Volcanoes covered in dense clouds, towns and villages bustling with chaotic but exciting street markets, and locals wearing clothes that define their love for culture; Guatemala is a definition of this all. While many tourists travel to Guatemala to visit the various historical sites, the country is also famous for its breathtaking scenery and other natural tourist attractions.
You'll be stunned by the variety of things to do in Guatemala, with its pristine sand beaches, molten volcanoes, and lush, tree-lined jungles.
Are you ready to explore?
If you are ready to explore the spectacular country of Guatemala, check out our top favourite things to do there.
1. Paraglide over Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán)
The Lago de Atitlán is famous for its breathtaking beauty and the shores of this stunning lake. But, the best way to discover this gem is by paragliding over the pristine water. The deep crater lake and the three towering volcanoes surrounding it will be visible from above as you go on a soaring trip. The 45-minute tours usually begin in the villages of Santa Catarina Palopo, adjacent to Panajachel.
2. Experience Atmospheric Antigua
Colonial Antigua, the country's former capital, is one of Guatemala's best sites. Explore this amazing site by discovering its open-air markets brimming with tropical fruits, well-maintained colonial churches, and plenty of dining experiences.
The enormous Volcan de Agua looms over the city, enhancing its allure and beauty. Take a short stroll from Antigua's lush central park to Meson Panza Verde for a romantic meal where the ambience at night is as memorable as the food. The international menu has been thoughtfully designed to highlight Guatemalan market fare in a sophisticated way.
3. Visit the Mayan Ruins of Tikal
The Mayan Ruins of Tikal are one of Central America's most important archaeological sites, located in the damp jungle of northern Guatemala. It is a must-visit if you are eager to learn about the Mayan civilisation in Tikal.
It has over 3,000 buildings, including pyramids, temples, plazas, and an acropolis. It was among the most significant urban Mayan cities for over a thousand years. The surrounding Tikal National Park is a biosphere reserve that safeguards the habitat of several animals and the rainforest.
4. Experience a Cacao Ceremony in San Marcos La Laguna.
Experiencing a hot chocolate ceremony might be appealing for a unique travel experience. In the village of San Marcos La Laguna, ceremonial circles assemble to enjoy hot chocolate in the manner of Guatemala under the guidance of a local guide.
Many people consider Guatemala the original birthplace of chocolate because cacao has been grown there since before the conquistadors came. The purpose of the ceremony that follows is to introduce everyone in the circle to the sacramental and therapeutic benefits of the cacao bean.
Traditional wisdom holds that cacao is a beverage that opens the heart and encourages people to reconnect with nature, one another, and themselves.
5. Visit Xela (Quetzaltenango)
Xela is the ideal place to start a hike up Volcán Tajumulco. Experiencing it is also a fantastic way to experience real Mayan culture.
The city offers various activities like volcano hiking, unwinding in the Fuentes Georginas hot sulfur springs, or visiting Lake Chicabal, a sizable crater lake.
Xela is most recognised for its culture, in addition to these natural wonders. The Quetzaltenango Cathedral is only one of many churches in the area that serve as examples of Guatemala's vibrant Catholic tradition.
6. Drink at The Oldest Bar in Guatemala City.
El Portal, the first legitimate bar to open in the country’s capital back in 1932, is rumoured to have been Che Guevara's favourite drinking place during his numerous trips to Guatemala City in the 1950s. Stopping in for a drink there is like taking a trip back in time because it is tucked away in the historic district.
The food has remained the same throughout the years, and you can hike up to the antique oak bar and sip a cold pint of Gallo beer while taking in the warm ambience and listening to marimba music.
7. Meander Around the Chichicastenango Market
Chichicastenango is tucked away in the lush western highlands and hosts a renowned artisans' market every Sunday and Thursday. It has to be on the bucket list of every serious shopper travelling to Guatemala. The most unique and highest-selling textiles are huipiles, traditional blouses worn by Mayan women. The other amazing items the market sells are wood carvings, pottery, jade, leather goods, and jewellery made with gold and silver.
8. Plan a Short Trip to Lívingston.
The vibrant coastal community of Livingston is a perfect thing to do in Guatemala and the best spot to unwind and relax. Due to its calm tropical ambience, reminiscent of a Caribbean town, Livingston differs from other cities in Guatemala.
Explore the luxuriant woods that line the Rio Dulce, dip in the green pools of the El Siete Altares waterfalls, or snorkel in the azure waters of Zapotillo Cayes.
9. Try Guatemala's Local Food and Drink
Guatemala’s cuisine is one of its main attractions. It boasts one of Latin America’s most distinctive culinary traditions. Its roots are a special fusion of Mayan, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences.
Visit the Antigua restaurant Sabe Rico for a taste of traditional Guatemalan food. Although the region of Zacapa's black bean soup is a tasty appetiser, true food enthusiasts flock to try the perennial favourite chile rellenos.
10. Enjoy Semana Santa
Semana Santa in Guatemala is one of the festive times of the year. Semana Santa, often known as Holy Week, is extensively observed throughout Latin America and is the largest festival in Antigua.
The city brightens with vibrant decorations, live music, and abundant food and drinks. The Palm Sunday parade is the festival's biggest attraction. Several parade floats and people wearing purple robes with white waistbands will be present throughout the processional.
11. Visit the Women Weavers of San Juan La Laguna.
Guatemalan textiles are among the most exquisite in the world. They are produced on backstrap looms, so if you visit this country any time, you'll undoubtedly be interested in learning how these vibrant designs are created. The lakeside community of San Juan La Laguna is the perfect place to engage yourself in weaving and shopping.
A trip is a great way to discover Guatemalan culture, help the local economy, and find some souvenirs to take home.
12. Learn Spanish in Guatemala
Guatemala has been one of the top countries in Latin America for the last 30 years to teach Spanish. The reasons are that the accent is incredibly neutral, and the speaking pace is slow, making it much easier to learn. Due to low living expenses, the language learning cost is low but with the highest learning standards.
Several Spanish schools, most of which provide full immersion programs after you completely avoid speaking any English while attending school.
13. Swim in Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey’s beautiful views and stunning sites attract visitors to this unique destination. Turquoise water cascades down a series of natural pools tucked away in the middle of the forest in this natural park, creating a bizarre site that is as difficult to reach as it is gorgeous. You should stay there for at least three full days to visit Semuc Champey, including two days for travel and one day for swimming in the pools.
Explore the natural park and pools, tube down the river, swing above the river and visit some nearby caves.
14. Surf in El Paredon
Go trekking, take in the culture, and head to Guatemala's shore for surfing and tanning. To travel to this small hamlet on Guatemala's Pacific Coast, use direct shuttles or chicken buses, and when you arrive, stay at a budget beach hostel. While there isn't much to do at Eling time with the ocean, a few days spent lazing on a spotless beach are incredibly healing for the soul.
El Paredon is a popular surfing destination because of its exciting waves, and you can also take lessons to learn how to surf.
15. Explore the Wilderness Near Río Dulce (Dulce River)
Río Dulce is a river in eastern Guatemala that originates close to Livingston and flows inland. There are countless options for adventure in the deep jungle that encircles the river. It is the best thing to do for visitors who enjoy the outdoors and love to take day trips to the magnificent nearby natural treasures.
A boat trip down the magnificent El Boqueron Canyon costs only 20 Q. In contrast, a soak in Finca Paraiso's natural hot springs costs only 10 Q. As these are natural attractions, admission costs for them are quite low, making them widely accessible to backpackers.
What an incredible country it is! From natural beauty to diverse cultures, it has everything for a traveller. Let's explore it together!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.