Best of Guatemala Travel

Top 15 Places to Visit in Guatemala on a Budget

In Country Guides & Itineraries, Guatemala by Sheena8 Comments

Ruins, volcanoes, lakes, villages & markets… Guatemala is a country of adventure & culture, with Maya traditions alive & well – in our ultimate itinerary find out the top 15 Guatemala attractions and places to visit!

 

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Is Guatemala Safe to Visit?

Safety is the first thing most people consider before traveling to Guatemala.

As of early 2019, the US Government is issuing a Level 2 travel advisory for Guatemala and for travelers to exercise increased caution.

The Australian Government advises travelers to exercise a high degree of caution across the country.

You can check the current travel advisories of both governments here and here.

Of course, you should consult your own government advice as well. Circumstances can change fast, especially during elections.

Like the rest of Central America, Guatemala has a reputation for crime & violence but we didn’t have any problems in our 3 months in the country. As always we used a Lonely Planet guidebook to help us plan our trip. We’re happy to share our experiences here.

Guatemala City has the worst reputation but we also saw more police & security there than in any other city in Central America, which actually made us feel safer.

Nevertheless, always be aware of pickpockets. We recommend wearing a money belt with RFID blocking and traveling with an anti-theft daypack.

Do some research on how to stay safe in Guatemala, use common sense & precaution and you will be ahead of the game.

We recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

 

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Best Places to Visit in Guatemala

  • #1 Flores

If you’re crossing the border from Belize, head straight to Flores – this tiny island is well equipped for tourists so it’s a great introduction to Guatemala.

As a base town for trips to Tikal, Flores is one of the top Guatemala destinations even though there’s not much to do in the town itself.

But the cobblestone streets are nice to walk around & the nightly food market is amazing.

For a taste of local life, check out the markets across the causeway in Santa Elena.

For panoramic views, take a boat over to San Miguel & hike to the lookout tower treehouse!

Things to do in Flores

For travellers coming from Belize, Flores will be probably be your 1st stop in Guatemala in order to visit Tikal – find out where to stay & things to do in Flores, Guatemala

Read more
San Miguel Lookout View of Flores

Hike to the lookout tower in San Miguel for great views of tiny Flores island!

  • #2 Tikal

Visit Guatemala and experience the mighty Maya ruins of Tikal.

You can choose to make a trip from Flores or stay at the site itself.

What sets Tikal apart is its vast jungle environment – amidst ancient pyramids & ruins, you’ll find plenty of wildlife like howler & spider monkeys, coatis, toucans & turkeys.

It’s one of the most popular Guatemala landmarks.

Entrance fee: Q150 ($20.00)

Tour option: Tikal Day Tour from Flores

Tikal Without a Tour

It’s easy to visit Tikal without a tour – from prices & transport to a complete temple guide, find out everything you need to know on our self-guided tour of Tikal

Read more
Tikal Grand Plaza Guatemala itinerary

Explore the vast ruins of Tikal on your Guatemala itinerary

  • #3 Rio Dulce

Rio Dulce may be a hectic river town but it’s a necessary stop if you want to take the scenic boat tour to Livingstone.

Along the way, the boat passes the old fort at Castillo de San Felipe, gardens of water lilies, nesting pelicans & cormorants and a hot spring on the banks of the lake.

While you’re in Rio Dulce, don’t forget to make a trip out to the natural hot & cold waterfall at Finca El Paraiso. It’s a little off-the-beaten-path but it was one of our favourite spots for travel in Guatemala.

Boat tour: Q125 ($16.50) one-way, Q200 ($26.50) same-day return

Rio Dulce Boat Tour Gorge & Livingston

Take the scenic boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston

  • #4 Livingston

Livingston is only accessible by boat – you can there from Rio Dulce or Punta Gorda in Belize.

We wouldn’t recommend it as there’s little to see or do, except for wandering the streets & people watching.

Livingston is home to a large Garifuna population, former African slaves who have settled along the Caribbean coast.

They have a unique culture so try to seek out some Garifuna drumming or delicious local food.

Livingston Garifuna Culture

Feel the rhythm of Garifuna culture in Livingston

  • #5 Quirigua

Quirigua lies in the shadows of Tikal but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But rather than grand ruins, the highlights of Quirigua are its impressive stone-carved zoomorphs (animal-form art) & stelaes (upright stone slabs).

