on your hike. 

That’s why we advise doing this scenic hike with a local guide, as then you won’t have to deal with the banditos. This sunrise tour is highly recommended, lasts for around 5 hours, and costs just $60 USD. It includes hotel pick up/drop off from hotels in San Juan, San Pedro, and San Marco and a guide the entire way. 

Alternatively, if you’re short on time, you can just hike 10 minutes to the mirador (lookout), which features a unique mirrored mosaic cross. The view from here is breathtaking, but it is still a steep climb, so a reasonable level of fitness is advised.  

Next up is Lake Atitlan’s “hippy town” – San Marcos. Spend your days here doing yoga, drinking awesome coffee, and hiking to one of the many awesome viewpoints dotted around the town. But, above everything else, San Marcos is renowned for its healing energy and there are many energy healers and shamans that you can pay a visit to in this pretty town. The most famous, though, is Keith the Cacao Shaman and the well-known Cacao Ceremonies that are held weekly on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s such a unique experience and costs 200Q (approx. $25 USD).

view of the lake and volcano at San Marcos, Lake Atitlan
The docks used to access the water taxis at Lake Atitlan.

Our second-to-last suggestion for a place to visit in Lake Atitlan is bustling Panajachel (or “Pana” to locals). It’s the largest and most commercialized of the towns on the lake and also the easiest to get to. If you love to shop ’til you drop, this is the town for you, as Panajachel is a shopper’s paradise with lots of quirky boutiques. But we particularly loved browsing the local market here – it honestly sells every type of Mayan fare you can imagine. It’s also a popular spot to go stand-up paddleboarding on the lake and paragliding over it! 

Yup, in fact, it’s one of the cheapest places in the world where you can try this adrenaline-pumping activity. With Real-World Paragliding in Panajachel, you can book a tandem flight with a licensed Tandem Pilot and quite literally run off the mountainside into the air. Flights last between 20 and 45 minutes (weather-dependent, of course) and will cost you around 750Q, or about $96 USD. 

Our final suggestion for a spot to base yourself on Lake Atitlan is Santa Cruz – which is where we stayed during our time here, in a fabulous hostel called Free Cerveza! This sweet, quiet little town is home to mostly locals and local-run businesses. In fact, unlike the other villages and towns on the lake, foreign businesses only occupy a small portion of the lakeside in Santa Cruz.

While in Santa Cruz, we loved this kayaking and hiking tour, which had us paddling next to the shoreline to San Marcos and then hiking back through small villages along the way. It offers the chance to get out on the water of Lake Atitlan and even cliff jump into the lake if you’re feeling brave! The guides are so passionate and knowledgeable about the area and we felt like we got an insider’s look at the beautiful scenery and some of the rich culture around here. This well-rated tour is 6 hours long and costs $68 USD for the half-day option or $98 USD for a full day when you book in advance

Where to stay in Lake Atitlan

having drinks at the hostel Free Cerveza, in Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan
Just making some friends at Free Cerveza hostel before the party kicked off

Choosing where to stay in Lake Atitlan can be a little tricky because there are a few different towns to pick from. While each town is quite different from the next, you can easily take boats between them to enjoy them all! The boat system here is easy to use, frequent, and cheap. So, our best advice is to choose a great hotel that suits your budget and needs, and then explore all the other towns from there.

Some great options for hotels in Lake Atitlan are:

$$$ – Sababa Resort (located in San Pedro La Laguna)

If you want a luxurious stay, this is it! This is one of the few hotels in Lake Atitlan with flat-screen TVs and en-suite bathrooms. Private rooms at Sababa Resort start at $128 USD per night. The property features a large pool, beautiful lake views, and on-site tree houses for hanging out. The food is, according to many travelers, “to die for,” and they accommodate vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free diets. Free breakfast and wifi are included, and the resort offers airport shuttles. You can reserve a room on Booking.com.  

$$ – Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan (located in San Juan)

There aren’t many places to stay in San Juan. However, a great choice is Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan. It’s perfect for a quiet getaway. It’s quite the luxurious option too as it offers guests the use of a private jetty and complimentary kayaks to explore the lake. As well, all rooms here offer lake views with free breakfast as standard! Expect to pay around $80 USD for a double room here when booked in advance.

