Surprising to me but maybe not others but there was a huge variety of things to do in Guatemala. A nice mix of relaxing, tropical enjoyment, high adventure and then a little but of ancient history. During our visit we did most everything on our list except Semuc Champey but since we mainly around Lake Atilan for our trip we had to choose between Semuc Champey and Tikal and are pretty happy with our decision!
Here are a few of the activities and sights not to miss when visiting Guatemala:
- Climb Volcan San Pedro . Or any other volcano. There are dozens in the country of various difficulty levels. For us Volcan San Pedro was the best option around Lake Atilan since it was moderately challenging, would offer great views of the lake and we were able to travel back and forth from our hotel in Pana within the day.Since we visited during the rainy season we needed to make sure we were at the top by noon and back at the docks around 4 so we could get home. We took the earliest lancha from Pana at 6 AM and took the thirty minute ride over to San Pedro. You take a ten minute tuk tuk from the dock to the base of the Volcan San Pedro State Park and pay the 50Q entrance fee. A guide from the park joins you for the first twenty minutes of the hike since the trail is a little difficult to follow. From where he lets you off to the top the path is extremely clear and easy to follow. I was nervous about climbing without a guide but San Pedro was completely manageable. There were about dozen other people climbing that Saturday but since everyone starts around the same time we ran into a few people and spent the majority of the climb with a group of three fellow travelers. When we reached the peak we ate our picnic lunch and enjoyed the cloudy mist. We were just about to leave when the clouds broke and we had an incredible view of the lake and below towns. Rainy season is iffy for views and weather services are iffy so use your judgment when climbing and hopefully if you get their early enough you will have the beautiful views. This hike was strenuous for two moderately athletic people. We were sore that evening and the climb was non stop steps but 100% worth it.
- Reserva Natural Atilan is a great afternoon in Pana. The park includes a swinging bridge hike to a waterfall and various zip lines. Do one or the other because it is the same path so don’t pay for both. The zip lining looked fun but pretty pricey and the walk was great.
- We spent one day in Antigua. The highlight was walking around the Casa Santo Domingo. These are beautiful ruins converted and some what restored hotel, chapel, art gallery, museum and restaurant. We snuck in to the ruins by asking to visit the chocolate shop but we did not visit the museum. The whole place was fairy tale beautiful and if we had more time there you could have spent much more time in the museum and at the beautiful restaurant. The other ruins sprinkled around the city were nice but quick in and outs.
- Tikal! I go back and forth between visiting Tikal. But it was the end of a long trip and I really wanted my bed and a roast chicken dinner so my judgment is skewed. First of all Tikal is completely incredible. The ruins are HUGE and there are tons of them spread out around a giant national park. The best part is walking through the jungle completely alone with monkeys swinging above you and then just coming upon these giant towers. There are a few ruins you can climb to the top on wooden structures. There is definitely a magic to the ruins and a lack of regulation makes it seem a bit more genuine and untouched then some more visited ruins and monuments around the U.S. and Europe. It was HOT around 110 degrees and walking around definitely tired you out. We walked around most of what we wanted to see in about four hours but if it was cooler we could have managed a bit more. The restaurant on site did not look great so I recommend packing a lunch and eating before/after back in Flores. My complaint about Tikal was just that it was pretty far away from anything, we took a regional flight from Guatemala City to Flores for about $50 each, booked a hotel in Flores, arranged transportation for the 90 minute drive to Tikal from Flores (fairly easy to book from the many travel companies on the road – we just walked around until we found one leaving that morning) and then a flight back to Guatemala City. We spent three days in Flores which was completely unnecessary because other than Tikal there is really not much to do. You could do Tikal in one day by taking the 6 AM flight out and the 7 PM flight back to Guatemala City. It is a long day but that is what I would definitely do next time. Unless you have plenty of time to spare and want to spend a few days pool side in Flores (or in the Air Conditioned room watching Netflix like we did).
- Pottery shopping in San Antonio Palopo in Lake Atilan. San Antonio is two towns down the road from Pana so I was tricked into taking a pick up truck down the road. The pick up truck picked us up in the main square and took about twenty five minutes. When we arrived a lady spotted us as tourists and asked if we were looking for pottery. The town seemed to be much less touristy than other towns so the pottery and fabrics are their main reasons for a visit. She led us down a few windy roads towards the lake where we found the pottery work shop. A few dozen workers are busy here producing beautiful plates, bowls, vases, everything in intricate blue and white patterns. They took us on a quick tour of production before we started selecting pieces. We purchased a full dining set and tea set for four along with a few gifts for under $100USD. They packed it in a box for us and we transferred it to our carry on for the 19 hour journey home with two layovers and no problems. This place was a complete hidden gem with beautiful pieces and wonderful artisans. You will see their products sold throughout the country but we were filled with delight each time we saw it for a much higher price than we paid purchasing directly from the source. They had a whole section dedicated to second pieces with small mistakes where we purchased most of our dishes. Completely worth the visit but I may use a tuk tuk or taxi because the pick up truck was fine but a small accident could throw you off completely.
- We spent one day in Guatemala City which was interesting but I would not know how to spend more than a day. We visited during a national holiday so most places including the Palace and museums were closed which may have made the day a bit more entertaining. It was worth the walk around but we enjoyed our time in the country much more.