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23 Best Places to Visit in Guatemala for the First Time

23 Best Places to Visit in Guatemala for the First Time

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Are you thinking about planning a trip to Guatemala but aren’t sure what to see? Keep scrolling to check out the best places to visit in Guatemala that are worth checking out!
This list of the best places to visit in Guatemala was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

The best places to visit in Guatemala are scattered around the Latin American country, so it might be hard to catch them all in one trip.

But if you’re traveling to Guatemala and want some inspiration for your travels, you’re in the right place! You can explore Tikal National Park’s ancient ruins, kay around the beautiful Lake Atitlan, walk the cobblestone streets of Antigua, and do so much more in this beautiful country.

Guatemala has a shocking range of climates, too. The beaches and jungle are warmer and more tropical. At the same time, the Guatemalan highlands are cooler, and the tropical jungles around the lakes are usually warm and sunny during the day and breezy at night.

If you’re wondering where to go in Guatemala, check out these 23 best places in Guatemala to help you plan your next adventure.

23 Best Places to Go in Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala, is a quintessential town with narrow cobblestone streets and charming colonial architecture. And there’s a lot to do in Antigua, from the incredible volcano hikes to the neighboring coffee plantations to visiting local markets.

Image of Marcie Cheung in Antigua Guatemala
I LOVED walking around Antigua. Photo credit: Fernanda Lacayo

The small town of Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s an important historical piece of Guatemala. The colorful colonial buildings characterize it. The Spanish colonial town has maintained most of its charm over the years despite a surprising number of fast-food chains in the city center.

The Santa Catalina Arch is the most recognizable part of Antigua. Not only is the Santa Catalina Arch the perfect spot for a photo session but it’s also lined with handicraft stores and souvenir shops.

The Antigua Guatemala Cathedral (Catedral de Santiago) is another important monument in Antigua and a Guatemala must-see while exploring this small town.

Cerro de la Cruz

Cerro de la Cruz is a must-visit while in Guatemala. It’s a hill overlooking Antigua, with Volcano Agua in the town’s backdrop.

Image of Marcie Cheung at Cerro de la Cruz lookout in Antigua, Guatemala
Cerro de la Cruz is an easy hike with an awesome view. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

There’s a large cross at the top of the hill, benches, local vendors, and small trails to different viewpoints.

You can walk up the hill from the center of Antigua or take a taxi or tuk-tuk straight to the top. There are stairs at the base of the hill leading up to the central point. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the top of the hill from Antigua. Otherwise, it’s a quick 5 or 10-minute taxi ride.

Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano is another popular excursion from Antigua and the best volcano hike for families. Although it’s an active volcano, it’s relatively safe as you don’t get too close to the eruptions.

Image of Marcie Cheung jumping at Pacaya Volcano.
Definitely add the Pacaya volcano hike to your Guatemala itinerary! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Pacaya volcano is considered medium difficulty. The hike has no technical portions, but it’s rather steep for much of the 3.2-mile (5.1 km) trek. However, horses are usually for rent at the beginning of the hike.

The horses can’t go to the top, where it gets sandy and more complex, but they’ll carry you most of the way. This is what my friends and I did and it was such a unique experience.

There are some great Guatemala sights and views beyond throughout the hike, but the top of the hike treats you to even better ones, complete with roasted marshmallows off the hot lava rocks.

Whether or not you see lava depends on the day you go and the volcano’s activity. Some days, you’ll only be walking on hot lava rocks. On other days, you may see the lava stream slowly flowing down from the volcano’s peak.

Acatenango Volcano

Acatenango is the more challenging volcano hike near Antigua. It’s not as popular with families and children as Pacaya Volcano, as it’s significantly more difficult and requires staying overnight on the volcano. That said, some people may feel adventurous and energetic enough.

Image of Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala erupting.
Even if you don’t hike, it’s cool to see it.

Acatenango is an active volcano, with the last eruption in 1986. Its sister volcano, El Fuego, is an active volcano with frequent eruptions every 15 to 30 minutes.

