9 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Guatemala

Jul 22, 2021

From its ancient history to contemporary society, Guatemala's attractions span the globe. It was one of the first conquistadors in the Americas, but it still has a strong indigenous presence. The country is today's most important Maya nation. Its pre-Columbian culture still remains strong, and the cities contain a wealth of buildings and sites.

A colonial city is a highlight of any visit, with its cobblestone streets, majestic churches, and handsome houses. This attractive city welcomes visitors with cafes, restaurants, and its picturesque center with its museum and cathedral. To enjoy it to the full, spend time at some of the excellent cafes in the city.

Guatemala is a tropical destination and you will notice hot weather conditions throughout the year. Tourists who come here can enjoy the blue water of the Caribbean, sailing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, or fishing.

Explore Guatemala with our list of the top tourist attractions in Guatemala.

Guatemala City

Photo of Guatemala City
Guatemala City: en.wikipedia.org

Guatemala City, often called the New York of Central America, is a bustling metropolitan city that offers some interesting history, culture, shopping, and great food. Its colonial buildings, elegant and white, are best seen at the center's main square, Plazuela de la Independencia. Located south of the square, the city's state museum features a huge collection of pre-Columbian artifacts from the Mayan civilization and offers a glimpse into life in this ancient country. Of interest in the old town is the Museo Regional de Antropologia, a small but interesting history museum. It houses the best-preserved tomb of a Mayan ruler and features beautifully designed exhibition halls. The Museo Tikal, on the other hand, is bigger and showcases the discoveries made during archaeological expeditions to Guatemala's former Maya capital Tikal. At night, visit the Plazuela Central and Plazuela Zocalo, where you can enjoy some of Guatemala City's most lively bars and restaurants.

Lake Atitlan

Photo of Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlán: en.wikipedia.org

Lake Atitlan is, of course, home to Lake Atitlan, a scenic turquoise-blue lake surrounded by lush green forest and cloud forests on the narrow border between Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. Although the highest point in the area is just under 1,300 meters above sea level, it is not one of the highest lakes in the world. This is because Atitlan Lake extends and shrinks several times, as its wet and dry seasons influence how much water flows into the lake. Lake Atitlan is home to a wide variety of fauna and flora, including various indigenous and endangered species. These include Morelet's crocodile, a variety of bats, howler monkeys, and jaguarundi, a small cat that lives in the area. The main attraction of Lake Atitlan is the town of San Pedro Atitlán, which has been built up around the lake's shoreline, giving visitors the chance to take advantage of the island's natural environment while dining and shopping in its lively markets.

Antigua

Photo of Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala: en.wikipedia.org

Situated on the northern end of Guatemala's wide-open Pacific coast, the capital and oldest city in Guatemala, Antigua has a proud history as the heart of a strong Spanish colony. Its impressive colonial center is located in one of Central America's most perfectly preserved areas. Today, this is a lively, vibrant city full of colonial charm, lined with squares and cobblestone streets where brightly painted shops and businesses spill onto sidewalks. Staying in or near the old town ensures plenty of contact with local life. Book a room in a boutique hotel or a house-turned-boutique inn. Come as early in the morning as possible to enjoy the best sunrise view of the old town. Other activities include visiting nearby blue waters and beaches, or hiking up in the nearby Sierra Madre mountain.

Tikal

Tikal is unique as the ruins at this site are located in a rainforest. Most other sites in this tropical and very humid country are located on the tropical beaches. As one of the largest and best-preserved Maya sites in the country, Tikal is a truly breathtaking place to visit. Built in three concentric circles around a large plaza, Tikal has over two dozen palaces, pyramids, temples, and plazas. The center of the second concentric circle is the two-kilometer-long acropolis, where the stelae – huge slabs of stone – that contain the inscriptions that are so important for learning about the Maya civilization have been discovered. The temples at Tikal are truly a wonder to behold. The most famous of these is the Temple of the Inscriptions, or El Templo de las Inscripciones. The stone walls are covered with Maya writing that's almost 200 years older than the inscriptions at Teotihuacan, Mexico's most famous Maya ruin. This temple is now being restored, but those who visit are allowed inside and have to touch the hand-painted stucco to read the inscriptions. Tikal has a good museum, which contains information on the ancient Maya. There are many hotels on the site, ranging from simple lodges to fancier places. Many include meals.

