By far one of the most visitor-friendly and affordable destinations in Central America, Guatemala is a land of bright colours, indigenous faces and Mayan ruins. It provides a varied but always beautiful landscape of striking green countryside, erupting volcanoes, soothing, peaceful lakes – and many budget-traveller friendly hostels to boot. After spending 10 weeks in Guatemala, these are our Top 5 recommended must-see destinations.
Set in a spectacular valley of three looming volcanoes (one of which, Fuego, releases puffs of smoke daily), Antigua is one of the best-preserved colonial towns in Central America. Without a doubt it’s an absolute must on any Guatemala itinerary and, being only an hour from the airport in Guatemala City, it’s a perfect first stop for visitors to acclimatise to Guatemalan life.
Antigua’s magnificent one-storey pastel-collared houses could be something straight out of a Van Gough painting and are beautiful to behold. Its grid plan streets with the Parque Central at its heart make Antigua one of the easiest towns in Guatemala to explore on foot. The city’s old colonial ruins, shook to pieces by the San Marta earthquakes in 1773, act as reminder that Antigua was once held to be the capital not only of Guatemala, but of Central America as a whole.
Food, drink and sleep
Despite of its relatively small size, Antigua has much more to offer visitors than cobble-stone streets and pretty colonial buildings with yards filled with flowers and fountains. The city also has a buzzing restaurant and bar scene where locals, travellers and ex-pats alike meet to speak ‘Spanglish’ and enjoy authentically prepared international food from Indian and Thai to French (including fondue), American bagels and German bread. While Antigua might be your first stop in Guatemala, it’s also a great place to rest and relax after time on the road as the range of budget hotels and hostels in Antigua is by far the best in the country. Careful, though, as many of the permanent ex-pats were also once just visitors, until Antigua slowly became home!
Lake Atitlan, famously described by Aldous Huxley as ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’, should be on the list of every visitor to Guatemala. Formed when the lid of a volcano was blown off during an explosion, Lake Atitlan is located in the scenic Highlands of Guatemala and, like Antigua, sits neatly nestled between three volcanoes. These three can be climbed, as can Indian’s Nose mountain.