You can hike up Acatenango, stay the night at the top, and admire El Fuego’s marvelous volcanic eruptions. If you go with a tour company, you can hike up to El Fuego and get closer to the action.

This isn’t entirely recommended for families, as it can be dangerous. However, tour companies are going up every day, and there are rarely any problems.

Just keep in mind that it’s also a challenging hike. You’ll have to prepare for 6-8 hours of hiking at high elevation, going straight up almost the entire time. But if you decide to go this route, either with your family or on a solo trip, the absolute magnificence of El Fuego is worth the effort.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlán is one of Guatemala’s most popular tourist destinations, with many of the top tourist attractions in Guatemala, and there isn’t anything like it in Central America. There are tons of things to do in Lake Atitlan.

Image of Marcie Cheung pointing at a volcano on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
It was so cool seeing a volcano on Lake Atitlan. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Lake Atitlan spans over 50 square kilometers and reaches a depth of over 1,000 feet (340 meters). It’s a volcanic lake created by the past eruptions of the nearby volcanos towering around the lake.

Around twelve distinct villages around the lake, some more popular for tourists than others. And there are dozens of great hikes and fun activities.


Panajachel is considered the “city” of Lake Atitlán, located on the northeastern side of the lake. It’s an enjoyable place with coffee shops, markets, and other activities.

Image of Wooden pier at Lake Atitlan on the beach in Panajachel, Guatemala. With beautiful landscape scenery of volcanoes Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro in the background. Volcano Highland in Central America.
You’ll probably go through Panajachel at some point.

Most people don’t like to stay in Panajachel, even though it’s the main arrival and departure port around Lake Atitlan, because of the “city” vibes. But it’s worth a visit, even if you don’t plan to stay there.

San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro la Laguna is one of the most popular small villages along the lake. It’s on the opposite side of the lake as Panajachel and is about a 30-minute boat ride.

San Pedro la Laguna is one of the coolest villages on Lake Atitlan. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

San Pedro la Laguna is one of the most “tourist-friendly” towns, with many restaurants, shops, and artisan shops. There are also many places to rent kayaks, hostels, and hotels.

The village is close to some fantastic hikes, as well. Not surprisingly, it’s the closest village to San Pedro volcano, making it a great starting point. But there are several other nearby hikes, as well.

Indian Nose (La Nariz del Indio) is the best sunrise hike around Lake Atitlan, with unbeatable views. The hike itself is only about 30-45 minutes. While it’s straight up the entire time, it’s still doable for families and children with a guide.

If you’re hiking around Lake Atitlan, it’s strongly suggested to go with a local guide for safety reasons.

San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos La Laguna is another popular village for tourists. It’s on the same side of the lake as San Pedro, about a 10-minute boat trip from San Pedro.

This town is known more as a “hippy” town, as it’s home to some of the best yoga studios, hostels, cafes, and handicraft shops.

There’s a narrow alleyway from the boat dock into town filled with great shopping points. Next to the docks is a small park called Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. This is an excellent spot for swimming, walking, and lounging.

You can also join boat tours to explore the rest of the lake. It’s worth exploring every corner, as each village has a unique personality and vibe. You’ll quickly find, the villages around the lake are one of the top things to see in Guatemala.


Chichicastenango is the perfect small village for culture seekers and explorers. It’s located in west-central Guatemala, in the Guatemalan highlands.

View of colerful cemetery of chichicastenango - Guatemala
This is the cemetery in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

Chichicastenango (often shortened to Chichi) is a unique place where Christianity and Mayan cultures blend more than in other Guatemala areas.

The Chichicastenango market is the most famous place in Guatemala for markets, but there are a few other things to do, possibly making a night or two here worth it.

There’s a small archeological museum of the region, beautiful murals in the main plaza, and a haunting, yet mesmerizing, cemetery near the town center.

