Perched between a series of volcanos in southern Guatemala lies the beautiful city of Antigua. This place is famous for producing some of the best chocolate in the world, but even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, this city is worth the visit. Its charming cobblestoned streets lined with colourful colonial houses are something straight out of a storybook. Wander around these quaint streets to find amazing bars, cheap restaurants and bustling street markets. Once you’ve snapped a few photos and tried all the sweets that make this city famous – like its pastel tres leches – head outside its walls to enjoy its natural beauty. Hike up to a nearby volcano or to the more-distant highland villages. Soak up everything that amazing Antigua has to offer.
Admire Lake Atitlán
In the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, tucked inside the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, you’ll find the town of Atitlán. This place is famous for its volcanic lake, Lake Atitlán, and this beautiful part of the world is a must-see for all lovers of nature and outdoor adventure. Completely surrounded by volcanoes, Lake Atitlán looks like something straight out of a postcard. Paddle out onto the lake in a row boat, or do one of many trial hikes up to the nearby volcanoes. Here, you’ll also be able to experience traditional Guatemalan culture. The town of Atitlán is populated by indigenous Maya people, as too are other nearby villages. Each village has their own unique traditions, and many still follow the old ways, performing everyday tasks wearing brightly-embroidered traditional clothing. Get up-close-and-personal with nature and one of the world’s oldest civilisations at Lake Atitlán.
Explore the ancient Mayan ruins
Home to one of the world’s oldest civilisation, Guatemala is famous for its Mayan ruins. What’s most amazing isn’t just how old they are or their impressive scale, but just how many ancient Mayan ruins still remain. There are literally hundreds of them dotted around the country. Our pick for one of the best things to do in Guatemala? Visit the most important Mayan ruin: Tikal. Make your way to Northern Guatemala and trek through the depths of the Central American jungle to discover this lost Mayan city. From millennia-old pyramids to the intricate carvings on their walls, Tikal is one of the most incredible experiences Guatemala has to offer. If you’re still hungry for more Mayan ruins, make your way to nearby Yaxhá, or, if you find yourself near Antigua, pop over to Iximche and Aguateca.
Admire the natural wonders of Semuc Champey
If there’s anything better than trekking through the jungle and discovering ancient ruins, it’d be backing it up with a swim in a natural pool. Semuc Champey is just that: this natural wonder is a natural limestone formation that looks like a series of rice paddies in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. Seemingly emerging from the middle of nowhere, an underground river is responsible for this amazing landscape. Accessible from the tiny nearby town of Lanquín, make the most of a trip to Semuc Champey by walking along its many with hiking trails and guided tours up to lookout points. If you want to do even deeper, head to the nearby Kan’Ba Caves, where walking through a dark labyrinth will lead you to the underground river. Trust us, it’s definitely worth it.
Learn about coffee in the middle of the jungle
If you’re anything like us, your travel adventures are basically sponsored by coffee. If you go through cups of this stuff every day, you might want to learn a thing or two about where it comes from. As Guatemala is one of the world-leaders in coffee bean harvesting, the Guatemalan jungle is an awesome place to learn about the world’s favourite drink. Our pick for the best tours? Head straight to Dalton estate, a massive coffee-growing plantation just outside of Antigua. With interesting tours in both English and Spanish, discover how coffee beans are grown, harvested and roasted before being shipped off all over the world, before wrapping things up with a coffee tasting. The thing that surprised us most? Coffee beans actually come from a red cherry – who knew?
Things to do in Guatemala
Coffee Harvest Celebration
Culture & Drinks
You probably already know how much Guatemalans love cocoa, but this festival celebrates another of the country’s favourite beans: coffee. Guatemala is a leading exporter of high-quality coffee, and every February the town of Frajianes celebrates the arrival of the harvest. Join in the local celebration with parades, food and dancing.
The arrival of the Spanish brought Catholicism to Guatemala, and the country is still very devoted to this day. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a week-long celebration leading up to Easter Sunday. This week is celebrated with different church services, processions and street fairs. Semana Santa takes place in March or April every year.
Coban Folklore Festival
Music & Culture
Known locally as Rabin Ajau, this annual festival takes place every year in late July or early August in the town of Coban. Located in the highlands and surrounded by forests and coffee plantations, this festival showcases the indigenous traditions through music and dance, culminating with the selection of the Mayan beauty queen.