$ – Free Cerveza (located in Santa Cruz La Laguna)

We spent a couple of nights at this wonderful hostel. It is more of an experience, or as they call it, “a summer camp” rather than a hostel. Staying at Free Cerveza means you’ll have access to kayaks, yoga classes, and much more. Their nightly communal dinners also offer free beer (hence the name). It is an eco-friendly hostel perfect for anybody who wants a social stay. Highly recommend! A twin room with private bathroom here averages around $60 USD per night but there are shared tents (hello summer camp!) for cheaper around the $18 USD mark. You can check all available options on Hostelworld.com.

3. Semuc Champey

Bailey sits on the edge of one of the pools at Semuc Champey
Not a bad place for a swim!

Third up, we have a former hidden gem – Semuc Champey, which, thanks to the power of social media, is now well and truly on the Guatemala tourist trail. In fact, you’ll probably recognize these breathtaking, bright, turquoise natural pools from your Instagram feed. And as soon as you lay eyes on it, you’ll surely understand why it’s become so popular! 

Semuc Champey is located on the Rio Cahabon in central Guatemala, and the closest city is Lanquin, about a 50-minute drive away. Most tourists choose to base themselves in Lanquin or Coban (a 2.5-hour drive away) and make a day trip to these natural pools, but there are hotels very close to Semuc Champey. I’ll go into more detail below on where to stay to visit Semuc Champey. 

Interestingly, Semuc Champey means “where the river hides the earth!” Allow me to explain why, in this section of the Cahabon River, the water flows beneath a 300-meter/984-foot sheet of limestone rock. On top of this large sheet of limestone are the famous pools that you come here for! The water in the pools comes from nearby waterfalls, so although its water source is crystal clear, it gets its turquoise color from collecting small particles that reflect light. 

A close up of Semuc Champey from the viewpoint above.
Semuc Champey as seen from the viewpoint!

The best view of the pools can be seen from the Mirador (viewpoint) – which is essentially a small platform that looks down on these unique pools. When you arrive here, we recommend walking first to the viewpoint via the “viewpoint trail” so that you can savor the scenery and decide which pool you want to swim in. After drinking in the incredible view, you can continue back along the same trail, which takes you past a few scenic waterfalls, before arriving back at the pools, where we strongly urge you to go for a swim! 

All in all, this hike will take about an hour (not including stops), and it takes you right down to the far end of Semuc Champey – which is where the most beautiful pools can be found, in my opinion! Take your time on this stretch of the hike and explore every pool on your way back to the entrance gate. 

Of course, there are plenty of other awesome things to do in the area besides chilling out in a bright blue pool, and if you consider yourself a bit of an adrenalin junkie, then a cave tour of the nearby K’an K’an Ba Cave will be right up your alley! What makes this tour so unique (and a tad scary) is that the only light you’ll have in the dark cave is candlelight. Yup, that means you won’t have a headlamp, helmet, or lifejacket. So you’ll need to place all your trust in your local guide. 

The caves are open daily at Semuc Campey from 9 am to 3 pm, and entry to them with a guide costs 60Q ($7.70 USD) per person (including your candle!). You can find the entrance to the cave here

Another adrenaline-fueled activity near Semuc Champey is river-tubing. You can easily organize this fun adventure through your accommodation in Semuc Champey or Lanquin. If you wish, you can head to the tubing area yourself (without a tour), where you can rent a tube for around 50Q ($6.40 USD). Coolly, while you’re tubing down the river, local kids will float past you (also on a tube) selling beers!

Daniel in the back of a truck on the way to Semuc Champey from Lanquin
Daniel in the back of a truck on the way to Semuc Champey from Lanquin

Most people take a day trip to Semuc Champey from Lanquin. If you need to get to Lanquin easily, your best bet is to book a shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin for $40 USD. It drops you off at a central point in Lanquin (a gas station) where you can catch a tuktuk or other transport to your hotel or Semuc Champey.

