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Guatemala is known across the world for its beauty. Dramatic lake Atitlan, colonial Antigua, fire-spewing volcanoes and the ancient Mayan kingdom of Tikal have cemented this Central American country as one of the most spectacular in the world, but these places are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are 11 epic places in Guatemala you never knew existed.
Most visitors to Guatemala are familiar with Pacaya and Fuego volcanoes, but few people seem to know about Tajumulco Volcano, which is actually the highest mountain in Central America. From the peak, when the skies are clear, you can see Mexico on one side and El Salvador on the other; on especially fine days you can sometimes even see the Pacific coast glinting in the distance.
Monterrico wildlife reserve is home to dozens of threatened species, including sea turtles, caiman, iguanas and armadillos, and every year the wildly dramatic beach here sees thousands of newly hatched turtles make their dangerous journey to the ocean. With volcanic black sand leading into a maze of mangrove swamps, lakes and canals, and volcanoes shimmering on the skyline, this is a whole other side of Guatemala.
Antigua’s beauty is known across the world, but there are still plenty of hidden gems here. About 30 minutes walk from the town is Cerro de la Cruz – “hill of the cross” – where you can enjoy the best view of Antigua. As the town unfolds in front of its volcano backdrop, you’ll be able to get some impressive photos of this UNESCO World Heritage city.
Semuc Champey is a group of tiered pools perched above a natural limestone bridge deep in the Guatemalan rainforest. This tropical paradise is rather arduous to reach, but its emerald green and sapphire blue pools and lush greenery draw thousands of intrepid visitors every year.
Deep in the centre of a national park northwest of Cobán, Laguna Lachua is home to a diverse ecosystem that includes thousands of different reptile, bird, mammal and flora species. It became a national park in 1976 and is an ideal spot for both relaxing and adventuring.
In eastern Guatemala lies the Izabal region, a tropical area that’s usually sultry and thick with humidity. This staggeringly beautiful area is home to the Río Dulce and Lago de Izabal, where you can explore rich wetlands, hot springs, Mayan villages and pristine rainforests, and then kick back on the Caribbean coastline.
Uaxactún is a Mayan ceremonial centre. While the pyramids and temples here have been excavated, they haven’t been fully restored like Tikal, so it all feels much more wild. Home to the oldest astrological observatory in the Mayan world, the sun seems as though it’s rising out of the central temple during equinoxes and solstices.
Gorgeous Lake Atitlan is home to many beauty spots, but Indian’s Nose is one of the best. The mountain is called Indian’s Nose because its profile looks like a man’s face, and the peak (the ‘nose’) was thought to be sacred by the Mayans. To appreciate the true beauty of this spot, hike up the mountain early in the morning and you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of the sun rising over the misty lake.
Created by a river that thunders down a 35-meter-tall rock wall, Los Amates waterfall is dramatically beautiful. It takes about three hours to cross the small rivers, but when you reach the main pools you can jump in and swim in the crystal clear water.
Tikal may be the most famous Mayan ruin in Guatema, but Yaxhá is also pretty epic. As the third-largest Mayan ceremonial city in Guatemala, Yaxhá was home to more than 20,000 people. There are more than 400 buildings, five acropolises and three ball courts here, and climbing the temples allows you to admire spectacular views of Lake Yaxhá.
San Pedro is well known as one of Lake Atitlan’s most popular villages, but most people don’t know about the awesome thermal baths here. There are actually several thermal baths in San Pedro, but the best can be found at Los Termales. One of the most epic things of all? It’s bring your own booze, too.