8 Amazing Places to Visit in Guatemala (Plus Hidden Gems)

The best places to visit in Guatemala
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Guatemala is an absolute must-visit destination for anyone visiting Central America. Whether you’re a backpacker, luxury traveller or looking for somewhere to stay long-term, Guatemala really has it all.

This tropical country is known for its fiery volcanoes, historic Mayan ruins and magnificent landscapes. Despite becoming more popular in recent years, Guatemala is still much less visited than nearby countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico and Belize. The country has a bad reputation for being unsafe, but this isn’t necessarily true, and Guatemala really has so much to offer.

Below, I’ve shared the absolute best places to visit in Guatemala to help you plan your itinerary. From the Mayan ruins of Tikal to the powerful volcanoes of the Guatemalan Highlands, there are so many incredible destinations to include in your itinerary.

While I don’t recommend going well and truly off the beaten path in Guatemala for safety reasons, I’ve also included a few slightly less visited destinations for those looking to escape the typical tourist trail.

Quick Overview

Antigua (2 – 5 days)

Acatenango (2 days)

Flores (3-5 days)

Tikal (2-5 days)

Semuc Champey & Lanquin (2-4 days)

Rio Dulce (2-5 days)

Lake Atitlan (3-14 days)

El Paredon (2-5 days)

Destinations for your Guatemala Itinerary


Let’s begin with one of the best places to visit in Guatemala: the beautiful colonial town of Antigua. With cobblestone streets, colourful buildings, and plenty of unique things to do, Antigua is the perfect place to begin your Guatemala trip.

You could spend days wandering the streets of this lively town, but it’s also a great place to base yourself for a longer period. Filled with Spanish schools, co-working spaces and a range of trendy cafes and restaurants, Antigua is one of those places where it would be easy to stay long-term, and it’s become a top destination for digital nomads.

I absolutely adored Antigua and would love to base myself there for a long period of time in the future. It’s surrounded by incredible scenery (you can literally see an erupting volcano from the town) and it’s one of those places where life just seems easy.

Granted, not everyone will have endless time to spend in one place, so let’s get back to business.

I’d recommend spending at least two or three days exploring Antigua. Consider joining a free guided tour to learn more about the colonial past, visiting the famous Arco de Santa Catalina, and wandering around the Old Town and local markets.

Solo female travel in Guatemala
Antigua City

You can also take a day trip to the Pacaya Volcano, one of the top things to do while in Antigua. There are several active volcanoes in Guatemala and a day trip to the Pacaya Volcano involves a hike through the newly formed lava fields close to the main crater. When I visited, it was possible to toast marshmallows and even cook pizza on the hot lava.

The Pacaya Volcano hike is relatively easy and well worth doing, even if you’re also planning to hike the famous Acatenango.

Antigua is about an hour’s drive from the capital’s main international airport. It’s worth noting that Guatemala City is generally not visited by tourists. With its high crime rate, it’s not the safest place to visit, and there’s not much to do there.

How long to spend in Antigua: at least 2 days to see the highlights (but 3 or 4 is ideal)

Where to stay in Antigua
There is a wide range of accommodations in Antigua catering for all needs and budgets. My favourite hostels in Antigua are Flore Hostel and Adra. I stayed in both and had a great time. I also spent a couple of nights in Casa Buena Vista, a small hotel offering affordable private rooms.

How to get to Antigua: The city is well-connected by tourist shuttle bus with all major destinations in Guatemala. This includes Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey and El Paredon. Just be prepared for some long bus journeys.

Visiting the Pacaya Volcano is one of the best things to do in Antigua
Hiking the Pacaya Volcano


Next up is the Acatenango Volcano, one of the best spots to experience Guatemala’s famous volcanic activity. Regarded as one of the best things to do in Guatemala, this epic hike winds its way up Acatenango rewarding hikers with panoramic views of the erupting Fuego volcano. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have no doubt seen videos of this incredible sight on social media. Think lava shooting into the sky against a starry backdrop.

The Acatenango hike involves a steep climb at a high altitude, so it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Once you reach basecamp, the sun begins to set, and the mighty Fuego puts on one epic show. The following morning, you have the option of hiking to the Acatenango summit for sunrise. This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite things I’ve done on all of my travels.