If you’re already in Lanquin and looking to get to these gorgeous pools, the best way to reach the pools from town is in a truck (you’ll literally be piled into the back with lots of other people). For this, expect to pay about 15-20Q ($1.90 – $2.50 USD), depending on your group size and bargaining skills. Or alternatively, you can walk to Semuc Champey from Lanquin – this will take around 2.5 hours each way, and it’s supposed to be a really scenic walk! 

If you’re staying in Coban, this full-day tour (it’s 12 hours long) is a great option. You’ll have lots of time to enjoy the turquoise waters and explore the nearby caves. It includes all transport, access to K’an K’an Ba caves, and an a la carte lunch at a local restaurant. A helmet and lifejacket will also be provided for the cave section of the tour. It costs $72 USD per person with a minimum booking of 4 people.

Where to stay near Semuc Champey

Utopia Eco Hotel sits on a tree covered hillside in an aerial view
Utopia Eco Hotel is easily one of the best places to stay near Semuc Champey. Photo Credit: Utopia Eco Hotel

The two most popular areas to stay to tour Semuc Champey are either the town of Lanquin (11 km/6.8 miles away) and do a day trip to the pools or stay in a hotel in the jungle within walking distance of Semuc Champey! 

In Lanquin, we recommend El Retiro Lanquin, which is in a quiet spot on the outskirts of town along the river. This social hostel is a popular option for budget travelers as rooms here start from $36 USD per night. It offers guests free Wi-Fi in common areas (not in the rooms, unfortunately) and a bar. And you can choose a bed in a dorm or a private bungalow. You have to stay a minimum of two nights and it does book up, so check availability online here.

If you want to stay within walking distance of Semuc Champey, your best bet is Utopia Eco Hotel, which is beautifully situated right on the river. Not only are the views from here incredible, but the food from the on-site restaurant is great, and they offer a few different room types. Also, despite its remote location, Wi-Fi is available in common areas. You can get a double room with a shared bathroom for around $25 USD per night or opt for a riverfront cabin for only $65 USD nightly. All the options are on Booking.com.

4. Flores

Colorful street in Flores, Guatemala
Colorful street in Flores – so pretty!

Flores is located in the state of El Peten and is perhaps most famously known as the gateway to the epic Tikal aka the most well-known Mayan ruins in the country (more on that below, though).

Even though Tikal was my main reason for visiting this cute town, I quickly learned that Flores is so much more than just a place to spend the night before exploring Tikal!

For one, this “town” is, in fact, an island as it’s surrounded by the third biggest lake in Guatemala – Lake Peten Itza. We think it’s the perfect spot to relax for a few days before venturing to Tikal. It’s also known as one of the most colorful towns in the world, and that, combined with the cobblestoned streets and stunning lake views, made staying here a no-brainer for us! 

Although there’s not a whole lot to do in Flores – it’s that easy-going atmosphere that made us fall in love with this scenic town. The whole town can be walked in an hour, so that should really be first on your Flores itinerary.

As you wander through, you’ll find lots of bustling, atmospheric cafes and restaurants (we loved Restaurante San Telmo and Restaurante Tipico Imperio) and cute craft stores. In fact, Flores is one of the best places in Guatemala to buy quality souvenirs ranging from handwoven scarfs to huge rugs. 

Every afternoon, the Malecon in Flores comes alive as a variety of food and craft stalls pop up for the evening. It was our favorite part of the day in Flores as it allowed us to meet the locals and taste some awesome Guatemalan food – try the cake sold by the slice, it’s SO good. We also picked up some souvenirs to take home. I bought a really colorful woven scarf, which I adore and still wear to this day! 

A Mayan Ruin in Uaxactún, Guatemala
The Uaxactún ruins aren’t as big, but, the lack of people makes them worth it!