Chichicastenango Market

Whether or not you spend a night or two in Chichi, you should try to visit the Chichicastenango Market. It’s an easy trip from Lake Atitlán, only taking about two hours by car.

Mayan wooden masks for sale at Chichicastenango market in Guatemala.
Here are some Mayan wooden masks for sale at the Chichicastenango market in Guatemala.

This is one of the largest markets in Guatemala and likely the most colorful market. The market has great cultural significance, as it was a central market for the Mayan civilizations long before Spanish colonization.

You can find almost anything here, so bring plenty of money and space to bring trinkets back home.

The market is only open on Thursdays and Sundays.

Lake Peten Itza & Flores

Lake Peten is in northern Guatemala, in the Guatemalan lowlands. It’s not too far from the Mexican border (albeit it’s nothing but lush jungle on this side of the border) and the Belize border.

Image of Marcie Cheung sitting on a boat on Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala.
Lake Peten Itza is stunning! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The lake is one of the calmest lakes in the country, making it an excellent spot for swimming. But it was also the home base of the Maya Itza, the very last indigenous group conquered by the Spanish.

This region is full of so much Mayan culture and some of the best Mayan ruins in the country, making it perfect for those looking to explore temples and learn about the intricate history.

Other popular activities around Lake Peten Itza include walking the quiet streets, kayaking around the mellow lake and over to the little island, and visiting museums and local artisan shops.

The best place to stay around Lake Peten Itza is Flores. Flores is a small island connected to the Peten region via one short bridge.

Flores has several hotels, restaurants, and shops. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk around the island, and it has a very laid-back vibe.

There usually aren’t many people around Flores during the door, and most are embarking on day trips to nearby Mayan ruins or other Guatemala top attractions.

Tikal National Park

If you’re in Peten, visiting Tikal National Park is one of the top things to do in Guatemala, as it’s one of the most famous places in Guatemala.

El Tikal National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most fascinating Mayan ruins, rich with Mayan history, magnificent pyramids, and nature.

Image of Marcie Cheung at Tikal National Park in Guatemala
Tikal National Park is a must-do! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Tikal dates back to the 1st century A.D., though it flourished from 200 to 850 A.D. It’s believed to have been the largest city in the Maya lowlands.

Today, the site’s major structures include five pyramids and three large complexes (often called acropolis).

Tikal is thoroughly excavated, and it’ll take at least a few hours to explore every open piece of these Mayan ruins. But it’s worth it.

Temple IV is the largest temple in Tikal, standing at 212 ft (64 meters) high. Temple IV is one of the three major temples you can climb.

The Plaza of Seven Temples is another major complex in Tikal. This complex is southwest of the Great Plaza and west of the South Acropolis. There are some immaculately preserved masks, temples, and intricate history.

The Temple of the Great Jaguar is one of Tikal’s most iconic images. It’s located on the eastern side of the Great Plaza in the North Acropolis of Tikal.

Visiting Tikal is one of the best things to do in the country and a must-do in Guatemala for culture and nature lovers.

After all, the Mayan ruins are surrounded by lush rainforests, with the chance to spot wild monkeys and other animals roaming the national parks in Guatemala.

El Mirador

El Mirador is less suited for children and families, but it’s one of the most exciting excursions in Guatemala for outdoor lovers.

El Mirador is one of the most recently discovered Mayan ruins deep in the jungle canopy of northern Guatemala. To reach El Mirador, you’ll have to trek five days through the jungle for hours daily.

The jungle trek includes more Mayan ruins, lots of Mayan culture, and a chance to get off the beaten path in Guatemala.

You’ll climb several more pyramids, wake up to howler monkeys every morning, and even hike alongside monkeys in the trees throughout the journey.

This is a challenging 5-day adventure, but worth it if you want to get lost in the lush jungle (with a guide, of course).

The trek isn’t recommended for kids, as it’s physically challenging to walk through the jungle 6-8 hours a day with mosquitos, mud, and other animals.


Cobán is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala, about four hours from Guatemala City.

