There are so many things to do in Guatemala that we can easily write a book about it. Ain’t nobody got time for that! 🙂 In stead, we just sum up the best things to do in Guatemala so you can create some awesome memories here.
Every city and travel destination offers its share of activities and it’s up to you to choose the ones that suit you best.
No more wondering what to do in Guatemala! Find top activities for you to do that make your trip unforgettable.
1. Visit one or more Maya ruins
Guatemala is called the birthplace of the Maya civilization and there are Mayan ruins scattered all over the country.
One of our favourite ruins to visit is Yaxha. Exploring this site is one of the highlights of our trip and we recommend to put it on your Guatemala bucket list. The main reason we liked it so much is that it seemed we were the only visitors there. Besides one other guy we didn’t see anyone else during our visit. Yaxha ruins are set in the jungle and next to Lake Yaxha so the surroundings are superb.
Tip: Visit the park in the afternoon and evening. This way you can enjoy a stunning sunset over Lake Yaxha from up a tempel while gazing over the surrounding treetops. All you hear is the sound of howler monkeys shouting.
The best and most interesting Mayan ruins to visit in Guatemala are Tikal, Uaxactun, El Mirador, Yaxha and Nakum Naranjo.
Read more about them in our backpacking Guatemala guide.
2. Swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey
The stunning turquoise pools of Semuc Champey lie on top of the wild river Cahabon, where the river itself dives underground for a few hundred meters. These natural pools offer a stunning sight from above and they’re a lot of fun to swim in.
In addition to the pools and the viewpoint, you can also opt to enter the K’An Ba Caves. We loved this tour, exploring the caves while climbing ladders and splashing through the water. It made us feel like Indiana Jones.
Semuc Champey is a natural wonder that is fairly difficult to reach. Located in the heart of Guatemala and completely surrounded by jungle. Don’t let that hold you back! This is one of the best things to do in Guatemala!
Not all weather conditions are suitable for a visit to the pools. If you plan on visiting this natural highlight in Guatemala, read our guide to Semuc Champey.
3. Stay in a river lodge and take a boat trip through the Rio Dulce Canyon to Livingston
I must admit we are both afraid of spiders and other creepy crawlers, but that didn’t stop us to stay in a lodge at the banks of the Rio Dulce, surrounded by jungle. And it shouldn’t stop you either.
Our days there were spent swimming in the river, flying like Tarzan with a rope through the air before dropping into the water. Watching the millions of crabs dabble through the mud underneath the walkways. And of course we took a motorboat trip through the canyon.
We were with a small group of four and enjoyed the wildlife and nature surrounding the river a lot. You can see old boats covered with birds, and local fishermen throwing out their fishing nets.
When visiting the Garifuna town Livingston, we saw 2 crocodiles kept in a well. We were told they came out of the river we were swimming in all day before. Needless to say that this information made an end to our swimming extavanganza. Yikes! Livingston itself has this rasta-vibe thing going on. We explored it for a while and enjoyed the view of the waving palms on this Caribbean beach.
4. Enjoy the peace and quiet of rural Guatemala at Finca Ixobel
Get a taste of rural Guatemala and stay at Finca Ixobel. This eco-friendly finca, located near Poptun, is a gem. We ended up staying several weeks at the finca because it’s just so nice and we met so many interesting travelers from all over the world.
At Ixobel they grow their own fresh produce which they use to prepare delicious meals with. The property is over 400 acres large and you can do guided or self-guided hikes to explore the area.
You can also go horseback riding or take a dip in the natural pool on hot days. On a rainy day just kick back in a hammock with a good book. And for cozy evenings there is a bar next to the pond where locals and travelers come together to have a drink and a laugh.
5. Experience Semana Santa in Antigua and explore this colourful colonial city
Antigua is special. This city can put a spell on you and make you want to stay forever!
