There are many essential places to visit in Guatemala, a small country, located in the heart of the Mayan world, perfect for any type of traveler, due to its great diversity, where you can enjoy from the adventure of climbing an active volcano to bathing in a natural pool in the middle of the jungle.
Although it must be taken into account that the natural wonders are not the only attraction of this country, since these, together with the ancient Mayan ruins, the beautiful colonial cities, the lakes surrounded by volcanoes or the endless markets along with a rich gastronomy, have made Guatemala one of the fashionable destinations in recent years.
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The Tikal National Park , declared a World Heritage Site, is one of the best archaeological sites in the world and one of the essential places to visit in Guatemala . Located in the middle of the jungle, it remained hidden by the jungle and abandoned by the Mayans for more than 1000 years, until it was discovered in 1848 and just over an hour from Flores, this important city of the ancient Mayan civilization is made up of a multitude of temples, stelae and pyramids, which we are sure, will captivate any traveler.
There are several outstanding places to visit in Tikal such as the monumental Great Plaza that is surrounded by tall pyramids and large buildings, the Acropolis, the 57-meter-high Temple V, the Temple of the Jaguar and Temple IV, the perfect place to see a magnificent sunset over the jungle.
Although the visit can be done in several hours, we recommend that you arrive early in the afternoon to see the sunset in the park and sleep near the entrance, so that you can later visit the site early the next day, with few people.
Our accommodation in the park was the Tikal Inn , located a few meters from the entrance of Tikal, a perfect location, both to see the sunset and to visit the next day.
To get to Tikal, the best option is to take a transport in Flores, there are numerous private minivans that you can reserve in town and that will pick you up at the hotel, even if you only have one day or want to learn more about the history of Tikal with a expert guide in the Mayan culture is highly recommended book this excursion from Flores in advance.
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The city of Antigua , a World Heritage Site, is one of our favorite cities in the world and another of the most beautiful places to see in Guatemala.
This old capital of Guatemala stands out for its stone streets, the beautiful pastel-colored facades of the colonial houses, the old churches and convents, and for being surrounded by three impressive volcanoes, which give it unique and unforgettable perspectives. In addition, the city has a very welcoming backpacker and traveler atmosphere, in which charming cafes, craft shops, local markets and magnificent cuisine are mixed, perfect to satisfy the most demanding stomachs.
In addition to strolling through the streets, something essential, some of the places that you cannot miss in La Antigua are the Central Square, the Cathedral of Santiago, the Convent of Santa Clara, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Iglesia del Carme, the Convento de las Capuchinas, the Church and Convent of La Merced, the Arco de Catalina and the Mirador del Cerro de la Cruz with impressive views of the city and its volcanoes.
A good option to learn more about the history of the city is to book this tour with a guide in Spanish for its most interesting places.
For the more adventurous and in good physical condition, you have the possibility to book this excursion to one of the active volcanoes of Guatemala , the Pacaya.
In Antigua we stayed at the beautiful Hotel Mesón del Valle , a highly recommended accommodation, both for its central location and for its facilities, as well as the friendly treatment of the staff.
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Lake Atitlán, located more than 1,500 meters above sea level and surrounded by the Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro volcanoes, is another of the most impressive places to visit in Guatemala .
On the shore of the lake, located among the most beautiful in the world, you will find several towns that maintain the Mayan culture and tradition, which are also a highly recommended place to relax and unwind thanks to their many meditation, yoga and massage centers. Another remarkable thing about them is their good gastronomic offer, with several healthy and vegetarian restaurants, which will make the days you spend here unforgettable for you and your stomach.
One of the best things to do in this area is to visit the towns of Lake Atitlán, most of them named after saints and among which Santiago Atitlán surprises, where if you know how to look, you will meet Maximón, also called the smoking god .
Other highlights of the lake are the backpacker town of San Pedro la Laguna, the quiet towns of San Marcos la Laguna and San Juan La Laguna, the Mayan towns of Santa Catarina de Palopó and San Antonio de Palopó, and the magnificent viewpoint that is located before reaching the tourist Panajachel, the gateway to the lake.
The most common way to get to Lake Atitlán is by shared van from Antigua to Panajachel, although if you have little time it is advisable to stay in this city, as we did when we stayed at the Regis Hotel Spawith an excellent location and make excursions by shared or private boat to the different towns.
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Semuc Champey, one of the places to visit in Guatemala
Semuc Champey Natural Park, far from civilization and located among thick forests, is one of the most authentic places to see in Guatemala . Its most famous place is the natural pools of turquoise green waters produced by the waterfalls of the river that crosses it and that have made Semuc Champey considered by many to be the most beautiful place in Guatemala . And honestly, we have to say that they are right if we observe it from its spectacular viewpoint, from where before taking a relaxing bath in the pools, you can enjoy truly incredible views.
