10 adventures to try in Guatemala

Guatemala deserves all the hype when it comes to the outdoors, from scrambling up smoking volcanoes to trundling through thick jungle and floating in idyllic wild lakes. Here we reveal nine adventurous escapes for an unforgettable trip

Published 19 May 2019, 21:30 BST
Cahabón River, Semuc Champey
Cahabón River, Semuc Champey
Photograph by Alamy

Semuc Champey
Best for: A day in the jungle
This series of tiered pools tempts visitors into idyllic dips, waterfall showers and hours basking in the sun. Leap from a bridge at the park’s entrance for a real adrenalin blast, or head into the caves for a subterranean swim by candlelight. To find them, book a shuttle transfer from Lanquín — it’s a bumpy drive over dirt roads, but the pay-off is an unforgettable experience by the water.

Rio Dulce and Lake El Golfete
Best for: A boat trip
For more watery adventures, take a trip here — a destination that’s increasingly popping up on the tourist trail. Visit this jungle-fringed waterway and take a gentle boat trip, spotting monkeys, toucans and lizards along the way. Later, step beneath the Finca Paraiso hot springs waterfall for a refreshing blast then trek through a tangle of rainforest before relaxing on the area’s Caribbean beaches.

Best for: High-octane adventure
Head to this mammoth volcano, close to the pastel-painted city of Antigua. Overnight hikes up this dramatic mound are the stuff of travel legend. It’s worth noting, all Guatemala’s volcanoes should be hiked with a guide.

El Paredón
Best for: Surfing
When you’ve had your fill of hardcore hikes, decamp to this slip of a town that’s fast becoming a mecca for surf buffs. Locals whizz over waves all day, from first light to sunset, and when they’re not in the water, chill out in hammocks nursing cold beers. Pop into one of the cafes for some excellent seafood, too.

Lake Atitlán
Best for: Volcanoes and lakes
Even the most jaded travellers are left slack-jawed at this lake in a volcanic crater. Misty volcanoes and lush hills dot its perimeter. Adventurous souls flock here to kayak, scramble volcanoes, dive and mountain bike.

Guatemala City
Best for: Urban adventure
For an urban adventure that’s enthralling, intimidating and leftfield, Guatemala City really delivers. Its previously unsafe reputation has meant many travellers gave it a miss, but this is a capital city that’s intent on scrubbing itself up. There’s a burgeoning art scene; first-rate museums; bustling markets full of textiles and tantalising street food; and a growing crop of cafes serving local coffee.

Monterrico Nature Reserve
Best for: A slow pace
With a winning combination of roughly beautiful black beaches and a startling cast of animal residents, this vast, sprawling reserve is tough to beat. It’s the place to go for wildlife sightings — expect to see everything from iguanas and caiman to turtles and armadillos. Go between July and October for a nocturnal jaunt on the dramatic black-sand beach and gaze as tiny turtle hatchlings scurry seawards.

Santiaguito Volcano
Best for: The force of nature
This fiery peak continues to hog the limelight as one of the country’s most famous volcanoes: every half an hour, thundering ash clouds burst from its boiling depths — its 1902 explosion was one of the biggest in the 20th century. Head up to the peak of neighbouring Santa Maria to gaze down at its searing hot vents and plumes of smoke — a show of light and terrific force of nature.

Antigua to Lake Atitlán
Best for: Road tripping
Driving in Central America is an increasingly accessible tourist option. With an improved road network and dramatic scenery, a Guatemala road trip might be just the ticket for adventurous nomads. Hire a car in Antigua and head north to drive a small section of the legendary Pan-American Highway — it snakes through 19,000 miles of Latin America.

Pacaya Volcano
Best for: Hiking
Book a hike up this active volcano with the right guide, and you can toast marshmallows on the hot rock walls. It’s a popular hike, so don’t expect to walk alone. And prepare to get breathless — you’ll be ascending more than 1,500ft in a matter of hours.

Looking for more adventures? Try Flores, a gateway to infinite adventures

It may take just 20 minutes to stroll the perimeter of this tiny town, but what Flores lacks in size, it more than makes up for with outdoorsy escapades. Most travellers bed down here with a trip to Guatemala’s most famous Mayan ruins in mind — the extraordinary site of Tikal is just a day-trip away. Yet this pinprick island, suspended in Lake Petén Itzá, isn’t a one-trick pony — in fact, it’s just the place for lakeside dips, backcountry horse-riding, and zip-lining through Ixpanpajul Natural Park. As well as the wonders of Tikal on your doorstep, the Mayan ruins of Yaxha are just as captivating, but far quieter; and the ceremonial centre of Uaxactun — thought to lay claim to housing the oldest Mayan astronomical observatory — is the place to go for extraordinary sunsets.

To find out more, visit our Guatemala hub



Published in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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Map of Guatemala
Photograph by Nik Neves
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