The best time to hike Acatenango is between November and April (the dry season), when the skies are the clearest. If it’s cloudy, you won’t see the star of the show.

Related read: Acatenango is just one of many epic volcano hikes in Guatemala

You can book your Acatenango hike through your accommodation in Antigua. There are also plenty of tour operators around the town offering last-minute deals. Just be sure to research the company first as not all tours operate to the same standard. For example, some include porters and meals, whereas for others, you need to carry and cook everything yourself.

For a budget option, Tropicana Hostel is very popular. This tour is also a good option with all meals and equipment included.

How to get to Acatenango: Most tours will fetch you from your accommodation in Antigua.

Fuego eruting
Fuego erupting

Semuc Champey and Lanquin

Semuc Champey was one of my favourite places in Guatemala. This underrated destination is growing in popularity but still feels a little off the beaten path. The area is known for its turquoise waters, natural pools, limestone bridges, a network of caves, and lush, dense jungle.

Most people visiting Semuc Champey will stay in the nearby town of Lanquin where there is a range of accommodation options and day tours to the nearby sights.

I stayed at Zephyr Lodge, which offers a range of dorm and private rooms. The hostel has incredible views of the surrounding countryside and an infinity pool. Aside from the door rooms, the hostel feels more like a luxury resort. One thing to know is that it is a bit of a party hostel, so if you’re after some peace and serenity, it’s not the best option.

Semuc Champey is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala
Semuc Champey viewpoint

Once in Semuc Champey, there’s a great hike to an incredible viewpoint. You can also walk down to the limestone bridges and swim in the pools. Many tours also include a hike into a cave. I wouldn’t recommend this if you get claustrophobia and don’t like the dark. While the guides are great, there is very little consideration for health and safety, and it can be quite an intense activity.

You can also go tubing nearby, hopping off at various restaurants and lodges for a drink and some food.

How long to stay in Lanquin: 2 days will give you a full day in the park, and another day to relax or opt to do another activity.

Where to stay in Lanquin
As mentioned above, Zephyr Lodge is a great option for your trip to Semuc Champey. The hostel has a range of rooms (privates and dorms) and offers day trips to all the best attractions in the area. It is a bit of a party hostel, so for something a little bit quieter, consider Greengos. It’s also a bit closer to Semuc Champey.

How to get to Lanquin: Lanquin is well-connected to Flores, Lake Atitlan and Antigua. You can book the tourist shuttle bus through your accommodation.

Views from Zephyr Lodge
Views from Zephyr Lodge

Lake Atitlan

Arguably the most famous destination in Guatemala, Lake Atitlan is an absolute must on any trip to the country. Honestly, you could spend weeks exploring the many towns surrounding the lake, each with its own different vibe.

Lake Atitlan is also a good place to stop and relax. There’s not a tonne to do there beyond exploring the towns, but it’s a popular spot for visitors to base themselves in for a long period of time, including digital nomads.

I recommend staying in at least two of the towns surrounding the lake and more if you have the chance. Each town and village caters to a different type of traveller and has something unique to offer.

One of my personal favourite spots is San Pedro La Laguna. This lively place is a backpacker hotspot. It’s filled with cute cafes and comes to life at night with nightclubs and bars. For something on the quieter side, consider Santa Cruz. It’s much smaller and more peaceful, but it still has a lot going on.

San Marcos is another popular spot known for its hipster vibe. I personally wasn’t a fan of San Marcos, but each to their own.

While spending time in Lake Atitlan, be sure to check out one of the many hikes including the San Pedro volcano. The Indian Nose hike is a great option for a sunrise hike.

Note: The roads around Lake Atitlan are known to be dangerous. To travel between the towns, use the regular boat taxi service.

How long to spend in Lake Atitlan: I’d recommend the absolute minimum of 3 days, but a whole week would be ideal.

How to get to Lake Atitlan: You can take a tourist shuttle bus from destinations including Antigua and El Paredon.


Flores is in the north of the country, in the Peten area. It is the gateway to several historical sites, including ancient Mayan ruins and famous archaeological sites. It’s a great base for exploring the nearby area and a cute little town to spend a few days.

The most popular activity in Flores is visiting the nearby Tikal, an ancient Mayan civilisation. Although it can be visited as a day trip from Flores, I personally think it’s worth spending at least one night in Tikal itself (more on that below).

