Guatemala is a beautiful country many attractions that will enamor all kinds of visitors. Here are three of the most amazing spots in the country.
1. Antigua Guatemala
A little gem of a colonial town, Antigua Guatemala used to be the capital of the country before it was relocated to Guatemala City.
La Antigua, as locals call it, is nestled between three volcanoes, Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. The Fuego volcano is still active and you can witness its frequent eruptions from many rooftops cafes in town.
Antigua has around 30,000 habitants, 60,000 if you count the surrounding villages. It is a pleasant, slow-paced town that you can easily explore on foot. Attractions include many well preserved colonial churches and convents, as well as a dynamic art and gourmet scene. Antigua offers many western conveniences that are harder to find in the rest of the country, safe for the capital city, such as supermarkets with imported products, top restaurants and healthcare facilities. Living in Antigua is one of the favorite options of people looking to relocate in Guatemala.
Antigua is a pretty safe town, and so are the surrounding village. You can visit coffee, avocados and macadamia plantations, traditional villages and crafts markets, or hike you way up a volcano for a stunning view over the town and region.
2. Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlán is located on the Western Highlands, and is an area of amazing natural beauty. A huge eruption once formed this volcanic lake, that is still surrounded by other volcanoes, culminating well over 3000 meters.
A dozen villages bearing the name of catholic saints are nestled along the shores of Lake Atitlán, each offering a particular atmosphere and respecting secular traditions. In each village, the traditional costumes are different, always colorful and joyful. It is easy for the advert eye to spot the origin of a person wearing those costumes.
The most popular villages around the lake include Panajachel, an expat hang out where you can take a boat to the other villages around the lake, Santiago, where the local saint Maximon is adored in a very particular way, with locals bringing him alcohol and cigarettes, and San Pedro, a backpackers mecca, where you can stay for as low as $3 per night! San Marcos has also grown quite popular in the past few years, with a growing expat community that offers alternative therapies and fusion cuisine.
One can spend weeks exploring the beautiful region around lake Atitlán, hiking, rowing on boats and kayaks, or just lounging in a breathtaking view hotel.
Life for expats is also quite easy around Lake Atitlán, although healthcare access is pretty basic and the lake is about three hours drive away from Guatemala City should you wish to fly back home.
3. Petén Itzá and the Mayan Biosphere
A third beautiful spot in Guatemala is the Northern region of Petén, around the shores of Lake Petén Itzá. In a 50 miles radius, you will find a luxurious jungle that is home to many amazing Mayan ruins, the three main ones being the World Heritage site of Tikal, the ruins of Yaxhá and the huge ruins of El Mirador. Still undergoing excavation and archeological research, the ruins of El Mirador are three days hike away from the nearest community, Carmelita. The biggest pyramid of the complex, La Danta, is bigger than the biggest ones in Tikal. Most of Northern Petén is protected by the Mayan Biosphere, a rich eco system that still hosts jaguars, howling monkeys and other endangered species.
The most adventurous will enjoy jungle hikes while you can also have a day of family fun and canopy in smaller natural reserves. Around lake Petén Itzá, a few laid-back villages offer visitors a well deserved rest with hotels, restaurants, and crystal clear waters.
The sleepy town of Flores, once and island now linked to the mainland by a road is a popular hangout, and around Flores you will find supermarkets, hospitals, and a variety of shops.
Access to Petén is now easier thanks to an asphalted road linking it to Guatemala City in 8 hours, and the international airport Mundo Maya in Flores.
For an idea of the costs of living and retiring in Guatemala, please refer to this post.