Mysterious and often challenging, Central America’s most diverse country offers landscapes and experiences that have been captivating travelers for centuries.
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.
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.
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.
Best places to stay in Guatemala
Guatemala travel guide
History, culture, natural beauty, majestic ruins and gorgeous colonial streetscapes: Guatemala has everything a traveler could hope for.
Most action-packed jungles
Make like Tarzan and take on one of these truly original rainforest adventures. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Battlefield crossing, Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea Hiker on the Kokoda Track. Image by Andrew Peacock / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
Top language schools in Guatemala
Ancient Maya ruins in Guatemala
Guatemala - Plan your trip (Chapter)
Your journey to Guatemala starts here. You’ll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus in-depth info on exploring Maya ruins.
In all the long, earnest discussions about where to get off the beaten track in Guatemala, you can be sure the name Antigua) won't come up.
10 best things to climb
Over ice and iron girders, shinnying up temples and scaling rainforest trees – tackle the world’s most worthwhile ways to reach the top. In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences we've gathered together ten things to go up, from the somewhat gentle to the downright difficult.
Guatemala - Antigua (Chapter)
A place of rare beauty, major historical significance and vibrant culture, Antigua remains Guatemala’s must-visit destination. A former capital, the city boasts an impressive catalogue of colonial relics in a magnificent setting, and streetscapes of pastel facades unfold beneath three volcanoes.
Best of Guatemala & Mexico
Travel from the cobblestone streets of Antigua, through Belize and along the Yucatan Peninsula to the beachside delights of Playa del Carmen on this Guatemala to Mexico adventure. Discover ancient Mayan ruins, explore the pristine shores of the Caribbean coast, be enchanted by Guatemala's highlands and find colourful marine life in laidback Belize.
From the crystal-blue ocean teeming with marine life to tropical rainforests alive with jungle melodies, take the road less travelled on this trip through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica with other travellers your own age.
Ask Lonely Planet: where should I go for a holiday with volunteering?
In this excerpt from the November 2011 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine, our travel editors advise a reader where to go for a one-month holiday with a volunteering bent. 1. Cambodia, recommended by Asia-Pacific travel editor Shawn Low Cambodia is perfect for volunteering.
Guatemala - Understand Guatemala & Survival Guide (Chapter)
All the info you need on everything from history, culture and wildlife to flights, public transportation, climate, money, the internet...you name it. Get hints on the gay and lesbian scene and tips for women travelers, traveling with kids and travelers with disabilities, as well as a handy language guide and glossary.
Sights in Guatemala
Activities in Guatemala
Tours in Guatemala
Restaurants in Guatemala
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Guate)mala’s capital city, the largest urban agglomeration in Central America, spreads across a flattened mountain range run through by deep ravines.