There are numerous things to do in Guatemala because visiting Guatemala is an experience overall. This is a country of volcanoes, mountains and beaches.
Surrounded by the beauty of nature, this destination is heaven for nature lovers as well as for them who are amazed by history as Guatemala is best known for its ruins of colonial buildings, which make it a museum of Spanish colonial history.
Therefore, its open-air markets filled with tropical produce, well-preserved colonial churches, Spanish-Baroque architecture and a wide variety of dining options are ideal for exploring. The immense Volcan de Agua towers over the city, adds to its beauty and appeal.
Things to do in Guatemala
1.Visit Antigua Guatemala (The Best of Central America)
Among the best places to visit in Guatemala and one of the best things to do in Guatemala is to visit colonial city of Antigua, this is the formerly known capital city of Guatemala. If you have planned for long vacation, then you will have number of things to do and many places to visit in Antigua.
When you will stroll the cobbled streets, you can’t escape the charisma of this UNESCO recognised World Heritage Site, which is just 45 to 50 minutes away from the City of Guatemala, which is the current capital of the country.
There are many boutiques, hotels and well-known Spanish teaching schools in Latin America, Antigua has many major festivals, namely the Semana Santa and el Dia del Diablo, the Devil’s Day before Christmas.
History of Antigua Guatemala City
Antigua Guatemala City, southwestern Guatemala is at 5,029 feet (1,533 meters) above sea level. The capital of the former Captain General, Antigua Guatemala was once the most important seat of the Spanish colonial government between Mexico City and Lima, Peru.
Antigua Guatemala is heritage city as Antigua is recognized for historical buildings and ruins. In or near the central square, several of the main buildings of the colonial capital still serve public functions and numerous ruins of religious buildings and converted private dwellings are scattered throughout the city.
The University of San Carlos (1676), one of the first universities in Central America, was founded in Antigua, the building now houses the Museum of Colonial Art. The city was a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
2. Climb Volcanoes in Guatemala City
Climbing one of Guatemala’s many dormant and active volcanoes is among the fun things to do in Guatemala. Reaching the top of the Pacaya volcano is one of the most thrilling things that you can do in your trip, especially if it is done during the noon. So, you can exactly reach the height from where you can watch the perfect sunset.
Since Pacaya is a volcano, which is still active, it is the ideal destination to go roast marshmallows over the hot lavas. This activity is surely one of the risky things to do in Guatemala.
Another well-known volcano in Guatemala is the Volcán de Agua. This is a dormant volcano which is 3760m high. However, it is rated as a moderate hike which is not very difficult and takes about five hours to climb and reach the top of the volcano. At the top, you will catch breathtaking view of the valleys and mountains by which the volcano is surrounded beautifully.
Yet another fun adventure filled option is overnight camping, if you are interested then the Acatenango Volcano trip is for you. For an amazing and safe experience, it is better to take this trip with an guide who is experienced and well aware of the place.
3. Celebrate Semana Santa or Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala City
In Antigua “Semana Santa” the Holy Week is celebrated religiously between the month end of March and April since colonial period. It was started by the Spanish missionaries who were from Seville. This is a week-long festivity in which entire city is involved.
On the day of Palm Sunday, images of the Holy Virgin of Sorrows and the Jesus of Nazareth are carried by the devotees who are dressed in purple-coloured robes, the images are carried on the shoulders of the devotees. The floats approximately weigh around seven thousand pounds and their weight are carried by 50 to100 bearers which are called curcuruchas.
More about this Holy Week
The floats are followed by the funeral marching bands and are announced by the sounds of slow-beating drums, clapping of cymbals and deep tubas and different musical instruments. The incense thay are burnt creates dense fog around making things look spooky. The crowd observes silence in respect of the ceremonial procession as they pass by the street.
In memory of Jesus’s last days, similar processions pass through the streets from Monday to Thursday. The dedicated curcuruchs or bearers carry the floats for one block to another and the bearers keeps switching in between.
The ritual is followed throughout the procession route, and it takes not less than12 hours. The crowd waits for each float to reach the church at the night.
4. Spend Time on Black Sand Beaches
If looking for fun things to do in Guatemala, then the black sand beaches is a good option. There is something about these black sand beaches, the dark colour, the choppy sea, and the beach line that seems to stretch in both directions. There is a strength, passion and power on the beaches of the Pacific coast of Guatemala that attracts tourists.
The ocean here reflects what people love most about Guatemala. It is wild, dramatic, strong, passionate, wild and full of contrasts. The sky is bluer, the sun burns more, and even sunsets seems more dramatic.
Guatemalan beaches are lined with palm trees where you can relax with an ice-cold drink in hand. But on the coast of Guatemala, there is undoubtedly a force that will get your heart pumping with adrenaline.
So, pack your sunscreen, dive into the strong waves and feel the black sand through your toes on the best beach in Guatemala.
