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Guatemala should be on the top of everyone’s travel bucket list. From hiking active volcanoes to kayaking on the lake, Guatemala is the perfect destination for the adventurous traveler. But don’t worry, there are tons of activities to make our trip super relaxing – and even romantic! There are simply so many things to do in Guatemala. It is also super affordable, making it a great option for all types of travelers!
Guatemala is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. Traveling in Guatemala can be chaotic and difficult, but it is also magical and charming. This guide works whether you’re visiting Guatemala as part of a longer backpacking trip in Central America, or simply spending one week in Guatemala. Read on to find out the best things to do in Guatemala for any travel itinerary.
Best Time to Visit Guatemala
While there isn’t necessarily a bad time to visit Guatemala, with mild temperatures all year round, there are distinct wet and dry seasons.
The high season is from November to February, when the weather is typically the driest. This is the best time to visit if you’re planning a lot of outdoor adventures while in Antigua, and the surrounding areas.
March and April are typically still dry, but the temperatures in the city can get quite hot.
In May the rainy, wet season in Antigua starts, and lasts until November.
Additionally, Antigua hosts one of the biggest Easter celebrations in the world. While prices are a bit higher during this time, it is an incredible time to experience in the city. I was in Antigua during this time once and have the fondest memories of the celebrations and decorations.
How to Get to Guatemala
The most popular way to get to Antigua is by flying into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. From there airport there are a number of ways to reach Antigua, which is located 40 km from the airport.
The most popular options include a shared shuttle bus, an Uber, or a private car. You can book a private car through Viator here. If you are planning to arrive late at night, I recommend taking a private car. We booked ours directly through our hotel, Casa Jardin, which was definitely more an expensive than usual but for $40USD it felt like the safest way to travel in the middle of the night.
Tip: I would try to avoid traveling between Antigua and Guatemala City during rush hour, as traffic can be really really bad.
If you’re traveling to Antigua from other parts of the country, there is a rather extensive network of tourist shuttles in place to get your from point A to point B. We booked a shuttle from Panajachel directly back to the airport with Magic Travel and had a great experience. The shuttle was direct and tickets cost 190Q ($25). You can find the office right on the main street in Panajachel.
20+ Best Things to do in Guatemala for your Bucket List
1. Hike an active volcano
One of the most popular adventure-activities in Guatemala is the overnight hike to Acatenango and Fuego.
I did this hike for the first time when I was 18, and recently booked a trip back to Guatemala after 10 years to do the hike again. To date it was the most challenging hike that I’ve ever done, and I was excited to tackle it again – now in much better physical shape. Unfortunately, a foot injury had other plans for me and I wasn’t able to join the hike. Luckily, my friends were still able to hike – and provide any updates on this magical experience for me. And you can best bet that I will be back reaaaal soon to hike it again myself.
Volcan Fuego is a very active volcano, so hiking here offers the super unique opportunity to see these eruptions up close, in a relatively safe way. The last major eruption was in 2018, and unfortunately a number of people were killed in the event.
If you are limited on time or not looking for such a challenging hike, you might what to consider the hike to Pacaya Volcano instead. This is a day hike, and significantly less physically challenging.
2. Roast marshmallows on a volcano
If you’re like me, you love a good toasted marshmallow – not burnt but that perfect golden toasty hue. Well if your feelings about marshmallows are anything like mine, imagine the thrill of toasting one over a crater on an active volcano. YES, that is really an experience that you can have in Guatemala, and it is easily one of the best things to do in Guatemala.
Unlike the overnight hike to Acatenango (and Fuego), the hike to Pacaya is just about 2 hours, depending on your level of fitness. The drive to the volcano is about an hour and a half, and is usually reached by booking a tour. It is required to have a guide with you, so organizing a tour from Antigua is typically the easiest way to visit Pacaya. While the views aren’t quite as impressive, it is still a wonderful experience. If you have the time, I’d recommend doing both hikes as they are quite different!
3. Fall in love with the cobblestone streets of Antigua
Antigua Guatemala has an adventure for everyone, whether you want to hike the nearby volcanoes or learn about Guatemala’s coffee history. The contrast between the Spanish-Baroque architecture in the town and the volcanos circling the city is one that you don’t want to miss. Spend time getting lost within the cobblestone streets of colorful buildings.
