When you think of the perfect vacation in Latin America, you might not think of Guatemala at first. This Central American country is often overshadowed by some of the other popular Latin American countries such as Costa Rica and Mexico.
But after spending several months in Guatemala, I was completely blown away by its beauty in every form. There are so many reasons to visit Guatemala, and there is no better time to do it than now!
Whether you’re looking for culture and history or stunning natural sights and landscapes, there’s something for everyone in Guatemala. Read on to find out why you should visit Guatemala. (This post is written by Sean Lau. Read his bio at the bottom of the post!)
Why Visit Guatemala?
1. To Enjoy The Relaxed Vibes of Guatemala
Latin American destinations have a title for being a tropical paradise with stunning beaches and glistening waters. But in Guatemala, tropical paradise is more than just the beachside towns – it is Lake Atitlan, a volcanic crater lake in the highlands of Guatemala.
This massive lake is situated 1,562 meters above sea level and is surrounded by many different ethnic villages and soaring volcanoes.
Visitors can enjoy the things Guatemala is most famous for in Lake Atitlan- culture, volcanoes, and relaxed vibes.
Each village in Lake Atitlan offers something different for tourists. San Pedro is popular for backpackers and is filled with nice bars and restaurants. San Marcos is known as a hippie town, and it is a hub for everything wellness related
Enjoy waking up from one of the beautiful hotels in Lake Atitlan every morning to the sun rising behind epic volcanoes in Guatemala, before jumping into the lake for a refreshing swim. Spend your day exploring the different villages in Guatemala, and finish your day with a sunset hike on one of the volcanoes surrounding the village.
Lake Atitlan-living is paradise living at its simplest form!
- Lake Atitlan: Mayan Ceremony at the Sacred Caves: Experience an ancient Mayan custom at a fire cleansing and protection ceremony at the Sacred Caves of Lake Atitlan. Immerse yourself in the mysticism of a holy place, and learn why the highland tribes travel for hours to connect with the spirits. Learn more here.
2. Go Surfing on the Black Sand Beaches of Guatemala
On the Pacific Coast of Guatemala are unique black sand beaches that are the result of numerous volcanic eruptions in the past. The volcanic eruptions expel black sediments that eventually settle on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.
These beaches are super beautiful to look at, but they are not the only reason why visitors come to explore this region. Guatemala’s Pacific Coast is the perfect place for surfing, especially for advanced surfers. But if you are a beginner surfer, worry not, there are plenty of surf camps and instructors that are more than eager to help you enjoy the epic waves.
Perhaps the most famous beach town on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast is El Paredon, a small community where WiFi is weak and simple living is at its best. There is only a handful of accommodations, and even less for the ones with air-conditioning. Visitors come here to enjoy the off-grid living and enjoy surfing on El Paredon’s beach.
If you are visiting from September to December, you might even be able to enjoy releasing some turtle hatchlings into the ocean!
Just be careful with the black sand beaches in Guatemala. Because they are black, they absorb heat very quickly and easily. This means if you are walking on them in the middle of the day, you’ll most definitely need some foot protection!
3. Hike Volcanoes And See Volcanic Eruptions
There are a total of 37 volcanoes in Guatemala, and a handful of them are still active. Without a doubt, hiking volcanoes are some of the most iconic activities in the country.
In fact, two of the most popular things to do in Antigua Guatemala are hiking Volcano Acatenango and Volcano Pacaya.
Volcano Acatenango is the more demanding of the two hikes, usually lasting 2 days and 1 night. But the reward is much greater as well – hikers can summit the nearly 4,000-meter volcano and see the nearby Volcano Fuego erupt. Fuego Volcano is very active, with eruptions happening around every 30 minutes.
It is truly a remarkable experience to watch it erupt on the Volcano Acatenango hike.
If you are visiting Guatemala with kids, then maybe the Volcano Pacaya hike is more suitable. This is an easy 3-hour hike where you can roast marshmallows using the active volcano’s lava! You can also get a horseback ride up to skip some of the most difficult parts of the hike.
- Overnight Volcano Acatenango Hiking Adventure: Trek from Antigua traveling through La Soledad village and on to Acatenango. See the beautiful landscapes that Guatemala has to offer. Learn more here.
- Pacaya Volcano Tour and Hot Springs with Lunch: Enjoy a walk on one of the most amazing volcanoes in Guatemala during your relaxing day tour that includes lunch at Kawilal Hot Springs. Learn more here.
4. Discover the Cobblestone Streets of Antigua, Guatemala
The small city of Antigua is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala. This ex-capital of Guatemala is a present-day UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to the iconic Spanish architecture that resides here in ruins.
Because Antigua is situated in a very high seismic activity region, the city was hit multiple times by devastating earthquakes. This eventually caused the capital to be moved to present-day Guatemala City, but many of the best attractions of the country still reside here.
