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Favorite places to visit in Guatemala

My Favorite Places to Visit in Guatemala

Are you traveling to the Land of Eternal Spring in 2024? If you’re not, you should be! In this article, travel blogger Warren Morelli from The Nomad Hive looks at his favorite places to visit in Guatemala.

As a digital nomad and travel blogger, I’ve been traveling the world for over seven years. During that time, my journey has taken me all over Latin and Central America. Today, I want to share some of my favorite places to visit in Guatemala and outline some of my favorite experiences in that country.

Is Guatemala safe?

First off, I have to say that Guatemala faces challenges with violent crime in certain areas. As a traveler, it’s crucial to be aware that while some regions are best avoided, most parts of the country are safe and welcoming. Researching your destinations and employing common sense will make your journey through Guatemala both safe and unforgettable.

For example, it’s advisable to avoid parts of Guatemala City, and the city of Escuintla. Also, exercise caution in remote areas near the borders with Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. Always check current travel advisories and consult with locals or your accommodation about the safety of areas you plan to visit.

My nine favorite places to visit in Guatemala

From colonial cities to lakeside retreats, the below destinations not only offer awe-inspiring beauty and rich cultural experiences, but also ensure a high level of safety for travelers:

1. Antigua, Sacatepéquez

Antigua offers colonial charm and culture amid a beautiful volcanic setting. Once the capital of colonial Central America, Antigua is by far the most popular tourist destination in the country and a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience Guatemala’s rich history and traditions.

Things to do in Antigua
  • Explore the Santa Catalina Arch and La Merced Church. These iconic landmarks are a testament to Antigua’s rich colonial history and architectural beauty.
  • Stroll through the Mercado de Artesanías. A lively market where you can find a variety of traditional Guatemalan handicrafts and textiles.
  • Hike the Pacaya Volcano. An adventurous excursion to one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes, offering breathtaking views and a unique experience.
How to get to Antigua
  • By air. Fly into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City, followed by an hour’s drive to Antigua.
  • By road. Regular shuttle services, private taxis, and buses are available from Guatemala City, providing a scenic and comfortable journey.

Antigua combines safety, culture, and accessibility, making it ideal for travelers seeking adventure and relaxation. Whether it’s exploring historical sites, shopping for unique crafts, or hiking the surrounding volcanoes, Antigua is unforgettable and should be number one on any Guatemala bucket list.

2. Flores, Petén

Located on an island in Lake Petén Itzá, Flores is a colorful gateway to ancient Mayan ruins like Tikal and El Mirador. Known for its safety and friendly atmosphere, Flores is a delightful spot for tourists seeking both adventure and relaxation.

Things to do in Flores
  • Visit Tikal National Park. Explore one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers an unforgettable journey into history.
  • Explore the lake. Enjoy a relaxing boat ride on the waters of Lake Petén Itzá, offering stunning views and a chance to visit surrounding villages.
  • Stroll around the island. Wander the charming streets of Flores, lined with colorful houses and local shops, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and beautiful lake views.
How to get to Flores
  • By air. Fly into Mundo Maya International Airport, located just outside Flores. It’s a short journey from the airport to the island.
  • By road. Regular buses and shuttles run from Guatemala City and other major destinations to Flores, providing an opportunity to see more of the Guatemalan countryside.

Flores offers an exciting experience for tourists. Whether you’re exploring ancient Mayan ruins in the rainforest, hanging out lakeside, or simply soaking in the local culture, Flores is well worth the journey to get there.

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3. Chichicastenango, Quiché

Chichicastenango – or “Chichi” – is a town steeped in indigenous Maya culture and traditions. Known for its lively market and spiritual significance, it’s a place where history and modernity coexist, offering an authentic experience for those who visit.