There’s another fascinating ruin located close to Flores, and although Uaxactún is less well-known than Tikal, it’s still a very impressive and important Mayan site. It was inhabited as far back as 300 BC. Uaxactun is most famous for being the home of several Mayan astrological pyramids, which are so cool to see as they coordinate with specific times of the year and the stars. There’s also an observatory and ball court here, which are well worth checking out. 

Uaxactún is around 2 hours from Flores, and what we found most unique about these ruins is that local people live amongst the ruins! What’s also great is that it’s crowd-free, so if you visit first thing in the morning, you’ll likely have the area to yourself! 

The best way to get to Uaxactun from Flores is on an organized tour like this one. It’s a private tour that includes 2.5 hours to explore Uaxactun with an expert guide. You’ll hear some of the amazing stories of this site’s ancient past, including how it remained hidden for hundreds of years and you’ll walk amongst the ruins including the oldest Mayan arch in existence. The private tour includes return transport from Flores in an air-conditioned vehicle, lunch at a local restaurant, entrance fees, and your guide. It costs $230 USD per person and can be booked online here

The sky bar in Flores, Guatemala at sunset
How good is that view? Photo credit: The Sky Bar

We couldn’t do a write-up on the best things to do in Flores and not include Jorge’s Rope Swing, which, you guessed it, is home to a fun rope swing over the lake. It’s also a restaurant and bar, so you can grab some food and drinks here and enjoy them with a view of the water or in their comfy hammocks! Considering its waterside location, it’s also one of the best spots in Flores to catch the sunset.

I will add that Jorge’s Rope Swing isn’t actually in Flores town, and you must catch a boat from the docks to reach it. The journey costs around 25Q ($3.20 USD) each way, and there’s also a 25Q entrance fee to Jorge’s! 

Speaking of sunsets, considering Flores town is surrounded by Lake Peten Itza, you simply must catch the sunset here every evening! Central American sunsets are some of the best in the world, so savor the beautiful sky and head to The Sky Bar – a cool cocktail bar that offers one of the best views in Flores! As you can probably guess from its name, it’s a rooftop bar, but they also serve great food here. 

Related Read: Flores is not too far from the border with Mexico, so you can read all our Mexico guides including the best places to visit in Mexico if you plan on heading that way after your time in Guatemala!

5. Tikal

One of the lrger temples at Tikal Guatemala
One of the temples at Tikal!
moss grows over some ruins in Tikal
Moss grows on some of the ruins here at Tikal!

Ah, the mighty Tikal – one of the most famous Mayan sites in the world. It’s believed that there are 3,000 structures here (most of which are still to be discovered), which makes sense considering Tikal was once one of the biggest and most powerful Mayan cities. At its peak, it’s said that 100,000 people lived here – which is seriously impressive for that era.

Today, the star attractions here are the five massive temples, one of which is a gigantic 65 meters (213 feet) tall and is believed to be the tallest Mayan temple ever constructed! 

Film buffs should recognize it as the filming location for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. In this episode, the temples were used as part of a rebel base. 

Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s located in Tikal National Park, deep in the Guatemalan jungle and not far from the border with Belize and Mexico. The closest town to Tikal is Flores, which is about an hour and 20 minutes away, and it’s here that most tourists tend to spend the night before exploring these awe-inspiring ruins. 

Bailey poses for a photo at Tikal, Guatemala

I will add that although Tikal is one of the most popular places to visit in Guatemala – it never feels too busy, and you’ll likely find yourself wandering parts of it without another person in sight! Another thing we loved about Tikal is that you can climb to the top of most of the temples here (unlike in Chichen Itza in Mexico), and from that high up, as you can guess, the views over Tikal and the surrounding jungle are seriously wow-worthy!

Most tourists get to Tikal from Flores, and there’s a shuttle bus that operates to and from the ruins several times a day for the hour-long journey. The first bus leaves super-early at 3 am and gets to the entrance gate just in time for sunrise. Alternatively, you can rent a private shuttle bus from Flores, which costs $135 USD per group. This shuttle is handy because your driver will wait for you while you explore the ruins and even take you to breakfast or lunch spots if you need a bite to eat!

