Sightseeing Guatemala

As the context of your visit is to be spending time at Eagle’s Retreats, we suggest sightseeing Guatemala on or around your way to Lake Atitlán, should you be short for time.  To help you with this we have made a section of places close-by or on the way.  For good measure we also wish to include other must see places of interest further away which, if you have time, are very recommended experiences culturally, historically, ecologically and/or because they are a natural wonder of the world.

Sightseeing Guatemala – Close-by (under 4 hours)

The following are listed in location order (from Antigua towards Lake Atitlán and beyond):

  • Volcano climbs from Antigua:  Pacaya – 1hr drive with 1-2 hour ascent, Acatenango – 45min drive with 4-5 hour ascent w. overnight possible, Agua – 20min drive with 3-4 hour ascent.
  • Mountain Bike Tour: different outfits serve a number of trails around Antigua (Old Town Outfitters, Via Ventures under Sky Cafe)
  • Iximché (near Tecpán): archeological site that was the stronghold of the Mayan when the conquistadores arrived.  Not the most impressive structurally however it is of great historical importance.  An easy detour on the way to Lake Atitlán.
  • Chichicastenango town and outdoor market (Thursdays and Sundays):  Largest outdoor market in Guatemala in a highlands town where the Popol Vuh was found (Mayan religious scripture equivalent to the Bible for the Christians)
  • Quetzaltenango (also know as Xela): colonial city center and second largest city in Guatemala.
  • Xela to Lake Atitlán 3 day hike.  Just a fantastic nature experience with beautiful sites and 2 overnights in small rural villages.
  • Fuentes Georginas (hotsprings near Xela):  unique hotsprings set in a cloud forest.  45mins from Xela.
  • IRTRA: Guatemala’s Disneyland equivalent set in two parks (land and acuatic).  Curated with the theme of all things Maya.

Sightseeing Guatemala – Further away (4+ hours)

  • Tikal national park (high Mayan pyramids set in the jungle): tip – stay in one of the park hotels and ask for the pre-dawn tour (pay extra).  Your visit to Tikal will have you pass El Remate, a nice remote area with eco-lodges and hotels on lake Petén-Itzá (second largest in Guatemala).
  • Rio Dulce: the Caribbean experience, but not the white sand beach experience.  Visit Garifuna  village of Livingston, by taking an incredibly picturesque 2 hour boat ride.  Also visit Castillo San Felipe – the only Spanish fortress in Guatemala. 
  • Finca Paraiso: hotspring waterfall on Lake Izabal (45min from Rio Dulce)
  • El Mirador: officially the largest pyramid in the world by volume.  A 5-6 day return trek into the jungle beyond Tikal to the Mayan pyramid complex of El Mirador.  A unique experience.  A helicopter ride is also possible.
  • Semuc Champey: an intricate network of natural pools covering river Cahabon.  A natural marvel.  Check out Cacao and cardamon plantations nearby.
  • Copán Ruins (Honduras):  fantastic Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border with Honduras.

Sightseeing Guatemala – Celebrations

  • Holy week: the largest celebrations in the Americas occur in Antigua, with processions daily from Saturday prior to Palm  Sunday, also starting 6 week-ends prior to Easter.
  • Town celebrations:  each town around Guatemala has a celebration one day a year around which a week of celebrations is programmed.  Worth experiencing if its happening whilst you are there.
  • Day of the Dead (1 November):  locals gather in cemeteries around Guatemala.  Notably in Sumpango and Santiago (near Antigua) where a colourful display of kites are on show, some are flown in a flight competition that breads excitement.  A social day out not to miss!
  • Cosmic Convergence Festival (4 day festival over New Year’s): yoga, circus arts, meditation, martial arts, spiritual and healing practices are shared in free workshops.  Mayan ceremonies, meditations and dance with cacao, art projects and galleries.  Live and electronic music (world bass and psytrance) on 3 stages.  This festival supports local Atitlán people with employment, artistic expression, business enterprise, sharing tradition and culture.