Another archaeological site which often goes under the radar is Yaxha. I had never heard of these ruins before visiting Flores, but visiting was a real highlight of my trip to Guatemala. This hidden gem is home to some incredible Mayan ruins, many of which are still being discovered. I joined a group tour and spent some time exploring the area before watching the sunset over the temples. It’s a lot less busy than Tikal and perfect if you’re interested in learning more about the Mayans.

The town of Flores is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala
The town of Flores

For anyone who wants to really get off the beaten path, consider joining a multi-day trek to the Mayan ruins of El Mirador. This ancient civilization is nestled in the heart of the jungle and requires a 5-day trek to reach. I didn’t get the chance to do this on my trip, but Passport The World has a great guide.

Mayan ruins aren’t the only reason to visit Flores. Other options include visiting the Crater Azul, taking a boat tour around Lake Petén Itzá, and riding Jorge’s Rope Swing.

How long to spend in Flores: 3-5 days.

Where to stay in Flores
Flores has accommodation options for all budgets. For backpackers, there are a couple of great hostel choices. I stayed in Los Amigos Hostel and loved it. It had a great social vibe and affordable private rooms. Hostel Peten Express is another popular option for backpackers.

If you’re on a budget and want to skip hostels, Casa Maya Itza or Hotel Casona are great options.

How to get to Flores: If you’re in Antigua, your best option is to fly from Guatemala City airport. Alternatively, you can take a long bus. Flores is also connected to Lanquin and Rio Dulce by shuttle bus.

Tikal National Park

Many people opt to visit Tikal as a day trip from Flores, but I’d recommend spending some extra time there if you can. I spent three nights in the jungle and was able to walk to the Tikal ruins and back (with a guide).

Tikal National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with history. Along with its Mayan ruins, the area is surrounded by dense jungle and incredible nature. It’s the perfect place in Guatemala to immerse yourself in nature and switch off from the outside world.

There’s not much to do other than visit the Tikal ruins, but Tikal itself is a huge area, and staying at least one night allows you to explore further afield than on a day trip.

The best way to visit is to join a guided tour for sunrise. This way, you can beat the crowds and watch as the sun rises above the jungle. It’s truly beautiful!

How long to spend in Tikal: At least one night

Where to stay in Tikal
As most people tend to visit Tikal as a day trip, accommodation in Tikal is limited. If you’re keen to stay there, be sure to book in advance. I stayed at Jungle Lodge Tikal and loved it. It’s surrounded by jungle, and you can even walk to Tikal from the hotel. There aren’t many restaurants within walking distance, so you’ll need to use the hotel’s restaurant.

How to get to Tikal: You can take a shuttle bus from Flores to reach Tikal.

Tikal Ruins
Tikal Ruins

El Paredon

I almost skipped El Paredon on my trip to Guatemala, but I’m so glad I didn’t! Guatemala isn’t really known for its beaches, but El Paredon is a popular spot for those who want to experience Guatemalan beach life.

This sleepy surf town on the Pacific Coast is the perfect place to experience a different side of Guatemala. Although its popularity has grown in recent years, it’s still much less visited than the other places mentioned on this list.

El Paredon is known for its black sand beaches, beautiful sunsets and surrounding nature. It’s also the place to be if you want to go surfing.

Between June and November, thousands of turtles make their way to the beach to lay their eggs. A local conservation project works to protect the eggs, and it’s possible to watch the baby sea turtles being released during these months. Find out more about releasing baby sea turtles in Guatemala.

There’s not too much to do in El Paredon, but that’s the beauty of it. Spend your days relaxing on the beach, surfing and making the most of the epic sunrises and sunsets. You can also opt to explore the nearby mangroves on a tour.

How long to spend in El Paredon: 2 days will give you a day to explore and a day to relax. If you want to make the most of the Pacific Coast, El Paredon is one of those places where it would be easy to spend an entire week.

Where to stay in El Paredon
New accommodation seems to be popping up in El Paredon all the time. The Driftwood Surfer is one of the most popular hostels, it’s known for its wild parties and lively atmosphere. For something a bit more chilled, consider Mellow Hostel. This is where I stayed, and I absolutely loved it. It’s social but much more chilled than Driftwood and has private glamping temps as well as budget dorms.