Quetzaltenango

Photo of Quetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango: en.wikipedia.org

Quetzaltenango (Kektzén in Yucatec Maya) is a small, picturesque city located on the west coast of Guatemala. It is the capital of Quetzaltenango Department, has an airport, and the largest city in the department. There are few businesses and industry, most residents are peasants or town-dwellers. Quetzaltenango is a popular destination for tourists, due to its colonial architecture, small size, natural beauty, and proximity to the nearby ruins of Tikal. There are a number of tours of the city and surrounding area. It is said that the Maya fled to the area to escape the conquering Spanish in the 1500's. The church, government building and City Hall of Quetzaltenango are all examples of 16th-century architecture. Quetzaltenango is generally a safe city and tourist activities are prohibited on Sundays. There are two underground museums: the Museum of Ethnology and the Archaeology Museum. Nearby ruins and natural attractions include Tikal, a three-hour drive from Quetzaltenango and Chichén-Itzá, a ninety-minute drive.

Cobán

Photo of Cobán
Cobán: en.wikipedia.org

Cobán, or Quiezá, is a pre-Hispanic Maya archaeological site in the Usumacinta River Valley in the highlands of western Guatemala, about 70 km southwest of the city of Quetzaltenango. The ruins consist of a single, vast, flat square area. The shape of the square enclosure has led archaeologists to describe it as the most important Mesoamerican temple in the northwest lowlands during the Classic period. The site is very well preserved because it is situated at the top of a steep, walled canyon that acts as an ancient stone quarry. Other buildings scattered across the site include massive pyramids, amphitheaters, and temples. Although scholars are still discovering new details about the city, enough has been unearthed to date the buildings to the 8th-13th centuries, making it the oldest city in the Guatemalan highlands. The total area of the ruins is 105 hectares.

Puerto Barrios

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Puerto Barrios: en.wikipedia.org

Located at the western end of the Gulf of Fonseca, Puerto Barrios is the largest and fastest growing city on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. A major seaport, the city provides a gateway for travellers heading to or from Central America and Mexico. Puerto Barrios was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 because of the spectacular Andean landscape and architectural heritage of the city. Named after Antigua Barrios, a notable 17th century Spanish governor, the Spanish colonial architecture of this old Caribbean city, built in the Baroque style, has a great attraction for visitors. To get around the city, take a taxi or rent a car, which can be arranged in the city's international airport. The water taxis that ply the route between the town and the international airport are a cheaper option than taking a taxi to get there. Puerto Barrios is also home to the eco-discovery beach, Playa Sirena. Its white sands, crystal-clear waters and untouched virgin forest, are stunning natural features and are part of the 22-sq-km Las Nubes Biosphere Reserve, a wide area which the University of Puerto Rico is also conducting research into.

Chichicastenango Market

Photo of Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango: en.wikipedia.org

Once the exclusive realm of craftspeople, Chichicastenango Market holds some of Guatemala's most colorful markets, selling a range of local artisans' products. The appeal is that you're unlikely to find other people here: this is a bit like shopping in a village. Expect well-stocked stalls selling everything from sombreros, rugs, handwoven embroidery, lacquerware and textiles to handmade T-shirts, slippers and more. Among the people you'll meet will be tanners, porters, weavers, and leatherworkers, each using traditional techniques and techniques passed down through their families.

Semuc Champey

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Semuc Champey: en.wikipedia.org

Semuc Champey sits at the bottom of the beautiful Urubamba River, which offers magnificent scenery and spectacular wildlife. Forming the largest river-fed wetlands in the world, this remote part of the Petén department of northern Guatemala is home to hundreds of birds, a huge variety of flora and fauna, and plenty of indigenous Amerindian peoples. The past few years have seen major improvements in Semuc Champey's infrastructure, and an attempt is now being made to clean up the surrounding land, with the aim of increasing the likelihood of the formation of new wetlands. All told, this means that Semuc Champey is, in the eyes of ecologists and conservationists alike, a conservation success story.