Stroll down the cobblestone streets and admire the gorgeous colonial-style buildings. Check out the ruins that were once some of the most iconic landmarks of the country, such as San Jose Cathedral and Santa Clara Convent. Visit Cerro de la Cruz and enjoy the sweeping panoramic views.
Antigua is one of the main reasons why visitors come to Guatemala!
- Combo Tour: Colonial Antigua & Guatemala City Explorer Tour: Enjoy 2 wonderful cities, ancient colonial city of Antigua, a UNRSCO World Heritage Site, and Modern Guatemala City at the same day. Learn more here
5. Explore One of the World’s Best Mayan Ruins
Geographically, Guatemala was where the heart of the Mayan civilization rest. Though the Mayan Civilization has vanished, they have left many incredible ruins that give us clues to the past. And perhaps there are no better Mayan Ruins in the world than Tikal, once the beating heart of their civilization.
Located in the Peten department of Guatemala, Tikal National Park is situated in the rainforest of the country. Exploring the ruins feels like you are in Indiana Jones, as you have to go through thick forestry and traverse the 60 square kilometers (23 sq mi) park.
If you are lucky (or unlucky) you might encounter some of the native wildlife in the region, such as tarantulas, howler monkeys, and jaguars.
But with the right guidance, exploring this iconic Mayan Ruin is an incredible experience. Visitors can see the stunning temples that were built entirely by hand several hundred years ago. The tallest one is 213 feet (65 meters), but the massive archaeological site is still under excavation so there is more to be discovered!
- Tikal Day Tour From Flores With Lunch: Visit the archeological site of Tikal and explore this important site at the heart of the Mayan world. Travel from Flores on this full-day tour. Learn more here.
6. Guatemala is Affordable
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to visit Guatemala is its affordability. Travelers can spend a fraction of the cost in Guatemala compared to other destinations around the world and have about the same quality of travel.
Combined with its beautiful tropical weather, excellent food options, and stunning landscapes, Guatemala surely has lots to offer!
7. Find Paradise At Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is a natural monument of Guatemala. Known for its stunning turquoise pools surrounded by lush greenery and a dramatic canyon, Semuc Champey is the definition of nature’s paradise.
The beautiful place in Guatemala is uniquely formed by the Cahabón River, which existed under the limestone bridges that were naturally created over time.
Its unique geological formation is one of the reasons for its outstanding beauty. Visitors can hike up to the canyons nearby for a bird’s-eye view of this natural wonder, go cool off in one of its pools, and explore the cave inside the park.
If you are the type of traveler that likes adventure in off-the-beaten-path destinations, then you’ll love Semuc Champey!
8. For One of the Biggest Outdoor Markets in Central America
Guatemala is home to one of the biggest outdoor markets in Central America, Chichicastenango. The market attracts vendors from every little village in Guatemala, and the market especially comes to life on Sundays.
Here visitors can find anything and everything they might need (and not need) – from Mayan trinkets to old electronics and tons of produce. If you try to browse through every single stall in Chichicastenango, it might take you more than an entire day.
And like every Guatemala market there is, expect a lot of chaos, but it is the chaos that makes this market so authentic and beautiful.
If you want to shop for souvenirs in Guatemala, this is the best place to do so. It can be a little bit touristy though, which means vendors mark up the price for foreign tourists. Make sure you negotiate if you are going to purchase something!
- Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan Tour From Antigua: Discover Chichicastenango, the site of the largest and most colorful outdoor market in Latin America. Visit the town of Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan for spectacular views. Learn more here.
- 3-Day Tour of Lake Atitlan & Chichicastenango Market: Delve deep into Mayan culture where you’ll visit Chichicastenango, explore the town of Panajachel, and enjoy a cruise on spectacular Lake Atitlan. Learn more here.
9. Learn Spanish in Guatemala
One of the reasons why travelers come to Guatemala is to learn Spanish. There are many different accents of Spanish around the world, but the Guatemalan version is one of the most neutral. This means you are more likely to be able to use your Guatemalan Spanish elsewhere.
As a result, Guatemala has become a hotspot for travelers looking to dive deeper into learning Spanish. Spanish schools are abundant in the country, and many of them offer immersive 1-on-1 learning and the option to do a homestay with a Guatemalan family. If you want to learn Spanish in the shortest amount of time, then Guatemala is a place you should visit!
10. Try Some Local Guatemalan Coffee
One of the biggest export of Guatemala is coffee, and it is no surprise why. Thanks to the nutrient-rich volcanic soil, mild subtropical weather, and high altitude, Guatemalan coffee is rich and bold. The coffee beans are mostly Arabica beans (similar to the coffee beans from Colombia), which means they are of the highest quality.
And for travelers, there are plenty of cafes in Antigua where you can enjoy a cup of freshly made coffee on an outdoor terrace overlooking Volcano Agua, Antigua’s most recognizable volcano! It is an experience every traveler must have in Guatemala!
If you were wondering why you should visit Guatemala, hopefully our guide has now given you all the reasons you need! This country is full of beauty everywhere you look, and the time to go is now before it gets too overcrowded!