5. Take Cooking Lessons in San Pedro la laguna
Do you want some unique things to do in Guatemala? Then enroll yourself in Guatemala cooking classes which will introduce you to the flavors of ancestral cooking in San Pedro Mayan kitchen. Lake Atitlan Guatemala cooking classes are perfect for people who love traditional foods and want to learn how to prepare them.
The instructor is there to guide you throughout the lessons and tells you about the recipes step by step. The most famous dishes are Pepian, Jocon and Hilacha. Vegetarian attendees can eat delicious chile Rellenos.
Once you are done cooking, you can sit down to eat. The instructor tells you all about the origins of these traditional dishes. The recipes which is used here are ancient recipes which is passed down from one generation to other. Hence, visiting the Guatemalan city and taking cooking lessons is among the best things to do in Guatemala.
6. Know about the Authentic Mayan Culture from the Mayan Ruins of Tikal
The Central American country of Guatemala is full of traditional indigenous villages and colourful markets. If you can tear yourself away from its current charm, you will find a past that is even more amazing and also the remains of the Mayan cities that once ruled the land.
The Mayans were one of the greatest early civilizations and their technology still amazes people today. But don’t stop your educational adventure at the must-see Tikal.
Other Mayan ruins in Guatemala are just as impressive, and because they are not well-known, they are not overrun by travellers. Some like Yaxha and Topoxte and they are close enough to each other that they can be visited on the same trip.
El Mirador is often referred to as the “Lost City of the Mayans” because this former Mayan capital is now overrun by jungle. At one time, it was the largest city (estimates range from 100,000 to 250,000 people) in the Mayan civilization.
Due to the difficulty of getting there, it has been little explored, although one of the largest pyramids in the world has been found here. Getting to El Mirador is described as an adventure, as it involves a two- to three-day journey overland through dense jungles to the city.
7. Visit the Town of Flores
Visiting this small town is among the fun things to do in Guatemala City for many reasons but the main reason to visit Flores is its proximity to Tikal, Guatemala’s most famous Mayan ruins, the Tikal national park and it is a starting point for tours of the Petén.
But the city itself is a wonder full of red-roofed colonial buildings, narrow cobbled streets, a historic church local communities, Spanish Square, and restaurants that are easy to come across while strolling through the charming streets of the city.
Most will find this island town to be more than just a launch point, but an unforgettable attraction in its own right.
Flores is an amazing and peaceful place perfect for a vacation which you want to spend away from the city hustle. Santa Elena and San Benito require a bit more caution but offer a more authentic Guatemala City experience, complete with traffic, rush around and street food.
8. Ride on Chicken Bus
The Chicken Bus is a uniquely painted American school bus with rainbow colours. It is so vibrant that the psychedelic buses of the hippie era pale in comparison. These buses bear little resemblance to their original yellow colour or buses that transported school children in North America.
Amazing Combination of Passengers Boards the Bus
The travellers that board the bus is of different kind or say you will see that the bus is used for office goers who are suited up whereas few local women in the traditional woven skirt, and local sellers with their sacks of vegetables and other goods which they take to the market to sell.
The trip to Guatemala City is incomplete without a chicken bus ride and this is one of many things to do in Guatemala City.
9. Get to Know the Local Communities in San Juan la Laguna
Visiting San Juan La Laguna is one of the best things to do in Guatemala. This small village around Lake Atitlán is a great day trip destination from Panajachel or San Pedro. It is one of the less visited towns around the lake and offers a more authentic Guatemalan experience.
10. Spend Time at Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce in Guatemala is famously known as the “Sweet River”. This beautiful river is 43 km long. It is part of a lake and river system that has become a very popular destination for sailing boats. This river begins where it flows out of Lake Izabal.
At the entrance to the river, you will find a small Spanish colonial fort. Castillo de San Felipe, which was built to prevent pirates from entering the lake from the Caribbean when this part of Central America was an important stopover for shipping.
The “Dulce” River also flows into the Caribbean Sea near the Garifuna town of Livingston, making it the perfect gateway to the beautiful Caribbean Sea. It feels so therapeutic to be there.
The Rio Dulce is a stunning and enchanting river and one of the highlights of Guatemala. It is one of the most beautiful places Guatemala has to offer and cannot be missed.
11. Wander in Cobblestone Streets
The cobbled streets of Antigua Guatemala are full of great restaurants and bars, cultural attractions and colonial architecture and ruins. Walk around, explore and understand the cultural heritage of Guatemala. These cobblestone street gives a unique look to the walkway.
12. Take out Time for Semuc Champey
For fun things to do in Guatemala, you can opt for going to Semuc Champey as it is best for spending your day. It’s even best because the Mayan city of Q’eqchi’ Lanquín, which is not much far from here, this natural monument is famous for its turquoise colour pools which is structured as terrace.
If you are photography fan then reach the top of natural limestone bridge, this bridge rises 100 feet above the water.
