There’s A LOT to see and do in Guatemala. The country is full of historical sites, natural wonders, fascinating culture, delicious food, and fantastic wildlife, and I want you to experience all of these! So I created this guide of the must-visit places in Guatemala to help you see all the highlights of this beautiful country!
You could visit some of these places a day trips, but if you have the time, I’d recommend at least one night and two days at each of these destinations.
All of these destinations are included in my Guatemala Itinerary.
Here are your must-visit places in Guatemala!
Tikal National Park is where you’ll find some of the most amazing ruins you’ve ever seen. The park is full of incredible Mayan structures – some still towering over the treetop canopy, while others have been taken over by the jungle.
The two best things you can do while you’re here are a sunset and sunrise tour. The park opens at 6:00 am and closes at 6:00 pm. So you have to stay in the park to do these excursions, but they’re well worth it.
On the sunset tour, you’ll hike into the jungle when it’s daylight, explore some of the ruins, climb up a temple to watch the sunset, then walk back in the dark.
On the sunrise tour, you’ll trek into the jungle when it’s still dark, climb up a different temple where you’re actually above the forest canopy to watch the sunrise, then hike back once it’s daylight.
To truly experience Tikal, you should hire a guide or join a group tour. The ruins and trails aren’t well-marked, so it’s difficult to know what you’re looking at on your own. A guide will help bring these ruins back to life in your imagination and knows how to “read” the trails to make sure you only encounter friendly wildlife.
Semuc Champey is a real jungle paradise, and it’s my favorite place I visited in Guatemala. Here, you’ll find a massive limestone bridge made of six crystal pools with a river running underneath it.
You can swim in the turquoise pools, slide down waterfalls, and hike in the rainforest and up to a fantastic viewpoint. You can also tube down the river (the part that’s above ground) and go caving by candlelight.
Most visitors stay in the town of Lanquin and hike or take a 4X4 pickup truck to Semuc Champey. But there’s also some eco-lodges and resorts in the jungle closer to Semuc Champey.
Learn how to visit this singularly beautiful off-the-beaten-path destination in my Ultimate Guide to Semuc Champey.
Lake Atitlán is in a massive volcanic crater in Guatemala’s southwestern highlands. The lake is ringed by volcanoes with those iconic pointed cones. If you’re spending the night, I recommend staying in the town of Panajachel, one of the larger hillside villages, such as Panajachel, for easy access to activities and excursions.
I recommend spending at least a couple of nights here, but if you’re short on time, you can visit Lake Atitlán as a day trip from Antigua, Guatemala City, or one of the Western coastal towns.
A boat tour around the lake is a must-do activity, and there are many other things to do in the area. One option is the Atitlán nature reserve that’s on a former coffee plantation and has a butterfly garden and hiking trails.
You can also visit one of the coffee and avocado orchards, “soak in” the Mayan culture in any of the lakeside towns, take a cooking class, or (if you’re feeling more adventurous) take a motorcycle ride around the lake for higher-up panoramic views.
Antigua is known for its preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has amazing cultural activities and stunning views around every corner.
The coffee beans grown around Antigua are some of the best in Latin America, so make sure you do some coffee tastings or visit a local coffee plantation.
Guatemala is considered the “Birthplace of Chocolate,” and Antigua has the best cacao museums and chocolate shops in the country. So, you must sample the local chocolate and take some home with you!
Another must-do activity when you’re in Antigua is to hike Pacaya Volcano. Pacaya is one of the most accessible volcanoes in Central America. This could be a half or full-day trip from Antigua.
Monterrico is a picturesque town along Guatemala’s Pacific coast. It’s known for its volcanic black sand beaches, nesting sea turtles, and nature reserve for the town’s mangrove swamp.
When you’re here, you need to visit the Tortugario Monterrico. It’s a wildlife reserve that raises endangered species of sea turtles, caimans (a cross between crocodiles and alligators), and iguanas. The staff offer lagoon trips and night walks from August to December to look for turtle eggs to rescue. And at sunset from September to January, you can help workers release baby turtles into the ocean.
The Monterrico beach is narrow, and the waves break close to the sand. So if you want a swim-in-the-ocean day, you should probably visit the nearby beaches in Iztapa or Tilapa. But you can see some extraordinary sunset views from Monterrico beach.
Another activity I’d highly recommend is taking a boat tour of the mangrove canals. Tours usually last about one and a half to two hours. A sunrise tour will give you the best chance of seeing the most wildlife. You can always take a nap later!
You can arrange boat tours through most of Monterrico’s hotels, but I’d recommend booking a trip directly through Tortugario Monterrico. The wildlife reserve has the most knowledgeable guides, and you’re supporting a good cause. Most tours are on a motorboat, but you can arrange for a paddle tour.
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This is not a sponsored post, and, as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Some of the links in this guide to must-visit places in Guatemala are affiliate links, and, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission.