You might not have considered Guatemala as a holiday destination before, but it’s growing in popularity amongst tourists and with good reason.
Guatemala is a country with an unbelievable natural landscape. It is mountainous, volcanic, filled with wild jungle and rainforests and, quite simply, breathtaking. It is no surprise then that there are so many great places to see in Guatemala where you can take in this natural beauty and explore all the country has to offer.
Before we tell you the best places to visit in Guatemala, let’s cover some practical stuff. Safety, water and vaccinations. Granted, this isn’t the most glamorous part of planning a vacation but in this region, it’s super important to have an awareness.
Then, we’ll get on to the fun part!
Is it safe to visit Guatemala?
It is true that, historically, Guatemala has had a reputation for violence. Though Guatemala’s civil war ended in 1996, it has left a lasting impact not only on its people but the rest of the world, who regretfully think of its violent past first and foremost when picturing Guatemala.
This is a great shame because in fact, Guatemala is simply one of the most beautiful and vibrant countries in the world. So much so, it attracts over two million tourists each year who visit without incident.
Yes, there are still some safety concerns but this largely depends on where you go, what you do and the risks you take along the way.
You should stay on guard in the capital city, and know which zones you should and should not enter. Avoid travelling at night, and only get in pre-arranged taxis and first class buses. Don’t be tempted to ogle at political demonstrations – just stay clear, it’s not worth it.
Of course, in a country whose landscape is so rich with active volcanic presence, safety doesn’t just come down to crime. With four active volcanoes in Guatemala and the surrounding regions being some of the country’s most popular for tourists, you should check the latest volcanic activity and check for predictions.
Likewise, the stunning mountain ranges are a hit with hikers, and with good reason. Some of the greatest hiking trails in Central America can be found in Guatemala, but we recommend hiring a local guide to trek with you. At such high altitudes the air is thin, so it’s always good to have support should you need it physically. Plus, these guides know the trails from back to front so it’s good to have someone there who’s familiar.
All in all, Guatemala is a significantly safer place these days than the news you remember of the past, and it shouldn’t be written off as your next holiday destination. The key is to research, and to know where you’re going (and just as importantly, where you’re avoiding). As long as you keep your wits about you and stay aware of your surroundings, Guatemala can be enjoyed in all its natural beauty, perfectly safely!
For more information, read our guide on: Is Guatemala safe?
Can you drink water in Guatemala?
Nope. It’s not safe for foreigners. Even locals avoid it if they can. This goes for ice, too – all your water should come from a sealed bottle wherever possible. There’s really no way to guarantee this for ice (unless you’re dining at an upscale restaurant catered to tourists) so we recommend steering clear of icy beverages. As a last resort you may have to disinfect tap water by boiling it for 1-3 minutes, but we recommend stocking up on the bottled stuff whenever you get the chance.
Do I need vaccinations for Guatemala?
You should be up to date on all your routine vaccinations before heading to Guatemala, but on top of that there are a couple of additional vaccines most travellers should get, too.
The CDC strongly recommends getting Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations, as both diseases can be contracted through contaminated food and water in Guatemala, regardless of where you are eating or staying. In particular, the Typhoid vaccination is for travellers staying with family or friends who reside in Guatemala in more rural areas, or if you have adventurous taste buds.
For the most up-to-date information from the CDC on vaccines for visiting Guatemala, check out their website here.
What are good things about Guatemala?
We hope we’ve not scared you with the practical information and safety warnings we’ve just given. We just want to make sure you’re properly prepared so you can make the very most of your Guatemala experience.
There are so many good – rather, great – things about Guatemala! It is rich in Mayan history and culture, dotted with ruins of ancient civilisations, filled with quaint colonial towns, all set to a beautiful backdrop of thriving rainforest and rugged, mountainous terrain. There is so much to explore and if you’re wondering what to do in Guatemala, you won’t be short on options.
What can you do in Guatemala for a week?
Where do we start?! There’s a lot you can do in a week but for many, it just won’t be enough and you’ll be longing for more time to explore the very best of ‘must see’ Guatemala.
Some of the top things to do in Guatemala include hiking an active volcano, finding your inner peace at a picturesque lake, grabbing a cup of fine coffee – and even visiting a coffee farm – and exploring some ancient Mayan ruins (we recommend Tikal).
One of the best things to do in Guatemala if you’re visiting the cities is to explore the local markets, which are likely to trump any you’ve visited before. Expect bold and bright colours as vendors and craftspeople sell handmade clothing, accessories and souvenirs, amongst fruit and vegetable stalls and delicious street food that fills the air with the best smells.
There’s certainly a lot to keep you busy, you simply need to know where to go in Guatemala. Here are our top picks.
Antigua is a charming colonial city that used to be the country’s capital
It’s a small city surrounded by a volcanic landscape and it is a popular tourist destination. Filled with pretty pastel colonial buildings and quaint cobbled streets, it’s very, very charming and a photographer’s friend.
There are plenty of ancient ruins to see, lots of artisan markets and some beautiful city-wide views from one of the central hilltops. Home to some top Guatemala tourist attractions, Antigua should be at the top of your itinerary.
Panajachel is a lakeside town surrounded by nature
When you’re researching what to see in Guatemala, Lake Atitla is likely to come up in every search. This vast freshwater lake sits in a volcanic crater and is simply stunning – it’s straight off a postcard.
While there are plenty of towns surrounding the lake, Panajachel is the most popular as it has all the amenities you’ll need during your stay – shops, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, you name it. It means you have the option between pure indulgence and relaxation in nature, or a little fun in the touristic centre of town.
Explore an ancient Mayan City at the Tikal National Park
Spanning an area of 575 km of jungle and containing thousands of ancient ruins, this historical Mayan city is home to over 3,000 buildings ready to be explored during your Guatemala vacation.
The iconic pyramids tower over the city and the jungle canopy lend a feel of mystery and magic to this incredible site. Guatemala is a country rich in Mayan history and this is our top pick of archaeological sites.
Guatemala City is the country’s capital and shouldn’t be missed
You can’t visit Guatemala without spending a little time in the capital. If for no other reason, it is home to the primary international airport so it’s likely you’ll be flying in or out of Guatemala City.
Filled with historical museums, Baroque-style architecture and top notch bars and restaurants, there is plenty to do in Guatemala City for every traveller. You don’t have to head far out of town to reach some of the best hiking trails for those of you who prefer to spend your time out of the hustle and bustle and at one with nature.
The Pacific coast has black sand beaches
For a unique experience head to the Pacific coast to see the extremely unusual jet-black sand beaches. Monterrico is the most touristic destination on the coast and is great for surfers and beach-dwellers alike. The sand is from volcanic origin, which explains the odd colour you may not have seen before.
Along the Pacific coast you’ll also have the chance to see sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, and even baby sea turtles hatching and taking their first steps into the water. It’s spectacular!
Whatever your preferred type of holiday, Guatemala has you covered. We’ve gone into more detail about the top destinations in a series of guides that will help you decide where you should visit first!