In this area of the country it is highly recommended to book accommodation in advance as there is not much hotel supply. We chose El Portal de Semuc Champey, in which they have private cabins and a good restaurant, being a perfect accommodation to get to know this impressive place.
The best way to get to Semuc Champey is by shared van from Flores, a journey of around 7 hours.
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In Chichicastenango, every Thursday and Sunday, the most important indigenous market in Central America is held and another of the places to see in Guatemala that you cannot miss. Located in front of the Church of Santo Tomás, the Chichicastenango market expands throughout its main square to the surrounding alleys, forming rivers of tourists and locals that mix with all kinds of products from early in the morning until sunset. They range from precious handicrafts to souvenirs, through vegetables, incense, fruits, seafood and even traditional fabrics that give color to the market.
We recommend you arrive first thing in the morning so as not to find too many people and, above all, be careful with your belongings in the crowds, since although we did not have any mishaps, they did tell us that it is not uncommon for someone who is a friend of others to play theirs on the market.
The most common way to visit the market is making a stop on the route that will take you from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, although if you stay in Antigua you can book a shuttle, which leaves at 7 in the morning, or a private transport, that will take you in about 3 hours to the market.
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Yaxhá, one of the places to see in Guatemala
Yaxhá, located north of Petén, is one of the lesser-known Mayan jewels and another essential place to visit in Guatemala . This archaeological site with large buildings and pyramids located in the middle of the jungle and on the shores of the Yaxhá lagoon, not having the fame of Tikal, allows you to enjoy its ruins almost alone, something that we assure you, you will never forget.
Some of its most interesting places are the Ball Court, the Calzada de las Canteras, the Great Astronomical Complex or Plaza F, the spectacular plaza of the North Acropolis, and the most important structure of Yaxhá, the Temple of the Red Hands or structure 216, from which you have unique 360-degree views of Yaxhá.
The ruins of YaxhaThey are located on a detour halfway between Flores and Tikal, about two hours from Flores. The best option is to take a private transport that will take you to Tikal stopping before in Yaxhá or book this day trip with return to Flores.
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When you arrive by boat in Livingston, the Caribbean of Guatemala and the cradle of the Garífuna culture , shipwrecked from the African slave ships who ended up mixing with the indigenous people of the area, especially gifted for music and dance, who settled in this area in the eighteenth century, it seems that you are no longer in Guatemala.
When you walk through the streets of Livingston you will feel a little in Africa, where you can share its tradition, culture and gastronomy, of which we recommend you eat at Buba Mama, a restaurant that has been passed down from generation to generation until today.
To get to Livingston, one of the places to see in Guatemala, the only option is to take a shared or private boat from Río Dulce or other nearby towns, since it is not accessible by road.
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Quiriguá, a Mayan archaeological site, forms, together with Antigua and Tikal, the three World Heritage Sites that Guatemala has, and is also one of the best places to visit in Guatemala , especially for its incredible stelae carved in stone full of inscriptions and symbols. old. Most of the stelae that can reach up to 10 meters in height are concentrated in the Great Plaza, although it is also worth going to the Acropolis to see several zoomorphic figures, which represent different animals, both mythical and real, carved in blocks of stone. , with great precision.
Quiriguá is just over an hour’s drive from Río Dulce and travelers regularly stop at this site on their way to the Mayan ruins at Copán, located in Honduras, which you can get to know with this day trip to Copan from Guatemala City or this one that departs from Antigua.
Río Dulce, a protected area in Guatemala, unites Lake Izabal with the Caribbean Sea, forming a large aquatic ecosystem, which has become another of the most essential places to visit in Guatemala . A boat ride on the river will take you along a canyon with limestone rock walls of up to 150 meters and full of tropical vegetation, which will leave you speechless, in addition to trying your luck, since Río Dulce is also famous for being the place where the manatee, an endangered mammal, and crocodiles live.
At the mouth of the Dulce River with Lake Izabal is the Castillo de San Felipe, a Spanish fortress that was built to protect itself from looting by buccaneers and pirates and is another place you cannot miss in this area of Guatemala.
We arrived at Río Dulce in a shared van from Semuc Champey and stayed at the Mar Marine Yacht Club , located on the pier, which has very adequate facilities and a good restaurant.
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Church of San Andres Xecul
The picturesque church of San Andrés Xecul with a facade full of color, is the last recommendation on the list of places to visit in Guatemala . It is said that this church of Catholic origin was left without a priest for years and the locals finished the work based on their Mayan culture and tradition, making the predominant color of the facade, mustard yellow, which represents the color of corn and is the food most important of the Mayans, became the true protagonist.
In addition, its dome full of colors or the figures of angels with boots and socks make the church unique and a great tourist attraction for this small town.
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