Where to Go
The largest city in Central America, Guatemala City has a long history of being overlooked by travelers. Among its numerous attractions are recommended museums, vibrant nightlife, and a range of excellent restaurants and accommodations. The Zona Viva is the place to go for nightlife, pleasant streetside cafés, and some of Latin America’s finest restaurants.
La Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its sublime collection of convents, churches, and monasteries. It features Guatemala’s loveliest town plaza, graced by the elegant facade of the Catedral de Santiago, and its pleasant cobblestone streets are lined with restaurants, accommodations, and shops housed in beautiful old colonial homes. The surroundings are perfectly suited to outdoor recreational activities.
The Western Highlands boast not only Central America’s highest mountains and volcanoes, but also its most authentic and vibrant indigenous culture. You’ll find colorful Mayan markets, quaint mountain villages, and gorgeous alpine scenery. On the shores of spectacular Lake Atitlán are three volcanoes and several Mayan villages. Guatemala’s second-largest city, Quetzaltenango, is a popular language-school destination, while Chichicastenango is home to Guatemala’s most famous market. An emerging eco- and cultural tourism scene can be found in the Ixil Triangle.
On the western end of the Pacific Coast, Retalhuleu is a hot spot thanks to the twin theme parks of Xocomil and Xetulul. Bird-watchers and nature lovers will find several private reserves, including a fantastic lodge built on the ninth terrace of the Mayan site of Takalik Abaj. East along the coast, you’ll find the small village of Sipacate, home to Guatemala’s emerging surf scene, and Iztapa, Guatemala’s sailfishing capital. Monterrico is the region’s most popular resort town.
The dry plains of El Oriente are populated by ladino cowboys and cattle ranchers. Just over the Honduran border is the site of Copán, with some of the Mayan world’s finest stelae and best on-site museums. Heading east toward Izabal is the Caribbean town of Puerto Barrios, the gateway for adventures into untamed Punta de Manabique, the seaside Garífuna town of Lívingston, the Belize cayes and tranquil Río Dulce.
Las Verapaces are Guatemala’s green heartland. Here you’ll find the country’s best-preserved cloud forests in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, the Cloudforest Biological Corridor, which includes the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera, and the pleasant town of Cobán. Nearby attractions include the spectacular limestone pools of Semuc Champey, white-water rafting on the Río Cahabón, the phenomenal Candelaria Caves, and splendid Laguna Lachuá.
Petén is to Guatemala what the Amazon rainforest is to Brazil. In this lowland jungle frontier are the remains of several Mayan cities. The best-known Mayan site is Tikal, a must-see. In addition to the impressive temple pyramids, Tikal and the neighboring Maya Biosphere Reserve harbor Mayan ruins and varied wildlife. Flores, occupying an island on Lake Petén Itzá, is a transportation and services hub rivaled by El Remate, along the road to Tikal.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com