If you are visiting around Easter, make sure you are in time to watch the celebrations of Semana Santa! Big processions with decorated floats and dressed up Guatemalans roam the streets while local vendors try to earn an extra buck selling their merchandise on the street corners. Colourful works of art are created on the streets as well. In short, try to plan your visit so you can be in Antigua the week before Easter.
If you can’t join the celebration of Semana Santa, don’t worry. Antigua is amazing all year round! You can do many excursions in and around the city like Volcano hiking and visiting a coffee farm. Antigua itself is full of pretty buildings, convents, parks, squares and more to discover. Plus, there are lots of classes you can take. For example salsa, cooking, and Spanish classes, chocolate workshop,…
Check out this guide on 25+ things to do in Antigua
6. Go zip-lining at Lake Atitlan and witness one of the best sunsets in the world
Lake Atitlan is, next to Antigua, the most popular destination in Guatemala. Because the Lake is considered one of the most beautiful in the world! It is surrounded by multiple towns and volcanoes and you can see amazing sunsets here.
We returned to Atitlan more than once and we will probably go there again in the future. On our first visit, we went zip lining. It turned out to be a lof of fun. Flying across the lake and through the tree tops is amazing. Feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins and enjoy nature at the same time.
Take your time to explore the different towns around the lake, you can easily visit them by water taxi. And of course, the absolute best thing to do at lake Atitlan is to take in the sublime sunsets over the lake!
7. Visit Chichicastenango market
A visit to the most famous market of Guatemala is a must-do activity and therefore one of the most popular things to do in Guatemala! Chichicastenango is a massive open-air market located in the highlands where you can buy handmade souvenirs made by local craftsmen.
You can arrange a visit to this market from Antigua, Quetzaltenango and Atitlan. Any tour operator offers a trip to Chichi.
We bought so many souvenirs here that we had to send a box home. It’s just not handy to carry all that extra stuff around while backpacking. But for every problem there is a solution.
A glimpse of the assortiment on goodies available at the market: cloths, masks, belts, jewelry, pillow cases, clothing, paintings, coffee, musical instruments,…
8. Hike up a volcano
For this activity, you need guts and endurance. But if the weather is favourable you’re rewarded with a terrific view and a feeling of victory.
You can find many volcanoes spread over the country. That’s because Guatemala is a part of the Central America Volcano Arc, it runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean and crosses all Central American countries before heading over to South America.
The most important Guatemalan volcanoes are Fuego, Agua, Pacaya, Acatenango and the volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan.
Acatenango volcano is a popular volcano to hike. It is a dormant volcano that offers amazing views over the surrounding active volcanoes. Book this sporty activity with a tour operator in Antigua. If you are staying in a hostel you can probably book this tour there too.
9. Go surfing at El Paredon
The volcanic beaches of El Paredon are world famous for their fantastic waves. This black sand beach paradise is gaining in popularity and for good reason. Take some lessons and hit the waves. Not all days are suitable for beginners but pick your day and give it a go.
If you have enough of the wild water you can also visit a turtle hatchery. In the right season, from September to December, you can help release baby turtles into the ocean.
Horseback riding is also a good alternative activity to do in El Paredon. Enjoy the sunrise or sunset on this idyllic beach from up a horse’s back.
10. Do a 3-day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan
Instead of driving to Lake Atitlan with a shuttle bus, go on an epic 3-day hike leaving from Xela.
During this 46 km trek you pass through small towns, cloud forest and coffee plantations to end at Lake Atitlan in the early morning where you watch the sunrise over the lake.
Quetzaltrekkers is a well-known and respected non-profit trekking association. All the revenue from their tours goes to help out street children in Xela. So, on top of going on an amazing adventure, you also support the street children of Xela.
Conclusion things to do in Guatemala
It’s no secret that this country has claimed a special place in our hearts. We traveled through it multiple times and it never stops to amaze us.
As you can see there are many activities to do here that can make your trip even more fun. We experienced number 1 to 7 ourselves and we recommend each of them! Number 8, 9 and 10 are on our Guatemala bucket list of top things to do for our next trip there.
Let us know which activity you loved the most!