Here's what to do in Guatemala with a family

Festivals sizzling with street life, outdoorsy adventures, fascinating museums — Guatemala is a blast for families. Here’s a round-up of eight of its highlights for family funSunday, May 19, 2019

By Visit Guatemala
Watching newly hatched sea turtles head to the sea in Monterrico

Finca El Paraíso
Tucked away in the jungle on the north side of Lake Izabal, this hot spring-fed waterfall is essentially a secluded, natural spa. The thermal waters cascade 40ft down a rock wall into a pool, creating a picture-perfect secret swimming spot. On a hot day, head to the cooler waters downstream, or climb to the top of the waterfall to bask in the mineral-rich thermal pools and sunbathe on the warm rocks.

Choco Museo, Antigua
This museum is a must-visit for families and chocoholics alike. Here, you can learn about Guatemala’s rich chocolate heritage (the Mayans were the first to cultivate cacao, so effectively invented it), pore over intriguing exhibits, take plantation tours and get stuck into tempting ‘bean to bar’ chocolate-making workshops.

Whale-watching
From December to April, humpback whales migrate along the Pacific coast, en route to warmer waters. It’s rare to spot them from land, so your best bet is Puerto Quetzal, a harbour town where whale-watching yachts set a course for the breeding grounds for heart-stopping close encounters. Along the way you may be joined by dolphins, manta rays and turtles.

Chichicastenango
Head approximately 35 miles north as you travel from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, and you’ll find yourself in this atmospheric town in the Guatemalan Highlands. Its legendary markets — held on Thursdays and Sundays — will be a welcome sight: expect pottery, masks, textiles and piles of weird and wonderful merchandise.

Parque central, Antigua
This central square is a reassuringly handsome spot to take respite from the thrum of Antigua. Locals wind down in the shade, catching up over coffee, gardeners spruce up immaculate flower beds, and little ones will relish running in and around the Fountain of the Sirens. It’s worth waiting for one of the benches to become free so you can drink in the atmosphere, preferably while snacking on ice cream picked up from one of the cafes lining the plaza, as the children are entertained by energetic street performers. And for extra brownie points, cough up a few quetzals for a ride through the park in an ornate horse-drawn carriage.

Parque Natural Ixpanpajul
If you’re heading to Flores, this wildlife reserve in El Petén is the perfect place for outdoorsy kids to muck around in after exploring the legendary archaeological site of Tikal. There’s horse riding and mountain biking, hopping onto tractors and zip-lining through the jungle canopy in the company of tropical birds and a rotating cast of monkeys. Its ace card, though, is the Skyway, a trail skirting through the tangle of branches. It includes a clutch of suspended bridges that sway lazily in the upper reaches of the jungle canopy — ideal for a real Indiana Jones-style adventure that the kids are sure to love.

Turtles, Monterrico
This coastal town isn’t a classic beach beauty; waves thrash its black sands and riptides can be perilous. Inland, Monterrico is backed by a wildlife reserve and two sanctuaries where sea turtles and caimans are hatched and readied for release into the wild. Head to the Conservation Center of Studies during hatching season (September-February) and you and your brood can see the baby sea turtles that have been incubated here. Experts are also on hand to educate visitors about its conservation projects, turtle reproduction, and the repopulation of endangered species.

Canopy tours
It’s no secret Guatemala oozes adventurous appeal. And tweens and teens can catch an adrenalin-fuelled thrill any of the zip-line parks that dot the country. One not to miss is the canopy tour at the Atitlan Nature Reserve, where the spectacular landscape is home to monkeys, waterfalls and volcanoes. The ascending hike passes coffee plantations and tangles of forest before reaching a zip-line launch point: one soars for a modest 100 metres, another for 300 metres, with both guaranteed to work their magic on the whole clan.

Taking flight

Celebrations in Guatemala can be lavish, colourful spectacles — none more so than the annual Festival of Giant Kites  

Guatemalans love a knees-up, and children are at the heart of the numerous fiestas and festivals that punctuate the calendar, many of which are all-consuming affairs with fireworks, mountains of food, fiercely competitive dancers and live bands strumming traditional music. One that’s sure to capture the imagination is the Festival of Giant Kites, which takes place in the neighbouring southern towns of Santiago, Sacatepéquez and Sumpango. As dawn breaks on All Saints’ Day (1 November), the cobbled streets fizz with activity as festival-goers head up to the towns’ cemeteries. Here, the kites — many of which take months to build and are up to 12 metres long — are thrust aloft to cavort in the skies over the graves as a poignant cultural symbol of peace and the unity of family.

 

Essentials

Getting there
Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines, Air France and American Airlines fly indirect from London Heathrow to La Aurora International Airport.       

To find out more, visit our Guatemala hub

visitguatemala.com

 

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

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Map of Guatemala