The entry fee to Tikal National Park is 150Q ($20 USD) per adult, and children under 12 are free! But, you can’t buy the entrance tickets online (unless included in a tour package) – instead, you must buy your tickets from any Banrural Bank Agency or at the CHN Bank Agency. You can find these in Antigua, Guatemala City, Flores Airport, Santa Elena, or Melchor de Mencos (on the Guatemala side of the Belize border). Alternatively, you may purchase your ticket from the Tikal entrance gate, but be warned, you’ll likely be waiting a while due to the long lines and very slow internet! 

If you are planning on visiting Tikal for sunrise or sunset, it is worth noting that there is an additional fee of 100Q ($13 USD) per person. This also needs to be bought before arriving. 

Sunset at Tikal, Guatemala with views of the temples poking through the trees
How beautiful!

But, we think the best way to see Tikal is on a guided tour as that way all transport is included, and you have the added benefit of a local guide who will tell you all about the fascinating history of the place and be on hand to point out wildlife (FYI, there are lots of monkeys swinging in the tree canopy here). 

If you’re keen on a peaceful Tikal experience and don’t mind early wake-up calls, then this sunrise tour is our pick. It lets you experience Tikal without many other tourists, and you’ll be blown away watching the sunrise from the top of one of the temples! This 6-hour tour is also more comfortable as you’ll skip the heat of the afternoon! But, be warned, it’s a super early pick-up (if you’re staying in Flores you’ll be picked up around 3 am!). It costs $98 USD each for two people (and cheaper the more people you book for) but you will need to pay an additional $34 USD on the day for the sunrise surcharge and Tikal National Park entrance fee. You can book this sunrise tour online here.

Another great Tikal tour option is this full-day group tour costing from $99 USD per person, which includes hotel pick-up from Flores, or you can also be picked up from Flores Airport (handy if you plan to fly into Flores Airport and are short on time!). It also includes your entrance fee, a guide, and a packed lunch, so it is a great option for a hassle-free experience. 

If you prefer the freedom a small group tour offers, then this VIP Tikal day tour is a fantastic option for only $128 USD per person. It only has 5-star ratings (which is super impressive!) with raving reviews about the passionate and kind guides who take care of the entire experience for you. You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Flores before spending a few hours exploring the ancient temples at your own pace with your personal tour guide. You can book this VIP experience to Tikal online here.

If you’re staying in Guatemala City, there are plenty of guided tours from there to Tikal – and these are super popular. However, because the distance between the two is so large, you will be flying from Guatemala City to Flores Airport. This tour is around 8 hours long, and that includes the return flight time and a couple of hours to explore Tikal. It costs $398 USD when you book online and is a great option if you’re basing yourself in Guatemala City but still want to see this piece of history. 

Related Read: You can check out the best Mayan Ruins in Mexico in our detailed blog post!

6. Antigua 

The view from the top of Cerro de La Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala
The view from the top of Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua!

You didn’t think we’d miss Antigua on our list of the best places to visit in Guatemala, did you?! Well, this historic, incredible city is second-to-last on our list, and honestly, it’s one of our favorite cities in Central America

When you visit, you’ll understand why we and so many other tourists have fallen head over heels for its cobblestone streets, friendly locals, and dramatic volcano views. Some of our favorite activities we did during our time in Antigua included hiking up Cerro de la Cruz (to witness one of the best views in Guatemala) and visiting Hobbitenango, which, as you can probably guess from the name, is very similar to Hobbiton in New Zealand (aka, the Shire from Lord of the Rings) and devouring insanely delicious chocolate at the Chocolate Museum. 

It’s from Antigua, too, that most tourists opt to base themselves for hiking the Acatenango and Pacaya Volcanoes. You see, Acatatenango is just under an hour from Antigua and Pacaya just over an hour – and as you’ll read in this blog post, there are plenty of excellently rated guided tours from Antigua to Acatenango and from Antigua to Pacaya!

