Guatemala's relatively compact size, and vast and varied natural beauty make it a perfect place to get out and get active. Any town where there are things to do will have at least one tour operator offering trips.

Climbing, Trekking & Hiking

Guatemala's many volcanoes are irresistible challenges, and many of them can be done in one day from Antigua or Quetzaltenango. There's further great hill country in the Ixil Triangle and the Cuchumatanes mountains to the north of Huehuetenango, especially around Todos Santos Cuchumatán and Nebaj (the multiday hike between these two is possibly the country's best long walk). The Lago de Atitlán is likewise surrounded by spectacular trails, and the three-day hike from Quetzaltenango to the lake is deservedly popular.

Treks of several days are perfectly feasible, and agencies in Antigua, Quetzaltenango and Nebaj can guide you. In the Petén jungles, treks to remote archaeological sites such as El Mirador and El Perú offer an exciting challenge.

Cycling

There's probably no better way to experience the Guatemalan highlands than by bicycle. Panajachel, San Pedro La Laguna, Quetzaltenango and Antigua in particular are the best launch points, with local agencies offering trips and equipment.

Horseback Riding

Opportunities for a gallop, a trot or even a horse trek are on the increase in Guatemala. There are stables in Antigua, Quetzaltenango, El Remate and Laguna Brava. Unicornio Azul, north of Huehuetenango, offers horse trekking in the sublime Cuchumatanes.

Paragliding

Paragliding remains relatively undeveloped in Guatemala, but its mountains and volcanoes make excellent launch points and the views are superb. There are reliable, experienced operators in Panajachel that can take you flying over Lago de Atitlán.

Spelunking

Guatemala attracts cavers from all around the world. The limestone area around Cobán is particularly riddled with cave systems, the full extents of which remain largely unknown. The caves of Lanquín, B'omb'il Pek, Candelaria and Rey Marcos are all open for tourist visits. There are also exciting caves to visit from Finca Ixobel, near Poptún, and some near Flores.

Water Sports

There are varied activities for getting on the water: rafting the white waters of the Río Cahabón near Lanquín, or surfing the Pacific at El Paredón. You can also canoe or kayak the waterways of Monterrico, Lago de Atitlán and Lago de Petén Itzá, Lívingston, the Bocas del Polochic or Punta de Manabique, or sail from the yachtie haven of Río Dulce.

Mayan Whitewater

Mayan Whitewater Guatemala by Greg Schwendinger is your ultimate guide to the waterways of Guatemala, packed with tips on how to explore the country afloat.

Wildlife-Watching

National parks and nature reserves offer lots of wildlife-watching opportunities, while generally having few tourist facilities. Fine locations in the Petén jungles for birdwatching include Tikal, El Mirador, Cerro Cahuí, Laguna Petexbatún and (for scarlet macaws) the Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas and the Macaw Mountain Bird Park. Elsewhere, the wetlands of Bocas del Polochic, Punta de Manabique and Monterrico, and the Río Dulce and Laguna Lachuá national parks provide lots of avian variety, as does the Biotopo del Quetzal – where you can search for the quetzal, Guatemala's national bird.

Mammals tend to prove more elusive, but you should see several species at Tikal. Monkey fans will also be happy at the Reserva Natural Atitlán, the Bocas del Polochic and Cerro Cahuí.