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. Streetscapes of pastel facades unfold beneath three volcanoes.
The mountainous departments of Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán and Huehuetenango are generally less frequented by tourists than regions closer to Guatemala City. But with extraordinarily dramatic scenery and vibrant indigenous culture, this part of the country presents an invariably fascinating panorama.
Lago de Atitlán
Nineteenth-century traveler/chronicler John L Stephens, writing in Incidents of Travel in Central America, called Lago de Atitlán 'the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,' and he had been around a bit. Today even seasoned travelers marvel at this spectacular environment.
Vast, sparsely populated and jungle-covered, Guatemala's largest and northernmost department is ever ripe for exploration. Whether it's the mysteries of the Classic Maya, the biological bounty of the jungle or simply the chance to lounge lakeside that inspires you, it's all here in abundance.
Flores & Santa Elena
With its cubist houses cascading down from a central plaza to the emerald waters of Lago de Petén Itzá, the island town of Flores evokes a Mediterranean ambience. A 500m causeway connects Flores to its humbler sister town of Santa Elena on the lakeshore, which then merges into the even homelier community of San Benito to the west.
Alta & Baja Verapaz
Hwy 14 (also marked Hwy 17) leaves Hwy 9 at El Rancho, 84km from Guatemala City. It heads west through a dry, desertlike lowland area, then turns north and starts climbing up into the forested hills. After 47km, at the junction called La Cumbre Santa Elena, Hwy 17 to Salamá divides from Hwy 14 for Cobán.
The road into Quiché department leaves the Interamericana at Los Encuentros, winding northward through pine forests and cornfields. Quiché is the homeland of the K'iche' people, though other groups form the fabric of this culturally diverse region, most notably the Ixil of the eastern Cuchumatanes mountains.
This is a very different Guatemala – a lush and sultry landscape dotted with palm trees and inhabited by international sailors (around the yachtie haven of Río Dulce and the working port of Puerto Barrios) and one of the country's lesser-known ethnic groups, the Garífuna (around Lívingston).
The Pacific Slope
Separated from the highlands by a chain of volcanoes, the flatlands that run down to the Pacific are universally known as La Costa. It's a sultry region – hot and wet or hot and dry, depending on the time of year – with rich volcanic soil good for growing coffee, palm-oil seeds and sugarcane.