Antigua is a World Heritage Site, and with a history dating back to the 1500s, it’s one of the best places on the continent to see Renaissance and Baroque architecture! Many of the buildings in the city were restored following the huge earthquake in 1773. 

Many tourists start their Guatemala itinerary by flying into the large international airport in Guatemala City and, from there, going directly to Antigua (it’s about a 1-2 hour drive between the two, depending on traffic!).

One of the best times of the year to visit Antigua is during Semana Santa, aka “Holy Week,” which is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. During the week-long celebrations, you’ll see amazing processions featuring over-the-top floats, and each church in the city will display a colorful alfombra, a sort of man-made carpet made from colored sawdust, pine needles, fruits, vegetables, and fresh flowers. Some of which can take 24 hours to put together. During this popular week, thousands of visitors descend on Antigua – so as you can expect, accommodation costs will be much higher. 

On your first day in Antigua, we recommend simply wandering the cobbled streets and getting a feel for this quaint, very walkable city. There are lots of ruins spread out around the downtown area (as a result of the devastating 1773 earthquake), such as the Church of Candelaria ruins, the Catedral de Santiago, and the Church of Santa Domingo ruins, which are fascinating to see mixed in amongst the bustling city. 

Other noteworthy buildings in the downtown area include Iglesia de La Merced, one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the city, and The Fountain of Mermaids in the central plaza, which was inspired by the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, Italy. Las Capuchinas, a former convent turned art museum, is another of the most interesting buildings in this small city. Behind its facade lies a fascinating museum that houses colonial-era art and pre-Hispanic pottery.

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua, Guatemala
The arch is famous among Instagrammers!

And not forgetting the city’s piece-de-resistance, the Santa Catalina Arch which is easily the most photographed structure in the city. You can’t miss this canary-colored arch, which is backdropped by the Agua Volcano. It’s also one of the oldest structures in the country as it was constructed in 1694. 

Finish your day in Antigua at the chocolate museum (known as the ChocoMuseo), which is exactly what it sounds like – a museum dedicated to chocolate! Here you can even participate in one of their chocolate-making workshops during which you will make your own chocolate bar! The workshop is two hours long and costs $25 USD. It’s a must for any chocaholic! 

Suppose you’d prefer to explore Antigua with a guide. Why not consider this tip-based walking tour, which stops at the city’s top attractions, such as Parque CentralPalace of the General Captains, and the Santa Catalina Arch? As I said, this tour is free, but tipping your guide at the end is a must! This tour departs from Parque Central at either 10 am or 3 pm and should last around 2 hours. 

A fantastically unique guided tour option in Antigua is this ATV Sunset Tour. The ATV section of the tour begins at El Cerro de la Cruz (the best viewpoint in the city!) and then you’ll head over to Hobbitenango (a Hobbit-themed attraction) to watch the sunset from a viewpoint and enjoy some food, drinks, and games. You definitely won’t forget this tour in a hurry! It lasts for 4-5 hours and is reasonably priced at $63 USD per person.

view from the antigua brewing company in Antigua, Guatemala
Beer with a volcano view?! Don’t mind if I do! Photo courtesy of Antigua Brewing Company

As for food in Antigua, we loved Antigua Canela, a little bakery and coffee shop that makes the best bread and baked goods. Try the churros and hot chocolate!! It’s also a must if you’re vegan or gluten-free, as they offer heaps of baked goods for those with dietary restrictions or allergies. For dinner, we had lots of fun at Antigua Brewing Company, home to epic local craft beer and classic pub grub dishes like burgers and nachos. 

For the best view in Antigua, you’ll need to hike (or hop in an Uber or tuk-tuk) up to Cerro de la Cruz. The hike is pretty easy, although there are a lot of stairs, and it should around 25 minutes to complete. From this prime vantage point, you’ll see the candy-colored city below and the mighty Agua Volcano in the distance – aim to visit on a clear day for the best views of the volcano as it’s often covered by clouds! 

