One of nineteen megadiverse countries in the world, Guatemala is so rich in natural wonders that even its currency – the Quetzal – is named after a tropical bird.
With so much nature to discover, including 37 volcanoes, 5 lakes and 360 microclimates, the nation is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts with a sense of adventure.
Nestled between Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, the country is the same size as the US state of Tennessee, but with Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, it manages to fit within its borders.
Guatemala’s name comes from the Nahuatl word “Quauhtlemallan” which means “place of many trees” and it is also a land of several languages. Although Spain is the main language, 22 Mayan languages are spoken there, as well as Xinca and Garifuna.
“We have the heart of the Maya world in the northern part of the country and you can also explore nature and all the archaeological sites in Guatemala,” says Mynor Arturo Cordón Lemus, director general of the Guatemala Tourist Board.
Mr Lemus is not afraid of the healing power of a trip to his country, saying: “For two years we have had a lot of problems with the pandemic and I think the best way out is to visit Guatemala.
To help you get acquainted with this multi-faceted country, we’ve picked out some of our favorite scenic spots.
Guatemala Travel Restrictions
All arrivals are required to present a negative antigen or PCR test upon arrival. This must be taken no later than 72 hours before departure from your country of origin. Children under 10 are not required to take a test.
In addition to a negative test, anyone over the age of 12 must present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate confirming that two doses have been received.
You will also need to present your hotel reservation and proof of a return ticket.
You can find more information on Guatemala’s travel restrictions and whether you will need a visa to enter here.
Take the Carmelita-Mirador Tour to the Ancient World
If a walk on the wild side is what you are looking for in Guatemala, this is the place. The 55km Circuit Carmelita-Mirador is in the northern part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region.
A UNESCO site, it is one of the largest areas of tropical rainforest north of the Amazon and includes over 200 ancient Mayan cities within its boundaries.
Recognized as one of the lungs of the earth, the reserve is perfect for birdwatchers, ecotourists and adventurers. The tour includes Tikal National Park, one of the largest cities created by the Maya. In the city’s Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the Temple of the Great Jaguar and the Temple of the Masks along the Acropolis.
You can also visit Isla de Flores, the site of the first Mayan observatory where civilizations first measured time and discovered the best dates suited to cultures.
Besides archaeological treasures, you will find abundant nature, including 122 species of mammals, 535 species of butterflies and 106 types of reptiles.
The Best Volcano Hike in Guatemala
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, how about climbing a volcano? Antigua’s Acatenango Volcano towers 3,976 meters above sea level and is considered Guatemala’s best volcano hike for adrenaline junkies. From the top, you will be able to see the Fuego Volcano, Acatenango’s much more active neighbor.
You will need to be an experienced hiker to tackle Acatenango and hiring a guide is recommended. Trek Guatemala even has an overnight hike so you can experience the splendor of Guatemala’s sunrise from the top the next morning.
Guatemala: Caribbean or Pacific side?
Boasting coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, you can experience both sides of Guatemala from the two waterfronts.
“We have black sand beaches in the Pacific and white sand beaches in the Atlantic,” explains Cordón Lemus.
The Pacific coast offers more than 300 kilometers of volcanic black sand beaches, where you can spot humpback whales from December to April. The beaches are also ideal for surfers and the Takalik Abaj National Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is nearby if you want a break from sunbathing.
Just a few hours away, Quetzaltenango is one of the best places to visit in Guatemala right now, according to Cordón Lemus. “There are beautiful lakes and great sights and volcanoes. And one of the best experiences you can have here is our gastronomy.”
Meanwhile, on the Caribbean side, you can discover stunning white sand beaches, the Rio Dulce Nature Reserve and Lake Izabal, the country’s largest body of water. You can find the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara by the lake, a Spanish colonial fort dating back to the 17th century.
After all that nature you might be looking for something a little more urban, in which case head to the capital. Gateway to the country if you travel by plane, the country’s capital is the most cosmopolitan in the Central American region.
The city was awarded the title of Ibero-American Capital of Culture in 2015 and is home to two huge markets, the Mercado Central and the Mercado de Artesanías (artisans market). The latter is the best place to buy traditional Guatemalan handicrafts, clothing and jewelry.