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5 Unforgettable Places in Guatemala

To my biggest regret, being stuck in Miami with the covid and having travelled to only a few places in Guatemala I asked Joe to join me to write this article. As a traveller, Zoe loves to get off the beaten track and spend time in home stays getting to know families and the local way of life. Exploring markets is her favorite way to meet people. Trekking is by far the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of a country. She spent two years traveling to Latin America and Guatemala holds a special place in her heart.

Antigua would definitely be a place to visit while traveling to Guatemala for the first time but as it is very popular and well-known, we decided to dedicate a full article about it and this is why it is not in the selection below.

Below are the 5 must-sees that we selected in the country.

1. Flores and Tikal; a lake island, lush jungle and ancient ruins

Star Wars fans will recognise Tikal as the Yavin rebel base camp but you don’t have to be a fan to be mesmerised by this ancient Mayan city, peaking out of the jungle canopy. Squawking parrots and howler monkeys will add to the atmosphere and the cheeky coatis may try and steal your lunch. Stay the night if you can to avoid the crowds, or base yourself in Flores. Quaint Flores is linked to the mainland by a causeway. Sip a piña colada and watch the sun go down over Lake Petén Itzá. Why not stay a while to learn Spanish or brave a trek deep into the biosphere to search for a lost Mayan city.

2. Alta Verapaz; orchids and natural wonders

Base yourself in Cobán to be immersed in this region rich in culture with Pacha Mama at her most perfect. The town itself is attractive, you can visit coffee fincas and orchid farms but endure a bumpy journey on dusty roads to find the magic. Grutas de Lanquin is a massive limestone cave complex, watch thousands of bats leave at sunset. A little further on is Semuc Champey, a natural formation of stepped pools in the Rio Cahabón. The bright emerald and sparkling turquoise colours of the pools will blow you away; reward yourself with a swim after the long journey.

3. Quetzaltenango; grandiose city in the heart of highland culture

A popular place to study and a noticeably less touristy city. The real draw lies in the daytrips to surrounding villages. Zunil has a livestock and vegetable market, it is a great way to meet highland people in their traditional garments, bartering for wares. You can visit the liquor-swilling San Simón here to ask for onorthodox blessings and bathe in the nearby hotsprings, Fuentes Georginas. For woollen souvenirs, then Momostenango market is the best place for blankets and ponchos. Notice the unique headdress and hairstyles of the women here. For a breathtaking sight, trek up Santa Maria volcano to witness the dawn cloud inversion over smoking peaks.

4. Lake Atitlán and surrounding villages; highlands culture, hippy vibes, magic and ritual

Formed by a volcanic explosion, this lake is 320m deep, with who knows what hidden treasures in its waters. You can dive here and feel the hot vents in the sand or jumps off the rocks for a swim. To get off the bitten track, head straight to San Pedro for yoga, painting courses, parties and the best food; or chill out in a pyramid hut in alternative San Marcos. Locals wear the traditional huipiles here, you will notice the difference in patterns as you explore the villages. If you ask around and show respect, you may be lucky enough to meet the cigarette-smoking idol, Maximón in Santiago Atitlán.

5. Monterrico; turtles and mangroves

A vast contrast to the traditions and culture experienced in the north and the highlands. This laid-back beach village is popular with families and surfers alike and will put you firmly back in the slow lane. Beyond the concrete and tin roofs lies the Biotopo Monterrico Hawaii, a protected mangrove and swamp habitat, home to breeding leatherback and ridley turtles. June to September is nesting time when you can view these magnificent creatures laying eggs at night and even volunteer at the sanctuary. The mangroves are best explored at dawn by boat; the magic of the red sun rising as the jungle comes awake will be unforgettable.

Alexandrine Michelas

Founder and Artistic Director