How to get to El Paredon: You can reach El Paredon by shuttle bus from Antigua and Lake Atitlan. If you’re coming from Lake Atitlan, your journey may involve a boat ride too, but your driver will organise everything.

Livingston and Rio Dulce

Livingston and Rio Dulce are the places to go if you want a taste of Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. These two spots are different destinations but well connected via boat. I recommend basing yourself in Rio Dulce and visiting Livingston as a day trip (or staying for one night).

Rio Dulce is known for its incredible nature and natural beauty. There are several eco-lodges and hostels in the area, and activities on offer include wildlife spotting, boat trips and kayaking.

It’s quite a journey to reach Rio Dulce, and I personally think El Paredon has more to offer in terms of switching off and relaxing. It’s one of those places that is worth visiting if you have the time, but I wouldn’t prioritise it above the other destinations I’ve mentioned so far.

How long to spend in Rio Dulce: 2-5 days

Where to stay in Rio Dulce
There are some lovely eco-lodges in the Rio Dulce area, and they won’t break the bank. Consider the Tortugal Boutique River Lodge or El Hotelito Perdido.

How to get to Rio Dulce and Livingston: You’ll need to take a shuttle bus to Rio Dulce from other popular tourist destinations such as Flores or Antigua. From Rio Dulce, catch a boat down the river to Livingston.

Hidden gems in Guatemala

The destinations I’ve mentioned so far are all popular places to visit in Guatemala, especially for backpackers. If you’re keen to get off the beaten path a little, here are a few other destinations to consider.

One thing to note is that while many tourists visit Guatemala without trouble, some areas of the country can be quite dangerous. It’s recommended that anyone visiting Guatemala stays on the tourist trail and hires a local guide when they want to explore further afield.

While the destinations below are lesser-known, they’re still very much on the radar of tourists, and most visits tend to be trouble-free.

Related read: Answering the question – is Guatemala safe for solo female travel?


Monterrico is another small surf town on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala and a great place to experience a lesser-known side of the country. The laid-back town is similar to El Paredon and also offers the chance to see baby sea turtles. I met a few people who based themselves in Monterrico at a local Spanish school.

Sunset in Monterrico
Sunset in Monterrico


Coban is a beautiful town in the Guatemalan Highlands known for its surrounding coffee farms. It’s a great jumping off point for those travelling between Semuc Champey and Antigua.

Most of Coban’s attractions lie on the outskirts of town. Consider joining a cave tour or visiting a coffee farm.

Laguna Lachua National Park

If you really want to get off the beaten path, consider Laguna Lachua National Park. The park is absolutely beautiful and a great place to experience the best of Guatemala’s beautiful rainforests.

The park can be accessed from the nearby Coban on a day trip, or opt to stay the night at Laguna Lachuá. It’s a basic camping experience, but well worth it.

Quetzaltenango (Xela) 

Last on this list of places to visit in Guatemala is Xela. Xela is another great off-the-beaten-path destination. The country’s second-largest city, Xela is a great spot to learn Spanish and experience life in Guatemala.

The main draw to Xela, however, is its epic hiking opportunities, which include the Santa Maria Volcano and Tajumulco (Central America’s tallest peak). I did both of these hikes as part of my Guatemala Volcano hiking trip and absolutely loved it!

After hitting the hiking trails, visit the Quetzaltenango hot springs (about an hour out of town) to aid those aching muscles.

Sunrise at Tajumulco
Sunrise at Tajumulco

How to get around Guatemala

Public transportation in Guatemala isn’t the most reliable or the safest. The preferred method of transport for the locals is a ‘chicken bus’. These converted old school buses operate within and between the larger towns and cities.

Petty crime (and more serious crime) is common on the chicken buses, especially against tourists. I’d stick to only using them in the more popular areas such as Antigua.

The best option for getting between the destinations mentioned on this list is to book a tourist shuttle bus. These buses are designed for tourists and follow safer routes, avoiding roads known for robberies. They can be a little bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it to stay safe. I booked all my buses through the accommodation I was staying in at the time.

Be aware that Guatemala has poor road conditions in some places. Journeys can take a long time and be very bumpy!

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