Fun fact: Antigua was actually once the capital of Guatemala, but it was moved to Guatemala City after an eruption destroyed the city below.
4. Rent a private boat on Lake Atitlan at sunset
If you have the opportunity to take a private boat at sunset, I 100% recommend it. We paid 150Q ($20 USD) for a boat to take us from San Marcos la Laguna to Panajachel, with a stop to drop some friends off in Santa Cruz. Our driver was great and stopped for about 30 minutes to let us drink our beers and enjoy the sun setting over the lake.
A private boat is also a great option if you need to travel between the towns in the early morning or evening, after the public boats stop running.
5. Stay in a treehouse (on an avocado farm)
Just a 20 minute drive from Antigua, just outside of the town of El Hato, you’ll find the Earth Lodge.
My visit to Earth Lodge was one of the highlights of my entire trip to Guatemala. I was meant to be hiking Acatenango with my friends, but unfortunately due to a foot injury, hiking wasn’t in the cards for me.
Instead, I booked a night in one of the treehouses at Earth Lodge and spent the night overlooking the incredible volcanoes in the distance. I stayed at Casa de Agua, but if it is available, I recommend snagging a night at La Casa del Encino or the Famous Treehouse for the best views. But don’t worry, all of the views from the public areas are unreal!
The food at Earth Lodge is delicious. There is an organic avocado farm on the property, so clearly anything with avocado is a win. Some of my favorite items on the menu are the pesto grilled cheese with avocado and the veggie burger. But definitely don’t pass on the hot chocolate.
6. Shop at a local market (check out Chichicastenango)
You’ll find local markets all over Guatemala where you can find artisanal goods, coffee, chocolate and more. Chichicastenango is one of the most famous (and largest) markets, and worth a visit if you’re in the area at the right time. The market is only open on Thursdays and Sundays. Most vendors open around 9am and close in the evening.
7. Ride on a local chicken bus
No visit to Guatemala is complete without taking a ride on a chicken bus. Chicken buses are actually retired school buses, painted in bright colors, and serving today as the local bus in Guatemala.
As the name implies, it is not uncommon to find live animals aboard alongside passengers.
I ride shouldn’t cost you more than a couple of Quetzales, depending on where you are planning to go.
8. Swim (or kayak) in Lake Atitlan
One of the best ways to explore Lake Atitlan is to experience it by enjoying it from the lake itself, either by kayak or SUP. GuateSUP is one of the most popular companies for SUP exploring. You. can book a number of tours through them, including sunrise and sunset tours.
9. Experience a rooftop sunset
If you’re looking to enjoy the views from the heart of the city, there are a ton of great rooftops to do just that. Here are two of my favorites:
- Cafe Estudio – a cafe in the center of town serving up breakfast and lunch. Head up to the terrace to enjoy 360 degree views of the city and surrounding volcanoes. I visited during midday during the week and enjoyed a Nutella crepe with the terrace completely to myself!
- Antigua Brewing Company – a place where you can snag a craft beer or cider AND get epic volcano views? Sign me up! Antigua Brewing Company is the perfect sunset rooftop for drinks and some food. Once the sun is down, head downstairs to Ulew Speakeasy to continue the night of drinking.
10. Take a yoga class at Eagle’s Nest
Yoga is a super popular activity in Lake Atitlan, and easily one of the best things to do in Guatemala. You will find popular yoga studios throughout Lake Atitlan, especially in the hippie town of San Marcos. However, if you can only choose one stop, let it be Eagle’s Nest. Eagle’s Nest offers one of the best views in all of Lake Atitlan.
11. Drink traditional cacao (or partake in a ceremony)
Traditional drinking cacao is extremely popular in Guatemala, originating from the Mayans. You can learn more about it in Antigua at the ChocoMuseo, which includes a delicious tasting. If you’re visiting Lake Atitlan, you can head to the hippie town of San Marco to engage in a traditional cacao ceremony.