Stelae E is the tallest in the world, measuring 10.6m in height.

You can also visit the partially restored ruins of the Acropolis & enjoy the green forest environment.

Entrance fee: Q80 ($10.50)

Quirigua Stela E Guatemala itinerary

Gaze up at the tallest stelae in the world in Quirigua!

  • #6 Coban

If you’re heading to Semuc Champey, chances are you’ll have to pass through Coban.

It’s certainly a transportation hub but the pagan church of El Calvario is worth a quick stopover.

You may come across some interesting rituals inside – witnessing a duck sacrifice is something we won’t forget!

Parque Central La Paz & Mercado Central are also good examples of a typical city in Central America.

Coban El Calvario Duck Offering

Peek behind the altar of Coban’s El Calvario church – you never know what you might find!

  • #7 Lanquin & Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala, especially with young backpackers.

It’s a unique natural phenomenon, made up of a series of pools formed on a rock bridge over the Cahabon river.

Catch a birds-eye view from the mirador before cooling off in the pools below.

While you’re at Semuc Champey, take a short detour over to the Kanba Caves. Get set for a thrilling candlelit adventure tour! If that’s not enough, you can also go tubing & rope swing into the river.

For these adventures & more, stay in the friendly mountain town of Lanquin.

All in all, Semuc Champey is definitely one of the top tourist attractions to visit in Guatemala.

Semuc Champey entrance fee: Q50 ($6.50)

Kanba Caves tour: Q60 ($8.00)

Semuc Champey Without a Tour

The beautiful natural pools of central Guatemala are fast becoming the must-see hotspot in Guatemala – find out how to visit Semuc Champey without a tour & why it’s definitely worth the trip

Read more
Semuc Champey places to visit in Guatemala

Hike to the mirador for a bird’s eye view of Semuc Champey

  • #8 Nebaj & Chajul

Wondering what else to do in Guatemala? Head to the highlands & base yourself in Nebaj, the perfect town for exploring the Ixil region.

Here, the temperature is cooler, the men & women wear traditional clothing and there are plenty of DIY hiking opportunities in the area.

The Nebaj to Acul hike is an easy trail to follow on Maps.me that will get you into nature.

At the end, you can even reward yourself with homemade cheese at Hacienda San Antonio.

From Nebaj, you should also take a bus to the lovely town of Chajul.

This is the most traditional village in the region, with gorgeous mountain scenery & curious, playful children.

Guatemala attractions Nebaj market

Follow the women into the winding markets of Nebaj

  • #9 Todos Santos

Todos Santos is a special little village tucked away in the Guatemala Highlands and one of the best places to visit in Guatemala.

It’s known for it’s unique, traditional men’s fashion – every good Todosantero man wears an outfit of a pinstripe shirt, red pants, black chaps & a wide brimmed hat… and they all look fantastic!

There are also some excellent hikes in the area so go off-the-beaten-track in Todos Santos.

We recommend a climb to La Torre, Central America’s highest non-volcanic peak, as well as the scenic trail to San Juan Atitan & exploring La Ventosa.

Todos Santos Traditional Clothing

Make new friends with the stylish men of Todos Santos

  • #10 Xela (Quetzaltenango)

Xela (Quetzaltenango) is a city that grows on you, where many visitors find themselves staying longer than planned.

It’s a mid-sized authentic, Guatemalan city with good tourist infrastructure and many economical food, accommodation & transport options. If you’re backpacking Guatemala, consider taking a break to study Spanish or volunteer in Xela.

There are no standout things to do in Xela but there are numerous plazas, museums, churches, theatres, markets & cemeteries around the city to explore.

Places to visit in Guatemala Xela

People watch at Parque Centro America in Xela

  • #11 Around Xela (Quetzaltenango)

Xela is also an excellent base town for day trips to the surrounding market villages & for volcano hikes.

On an ideal 5 day itinerary, we recommend the following places according to market days:

5 Day Xela Itinerary

Are you planning on visiting Guatemala’s highlands and don’t know what to do? We have you covered with our 5 day itinerary that takes in all the best Guatemala markets and day trips from Xela!

