Laguna Lachua is one of Guatemala’s most gorgeous natural sights, and its beauty belies its name; the translation in the local language of Q’eqchi is “fetid water” (because of the sulphur deposits) – but don’t let this put you off! Surrounded by dense jungle that’s home to tapirs, toucans and a colorful kaleidoscope of butterfly colonies, the crystal clear waters and exquisite mountain views make this an ideal spot to visit.
Surrounded by mountainous valleys, Chichicastenango’s narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs encapsulate much of what is great about Guatemala. Famous for having the best markets in the country, visiting this town is a must for photographers; Chichi bursts with color and energy, and when it’s shrouded in mist, as it often is, is an utterly magical place to be. Be sure to visit the markets on Thursday and Sunday – if you want to buy any traditional textiles, this is the place to do it.
Quetzaltenango (nicknamed Xela) is a pretty, clean and safe city that’s much less touristy than Antigua or the Lake Atitlan villages. Located at 2,335 meters in the Sierra Madres mountain, Xela’s cobblestone streets and colorful Mayan culture attract those wanting to escape the tourist zones, and it’s ideal if you want to learn Spanish in a more authentic environment. With plenty of old buildings and historic monuments, Xela is also packed with cool coffee shops, cafes, shops and bars, so it’s the perfect blend of Guatemala’s old and new.
Most people don’t think of beaches when they think of Guatemala – but then again, most people have never visited Monterrico. Located on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, this region has dramatic black sand beaches perfect for kicking back on, but the wildlife here is also worth visiting for. The mangrove canals are home to all manner of animals, from caiman, iguanas and armadillos, and if you visit at the right time you can watch thousands of newly hatched sea turtles making their journey to the ocean.
Visiting the relatively small town of Livingston gives you a chance to see a whole other side to Guatemala. Home to an overwhelming majority of the country’s Garifuna population, Livingston merges laid-back Caribbean charm with Mayan history and Latino culture. More similar to Belize than Guatemala City, this coastal town has excellent music, delicious food and is an ideal base for exploring the lovely Rio Dulce.
Described by Lonely Planet as, “the closest thing to Eden on earth,” Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Bordered by volcanoes and with seven traditional Mayan villages around the perimeter, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone not moved by the dramatic scenery. From kayaking across the lake, scaling volcanoes and exploring the immersive culture, Lake Atitlan offers tourists a wealth of exciting things to do.
With copper-colored rooftops, cobbled streets and vivid painted buildings, the island town of Flores is a backpacker hotspot. Its proximity to Tikal National Park has placed it firmly on the gringo trail, but this picturesque town on Lake Peten Itza has much more to offer than first meets the eye. Connected to the mainland by a short causeway, Flores’ tranquil atmosphere and photogenic lake make it a lovely spot to spend a few days.
As a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua buzzes with activity and boasts magnificent architecture, fascinating culture and spectacular views. Can there be a more dramatic backdrop for a town? With three dramatic volcanoes hulking in the background, every time you turn a corner you’ll be greeted by another sensational view. From its old cobbled streets to its bright colonial buildings and smoke-spewing volcanoes, this is one seriously photogenic town.
Like Livingston, the Izabal region is also a good base to explore the Río Dulce and Lago de Izabal. Located in eastern Guatemala, this sultry area is home to an incredibly varied landscape: from rich wetlands to hot springs, thick jungle to the Caribbean coastline, the wildly beautiful Izabal is well worth visiting.
Tikal is Guatemala’s most famous and popular visitor attraction, and for good reason. As the capital city of the Mayan classic period, Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites in Mesoamerica, and its enormous causeways and imposing pyramids attract tourists from all over the world. Located deep within one of Central America’s largest rainforests, these ancient limestone buildings are still shrouded in mystery.
Many visitors to Guatemala used to skip the capital altogether, but these days Guatemala City is proving its credentials. This sprawling, bustling metropolis is hugely varied, and tourists will find there are far more cool bars, outstanding restaurants, trendy clubs and unique shops than some guide books would have you believe. A large part of this gritty city’s appeal is its authenticity, and here you can experience Guatemala’s social and political reality like nowhere else.