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9 Exciting Activities in Guatemala You Have To Try
Visiting the country of Guatemala is an absolutely magical experience. From volcanoes to historic old towns, there are so many exciting activities in Guatemala.
Guatemala has so much to offer in terms of exciting activities and you certainly won’t be at a loss for what to do! We loved our time in Guatemala and it has quickly become one of our favorite countries in Central America!
We’ll cover the 9 exciting activities in Guatemala, things to do in Antigua Guatemala, what to do in Guatemala for a week, unique things to do in Guatemala, and more!
This post is all about the 9 Exciting Activities in Guatemala for your next trip!
Let’s start off with a basic itinerary of how much time you should spend in Guatemala. We spent 10 days in Guatemala and it was the perfect amount of time to explore the main attractions of Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and do a Volcano Trek. If you are looking to also visit Tikal and Semuc Champey, which look gorgeous we recommend 2-3 weeks! Here’s our itinerary:
Antigua: 4 Nights
Lake Atitlan: 4 Nights
Volcano Acatenango: 1 Night
Antigua: 1 Night (to sleep after the hike)
You can also add on these stays to get even more from Guatemala!
Semuc Champey: 2 nights
Tikal: 3 nights
Transportation in Guatemala:
Getting around Guatemala is relatively easy and there are quite a few options, especially for all of the frequented areas.
We found this to be the easiest way to get from one place to the next. You can easily arrange a shuttle from the airport to your accommodations in Antigua. This is also the most popular option for heading to Lake Atitlan. They usually have set times that they run so you pick the time that works best for you. There can be up to 15 people in a shuttle but it never seemed too crowded to us. Plus it wasn’t any extra for our bags which was nice. Talk with your accommodations in Antigua or Lake Atitlan and they will give you all the options and prices! We found it wasn’t too expensive either although it is certainly more than the chicken buses.
This is the most budget-friendly option for traveling around Guatemala. There are buses at all times of the day and heading to any destination you are looking for. Of course, more frequented routes have more options, but you likely will be able to find what you are looking for. Be sure to bring exact change for these trips and keep your most important belongings close to you. We haven’t taken a chicken bus but they do seem pretty packed every time we pass one.
If you are heading to Tikal in the north, then flying may be a good option for you. During normal (non-pandemic) times, these flights can go for around $50 round trip. If you have luggage, that will be extra, but oftentimes you can leave your luggage for a few days at your accommodations in Antigua and just pack what you need.
Uber or Taxi
There is Uber in Guatemala so you can easily book rideshare to get around as well. It was relatively inexpensive. For an hour and a half trip from the airport in Guatemala to Antigua late a night, we paid $35 with tax. It’s certainly more than a shuttle or bus would be, but if you are looking for a more private experience this can be a great option. We loved the option for a late night. You can also book cars with your accommodations. We did that for the return trip to the airport for an odd time (2:00 am) and paid a similar price to an Uber but had everything scheduled and ready ahead of time.
Lastly, you can always rent your own car. We found the roads to be very smooth and looked recently redone (except in the UNESCO site of Antigua). Our drive in the shuttle to Lake Atitlan was surprisingly well done compared to our experience driving elsewhere in Central America. We felt we could have easily driven that ourselves. Plus, you always get the added luxury of stopping whenever you want. We aren’t sure about driving to Semuc Champey or Tikal and wouldn’t recommend it since it is a less frequented drive. As always with rentals, never leave your belongings in the car and always lock the doors!
Now, on to the good stuff!
Activities in Guatemala:
Trek to an Active Volcano
Far and away, our favorite thing to do in Guatemala was to do an overnight trek to an active volcano. It was by far the hardest thing we have ever done in our life but it was absolutely worth it. We trekked Volcano Acatenango to see Volcano Fuego erupting overnight. We booked with Ox Excursions and had an absolutely fantastic experience.
Stroll the Colonial Town of Antigua
Antigua Guatemala is a UNESCO Heritage Site because of how well it has been preserved since its founding in 1542. Most of that is because the city was abandoned after a major earthquake in 1773 for 100 years. Nowadays, it is a bustling small town complete with cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and church ruins. We loved exploring Arco de Santa Catalina and Catedral San Jose. For some great beer, try out Antigua Brewing Company and the best Guatemalan food in town is at Rincón Típico.
Boat Around Lake Atitlán
No trip to Guatemala is complete without visiting one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlán is full of life with 11 towns surrounding this massive lake. Most of these towns are only accessible by boat so you’ll need to jump on the public ferry to get around. Be sure to visit San Marcos for cliff jumping and a chill vibe. Santa Cruz is a tiny town on a hill with some spectacular views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes.