Cobán was once the center of a large colony of German settlers who came to Guatemala to grow coffee. It was also one of the major hubs in northern Guatemala for Mayan trade and settlement. Because of this, the city boasts a unique culture mixed with Mayan ruins not too far from small coffee plantations.

The city is also a nice escape from the active volcanoes in western Guatemala. Instead of hiking volcanoes, Cobán is just a few hours from Guatemala’s stunning surrounding mountains and tropical jungle.

Cobán is a popular starting point for more remote tourist destinations in Guatemala, like Semuc Champey, Candelaria Caves, Rio Dulce, and Laguna Lachua National Park.

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is one of the best Guatemala beautiful places and a must-see for anyone visiting the country. It has blue pools, small waterfalls, caves, a significant limestone bridge, and several lookouts to take it all in.

Image of Semuc Champey in Guatemala
Adventurous people might want to add Semuc Champey to their Guatemala itinerary.

Semuc Champey is most known for its layers of striking turquoise and emerald pools that flow through the jungle canopy. It’s an excellent spot for swimming and exploring the beautiful country of Guatemala.

You should consider visiting Semuc Champey, as certain areas of the beautiful region can be dangerous. A tour group can also take you to more hidden gems around the area, where you can make the most of the long journey here.

Semuc Champey is about 45 minutes from the nearest town, Lanquín. Lanquín is about eight hours from Antigua and Flores and five hours from Cobán.

It’s one of the most remote places to visit in Guatemala, but it’s worth the travel time due to the stunning beauty and isolation of the pools.

Rio Dulce

Rio Dulce is another amazing hidden gem in the remote jungle of Guatemala. Rio Dulce, which translates to “Sweet River” in English, is often considered a natural jewel of the Caribbean coast.

Image of a hut on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala
Here’s a hut along the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.

The river serves as a gateway to the Caribbean Sea. Near the gateway, there are beautiful canyons and extraordinary wildlife surrounding the river. You might even be lucky and spot a few local spider monkeys swinging through the trees.

The river runs 26 miles(43 km), and one of the best activities is to join a boat ride down the river’s length. You’ll be able to spot some of the local wildlife, including crocodiles, monkeys, and dozens of different bird species.

You’ll also pass by some indigenous villages, which allow a unique peek into this vibrant culture in Central America.

This region has been thriving for many years and remains relatively untouched. Mayan culture is prevalent in rural communities in architecture, art, and traditions.

Like Semuc Champey, Rio Dulce is pretty isolated. Despite being one of the major tourist attractions in Guatemala, it’s four hours from Flores and five hours from Cobán.

El Boqueron Canyon

El Boqueron Canyon is another beautiful destination in Guatemala, often overlooked by travelers. But it’s one of Central America’s most unique and memorable canyons, so it’s worth the visit if you have the time.

El Boqueron Canyon is more of a large gorge than a canyon, and most people choose to explore by boat down the narrow pathways and rapids. You can also go tubing, hike the surrounding trails to various lookouts, or picnic at one of the recreational areas in the large park.

El Boqueron Canyon is north of Lake Izabel, and visiting from the small town of Rio Dulce is best. It’s about an hour from Rio Dulce but fairly far from other popular places in Guatemala.

Candelaria Caves

The Candelaria Caves are set within Guatemala’s limestone mountains in northern Alta Verapaz. The flow of Rio Candelaria formed the caves, stretching over 18 miles (29km). You can explore the caves on foot or with a raft down some portions.

Image of Cueva El Jardin (Garden Cave), part of the Candelaria cave complex, near Mucbilha village, Guatemala
This is Cueva El Jardin (Garden Cave), which is part of the Candelaria cave complex.

This is more of an adventure, not for the faint of heart, as cave exploring can be dangerous and exhilarating simultaneously.

However, if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll get lost in the mesmerizing beauty of Candelaria Caves, with their neverending length, great height, and unique rock formations.