Hobbitenango near Antigua, Guatemala
Lord of the Rings lovers will love Hobbitenango. Photo credit: Hobbitenango 

Only 20 minutes from Antigua, you’ll find the quirky Hobbitenango, which, got its name because of its resemblance to The Shire from The Lord of the Rings. It’s nestled in the lush mountainside, and there are various trails here with stunning viewpoints of the nearby volcanoes. There are even little Hobbit Houses with round doors (like the ones you’ll see in the famed Hobbiton in New Zealand), and you can spend the night in these for around $150 USD per night. 

Entrance to Hobbitenango will set you back 50Q (around $7 USD) for adults and 30Q ($4 USD) for children. That price offers you unlimited access to activities like axe throwing, archery, mini-golf, and the chance to swing on the giant swing.

7. Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano near Antigua, Guatemala
Pacaya Volcano feels like another planet!

As you have read, volcanoes and Guatemala go hand-in-hand, and so we just had to include another stunning volcano as one of our best places to visit in Guatemala. Standing tall at 2,552 meters (8,373 feet), Pacaya is an active volcano, and it first erupted a whopping 23,000 years ago.

It has frequent small eruptions, which can often be seen as far away as Guatemala City (a 1.5-hour drive away). But these eruptions are typically composed of small amounts of ash as opposed to red lava (like on Fuego Volcano – which you can see from the summit of the earlier listed Acatenango Volcano). 

The Pacaya Volcano Trail is a very popular hike thanks to its easy accessibility and proximity to major cities – 1.5 hours from Guatemala City and just over an hour from Antigua. But, it’s also well-liked because of the couple of food stalls along the trail and the opportunity to toast marshmallows on the hot lava at the top – which makes for a fun experience.

If you’re not up for the lengthy hike up the more famous Acatenango Volcano, then this two-hour-long hike to the summit of Pacaya is your best option. However, I will add that even though it’s short, it’s certainly not easy – it’s quite steep with an elevation gain of 457 meters (1,500 feet), and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. I highly recommend purchasing a walking stick at the beginning of the hike for around 5Q (under $1USD) – honestly, you’ll thank me afterward. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of rest stops along the way, and most of them boast stunning views. It’s essential to pack the correct footwear for this hike – we recommend thick-soled hiking boots as the soil is very hot in parts. 

The trail starts from the welcome center in San Francisco de Sales and, as I said, takes around 2 hours each way. If the hike sounds too challenging for your liking, then you can reach the summit via horseback. It will set you back around 33Q (approximately $4 USD) to rent a horse for the journey. 

If you plan to DIY it by making your own way here from Antigua or Guatemala City, keep in mind that there is a 200Q (around $26 USD) national park fee, which includes a mandatory guide. You will also need to have some additional quetzals to tip your guide and to buy marshmallows or snacks from one of the food stalls. 

As we said, hiking Pacaya is one of the top day trip options from Antigua, and we opted for this 6-hour adventure from Antigua that cost us only $35 USD each. It includes transfers to/from select hotels in Antigua as well as an expert guide who speaks English, but an entrance fee of 100Q (approx. $13 USD) per person is not included. My favorite part of the whole tour was when we got to toast our marshmallows along the lava fields – it was surreal! You can book the exact tour we did online here.

Alternatively, if you’re staying in Guatemala City – this 6-hour tour for $85 USD is a great option. Similar to the one from Antigua, it includes transfers and an English-speaking guide, but this particular tour includes the entrance fee.  

Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!

We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!

SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.

They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.  

We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!

Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a photo in the forest on the Acatenango Volcano hiking trail in Guatemala
Thanks for reading!

Whew, and there you have it 7 of the absolute best places to visit in Guatemala. We only included our absolute favorite spots in this colorful country and ones we hope to return to next time we’re here. We loved our time in Guatemala and armed with this bucket-list-worthy list we know that you will too!

If you found this blog helpful, then check out all of our other detailed Guatemala blogs as well as some related blogs below:

33 BEST Places to Visit in South America (Must-Visit Destinations in 2024!)

15 BEST Places to Visit in Brazil

13 BEST Places to Visit in Chile

15 Absolute BEST Places to Visit in Argentina

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