It’s said that for travelers, Guatemala is often an “overlooked country.” It shouldn’t be. With its rich Mayan heritage, Spanish colonial charm and spellbinding scenery, it holds unparalleled opportunities for cultural experiences and energetic adventures. And its abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems is a big part of what makes Central America a biodiversity hot spot.
Partner with us, and you could begin your custom, Guatemala adventure tour in the colonial town of Antigua. In this UNESCO World Heritage site, you’ll go on an in-depth walking tour, wandering the city’s romantic, cobblestone streets; gazing at the stately, Spanish Baroque architecture displayed in the old city center; and pausing at 18th-century cathedrals, churches and monasteries.
You’ll also get a taste for modern Guatemalan culture. Savor red tamales stuffed with chicken, chilies, tomato sauce and raisins. Use tuk-tuks (rickshaws mounted on motorcycles) to get around. Or consider a ride on Antigua’s favorite public mode of transportation: the affectionately nicknamed “chicken buses.” On a private, guided tour, you’ll go to the shop where secondhand school buses brought in from North America get reimagined and restyled into chromed and colorfully painted Guatemalan icons. You could visit a school or tour the chocolate museum where you’ll learn the confection’s history and how to make it.
Volcano hiking is a huge part of Guatemala culture; and along with a private guide, you can tackle Pacaya Volcano, one of the world’s most active. Slow-moving lava flows are frequently seen on Pacaya, and puffs of steam and smoke regularly emit from its summit. Ride a horse for 80 percent of the distance and continue your journey over the volcanic pumice by foot for the last three-quarters of a mile to gain valley views that stretch all the way to El Salvador.
Naturally, then, your Guatemala adventure should include some time with what results from such productive soil: coffee. Just outside of Antigua, a guide from a charity working to support small, independent coffee producers and which promotes environmentally responsible agriculture will introduce you to some farmers. If you choose, you can work side by side with them in their daily coffee processing, roasting and grinding tasks—before sampling their handiwork. Later, enjoy a simple, traditional meal in a local home.
For more volcano adventures, travel to the shimmering, blue waters of Lake Atitlan in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan was formed in a caldera when three nearby volcanoes erupted. On your Guatemala adventure travel trip, we’ll arrange for you to tour the lake by private boat, with stops at villages scattered along the shores. Each town has unique customs, markets, textiles, ways of dressing and points of interest. Stop at San Juan and walk up a steep hill to tiptoe into a beautiful church with stunning views of Lake Atitlan below. Go ashore at Santiago and see the famous wooden carving of Maximon, a Mayan deity. Call on San Juan Comalapa, sometimes called the “Florence of America” because of the many Kaqchikel (an indigenous Mayan people) painters living there. At the site of Iximche, meet a shaman who’ll conduct an authentic Mayan ceremony.
Learn about the higher elevation flora and fauna on your Guatemala adventure travels with a private, guided hike in Reserva Natural Atitlan. Try to spot the rare, iridescent resplendent quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird, flitting in the treetops. Be surrounded by more than 200 species of butterfly as you stand inside an enclosed sanctuary. Then put on your safety hat and harness for an exhilarating zip-line ride through the forest.
Just up the road from Atitlan is Chichicastenango, famous for its Thursday and Sunday markets. In this riotous cacophony of aromas, colors, costumes and dialects, peruse the household items, traditional weavings, knickknacks, medicinal herbs and religious artifacts all squeezed into the tiny stalls that take over the central plaza. In northern Guatemala, in the town of Flores, hike in Tikal National Park. As tropical birds and monkeys sing and chatter overhead, discover the Mayan pyramids and ruins that have been partially reclaimed by the jungle.
If natural places full of adventure opportunities, microcultures and storied histories are important components of your travels, bypassing Guatemala would be a mistake. This captivating and enchanting place should not be overlooked but wholeheartedly taken part in, noted and observed.