We rarely visited a country that is as versatile as Guatemala. From centuries-old history to impressive natural phenomena to colorful cities. We were amazingly impressed by all of it and advise you to go and do the same. These are the 10 musts of Guatemala that you cannot miss on your trip!
# 1 Sleep on a volcano
Guatemala has no fewer than 37 volcanoes. A hike to the top of a volcano is really a must-do. Many tours can be booked as an overnight tour. You climb the first day, sleep on or near the top and descend the next morning. A breathtaking sunrise and sunset is guaranteed! Incidentally, three of the 37 volcanoes are active and you can visit all three. We did it ourselves and really recommend it.
# 2 Visit the Mayan ruins
The history of Guatemala goes back centuries to the first Maya who built impressive temples and cities. And you can still visit a lot of them today! Of course, the huge city-state of Tikal is famous, but especially choose one of the less-known options. You can also take a multi-day hike to El Mirador deep in the jungle or watch a breathtaking sunset from the highest temple in the Mayan city of Yaxha.
# 3 Wander through colorful Antigua
Antigua is one of the most visited places in Guatemala and we understand why. Due to the lack of high-rise buildings, it has a cozy and village atmosphere. The colorful streets and colonial architecture make Antigua a feast for the eyes. And talking about beautiful views: from almost every street corner you have a view of one of the volcanoes around the town. A trip to Antigua can not be missed on your travel route through Guatemala.
# 4 Take the chicken bus
The chicken bus is a fantastic phenomenon in Central America and Guatemala in particular. They are converted American school buses. And with that conversion, the school bus also got a colorful new exterior. That is not only a fantastic sight in the streets, but in our opinion a great local experience. Most travelers opt for tourist transport in luxury buses or smaller vans. That is often a lot faster, more comfortable and, according to some, also safer. But with the chicken bus you get closer to the real Guatemala. Sellers who walk in and out with snacks and drinks, ladies in traditional Mayan costume, hutches with chickens that are tied to the roof next to your backpack. You will never forget your trip with the chicken bus.
Tip: the film La Camioneta tells the story of a chicken bus – from an American school bus to a colorful phenomenon in Guatemala – in documentary form.
# 5 Canoeing in Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce will not be included on every travel route through Guatemala, but we would absolutely recommend it. The landscape here is completely different from the rest of Guatemala! Think of deep jungle with howler monkeys, beautiful sleeping places on and by the water and an exotic river that leads to the Caribbean coast. Most travelers in this area opt for a boat trip from the village of Rio Dulce to the Caribbean village of Livingston and back. But the best way to explore the river and the jungle was the canoe. Rent a canoe and go out on your own or with a guide.
# 6 Cruise the Lago de Atitlan
Lago de Atitlan is a famous attraction for a reason. The clear blue lake against a backdrop of volcanoes and mountains is a beautiful sight! There are all kinds of villages around the lake, each with its own vibe. Panajachel, for example, is the largest town and much busier, the tiny San Marcos is the place for a yoga class and a buddhabowl, and you have to be in San Pedro for the cheap hostels and parties. We found San Marcos the most comfy place. There are many places to eat and the atmosphere is colorful and relaxed. In our opinion the perfect base for boat trips on the lake to explore the other places!
# 7 Try the local specialty beers
You might not immediately associate Guatemala with great specialty beer. Until you discover new toppers on almost every menu in every city. For example, you drink Vanushka beers in Quetzaltenango and you have to go to the Antigua Brewing Company in the evening for home-brewed beer. According to Sebastiaan, the El Zapote beer and the lesser-known Xaman-IPA are a must.
# 8 Go shopping at the local market
Wandering through the endless streets crammed with shops and stalls from a local market is really a must-do. You will become acquainted with the local cuisine, exotic fruits, traditional costumes and you will taste the local atmosphere. Chichastenango may be the most famous market, but almost every city has a local market. And then without those huge tourist crowds like in Chicha. We tasted snacks at a covered market in Guatemala City, wandered for an hour between the stalls in Antigua and viewed souvenirs in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan.
# 9 Enjoy the sunset with a cocktail in Flores
The relaxed Flores peninsula is at its best during golden hour. On the west side of the small town you have to be at the end of the day for beautiful sunsets. You can view it from the promenade, but the best thing is of course a place at one of the restaurants. It is then also happy hour. So take advantage of that.
# 10 Visit the hip hotspots in Zona 4 of Guatemala City
Guatemala City is rarely visited because it has the reputation of being an unsafe city. We started our trip in the capital of Guatemala and spent a morning in the wonderful Zona 4. You will find colorful street art, trendy hotspots and the tastiest coffee. Read our city guide for Guatemala City for our safety tips and the best spots.