Things to do in Chichicastenango
  • Explore the Chichicastenango Market. This bustling market, open on Thursdays and Sundays, is one of the largest and most colorful in Central America. It’s a paradise for those interested in handicrafts, textiles, and local cuisine.
  • Visit the Santo Tomás Church. A fascinating blend of Catholic and Maya religious practices can be observed at this 400-year-old church, where locals come to perform rituals and prayers.
  • Discover the Pascual Abaj Shrine. An ancient Mayan shrine on a hill outside the town, offering an insight into the Maya spiritual world and stunning views of the surrounding area.
How to get to Chichicastenango
  • By road. Chichicastenango is accessible by bus or shuttle from major cities like Guatemala City and Antigua. The scenic journey through the highlands gives a glimpse into Guatemalan rural life.

Chichicastenango is great for anyone interested in indigenous cultures and traditions and is a must-visit destination in Guatemala. The market days in Chichi are not just a shopping experience but a deep dive into a living cultural mosaic, reflective of Guatemala’s diverse and rich heritage.

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4. Livingston, Izabal

Livingston is Guatemala’s main Caribbean coastal town, located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce and accessible only by boat. Here, you’ll find a unique blend of Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya, and Ladino cultures. This town, set against a backdrop of lush tropical forests and Caribbean waters, is known for its laid-back vibe and cultural diversity.

Things to do in Livingston
  • Experience Garifuna culture. Check out the vibrant Garifuna culture, known for its unique music, dance, and cuisine. Don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional dishes like Tapado, a coconut seafood soup.
  • Boat trip along the Rio Dulce. Take a boat ride from Livingston to the town of Rio Dulce, enjoying the spectacular gorges, hot springs, and diverse wildlife along the way. There’s even an old Spanish fort to check out!
  • Visit Playa Blanca. A short boat ride from Livingston, Playa Blanca is a white-sand beach, perfect for relaxing, swimming, and enjoying the Caribbean sun.
How to get to Livingston
  • By boat. Livingston is accessible by boat, with services available from Puerto Barrios and Rio Dulce town. The journey itself is an adventure, offering stunning views of the coastline and the surrounding rainforest. Livingston is also a gateway for travelers arriving from or departing to nearby Belize and Honduras.

This Caribbean community offers visitors a chance to experience a different side of Guatemalan life, away from the more frequented tourist paths. Whether you’re experiencing the culture, exploring rainforest-clad rivers, or relaxing on the beach, Livingston promises a memorable experience.

5. Quetzaltenango (Xela), Quetzaltenango

Quetzaltenango, commonly known as Xela, is Guatemala’s second-largest city, and a hub of Maya culture and learning. Set in a valley surrounded by volcanoes, Xela is famous for its rich cultural heritage, educational opportunities, and local life, all within a safe and welcoming environment.

Things to do in Quetzaltenango
  • Explore the city center. Wander through the Parque Central, visit the Quetzaltenango Cathedral, and enjoy the city’s architecture.
  • Hike to Laguna Chicabal. An awe-inspiring volcanic crater lake considered sacred by the Maya.
  • Relax in Fuentes Georginas. These natural hot springs are surrounded by cloud forest, providing a perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation.
How to get to Quetzaltenango
  • By road. Xela is easily accessible by bus from Guatemala City and other major towns. The journey offers scenic views of the Guatemalan highlands.

Xela is a blend of cultural richness and adventure, making it an ideal destination for travelers seeking a deeper understanding of Guatemala’s indigenous heritage.

6. Panajachel, Sololá

Panajachel, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, is known for its breathtaking scenery and indigenous culture. It serves as a gateway to the numerous villages surrounding the lake.

Things to do in Panajachel
  • Boat tours of Lake Atitlán. Experience the beauty of the lake by visiting its many lakeside villages, each with its own unique character.
  • Visit the Reserva Natural Atitlán. This nature reserve offers zip-lining, butterfly gardens, and hiking trails with stunning views.
  • Explore local artisan markets. Panajachel’s markets are full of colorful textiles, handicrafts, and local art, perfect for finding unique souvenirs.
How to get to Panajachel
  • By road. Regular buses and shuttles run from Guatemala City and Antigua, making getting here straightforward. Panajachel is ideal for those seeking natural beauty in a secure setting.

7. Cobán, Alta Verapaz

Cobán, surrounded by lush mountains, is known for its coffee plantations, natural reserves, and caves. It offers a tranquil environment and is considered one of the best places in Guatemala for nature lovers.