The caves were also sacred to the Q’eqchi Mayans, so it’s one of the best places to visit in Guatemala to learn more about their culture. The caves were considered an opening to the underworld, and Mayans used the caves as a prominent place of worship.

The caves are only a few hours from Cobán, so it’s best to visit on a day trip from the city.

Laguna Lachua National Park

Laguna Lachua National Park is a hidden gem and one of the best places to visit in Guatemala for nature lovers, birdwatchers, and “off-the-beaten-path” travelers.

Laguna Lachua is often called “a little piece of the Caribbean coast” because of the turquoise waters and natural swimming pools. But there’s so much more. Howler monkeys are roaming the trees, over 300 bird species, well-maintained jungle trails, and even some great camping near the lake.

Laguna Lachua is only about three hours from Cobán, so visiting on a day trip or for a few days after exploring the city is best. There’s a small town near Laguna Lachua National Park, but if you plan on staying the night, you should consider camping within the park.

Pacific Beaches

Most people don’t set aside much time for Guatemala’s Pacific coast, but it’s a great rest stop for ocean lovers.

The Pacific coast isn’t as striking as Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, but it’s still home to beautiful black-sand beaches, small beach towns, and some great surfing spots that make it home to the ultimate Guatemala vacation spots.

Monterrico and Paredon are the two most popular Pacific beaches in Guatemala, and they are easy to get to from Antigua or Guatemala City. They aren’t super popular amongst international tourists, but they are very popular Guatemala tourist attractions for locals.


Monterrico is a small beach town known for its black-sand beaches and the annual arrival of sea turtles along the coast. It’s also a popular destination for Guatemala City residents during long breaks and holidays.

Image of Sunset at Beach with Black Sand in Monterrico, Guatemala. Monterrico is situated on the Pacific coast in the department of Santa Rosa. Known for its volcanic black sand beaches and annual influx of sea turtles. Travel destination of Guatemala.
Monterrico has a cool black sand beach.

Monterrico is only about two and a half hours from Antigua and Guatemala City.

El Paredon

El Paredon is another beautiful beach spot in Guatemala. The small fishing village has rustic charm, a quintessential city center growing each year, and some of the best wave breaks for advanced surfers.

El Paredon is about two hours west of Monterrico. But it’s also only about two hours from Guatemala City and Antigua.

Quetzaltenango (Xela)

Quetzaltenango (locals call it Xela) is a small city in Guatemala. It has a cute town center, with a central park and plenty of restaurants and shops. It’s one of the best cities to visit in Guatemala because of the authentic feel.

Fewer tourists visit Quetzaltenango than places like Antigua, so it also feels more authentic and cultural.

Kiosk of the Central Park of Quetzaltenango Guatemala early in the morning -park in a colonial city on a cold morning.
This is the Central Park of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

This city is known for its outstanding Guatemala scenery, rich culture, and neoclassical architecture, much of which it has preserved.

There are also some great day trips from Xela, making it a good home base for those who want to explore the volcanos or hot springs nearby.

Xela is also very popular for Spanish schools, so consider this small city a home base if you want to practice your Spanish more.

Georginas Hot Springs

Georginas Hot Springs is another popular tourist destination. It consists of four thermal pools warmed by the nearby volcano Zunil.

Image o Hot springs Funtes Georginas, Guatemala
Here’s the Georginas Hot Springs.

The springs are located in the western Guatemalan highlands and are most accessible to visit on a day trip from Quetzaltenango (otherwise known as Xela).

There are walking trails around the hot springs, as well. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the tropical jungle, just walking distance from endless lush vegetation and great views of the nearby mountains.

Guatemala City

Guatemala City is the capital city of Guatemala and is not known as a great tourist destination. It’s a large, bustling city, similar to any other in Central America.

However, you’ll likely fly in and out of Guatemala City, and there are still some interesting points of interest in the capital city.

Image of Guatemala National Palace - Guatemala City, Guatemala
This is the royal palace in Guatemala City.