> Read our full guide to Lake Atitlán!
Shop at Local Markets
Guatemala is known for its gorgeous textiles. You will find these colorful patterns all over in local markets from clothing to rugs to hammocks and blankets. Shopping in Antigua is quite easy at La Merced Market. In Lake Atitlán, you’ll find the best shopping in Panajachel on Calle Santander. But if you are looking for even more spectacular shopping, you’ll want to visit the Market in Chichicastenango (aka Chichi Market). This is an hour and a half from Panajachel in Lake Atitlán and you can easily get there by shuttle or chicken bus.
Roast Marshmallows on Lava
Guatemala has 37 volcanoes and 3 of them are currently active. You’ll want to take advantage and get the most out of these incredible experiences. Pacaya Volcano is a much more accessible volcano than Acatenango is as you don’t need to do an overnight trek to experience it. For a simple half-day hike, you can hike up to the lava line and roast marshmallows over the burning lava. There is even a guy that will cook you pizza in the molten lava! Talk about a unique experience! To book a tour, you can go to the tour operators around town in Antigua or ask your hotel.
Visit Ancient Tikal
Tikal is the crown jewel of the Mayan ruins. This vast complex is at the northern end of Guatemala. It’ll be best to fly here or if you are ready for a 12+ hour bus ride, then get comfortable. It will be well worth it though. The grounds cover over 200 square miles (over 500 square km) and include Templo IV and The Great Jaguar Tikal. It costs Q 150 per person per day to enter and you’ll need at least 1 full day to explore. Many people travel here directly from Belize or to Belize, just something to keep in mind if you are exploring more than just Guatemala!
Float in the Semuc Champey
If you do decide to take the bus to Tikal from Antigua, we highly recommend adding a day or two to your trip to visit the gorgeous Semuc Champey. These isolated turquoise pools are in the middle of the country and doesn’t have much around it. But a day lounging these natural pools or hiking to see the incredible views will be well worth the trek to get here.
Try the Local Food
Guatemalan food is probably my favorite in Central America. You’ll get quite a few opportunities to eat local food as you travel around the country. It’s always the most affordable option and there are so many different dishes to try. My personal favorite is the chicken pepian a dish of chicken in a thick creamy stew made of fruit and veggies and tons of spices. You also must try the typical breakfast, rellenitos, and coffee! In Antigua, Rincón Típico and Saberico Deli serve amazing local Guatemalan Food.
Spanish is the national language of Guatemala and although we did run into a few English speakers, most everyone speaks Spanish. If you don’t already know Spanish, there are a ton of options to get a basic education once you are there! Most hotels and hostels will have recommendations for Spanish classes. These are usually best if you have more time and a great way to meet people as well! They have private or group lessons so you find something that is right for your budget. Even if you don’t know a lot of Spanish, you should try to learn the basics like hello, please, thank you, and common traveler questions. Everyone is very patient with our broken Spanish and they always appreciate the effort!
You likely will be spending quite a bit of time in Antigua and Lake Atitlán so we have a few of the best accommodation options for you during your time in these two towns!
Budget | Maya Papaya – Rated as the best hostel in Latin America, Maya Papaya knows what they are doing. It has a perfect location in the old town with an incredible breakfast served in the courtyard daily (included). The family that runs it is so sweet and you can meet so many great people here!
Mid-Range | Camino Real Antigua – This hotel is located on the edge of town making it perfect to get a quiet night’s rest. It’s a gorgeous property and is especially perfect for the day after a hike to lay by the pool and enjoy the hot tub.
Luxury | Meson Panza Verde – The Meson Panza Verde is a luxurious property just a few blocks from all the sites. Be spoiled with a full fireplace and spa-bath in the room, overlooking a gorgeous courtyard.
> Look for your perfect hotel in Antigua Guatemala!
Budget | Hotel Terrazas Del Lago – This affordable hotel offers lakefront views and private beach access. With a site like this, you may not want to leave too much.
Mid-Range | Selina Atitlán – We always love Selina’s locations and this is a perfect spot to explore Lake Atitlán. It’s just up the street from the boat dock and a block away from the best restaurants in the area. They also have a beachfront location with a bar and live music.
Luxury | Tzampoc Resort – This gorgeous resort has sprawling views overlooking the lake and volcanoes. There’s a full resort-style pool and hot tub and breakfast included. Some rooms even have private terraces and fireplaces.
> Check out more gorgeous properties in Lake Atitlán!