Here are 15 reasons to visit Guatemala! Includes the best time to visit Guatemala and things to know before you go.

15 Reasons To Visit Guatemala

Here are 15 reasons to visit Guatemala! Includes the best time to visit Guatemala and things to know before you go.

Visiting Guatemala

All of my senses were heightened. I was bombarded by the bright colors of the stalls and their merchandise. The smell of smoke from a wood fire. The sound of women loudly selling their wares…

Bread! Fruits! Sandals! Chickens!

These are the precious memories that I have of going to the market with my grandmother. You see, I’ve been traveling to Guatemala since I was a baby. My family on my father’s side is Guatemalan, so as a kid I would spend my summers there.

As I got older, however, I wasn’t able to go as often. I missed those trips to the market. I longed to play with my cousins. And I wanted to spend time with my aunts and uncles.

Over the last few years I have been able to visit Guatemala more often and I have fallen in love with Guatemala all over again. I’ve spent time with family, but I’ve also done some exploring. That’s something I never had the chance to do before. Now, as an adult, I am able to appreciate my heritage and culture so much more.

I’ve traveled to different cities, admired amazing architecture, explored the Mayan ruins of Tikal, seen my first ceiba tree (a tree that is sacred to the Mayan people), relaxed on black sand beaches, crossed Lake Atitlán, and watched gorgeous sunsets. Plus, I’ve been there on September 15th, Guatemala’s Independence Day!

15 Reasons To Visit Guatemala

I think Guatemala is a country that is getting more and more popular, especially for people wanting to travel on a budget or volunteer, and for people wanting to get a more authentic travel experience. It’s still not over touristy like some other Central American countries.

But just in case you still need a little extra push, here are my (unbiased) reasons to visit Guatemala…

1. Lush Landscapes

It is widely believed that the word Guatemala came from the indigenous Nahuatl word “Quahtlemallan” which means “land of many trees.” And although deforestation is a huge issue, beautiful lush trees can still be found.

Guatemala is seriously one of the most beautiful countries I’ve traveled to. I’ve always loved how green it is. In fact, I often find myself comparing other mountains to the mountains I’ve seen in Guatemala. And I’m usually disappointed. I remember climbing two 14ers in Colorado and thinking, “Wow, this is just a pile of rocks!” Guatemala spoiled me with how lush its landscapes are.

lush landscapes are one of the reasons to visit Guatemala
It’s so green!
Random waterfall we saw while driving in Guatemala
Random waterfall we saw while driving
A Ceiba tree, a tree that is sacred to the Mayan people
A Ceiba tree, a tree that is sacred to the Mayan people

2. Food

One of the many reasons to visit Guatemala is its food. