San Juan La Laguna
San Juan La Laguna is just 2km east by road from busy San Pedro, on a rise above a spectacular bay, but this neat, mellow village has escaped many of the excesses of its neighbor, and some travelers find it a more tranquil setting in which to study Spanish or experience local life.
This peaceful spot at the eastern end of Lago de Petén Itzá makes a good alternative base for Tikal-bound travelers – it's more relaxed than Flores and closer to the site, and its lakeside living has a ramshackle vibe all of its own. People come here to bask in life-affirming slowness, so don't expect pumping discos or craft cocktails.
Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa
Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa is an unremarkable sort of place, but it's an important stop for anyone interested in archaeology. In the fields and fincas (plantations or farms) near the town stand great stone heads carved with grotesque faces and fine relief scenes, the product of the enigmatic Pipil culture that flourished here from about AD 500 to 700.
The major settlement on the northern shore of Lago de Izabal is El Estor, a friendly, quiet town with a lovely setting, which provides an easy jumping-off point for Bocas del Polochic, a highly biodiverse wildlife reserve at the west end of the lake. The town is also a staging post on a possible route between Río Dulce and Lanquín.
Santa Cruz La Laguna
Santa Cruz fits the typically dual nature of the Atitlán villages, comprising both a waterfront resort (home of the lake's scuba-diving outfit) and an indigenous Kaqchiquel village. The village is about 600m uphill from the dock (there are tuk-tuks if you don't fancy the stiff walk).
At the east end of the Lago de Izabal, this town still gets referred to as Fronteras – a hangover from the days when the only way across the river was by ferry, and this was the last piece of civilization before embarking on the long, difficult journey into El Petén. Times have changed.
Long before the Spanish showed up, the Kaqchiquel town of Sololá held importance due to its location on trade routes between the tierra caliente (hot lands of the Pacific Slope) and tierra fría (the chilly highlands). All the traders still meet here, and Sololá's market is one of the most vivid in the highlands.
Of the archaeological sites reached from Sayaxché, Ceibal and Aguateca are the most interesting to the amateur visitor. Both are impressively restored and can be reached by boat trips along jungle-fringed waterways followed by forest walks. Most people arrive as part of a tour, but it is possible to make arrangements independently.
Salamá & Around
A wonderful introduction to Baja Verapaz' not-too-hot, not-too-cold climate, the area around Salamá hosts a wealth of attractions, both post-colonial and indigenous. Salamá itself is known for its ornate church (complete with grisly depiction of Jesus) and bustling Sunday market.
Parque Nacional Cuevas de Candelaria
Just west of Raxruhá, this 22km-long cave system, dug out by the subterranean Río Candelaria, features some monstrous proportions – the main chamber is 30m high, 200m wide and has stalagmites measuring up to 30m in length. Natural apertures in the roof allow sunlight in, creating magical, eerie reflections.