Planning a family vacation? Guatemala could be the destination for you!
Ok, it might not be at the forefront of your mind as it’s not the most obvious choice for a trip away with the kids, but in some ways this makes it all the more exciting as a destination for your next family holiday.
It is certainly not the typical choice, but Guatemala is growing rapidly in popularity as a tourist destination and it’s with good reason. Rife with history, culture, ancient archaeological sites and some of the most incredible natural landscapes in all of Central America, Guatemala really has a lot to offer.
Guatemala is the perfect place to experience different cultures, experiment with the local language with the friendly Guatemalan people and there are some great educational opportunities to be had for the little ones, too.
We understand one of the most important factors when planning a family vacation is safety, so we expect the question on your lips is..
Is Guatemala safe with kids?
We know as well as anyone that Guatemala has had a bad rap for safety and crime in the past, but that’s changing. As tourism grows the country has responded and taken action to improve safety in the most popular destinations, including the major cities and resorts.
In the cities, you may see more police on the streets than you are used to back home, but they’re part of the reason that Guatemala is considered much more safe than it was a decade ago. Your safety is their interest, after all!
Of course, you should take precautions like you would when travelling anywhere else in the world, such as researching the good and the bad neighborhoods before booking your accommodation or selecting your preferred dining options and sightseeing activities.
Similarly, try to limit the valuables in your possession when you’re out and about, and be aware of what’s going on around you.
This is nothing out of the ordinary when travelling internationally, though, and you certainly shouldn’t be let safety concerns get in the way of your dream family vacation in Guatemala!
There’s more than meets the eye here, and there will be no bored kids during this holiday. Keep reading for more of our top tips for your Guatemala vacation with a family.
If you want to know more, read our guide on: Safety in Guatemala
So where should we go?
This all depends on the kind of vacation you’re looking for, so we’ve broken it down to help you decide.
If you’re looking for a city break, Antigua should be top of your list
The people of Antigua Guatemala are friendly, and while English is not widely known or spoken throughout the country the locals here will be glad to help with your Spanish and you’ll be sure to get by just fine with even limited language skills.
The small city is surrounded by a volcanic landscape and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala. It was once the capital of Guatemala before it was destroyed in the late 1700’s by a series of shattering and fatal earthquakes that forced most of its inhabitants to up and leave, migrating over 40 km east to where, today, you will find the capital Guatemala City.
Today, it is filled with pretty pastel colonial architecture, and quaint cobbled streets that make the city quite charming, and very exciting to explore. The architecture is Spanish influenced Baroque-style and the buildings are simply beautiful – there’ll be plenty of photo opportunities during your stay in Antigua!
The kids (and adults) will love the Choco Museum, which tells the historical story of how the ancient Mayan people discovered the culinary uses of the cacao bean. They’ll have the opportunity to take part in a workshop where they will make their very own chocolate, straight from the bean, all the while learning about Mayan culture!
For outdoor playgrounds, gardens and ziplines head uphill to Santo Domingo del Cerro, an open-air gallery and sculpture park packed with exciting (and educational) activities, including two museums – all of which you can access for free.
We know that kids aren’t always a fan of educational activities, but they’ll be amazed by the ancient archaeological sites on offer throughout Guatemala and Antigua specifically. View the ruins of the Convent of Santo Domingo, the San Jose Cathedral, the Church of Candelaria and more as you take a self-guided walking tour through Antigua’s historical centre.
For nature at its finest, head to Lake Atitlan where you’ll be guaranteed a volcanic vacation
While there are several towns surrounding the lake, you’ll probably want to stay in Panajachel as it has the most amenities available; transport, restaurants, cafes, shops, grocery stores and more. Yes, it is more touristy as a destination, but we know when you’re travelling with family it’s important to have everyone covered and everything you need at your fingertips.
There is plenty to do at the lake, whether you prefer to relax and take in the beautiful surroundings, or be a little more active (we suspect the kids will enjoy some of the activities available in the area).
Guatemala’s third largest freshwater lake allows you to rent a kayak and go paddling around the lake (top tip: the water is most calm in the morning) or perhaps go stand-up paddle boarding or rent a boat. There are places to cliff jump, and paragliding is a popular option, too.
Nearby Atitlan Nature Reserve has monkeys, hanging bridges, hiking trails and ziplines, so it’s sure to be a win with the thrill-seekers of the family!
Discover the ancient city of Tikal and learn about Mayan culture
The Tikal National Park is a must-see during any Guatemala holiday, but particularly one with family as we think the kids will love the lush jungle and exploring the ancient ruins – if you think it looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a movie set, you might be thinking of the rebel base on Yavin IV in the first Star Wars film.
These UNESCO-listed Mayan ruins are of Tikal, one of the largest and most powerful ancient Mayan kingdoms during the 1st millennium AD. The buildings date as far back as the 4th century BC, so there’s a mind-boggling amount of history here.
Archaeological expeditions began in the late 19th century when the ruins were discovered, and today they are some of the most iconic in Guatemala. You’ll recognise the towering pyramids, typical of most Mayan cities, but the setting in the vivid green jungle makes Tikal stand out from the rest. Climb to the top for panoramic views of the whole jungle!
Where to stay
As Guatemala is still evolving as a destination for families, you shouldn’t expect to find the same array of all-inclusive child-friendly resorts and hotels that you can typically find in neighbouring countries.
Having said that, they are out there, but we recommend doing some research before booking to ensure the accommodation meets the needs of everyone in your travelling party. Book in advance to get the best deals on overnight stays, and look out for packages such as ‘Book 3 nights, get one free’ or ones including cheap (or free!) admission to nearby attractions.