Once you are in Semuc Champey, you will have free time in which you can do range of activities such as swimming, diving or just soak up the nature in the pools. Want some more action then to hike up the hill of El Mirador. From this amazing point you will get view of the terraced pools which is 2,300 feet below.
Take a metro ride along Cahabón river and visit the caves of K’an Ba River, that is approximately 1km far from the Semuc Champey. One more amazing thing about Semuc Champey is that it has several beautiful natural pools.
13. Visit Tikal National Park
A visit to Tikal National Park is also among the amazing things to do in Guatemala. This place will enchant you with its towering monoliths, magnificent complexes and magnificent biodiversity.
The region’s rich biodiversity peeking through colossal kapok and towering silk, cedar and mahogany, the ruins of Tikal lie at the heart of the rich Mayan Biosphere Reserve also known as Reserva Biósfera Maya, home to a spectacular variety of fauna such as jaguars, howlers, spiders, monkeys, crocodiles and not this, there are more than 300 species of birds.
This National Park has been recognized by UNESCO for both its exceptionally well-preserved historical ruins and rich natural biodiversity. It is among the famous tourist attractions. A trip to Tikal is a cultural excursion and a wild safari in one great experience to have. Here you can admire the variety and beauty of wildlife.
14. Explore Chocolate Museum
The Chocolate Museum in Antigua, Guatemala offers one of the best overall experiences for those who love all things at Chocolate Museum. This is one of many best things to do in Guatemala. One of the biggest highlights is the free tour where you can learn all about cocoa beans and pods in an experience that is perfect for visitors of all ages.
Experience the Making of Chocolates
Visitors can also enjoy three workshops, including one where you can make chocolate from beans. If you are short on time, you can also enjoy a mini workshop. Another popular workshop allows you to learn how to make the ganache necessary for shelled candies and truffles.
This museum has open production area which attracts visitors and makes this museum stand out among others. When you take one of these tours and shop at the Chocolate Museum, you support local entrepreneurs. Meeting the people behind local chocolate production is a great way to gain a new appreciation for this indulgent sweet treat.
15.Visit the Local Market of Guatemala City
(a) Chichicastenango Market
The Chichicastenango market, also located in the central highlands, is one of the most colourful local markets in Latin America and the most famous in Guatemala.
Market days are Sunday and Thursday and attract not only K’iche’ Maya from the surrounding region but also vendors from all over Guatemala, representing many Guatemalan linguistic groups such as the Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel and others, each with its appeal products in an exuberant cacophony of colours, dialects and costumes, and scents.
16. Adore the Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is known for its truly amazing natural scenery. The clear, deep water of the lake with three volcanoes standing on one side is an amazing sight.
If you want to truly admire nature, Lake Atitlan is worth a visit. It is a landscape with a beautiful lake and looming volcanoes. In your long list of things to do in Guatemala, this addition to your list will make it more fun. Traditional culture and interesting villages make it a very unique place to visit. It is a must-see when travelling through Central America, and well worth a visit on a specific trip, as many are.
If you don’t have extra time to spend at the lake, you can join a full-day Atitlan boat trip from Guatemala City or Antigua that will hit all the peaks without any logistical headaches.
17. Enjoy the Guatemalan Coffee
Guatemala is known worldwide for its robust and delicious coffee beans. They export their coffee all over the world, so there is a good chance. You have already had a Guatemalan coffee before you set foot in the country.
If you are a coffee lover, you will be buzzing throughout your stay in Guatemala. Visiting here is a heavenly experience for coffee lovers.
18. Hike at the Indian Nose Viewpoint
The hike to the Indian Nose Lookout is relatively short (30-45 minutes) and not too difficult. But the views of Lake Atitlan, several volcanoes and small villages make it a pretty epic experience.
You can choose to join a tour group for a spectacular sunrise hike or do it alone in the daylight. From many of the adventurous things to do in Guatemala, this should also not be missed.
19. Take out Time for Surf in El Paredon
If you are a surfer (or want to learn), El Paredon is one of the best places to catch waves in Guatemala. Surfing in this area is best from September to November and the undercurrents can be strong. This place is an absolutely worth place for adding to your list of things to do in Guatemala.
While El Paredon doesn’t get the same attention as its more famous neighbours like the surf towns of Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, it could be a nice way to soak up some time away from the crowds.
Just 2.5 hours from Antigua, this laid-back beach town could be a good addition to your Guatemala itinerary if you have some time to work and want to get off the beaten path. You will find a completely different atmosphere here than in the rest of the country.
Something to Take Away
There are many things to do in Guatemala that you know about now. Explore Guatemala and you will be awe-struck by the archaeological sites, admire the old colonial buildings and art of local artisans, enjoy street foods as well as traditional food, roam around the local market take boat tours to Castillo de san Felipe. In short, you won’t fall short of things to do in Guatemala.