Bordered by dramatic volcanoes, Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan has long inspired superlatives from even the most seasoned travelers. Nineteenth-century travel writer John L. Stevens called Lake Atitlan, “the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,” nearly 200 years later, Lonely Planet described it as, “the closest thing to Eden on earth.” With traditional Mayan villages dotted around the perimeter, the dramatic scenery and immersive culture have cemented it as one of the most popular sights in Central America.
At 4,220 meters, Tajumulco Volcano is the highest mountain in Central America. The path here takes you past forests, prairies and rocky terrains, and despite Tajumulco’s height, it only takes about four hours to reach the top. From the summit, when the weather is fine, you can see Mexico on one side and El Salvador on the other. When the sky is especially clear, you can sometimes even see the Pacific coast in the distance.
Sultry, tropical Monterrico gives you a glimpse of a whole other side of Guatemala. This wildlife reserve is home to many threatened species, including sea turtles, caiman, iguanas and armadillos, and if you visit at the right time you can observe thousands of newly hatched turtles making their arduous journey to the ocean. The beach here is wildly dramatic, with enormous waves crashing onto black sand and volcanoes glinting on the skyline; a little way beyond is a labyrinth of mangrove swamps, lakes and canals, also home to a variety of wildlife and hundreds of different species of birds.
Semuc Champey, which means “Sacred Water,” is a cluster of tiered pools above a natural limestone bridge deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Though this tropical spot may be hard to reach, its clear water and lush greenery have made it a popular spot on the backpacker trail. The cool pools are utterly blissful to swim in after such an arduous journey, and with vivid colors of emerald green and sapphire blue, it’s an incredibly photogenic location too.
Standing at a diminutive 1,650 meters, it only takes about two hours to reach the top of Impala Volcano… but when you get to the summit, you’re in for a treat. Inside the crater is a beautiful lagoon, the perfect spot to cool down in and have a splash around.
Not far from Antigua is Pacaya, a volcano that’s become the most popular trekking destination in the country. Standing 2,500 meters at its peak, Pacaya Volcano became active again in 1965, and last erupted in 2015. Composed of lava flows, ash eruptions and volcanic eruptions, the landscape here is lunar-like and eerily beautiful. Bring some marshmallows when you visit – you can toast them over the still-hot lava flows!
Formed by a river that cascades down from a 35-meter-tall rock wall, Los Amates waterfall is spectacularly beautiful. It takes about three hours to cross the small rivers: bring your swimsuit because you can swim in these crystal clear pools. For an idyllic day out, bring a picnic and spend the day here relaxing.
Acatenango is the third-highest volcano in Guatemala. The summit is the best lookout point to the active Fuego Volcano, and on a clear day you can enjoy views of Pacaya and Agua Volcanoes too. The views are best from November to January. Make sure you bring a camera!
Laguna Lachua is located at the heart of a national park northwest of Cobán. Primarily made up of tropical rainforests, it became a national park in 1976 and contains a diverse ecosystem that’s home to thousands of reptiles, birds, mammals and flora species. It’s one of the most popular spots in Guatemala for camping, hiking and canoeing.
El Peten is an enormous province comprised mainly of virgin rainforests, and is the best spot in the country for bird-watching. Guided tours are popular here, but this huge expanse of jungle is also home to a certain ancient Mayan kingdom…
Rio Dulce – “Sweet River” in Spanish – is a crystal clear river in the lovely Izabal district of Guatemala, and its staggering beauty has made it one of the most loved cruising destinations in the world. Linked to Lake Izabal and running alongside the tall canyon walls of El Canyon, Rio Dulce is a wonderfully tranquil spot.