Guatemala City is divided into zones, which represent various neighborhoods. The best places to visit in Guatemala City are Zone 1, Zone 4, Zone 10, and Zone 13.

Zone 1 is home to the historic city center, where you’ll find many of the best museums, parks, and street food. It also has more affordable accommodation and hostels. Zone 10 is the commercial district in Guatemala and is a little more upscale and comfortable for families.

You can still admire the colonial architecture around Guatemala City and learn even more about the Mayan culture and history of the country.

Beautiful Places to Visit in Guatemala FAQs

What are some of the best places to visit in Guatemala for history lovers?

Almost all of Guatemala is perfect for history lovers. I’d recommend at least one day exploring Guatemala City and some museums around the city, as this is an excellent introduction to Guatemalan history.

Afterward, Tikal National Park is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala to learn about Mayan history and its significance. However, there’s a lot of history and culture in every corner of the country, so you can’t go wrong.

Are there hidden gems among the best places to visit in Guatemala?

Some might say that all of Guatemala is a hidden gem, as it isn’t as popular for tourists as its neighbors, Mexico and Belize. Guatemala City, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan are the most beautiful places in Guatemala.

If you go to any other place in Guatemala, you likely won’t see too many other tourists. Rio Dulce, Candelaria Caves, and Laguna Lachua National Park are some of the most underrated places to visit in Guatemala, however.

What are the best cultural sites in Guatemala?

El Tikal is the best cultural site in Guatemala. Many are around the area, but Tikal is nicely excavated and easy to explore. You can climb up pyramids, walk up steps to some incredible viewpoints, and learn all about the intriguing history of this Mayan civilization.

What are the best places to visit in Guatemala to hike active volcanoes?

Antigua Guatemala is the best place to visit in Guatemala to hike volcanoes. The best one for families and day hikes is Pacaya Volcano. Acatanengo is also a popular overnight hike, though it’s much more challenging, especially for families.

Is it safe to travel to popular tourist destinations in Guatemala?

Generally speaking, it is safe to travel to popular places in Guatemala. Guatemala is not the safest place in Central America; it has its problems related to crime and drugs, but it’s relatively safe if you’re a savvy traveler.

The U.S. Department of State lists several travel advisories and tips for people who plan to visit Guatemala. For example, they advise against going to Zone 18 in Guatemala City, warn travelers not to swim in the Pacific Ocean because of currents, and encourage travelers to go to Guatemala with a tour agency or travel around the country with tours.

That said, the popular tourist hot spots are usually safe for travelers.

What are the best places to visit in Guatemala for a family vacation?

Guatemala is not your traditional family vacation location, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great family vacation. Antigua Guatemala is one of the best locations in Guatemala. There are some great hikes, day trips, and coffee plantations that are all popular for families.

Lake Atitlán is another great spot for families, depending on where you stay.

Top Places to Visit in Guatemala Wrap-Up

Guatemala is the place to go for adventure. Antigua is a beautiful town with colorful colonial architecture and amazing hikes.

Lake Atitlán is also a popular spot for swimming and hiking, with one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America. Flores, Guatemala, is another unique location and a great starting point to learn about Mayan history.

But there’s even more than that. There are hidden gems tucked away in the Guatemalan highlands and many underrated places to explore and travel.

If you take the time to explore, you’ll find your most beautiful place in Guatemala (because it’s different for everyone)! If you’re having a hard time deciding where to visit in Guatemala, just know, you can’t really go wrong.

Most things to do in Guatemala are active and fast-paced, and living is very different from what you might be used to. For this reason, it isn’t as popular for family vacations and travel. But it’s perfect for those who want something different, more eye-opening, and challenging.

Looking for more Guatemala travel resources? Check out 39 Incredible Things to Do in Lake Atitlan Guatemala, 10 Helpful Guatemala Travel Tips for First-Timers, 24 Things to Know Before Visiting Tikal National Park in Guatemala, 5 Best Hotels in Antigua Guatemala Worth Booking, and 25 Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala for First-Timers!

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