Less than 50 km away from the hustle and bustle of the capital – Guatemala city is the colonial town of Antigua. First look and it feels you’ve been transported to a different period in time; that is if you can ignore those motor vehicles.The city proudly sits surrounded by three volcanoes; its majestic outlook not doomed by the earthquake that turned the city to rubble in 1773. The earthquake stopped the time there it seems – the brightly coloured facades of colonial houses, majestic cathedrals, still standing walls of churches whose domes have caved in, cobbled streets are so inviting. Its a UNESCO world heritage site now; there is still magic in this centuries-old decayed dilapidated town.I was excited about Antigua ever since I decided to visit Guatemala; since this was going to be my first ever Spanish colony experience. And I was not disappointed at all. The orange and red and yellow mansions are fascinating, the flowering trees lining the streets, the whiff of breeze as you walk in the evenings only added to the charm.
Antigua, once a colonial capital is rich in history, cultural and natural disasters. After a large earthquaked hit the capital the King of Spain moved the capital to Guatemala City. The town is surrounded by three active volcanoes. The last larger eruption came out of Volcano Fuego in September 2012. Most days you can see smoke coming out of this volcano. For those brave enough to go in for a closer look, tourist offices can arrange day hikes up the volcanoes. A walk through the city displays historical colonial monuments, vibrant markets and street vendors, a diverse mix of Catholic churches (both modern and from the Spanish colonial era), and a an array of restaurants catering to locals and foreigners. Of course with this boom in tourism here, prices are more expensive in Antigua than the rest of Guatemala. For those wanting to stay longer there are many options including volunteering, working at chocolate or coffee farms, dance classes, Spanish language centers, and cooking courses.
San Marcos is great to stay few weeks also, if you are more chilled you better stay here. You have great opportunities of workshops and courses of yoga, meditation, massage, etc. etc. here. To go shopping you have to main markets: The Solala Market (more a local market but the way there is beautiful) and Chi Chi Market where you can find amazing handmade products for low prices (but bargain anyway).
Embrace the Garifuna culture on Caribbean Guatemala.
A bit "left behind" place with mayor black population. It's was cool to walk around for one morning!
If you're going to Guatemala or Central America a trip to a Mayan ruin is almost obligatory. In Guatemala there are tons of sites with the majority of ruins still buried and eaten by mother nature. However, for the most spectacular of sites Tikal is the most recommended. This can be done over one day but can be extended to longer trips especially if you are into archaeology. During a tour you're likely to see and hear howler monkeys, spot spider monkey and come across coatis (a raccoon like animal). The area is also great for birders as toucans can be seen. Of course the best time to see these animals is early morning before the sun, heat and humidity start. Tours start in the town of Flores and offer sunrise tours. Given the hostility of the jungles that the Mayan civilization put themselves in most sites are still covered up by the trees and the vegetation that grows in the area. Excavations are an on-going process but the maintenance for the main sites is already overwhelming. While experts have different opinions on the numbers it's said that 80-90% of the Mayan structures has yet to be uncovered. If you are adventurous enough to go deeper in the jungle guides can easily organize this for you.
The weekend markets here may be derided as touristy, but they're also a fun and accessible spot full of local colour. Hone your bargaining skills while you wander the lanes checking out carved wooden masks, colourful textiles, and everything else under the sun.
San Marcos La Laguna
The pre-eminent hippie village around Lake Atitlan, San Marcos is the place to go for a spot of meditation or yoga, or any of a number of other crystal-based new-age activities (these latter at the spiritual retreat Las Pyramides). The lake near the shore here is cleaner and clearer than average, and there's none of the party crowds or boozing that afflicts Panajachel and other spots around the lake.
So beautiful! You can stay in El Retiro, it's a Eco-Tourism hostel with Cabanas made of wood and you have a river inside where you can try tubbing and swim, it's great fun! This is also the village you can stay if you want to visti Semuc champey... well you have no option actually because this place is AMAZING . You also have the option of just staying/camping close to Semuc champey, instead of staying in Lanquin.
An anchor on the now-completed paved road thru the Cuchumatanes mountains, Uspantan is no longer the odyssey to get to that it was a mere decade ago. The route thru the Cuchumatanes, though, still rates as remote, and the country utterly beautiful. If you find yourself in Huehuetenango on Guatemala's western edge, it's worth taking the route thru the mountains to reach Lanquin and Semuc Champey.