Top Ten Things to See and Do in Guatemala

I decided to break up all the tough stuff with some fun info! For those of you considering a trip to Guatemala this summer, here are some of my favorite things!!

Guatemala, known as “The Land of Eternal Spring” is as spectacularly beautiful as she is fascinating and adventurous! Among her enticing attractions are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Antigua, Quiriguá & Tikal. She boasts romantic Spanish colonial towns; the largest indigenous population in the Americas; diverse geography from desert to rainforest to highlands (including 33 volcanoes); and, an abundant population of birds and wildlife. Guatemala is also known for its luxury and unique accommodations including private villas, boutique hotels and, jungle lodges, as well as some of the most well-known restaurants in all of Central America. Best of all, the activities in Guatemala are as abundant as the wildlife, unique accommodations and, great restaurants! There is something for everyone in Guatemala.

1) Explore Antigua. Antigua is among the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas, even touting the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site. With her beautiful cobblestone streets, art galleries, coffee shops and colonial architecture, you cannot help but luxuriate in her charms. The area around Antigua is famous for growing coffee (one of the most well known in world) and don’t forget about chocolate – it is a tradition here. The vibrancy of culture, the world-renowned boutique hotels, top-rated restaurants and the quaint hometown feel will make your stay in Antigua a sublime experience. You must see for yourself!

This is a wonderful video clip about Antigua from the New York Times:

2) Pacaya Volcano Hike – Amatitlán.
The hike up Volcán Pacaya begins with a fairly strenuous uphill stretch but becomes more moderate quite quickly. On the way up, you wind through wonderful pine forest to a molten lava rock area where hot steam seeps through crevices in the base of the volcano. Learn about the formation and evolution of the volcano, local flora and fauna and the people of this area as you traverse the volcanoes’ ever-changing face. We encourage our families to create a family flag and plant it together at the top. We celebrate by roasting marshmallows over the spectacular lava field and enjoy a picnic on top! This 2-2.5 hour round-trip hike is a truly memorable experience!

3) Chocolate Making Workshop – Antigua.
In 1.5 to 2 hours you will learn all the steps of chocolate making from harvesting the cacao to the creation of a chocolate bar. From roasting the cacao beans to peeling them and grinding them into a paste, you will be able to learn this long-held tradition. The cacao paste is used to prepare a traditional chocolate drink (the first of which was made by the Mayas). You will also be able to use the refined chocolate to prepare a chocolate bar that you can take home and share with your friends – or not! Activities like this give families an opportunity to work together while experiencing their adopted child’s cultural heritage in a very positive, relaxing and joyful atmosphere.

4) Iximche Tour and Shaman Ritual – Tecpán.
Approximately 1 hour from Antigua is the famous Maya archaeological site of Iximche. After a guided tour of these deeply revered ruins, we will take you into a lesser-known (to visitors) yet extremely important Maya spiritual, ceremony site. There we meet a local Shaman who performs an authentic Mayan ceremony in a local Mayan language (translated by the guide) especially for your family. You can participate as much as you choose. It is a fascinating experience that will bring you all closer to each other and to your child’s heritage!

5) Reserva Atitlan Hiking and Canopy Tour, Panajachel.
Enjoy an easy hike in the tropical forest with enchanting waterfalls and bridges. The short hike takes you to the 8-cable canopy tour where you can zip through the forest for an unprecedented view of the plants and animals, including monkeys, the raccoon-like coatis and, exotic birds. You can also explore the butterfly preserve with a breeding laboratory and approximately 200 living specimens of nearly 20 species of native Guatemala butterflies. Not only is the Reserva stunningly beautiful, it gives family members an opportunity to stretch themselves on a relatively simple zip line course. The happy hormones will be pulsating through your body after this activity – just the way we like it!

6) Kayaking on Lake Atitlán – Panajachel.
Kayaking on Lake Atitlan is a one of a kind adventure. From the breathtaking views of towering volcanoes to watching the pesaderos fishing in the lake wearing their hand-sewn cayukas, you will experience the richness and beauty of this area up close and personal. Kayaking offers our families an opportunity to challenge themselves – which builds self-esteem, and if you decide to share a double kayak you’ll have the added benefit of oxytocin-releasing touch!

7) Climb San Pedro Volcano – Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
3-4 hours of climbing through coffee plantations, farm fields and spectacular cloud forest, takes you to the top this magnificent volcano and just shy of 10,000 feet in elevation. It is not an easy hike but the views and feeling of accomplishment is well worth the effort! We encourage our families to create a family flag and plant it together at the top – which creates a positive family culture and builds self-esteem. Enjoy breathtaking views of gorgeous Lake Atitlán, with her blue waters, rolling mountains and majestic volcanoes, all while devouring a well-deserved and celebratory picnic lunch!

8) Sunrise or Sunset Tour of Tikal, The Peten
Tikal is absolutely breathtaking! Its huge temples rise up through the jungle canopy and magic absolutely permeates the air . . . Tikal is truly a place where dreams are made!  Enjoy the sights and sounds of the howler and spider monkeys as well as many colorful tropical birds and other mammals in this magnificent UNESCO wonder. Sunset (or sunrise) in Tikal is a deeply moving, yet tranquil experience, and ranks among our favorite moments spent in Guatemala. We hear from all our families that the sheer grandeur, the encounters with wildlife, and the hiking all combine to foster deep connections – both to each other and to your child’s cultural heritage. This is a rewarding activity for every family.

9)Uaxactun Day Trip and Tikal Sunset Tour, The Peten.
Venture deep into the jungle to the site of Uaxactun, which is famous for having the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex as well as being one of the longest-occupied Maya sites. Uaxactun is a community where the Chicleros (gum collectors) have lived for over one hundred years. Many of Uaxactun’s residents make their living by gathering products such as chicle, allspice and, xate palm leaves from the forest for export. A visit to Uaxactun is a rich cultural and historical experience that will leave your family feeling connected, centered and informed.

10) Ixpanpajul Canopy Tour, The Peten
Ixpanpajul Natural Park, located in the cradle of the Mayan culture, is a splendid forest that shelters over 200 species of trees, 150 species of birds and 40 species of mammals. You will have the opportunity to explore this tropical paradise on winding paths and via an exciting zip line. The Canopy tour is home to eight daring platforms and a crossed cable system. This unforgettable adventure will leave you breathless and exhilarated – ripe for growth, transformation, building self-esteem and connecting more deeply with each other!

I hope you enjoyed our favorite things to see and do in Guatemala and are ready to plan your family’s adventure to the Land of Eternal Spring! And if you want to read more about some of our family adventures in Guatemala, check out these blog posts, Guatemala AdventuresReturning to PacayaReturn to Pacaya Part 2, or Jump Off a Cliff.

When you’re ready to explore the world with your family, please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with me at I’d LOVE to help!

My best to you all,

Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >>

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