Sandwiched between Belize, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala encapsulates all that is magical about Central America. With smoke-spewing volcanoes, emerald-green lakes, wild rainforests, ancient Mayan ruins and unique indigenous cultures, Guatemala is the type of country you visit once and fall in love with forever.
Whether you’re in town for the weekend or traveling long and far for an extended stay, we’ve rounded up our personal favorites from this incredible country...
10 REASONS WHY WE LOVE GUATEMALA
- Lake Atitlan
Described by Lonely Planet as ‘the closest thing to Eden on Earth’. Situated in the Sierra Madre mountains and encircled by fern-covered valleys and towering volcanoes, the lake is big, deep and mysterious. Visit the villages around the edge, including San Marcos and San Pedro, and hike up the Indian’s Nose in San Juan to get a great view over the lake.
One of the most built-up places on the lake and can often be rather rowdy, but it’s still definitely worth a visit. It has the best sunsets, the best nightlife and easily the best market, so if you’re looking to stock up on beautiful Mayan clothes and textiles, this place is a complete Story favorite!
Surrounded by three dramatic volcanoes and packed with colonial charm, stunning baroque architecture, excellent restaurants, buzzing bars and mesmerizing markets, Antigua is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in Latin America. Take time here to look around the picturesque cobbled streets, enjoy a meal in the market, and have a night out at Café No Se, Cantina Royal or The Londoner.
4. Home to Tikal
Located deep in the rainforest in Guatemala’s Peten region, Tikal was the most prosperous city of the Mayan Classic Period, and its vast causeways and towering pyramids draw visitors from all over the world. These jungle-shrouded limestone buildings look like something from an Indiana Jones movie. Climb to the top of the temples and enjoy unrivalled views of the national park, with the tops of pyramids peeking through the rainforest canopy.
Chichicastenango, home to one of the largest outdoor markets in Latin America, is not only Guatemala’s biggest and best market, but also its most historic. The market here is most famous for its textiles, in particular huipiles, traditional garments worn by indigenous women and girls. Usually decorated with colourful and intricate designs, every huipil takes between 3-12 months to make. Different regions of the country use different tones and patterns, but arguably the best quality huipiles are found in Chichi, as it’s fondly called.
6. Chicken Buses
The shouts come from all angles, along just about every street in Guatemala. The scream of exhausted air brakes, the growl of engines far past their prime, the boom of exhaust pipes gasping for clear passage accompany them. For those of us who have traveled in Guatemala (and other Central American countries), the ‘Chicken Bus’ whether taken as transportation or merely from distant observation is a memorable and unusual part of the experience.
One of the highest cities in Central America, Xela (short for Quetzaltenango), has a markedly different climate than other parts of Guatemala. Home to some interesting architecture and a large student population, so the bars and clubs can get raucous.
8. The Food
With its Mayan culture merging with Spanish traditions, the cuisine here is far more flavorsome and complex than in some of the neighboring countries. Whether it’s super-fresh street-food from the markets or gourmet vegetarian restaurants, Guatemala’s cuisine will delight even the most discerning foodie.
9. The Chocolate
Though cacao was used by the ancient Olmecs in Mexico, it was the Guatemalan Maya who first documented their use of it, and with them that cacao became an indispensable commodity. Touted as the birthplace of chocolate, Guatemala has artisan chocolate shops on every corner, chocolate-themed cafés and even a Choco Museum, the rich aroma of cocoa drifts along the cobbled streets and narrow alleys of this colonial town.
10. Coffee anyone?
Coffee lovers are just as well catered for in Guatemala as chocoholics. The volcanic highlands of Guatemala provide the ideal climate for growing coffee, and the beans produced here are some of the best in Latin America. One popular activity for backpackers is visiting a coffee plantation, where you can learn all about the coffee-making process and purchase some mouthwatering fresh coffee from local farmers.