You’ve picked Guatemala for your next holiday. Your flight is booked. Your hotels are reserved. Now you just have to figure out what to do. Fortunately, Guatemala offers all sorts of ways to experience its top destinations. Below we’ve compiled a mix of traditional tours and more off-beat experiences around Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the northern department of Tikal. There’s so much to do, your new challenge will likely be how to fit it all in.
Pacaya Volcano Hike
Guatemala is home to more than 30 volcanoes, a handful of which often spew ash, smoke, and lava. One of the most popular for climbing is Pacaya, about 90 minutes from Antigua. A guided hike takes you along its foothills, through pine forests, and to an area of lava rock and ash where hot steam escapes through crevices in the ground. On a clear day, you can see nearby volcanoes and the Pacific lowlands. Add a picnic lunch as a reward.
Street Food Tour
Taste Guatemala’s most traditional fare as you explore Antigua’s street food hot spots. Visit places where long lines of locals are a fixture—and for good reason: The food served is delicious and well-prepared. Items you might sample include chuchitos (the Guatemalan take on a tamale), pupusas (cheese-filled corn tortillas), and rellenitos (plantain cakes filled with sweet beans). You’ll learn about the cultural and historic significance of the eats on offer and (if open) visit Antigua’s busy market.
San Juan & Santiago Atitlán Villages Tour
Board a boat for the village of San Juan La Laguna [above], where you’ll visit a women’s cooperative to see how traditional backstrap looms and all-natural dyes are used to make some of Guatemala’s prettiest textiles. Visit the workshop of a local naïf painter, too. Afterward, head to the Tz’utujil Maya town of Santiago Atitlan. Here, you’ll explore Santiago’s church and market while learning about the town’s history, textiles, and folk art and track down Maximon, a celebrated Maya folk saint that’s housed by a member of the local religious brotherhood. Shamans often perform rituals wherever Maximon resides
Hiking & Biking Villages Visit
Explore Lake Atitlan’s ruggedly picturesque perimeter by foot or by bike [at right]. Along the way, you’ll pass agricultural fields, visit local shops, enjoy spectacular lake and volcano views, and get a taste of local life. The lake’s waterfront towns boast different personalities, all interesting in their own respect.
Take a privately guided tour of Tikal National Park [above], one of the ancient Maya’s largest and most fascinating urban centres. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Tikal was occupied from approximately 900 B.C. to 900 A.D. and reached its heyday c. 700 A.D. with some 50,000 inhabitants. Today, it comprises more than 3,000 well-preserved temples, palaces, ceremonial platforms, and shrines surrounded by jungle; look for tropical birds and monkeys. As you explore the ruins, you’ll follow in the footsteps of the ancient Maya and visit famous spots like the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. A sunrise visit is a real treat.
Yaxha Sunset Tour
One of Guatemala’s little-visited but more picturesque archaeological areas, the Yaxha ruins comprise several superbly restored structures surrounded by lush jungle that sit atop a hill overlooking two scenic lakes. Temple 216 in the East Acropolis towers above the site and provides magnificent views of the area. Climb to its top at dusk for drinks and snacks and to watch the sunset over the surrounding landscape. Yaxha is also a great spot for birding tours.