Top 5 Places to Visit in GuatemalaGuatemala is such a hidden gem in Central America, with so much to see and learn! From the rich culture of Mayan and European influence, to the amazing food--always including fresh corn tortillas and black beans, to the stark contrast between the rich and the poor, more impacted by the recent civil war…..Guatemala hosts some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever encountered, as well as some of the best history and cultural lessons. Here’s what you HAVE to see on a trip to the “Land of Eternal Spring.”
“Ancient” Guatemala, which was previously the nation’s capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with so much to do and see! You can witness the beauty of Spanish, baroque architecture and colonial heritage, ruins from churches, restaurants with delicious ‘tipico’ food and marimbas (the country’s national instrument) all over. Explore the markets with Mayan crafts, and enjoy all of the colors of Guatemalan culture. Antigua is also a great place to find tours to other parts of the country and nearby sights, such as Volcan de Pacaya! Pacaya is one of the three active volcanos in Guatemala, which you can climb to find some of the most spectacular views of the city, enjoy sunsets, and even roast marshmallows over lava!
Lago Atitlan has been called the most beautiful lake in the world by some, and I agree wholeheartedly with that judgement. Being the deepest lake in Central America, it sits between three majestically towering volcanoes, surrounded by a host of ‘pueblos,’ towns which are home to Mayan people. Going by boat from town to town, you will have the opportunity to see daily Mayan life as it still is, with the richness of Maya traditions. Climb a volcano---but not before, as custom has it, asking for its permission for a safe journey. Keep an eye out also, for where Mayan traditions have blended with Catholic Church traditions. Spend the night, and get to see an incredible view of the stars like none other before! It is also near one of the towns famous for its markets on Thursdays and Sundays, Chichicastenango. Chichicastenango is also the perfect place to experience the living Maya community, and fall in love with the artisan crafts, textiles, jewelry, flowers, and more...so many colors!
TikalAlso a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal is located in Northern Guatemala in the Peten Jungle. Tikal is one of the ancient Mayan cities whose temples, pyramids, and ruins can still be explored today. See where these archaeological masterpieces meet nature, and learn about how this ancient civilization survived for years---without access to a direct water source nearby! Try their sunrise tour, where you watch the sun come up over the jungle and ruins, listening to the howler monkeys and birds rise with the new day...all from an incredible spot at the top of a pyramid! On your way, you’ll get to pass through Flores, a little island in Lake Peten Itza, with lots of charm and great sunset views, too.
Semuc ChampeyThis natural monument in Guatemala is a little more of a challenge to get to, but it makes you feel like you’re on an adventure from the beginning! Translated as “sacred waters,” Semuc Champey, a geological wonder in the rainforest near the town of Lanquin, has a natural limestone bridge of 300 meters with pristine turquoise pools above and a flowing river below, a great area to take a swim. The area is home to all kinds of plants and animals, a wealth of nature and ecosystems to discover! With the caves to explore, areas to hike, and stunning beauty to take in, it is well worth the trip!
Sometimes you just want a weekend at the beach. You find that on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala in Monterrico! This town with black-sand beaches is the perfect place to get away, relax, and enjoy the beauty of the ocean. You may have the opportunity to witness baby turtle releases from conservation farms, or tour the mangrove swamps. Take the chance to ride a horse on the beach at sunset. Whatever activity you find, you’ll surely come back to Guatemala City feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into your volunteer work!