Things to do in Cobán
  • Visit the Lanquín Caves and Semuc Champey. Discover the stunning natural limestone bridge and turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, and explore the vast cave network of Lanquín.
  • Explore coffee plantations. Learn about coffee production and sample some of the world’s best coffee.
  • Birdwatching in Biotopo del Quetzal. A nature reserve where you can spot the resplendent quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird.
How to get to Cobán
  • By road. Buses and shuttles are available from Guatemala City and other major cities, offering a journey through the beautiful central highlands.

Cobán is a peaceful haven for eco-tourists and coffee enthusiasts, providing an intimate encounter with Guatemala’s natural wonders and rural charm.

8. Huehuetenango, Huehuetenango

Huehuetenango, often simply called “Huehue,” is known for its rich indigenous heritage and stunning natural landscapes. It is one of the less traveled areas, offering a peaceful and safe environment for adventurous travelers.

Things to do in Huehuetenango
  • Visit the ruins of Zaculeu. Explore this ancient Maya city with its unique white stone structures.
  • Hike the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Experience some of Guatemala’s most spectacular highland scenery.
  • Explore indigenous markets. The local markets are full of life, offering an authentic experience of the region’s culture.
How to get to Huehuetenango
  • By road. Regular buses connect Huehuetenango with Guatemala City and other major towns.

Huehuetenango offers a glimpse into Guatemala’s less-traveled paths, providing a peaceful retreat and safe exploration of its indigenous cultures and breathtaking landscapes.

9. Jutiapa, Jutiapa

Jutiapa, in southeastern Guatemala, is famous for its cattle ranches, lagoons, and volcanoes. It offers a quiet, rural setting and is a great spot for travelers looking to experience the countryside.

Things to do in Jutiapa
  • Visit Laguna de Atescatempa. A beautiful lagoon perfect for swimming and relaxing.
  • Explore the volcanoes. Hike up the volcanoes for stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
  • Enjoy the local festivals. Experience the local culture through Jutiapa’s festivals and rodeos.
How to Get to Jutiapa
  • By road. Jutiapa is accessible by bus or car from Guatemala City, with the journey taking you through diverse landscapes.

This is an ideal destination for those seeking to experience authentic Guatemalan countryside, away from the usual tourist trails.

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Tips for staying safe in Guatemala

Guatemala is generally a safe country for travelers, but it’s important to prioritize security. Here are some tips to ensure a secure and enjoyable visit:

  • Research your destinations. Before you travel, familiarize yourself with the safety conditions of different areas in Guatemala. Some regions might have higher risks than others.
  • Use official transportation. Opt for official taxis or recognized transport services, especially when traveling from airports or at night. Avoid traveling after dark in unfamiliar or rural areas.
  • Keep valuables discreet. Avoid displaying expensive jewelry, clothing, or electronics. Use a secure bag for important documents and money, and store your valuables in your hotel safe.
  • Stay connected. Keep a list of emergency contacts, including local authorities and your home country’s embassy or consulate. Consider getting a local SIM card for easy access to maps and information.
  • Respect local customs and laws. Understanding and respecting local customs, traditions, and laws not only enriches your travel experience but also helps in maintaining a good rapport with locals.
  • Avoid isolated areas. Stay in well-populated and well-lit areas, especially if you’re traveling alone. Isolated spots can present higher security risks.
  • Travel insurance. Secure comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, theft, and any unexpected trip changes.
  • Dress modestly and avoid flashy clothing. To blend in and not draw unwanted attention, dress modestly and avoid wearing flashy or expensive clothing and accessories. This approach helps in minimizing the risk of becoming a target for theft.

That wraps up my summary of my favorite places to visit in Guatemala

From the colonial charm of Antigua to the beauty of Lake Atitlán, each location offers opportunities galore for exploration and adventure. What’s your favorite place in Guatemala?

Warren Morelli is an Australian digital nomad and world traveler who runs The Nomad Hive travel blog.

Warren Morelli

Warren Morelli

Warren Morelli is an Australian blogger, online marketer, and digital nomad. He runs a travel blog called the Nomad Hive where we writes about his travels around the world.