10 Incredible must see destinations in Guatemala + itinerary
Guatemala is an unbelievable place in Central America, home to cute towns, stunning waterfalls, caves, beautiful national parks and beaches with awesome surf and black sand. But most impressively, Guatemala is home to the Acatenango Hike, where you can see an erupting volcano that will totally blow your mind.
This blog will give you 10 must see destinations with an itinerary to help you experience the very best places in this gem of a country. I’ve started from Antigua for the itinerary, but Guatemala is quite spread out so it depends on where you enter the country from to use this as an itinerary. You might need to rearrange some destinations!
Antigua is a charming town about 45 minutes from Guatemala City. The cobblestone streets are lovely to wander around and take in the cute and colourful shops, restaurants and markets. There’s an abundance of food options, coffee tours, fantastic hostels and nice weather. Antigua is where tours to the Acatenango Volcano hike start (more on this bellow). If you’re in Acatenango, make sure you visit Hobbitenango too. It’s a fantasy filled attraction with round hobbit doors, cute pubs and a giant swing. My fave hostel was Maya Papaya, it’s like a gorgeous giant house with cosy beds and tasty breakfast!
Duration: 4-7 days
2. Acatenango Volcano Hike
Watching an active volcano erupt was hands down one of the most magnificent things I have ever experienced and it is an absolute must do if you visit Guatemala. Acatenango Volcano is the volcano you hike up to watch Volcan de Fuego erupt. The hike to base camp is hard but it’s manageable and the guides are super helpful. Once you get to base camp, you can choose to hike an extra four hours up Fuego to see the lava up close. In the morning, you have a third option to do a sunrise hike and see it all from a different angle. I did all three and it was genuinely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Much harder than any hiking I did in Peru, but my god it was so worth it. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Duration: One night on the volcano
Lake Atitlan isn’t one place in Guatemala, it’s a gigantic lake with lots of little towns scattered around the edge. Below are the main towns and my fave spots. As the lake is so big and there are so many places to explore, you could easily spend a few weeks here taking it all in. Getting around the lake is easy, fast and cheap using the public boats too. You could spend a few nights in each place or stay in one town and visit the others on day trips.
3. Panajachel – Lake Atitlan
Pana isn’t overly special but the hostel there, Dreamboat absolutely is. It’s owned by an Aussie and it’s my fave hostel in Guatemala. They have an amazing way of bringing people together, the food is tasty and well priced and the volunteers are absolute legends. There is also a couple of good bars/nightclubs in Pana for a fun night out. Swimming in the lake from Pana isn’t amazing but the hostel is a good base to explore the lake.
Duration: 3-4 nights
4. San Marcos – Lake Atitlan
San Marcos is a little hippy area of the lake filled with expats, yogis and chill vibes. If you’re into a hippy life or want some chill down time, it’s a great spot!
Duration: 1-3 nights depending on how long you want to relax
5. Santa Cruz – Lake Atitlan
The hostels in Santa Cruz are right on the lake with wonderful scenes of the water and volcanoes in the background. Free Cerveza or Iguana are the two hostels here. You can SUP or kayak on the lake from here and it’s very zen. I’d recommend Iguana as I found Free Cerveza’s volunteers to be rather cliquey and the food made me sick.
Duration: 2-3 nights
6. San Pedro – Lake Atitlan
San Pedro is the party capital of the lake and is a popular place for homestays for travellers wanting to learn Spanish. From here, you could spend a day visiting the nearby town of San Juan, filled with colourful streets and cute shops for a day trip. Mr Mullets is the boisterous party hostel there and if you want a wild bar crawl or a boat party, stay there. If you don’t care to party around young people, absolutely do not stay at Mr Mullets.
Duration: 2-3 nights (or as long as your liver can handle)
7. El Paredon
Often skipped on the gringo trail, El Paredon is a tiny beach town on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala with black sand and sick waves for surfing. Other than a handful of restaurants, some bougie hotels and three hostels, there’s not much going on there, but that’s what I love about it. The vibes are great, the weather is sunny and the ocean is beautiful. My recommendation for a hostel in El Paredon is Cocori Hostel. Book in advance as it books out quick.
Duration: 3-4 days but you could easily spend longer chilling, tanning and swimming
8. Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is a national park filled with fun activities and incredible hostels. You can tube down rivers with a beer in hand, jump off cliffs and bridges, see magical waterfalls and explore dark caves with a candle in hand lighting the way. The national park is surrounded by misty luscious green mountains and it’s a truly remarkable place! The closest town is Lanquin and thats the area you stay in to see the park. As for hostels, Zephyr Lodge is the most popular one and is the party place but Greengos is equally as beautiful and has a more chill vibe (also cheaper).
Duration: 2-4 nights, you can do a tour to see everything in one day and spend a day chilling or spread out the activities across a couple of days.
9. Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce is a small river town on the east of Guatemala. I didn’t get here but felt jealous of everyone that went. It’s not very touristy (awesome) and is a lovely place to swim and chill.
Duration: 2-3 nights
Flores is a quaint colourful town in eastern Guatemala, surrounded by a large lake. It’s very cute to wander around in and has a friendly local vibe. Flores is home to the Tikal Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with Mayan ruins nestled deep in the Guatemalan jungle. I didn’t visit the ruins but everyone I met who did said they were their favourite ruins in Latin America!
Duration: 1-2 nights
These are my 10 must see places, but if you had more time and wanted to explore more of the country, I’d also visit Livingston. It isn’t as popular on the tourist route but I heard amazing things about this little town and it’s somewhere I’ll visit when I go back to Guatemala one day.
Guatemala is a sick country that has such an incredible range of things to do and see. I hope this helps you live it up!
Yours in fun adventures,