Read more
San Francisco El Alto Animal Market with Sheena

Be a tourist at the San Francisco El Alto animal market!

  • #12 Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango may host one of the most colourful markets in Guatemala but it offers much more than that.

Locals hold both Christian & Maya beliefs and you can witness both traditions at the Iglesia Santo Tomas & El Calvario churches, as well as the Pascual Abaj shrine & local cemetery.

Of course, it’s the Sunday & Thursday markets than are the biggest draw cards to Chichi.

Most of the stock is geared towards tourists so expect to find plenty of woven clothes, purses & bags, hammocks, masks & trinkets.

Tour option: Chichicastenango & Lake Atitlan from Antigua

Chichicastenango Guatemala places to visit

Buy that traditional Guatemalan outfit you’ve always wanted at Chichicastenango!

  • #13 Lago de Atitlan

Lago de Atitlan is the most picturesque lake in Guatemala, surrounded by volcanoes & traditional villages.

We recommend staying in San Pedro La Laguna & making daytrips to the surrounding villages:

  • Search for San Simon (Maximon) & visit the markets in Santiago Atitlan
  • Embrace your inner hippy & take a spiritual course in San Marcos La Laguna
  • Shop for artisan handicrafts at the weaving village of San Juan La Laguna
  • Pass through Panajchel on the way to the markets at Solola

And don’t miss these must-do activities:

Tour options:

San Pedro Lake Atitlan

Explore the villages around Lago Atitlan

  • #14 Antigua

Antigua is a must-see Guatemala destination & it doesn’t disappoint!

Antigua is a former capital city, which has been rocked by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions & floods over the centuries. Today, many of its ancient churches & structures lie in magnificent ruins.

Another side of Antigua is its colonial architecture & style – there’s nothing better than simply strolling the cobblestone streets, passing pastel-coloured buildings under terracotta roofs.

There are also plenty of activities on offer in Antigua. We recommend:

Tour options:

Antigua Guatemala ruins

Explore the crumbling ruins of Antigua

  • #15 Guatemala City

Most travellers to Guatemala City head straight to the airport but the capital is worth visiting for a day or 2.

The historical centre in Zone 1 is safe to wander during the day & it’s also where most of the sights are.

Throughout the rest of the city, you can find museums, government buildings, botanical gardens & a zoo.

Tour options:

Guatemala City Historical Centre

Discover the colonial heart of Guatemala City

Did you enjoy reading out list of the Top 15 Guatemala Destinations?

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Ruins, volcanoes, lakes, villages & markets... Guatemala is a country of adventure & culture, with Maya traditions alive & well. The top destinations are Antigua, Tikal, Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey & Chichicastenango but there are also many other interesting places to visit. Find out what to see & do in our ultimate travel guide to the Best of Guatemala!

Guatamala Attractions

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*** The Final Word: Visit amazing Guatemala destinations & experience the heart of the Maya world ***

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Visited July-October

 

Comments

  1. I just returned home from being in Guatemala and I absolutely fell in love with this country! What a beautiful place to explore. Antigua and the villages around Lake Atitlan were my favourite places. I really loved Santa Cruz, San Marcos and San Juan! I am already planning my next trip back there and can’t wait to explore more.

    1. Author

      Awesome! We are glad you had a good time in Guatemala. I’m guessing all the hours you put in planning your trip paid off then. What places do you have in mind for next time?

  2. i have never heard about this place but the way you explained about it i m really like it. i would love to visit this place one day…

    1. Author

      Guatemala is definitely one of the highlights of Central America. The country is rich in history among Maya ruins, traditional clothing, food, and stunning scenery including volcanoes & lakes.

  3. There is so much to see and do in Guatemala and the variety is mindboggling. I am particularly interested in Trikala which has the Mayan ruins. I am very fascinated by the old Mayan civilization.

    1. Author

      Tikal is amazing. Quirigua also has some amazing stelae…including the tallest in the world. The up & coming temple complex is called El Mirador and is even larger than Tikal, but it is still in the beginning phases of excavation.

  4. Pingback: Learning Spanish in Guatemala | The Savvy Globetrotter

  5. Pingback: Guatemala Travel Budget: What Did Our Trip Cost? - Our Escape Clause

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