Traveling in Guatemala:

Guatemala's Most Popular Destinations

Even though Guatemala is a relatively small country, it offers travelers a stunning number and variety of world-class attractions — from quaint colonial towns to Mayan ruins, from sandy beaches to active volcanoes.

La Antigua Guatemala
La Antigua Guatemala used to be the capital of Guatemala until it was abandoned after a devastating earthquake in 1773 and the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala City. Beginning in the 19th century, Antigua was slowly restored to its original splendor and has become one of the most attractive colonial towns in all of the Americas. Antigua was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and Monument of the Americas and is one of Guatemala's most popular destinations.
Chichicastenango, usually called "Chichi" by locals and travelers alike, would be a rather unremarkable mountain town in the highlands of Guatemala, were it not for its market that attracts vendors and buyers from near and far every Thursday and Sunday. Though the market is primarily for the local Mayan population, many great souvenirs can be found here, from colorful fabrics in the typical Mayan designs to hand-carved Mayan ceremonial masks to leather belts and boots.
Mayan Ruins of Copan Ruins (Honduras)
Located in Honduras just a few miles from the border to Guatemala, the Mayan ruins of Copan are a great destination for travelers interested in Mayan culture and archaeology. Copan was the southernmost major Mayan city during the Classic Period and is particularly famous for its artistry and beautifully carved stelae. The ruins have been extensively studied and a good part of what we know about the Maya stems from deciphered inscriptions in Copan.
Flores and Lake Peten Itza
Many travelers who visit Tikal will have heard of Flores, as the Flores/Santa Elena airport provides a fast and convenient way to get there. Flores is an interesting destination in its own right, however. Located on an island in Lake Peten Itza, Flores is famous for a laid-back atmosphere, good restaurants and spectacular views of the largest lake in Guatemala's El Peten department.
Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan, a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes in the highlands of Guatemala, is often called the most beautiful lake in the world. The area around the lake features fascinating flora and fauna, particularly birds, and more than a dozen indigenous towns and villages offer a great opportunity to experience the everyday life of contemporary Mayas. A boat tour of Lake Atitlan will add an unforgettable experience to your vacation in Guatemala — and many unique photo opportunities!
Lake Izabal
Clear water, lush tropical vegetation and an abundance of wildlife, both under and above water, have made the area around Lake Izabal and the adjacent Rio Dulce a prime destinations for Guatemalans and foreign visitors alike. The most important attraction on the shores of Lake Izabal is Castillo San Felipe de Lara, an old Spanish fort built in the 16th century to protect the area from pirates. Abandoned in the 18th century, the fort was beautifully restored according to original construction plans in the 1950s.
The town of Livingston on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala is the country's only Garifuna community, which gives Livingston a unique ambiance that reminds visitors more of a Caribbean island than of Latin America. Livingston is a popular destination with boaters and watersports enthusiasts and the trip down the Rio Dulce, past lush tropical vegetation, through the Golfete and the Canyon with its steep cliffs, is a memorable experience all by itself.
The Quetzal Biotope
The Quetzal Biotope, officially known as the Mario Dary Rivera Nature Reserve, is a protected area by Coban, the capital of Guatemala's Alta Verapaz department. The reserve boasts many species of birds, butterflies, orchids and bromelias that thrive in the high humidity of the tropical cloud forest.
Mayan Ruins of Quirigua
While not as famous as Tikal or its neighbor Copan in Honduras, the Mayan ruins of Quirigua are particularly famous for their intricately carved sandstone stelae, which are the tallest stelae in the entire Mayan world. The ruins have been restored in an ongoing research and restoration project and are now surrounded by a beautifully landscaped archaeological park.
Rio Dulce
The Rio Dulce connects Lake Izabal, Guatemala's largest lake, with the Caribbean Sea and is immensely popular with watersports enthusiasts and nature lovers because of its easy accessibility and fascinating flora and fauna. The Rio Dulce area features an abundance of tropical vegetation, a wide variety of bird species and the Biotopo de Chacon Machacas, a nature reserve established to protect the last remaining manatees.
Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey in Guatemala's Alta Verapaz department is another destination of stunning natural splendor that attracts Guatemalans and international travelers alike. Where the Cahabon river flows underground for 500 m (1650 ft), Semuc Champey forms a natural land bridge and boasts a series of natural pools fed by small rivers running down from the surrounding mountains.
Mayan Ruins of Tikal
Tikal used to be one of the most important and powerful Mayan cities during the Classic Period from 250 to 900 AD. After the collapse of the Mayan empire, Tikal's magnificent temples and plazas were slowly reclaimed by the jungle and lay buried under lush tropical vegetation for a millennium until they were rediscovered in the 19th century. Beginning in the 1950s, the ruins have been meticulously explored and restored in an ongoing research project, making Tikal one of the most prominent Mayan archaeological sites.