Mayan New Year
The Mayan Calendar consisted of 360 days, so Mayans New Year is about celebrating a full rotation of the cycle of life. Celebrated at scared Mayan sites around Guatemala, several rituals and ceremonies are performed on Mayan New Year to honour that cycle and bless the new one.
Dia de los Muertos
Literally translating to “Day of the Dead,” this popular Latin America festival combines Catholic and indigenous beliefs. Celebrated all over Guatemala on November 2 – the Catholic All Souls’ Day – this festival pays homage to dead ancestors. Special celebrations include the flying of kites in Santiago Sacatepéquez and wild horse racing in Todos Santos Cuchumatán.
Top 5 Festivals in Guatemala
With traditions stemming from both Catholic and Indigenous traditions, the Guatemalan calendar is jam-packed with colourful ceremonies and festivals. Join the locals with celebrating everything from Mayan New Year to the annual coffee harvest. Here are five of our favourite Guatemalan festivals that you should check out.
Guatemala City's most notable landmark, Palacio Nacional is the former presidential palace built in the 1940s by dictator Jose Ubico. Designed using a mix of Spanish Renaissance and Neoclassical architectural styles, this stunning building is now open to the public. Learn about the modern history of Guatemala as you walk through this ornately-decorated building.
Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing
Get up-close-and-personal with indigenous Guatemalan clothing and textiles at the Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing in Guatemala City. The museum features a huge collection of hand-woven fabrics dating back to the 19th century, which come from 120 different highland villages. The museum’s collection also has a significant holding of Guatemalan folk art.
Museo Popol Vuh
With one of the world's biggest collections of Mayan art, the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala City is not to be missed. The museum’s extensive collection of Mayan art and artefacts dates back to the Paleoindian era of 9,000 BC, which helps piece together the fascinating history of Guatemala.
As the birthplace of chocolate, you’ll definitely want to check out Guatemala’s Choco Museum. Discover the history behind the Mayan love of chocolate, which they considered the food of the gods, as well as participating in chocolate-making workshops, where you’ll learn how to turn cacao bean into chocolate bar.
Top 4 Museums and Galleries in Guatemala
From its ancient indigenous origins to its turbulent modern history, discover the story of Guatemala at some of its amazing museums. Learn about the Mayan people and their love of chocolate one minute, before diving into the country’s troubled 20th century history the next. Here are our picks for the top five museums in Guatemala.
A local favourite, chiles rellenos are Guatemalan stuffed peppers. Guaque chilli, capsicums and jalapeños are hollowed-out to be stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, carrots, green beans and other spices. Once stuffed, the peppers are covered in batter and deep-fried. They are often served in bread as a sandwich.
Best eaten at FRIDAS, 5a Avenida Norte, Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua
A fusion of Spanish and Mayan cultures, chicken pepian is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemala. This delicious chicken stew is thickened with both fruit and vegetables – usually pear, squash, carrot, potato and corn – as well as a rich mix of spices, before being served on a bed of rice and tortillas.
Best eaten at Senor Pepian, Oriente 4, 3 Av. North, Antigua
Another traditional Mayan soup, kak’ik is a soup made using turkey that is flavoured with a variety of spices, including coriander, achiote and chillies. This dish goes back to the Q’eqchi’ ethnic group, who still prepare the dish in the same way as they did hundreds of years ago. Pick up a bowl of kak’ik at Panela in Antigua.
Best eaten at Panela, Avenida Norte 12 A La Antigua Guatemala 6ta, Antigua
Pastel Tres Leches
The pastel tres leches translates to ‘three milk cake’ in English. This delicious sweet sponge gets its name from its main ingredients; three different types of milk. This butter cake is soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and either whole milk or cream.
Best eaten at Cafe Condesa, 5a Avenida Norte 4, Antigua
If you’re after a sweet snack, you’ll be reaching for second helpings of rellenitos. These Guatemalan donuts are made using cooked plantains that are mashed and stuffed with refried bean paste, cinnamon and sugar. Shaped into little dumplings and deep-fried, try some rellenitos at Dona Maria Gordillo sweet shop in Antigua.
Best eaten at Dona Maria Gordillo, 4ta. Calle Poniente, Antigua
Food in Guatemala
Borrowing from both its Mayan and Spanish roots, Guatemalan food is a wonderful combination of fruits, vegetables and spices. From deep-fried chiles rellenos to the traditional turkey kak’ik, here are our picks for the top five foods to try in Guatemala and where you can find them.