12. Hike Indian Nose in San Pedro
Indian Nose is known as one of the best sunrise spots around Lake Atitlan. The name “Indian’s Nose” comes from the shape of the mountain, which people say looks like a man lying down on his back. The hike to Indian Nose starts super early, around 3:45 am, so prepare yourself for an early wake up call. You will need to depart from San Marcos la Laguna, so I recommend overnighting here the night before the hike. One of my friends put together a super comprehensive guide to the Indian Nose hike.
13. Visit the famous Santa Catarina arch at sunrise
The famous yellow arch of Santa Catarina in the middle of town is easily one of the most picturesque spots in Antigua. With its colorful yellow hue, and the volcanoes looming in the background, it’s hard to get a bad picture here. This also means that it is one of the busiest spots to visit within the small city center of Antigua.
In order to enjoy this spot without the crowds, I recommend arriving at sunrise. This will not only help you to avoid the crowds, but also to capture some stunning morning light over the peak of Volcano Agua in the distance.
14. Stay in an airbnb with lake views
Lake Atitlan is a truly magical destination, and should definitely be on your Guatemala itinerary. What better way to experience it then to enjoy lake views from where you are staying? I recently stayed in a loft Airbnb (one of the most amazing places to stay in Lake Atitlan) and absolutely fell in love!
15. Visit a coffee farm to learn more about how coffee is made
You don’t have to be in Guatemala for very long to understand that they are known for their amazing coffee and coffee production. One of the best things that you can do is actually visit a coffee plantation and learn more about the coffee making process. As a non-coffee drinker, I didn’t actually try any coffee. But it was still super interesting to learn about the whole proces.
16. Try pepian (and other local Guatemalan dishes)
While Guatemala isn’t exactly known for their cuisine, they do have a normal of delicious local dishes. Pepian, for example, is a traditional Guatemalan stew made of peanuts, and one of the most popular to eat and cook while in Guatemala.
17. Explore the Mayan Ruins of Tikal
Tikal is easily one of most popular places to visit in Guatemala. That said, it is quite a trek from the popular tourist destinations of Antigua and Lake Atitlan as it is located in the middle of the jungle. Tikal was once one of the largest and most powerful cities among Mayan civilizations. The site was recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1979.
The best way to explore the ruins and learn all about their history is to join a tour. Here is a tour that originates in Flores, and includes lunch.
18. Visit Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is easily one of Guatemala’s most beautiful natural destinations. Located in the jungle, these natural pools are the brightest blues and turquoise. There are also nearby caves to visit! You can easily visit Semuc Champey on your own, no need to book a tour!
A shuttle from Antigua to Semuc Champey takes around 8 hours.
19. Take a Spanish class
Why not take some time in Guatemala to learn (or brush up on) a new language. My first visit to Guatemala back in 2011 was actually to study Spanish at the local school in Antigua, Maximo Nivel. I took weekly private lessons and absolutely loved it!
20. Take a cooking class
Guatemala dishes have an amazing mix of traditional Mayan and Spanish flavors. You can take a class to learn more about these traditional dishes and cook a few of them in a traditional Guatemala home.
Here are a tour that you can book through Viator: Mayan Cooking Class
21. Go surfing at El Paredon beach
El Paredón offers great surf waves all year round, making it a popular surf destination in Guatemala. It is a great place to spend a few days relaxing and taking a surf lesson, especially if you’ve been spending your days hiking.
If you’re planning to spend a few days in El Paredon beach, I recommend booking a few nights at Swell Hotel.
22. Cliff jump at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
Spending a day at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan. You’ve got to admit, there is something so magical about swimming in this amazing volcanic lake.
Locally known as the “trampoline”, the nature reserve is known for cliff jumping. You can enter the reserve for 25Q, and then spend the day swimming in the lake along the rocks (or cliff jumping if you have the courage). You can also rent kayaks, but note that these are only available in the morning, as the water is too rocky in the afternoon.
Traveling to Guatemala? Here are some other articles to check out:
- 16 Best Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
- Best Restaurants in Antigua Guatemala
- 1 Week Guatemala Itinerary
- 20+ Fun Things to do in Lake Atitlan