Mysterious and often challenging, Central America’s most diverse country offers landscapes and experiences that have been captivating travelers for centuries.
Active souls tend to find their agenda very full once they get to Guatemala. Stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world class white-water rafting, more miles of caves than you could possibly explore in one vacation, and what seems like a zipline strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning. Like to take things up a notch? How about paragliding into a volcanic crater at Lago de Atitlán? Or scuba diving in the same place? You might even luck onto some good swell on the Pacific coast. Or you could just find a hammock and think about doing all that. Your call.
The Timeless Maya
While many ask whatever happened to the Maya, the simple answer is nothing – they’re still here, and some traditions continue to thrive. If you’re interested in archaeology, the must-see sites are Tikal, Copán (in Honduras), and Guatemala City’s superb selection of museums.
Living Maya culture can be witnessed in its 'pure' form in towns like Rabinal and sacred sites such as Laguna Chicabal. And the Maya themselves? Well, they’re everywhere. But the most traditional villages are in the highlands – the Ixil Triangle is a good place to start.
With not even 2% of its landmass urbanized, it’s not surprising that Guatemala offers some superb natural scenery. National parks are few but impressive, particularly in the Petén region and the lush canyons of the Río Dulce make for an unforgettable boat ride. The natural beauty of the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlán has been captivating travelers for centuries, while the swimming hole that launched a thousand postcards, Semuc Champey, has to be seen to be believed.
Say what you like about the Spanish in Latin America, you have to agree that they left behind some stunning architecture. From Antigua’s crumbling ruins to the stately cathedral in Guatemala City’s central plaza, there are plenty of opportunities to get snap-happy. In even the smallest towns you can find picturesque buildings – the small coastal town of Retalhuleu has a charming central plaza, while larger coffee-boom towns like Cobán and Quetzaltenango maintain vestiges of their glory days in their cathedrals, town halls and other public buildings.
Towering pyramids poke above the jungle's canopy to catch the sun. Howler monkeys swing noisily through the branches of ancient trees as parrots and toucans dart to a cacophony of squawks. When the complex warbling of some mysterious jungle bird tapers off, the buzz of tree frogs fills the background and it will dawn on you that this is indeed hallowed ground.
Where to stay on Lake Atitlán
If you’re heading to Guatemala, it's probably a given that you’ll be going to Lago de Atitlán...
Fiesta de Santo Tomás (Feast of St Thomas): tips for Guatemala's religious festival with acrobatics
Mayan Flea Market (I) by Poldavo (Alex). Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2...
Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil): a guide to Guatemala's way of making cleaning fun
Antigua - Arco by juanktru...
Guatemala: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Guatemala guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip...
How to trick your parents into paying for your spring break trip
Parents can be such softies, but if you're plotting how to squeeze out a spring break trip on their dime this year, you might have to get creative...