Whether you want to hike a volcano, swim in Latin America’s deepest lake, or hunt for a bird that inspired currency, Guatemala has it all.
Considered a country of the megadiverse for the richness of its nature – it is home to thousands of plant species, many of which are found only within its borders – making the “place of many trees” a once-in-a-lifetime destination.
What is the only Central American country with a majority indigenous community?
Located in the Central American region, just below Mexico and bordering Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, the country has Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and its borders are filled with dense forests, lakes, mountains and volcanoes.
In addition to being ecologically rich, Guatemala is also culturally rich. Most of its population is of indigenous Mayan ancestry, with 21 different Mayan communities making Guatemala the only Central American country with an indigenous majority community.
With so much to offer it can be difficult to know where to start. So whether you want to explore the thick forest and ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal or contend with the country’s volcanoes, here are some of our favorite things to do in this Central American wonder.
Can I climb a volcano in Guatemala?
Guatemala’s volcanoes tower over the intricate landscapes below, creating the perfect climate for rainforests, a delicate ecosystem where mountains and rainforests meet. Besides being wet environments thanks to the clouds, these forests are also very diverse, with orchids and bromeliads bursting out of the sides of the trees.
All of this diversity makes for an amazing excursion. “The landscapes are beautiful,” says Ana Yancy Rodríguez, director general of the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism.
“We are surrounded by volcanoes, yes 37 volcanoesincluding three active volcanoes where you can have the experience of climbing a volcano and seeing the lava.”
Guatemala’s most famous volcano hike is Acatenango, which offers travelers some epic views of the surrounding mountain range. The peak sits at a height of 3,976 meters, so don’t expect to hike it in an afternoon. Excursions generally last two days and may involve overnight travel.
During the ascent you will pass through rainforest, alpine forest and enjoy panoramic views of Fuego, a nearby active volcano
Can I swim in Lake Atitlán?
One of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, Lake Atitlán is famous for a reason. Dropping down to 341 meters, it is the deepest lake in Latin America, with shimmering blue and green waters making it a must see.
Located in the Guatemalan highlands, it is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, so be sure to pack your camera. Tourists are welcome to swim here, and many of the surrounding resorts have jetties and diving boards. Formed about 84,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, it truly is one of the jewels of Guatemala.
What are the 12 Apostles of Guatemala?
Scattered along the shore of Lake Atitlán are 12 volcanoes, each of which has its own community, as Rodríguez explains. “The lake is surrounded by 12 villages named after the 12 apostles of Christ,” he says.
“Each of these countries has its own cuisine, language and also its traditional customs. And for us it is very important to make this natural heritage known, accompanied by all the cultural wealth that our country possesses. We are a country that still has its own Mayan culture.”
The largest of these surrounding cities is Santiago de Atitlán, home to approximately 70,000 people, most of whom are Tzʼutujil Maya. Sitting between two volcanoes – San Pedro and Toliman – it’s a great place to learn more about contemporary Mayan culture.
What will I find in Tikal Archaeological Park?
Read more about the long history of Mayan culture, you must go to Tikal Archaeological Park. Nestled in the rainforest of northern Guatemala, the Mayan ruins here belong to a settlement that dates back to 600 BC, although most of the ruins date from 200-900 AD
Called Yax Mutal, this was one of the largest cities ever created by the Maya, and seeing the 3,000 structures, including temple pyramids, surrounded by the thick Petén jungle makes for an unforgettable experience.
If you plan to visit, it’s best to stay in Flores, the capital of Petén, which is less than an hour away by car.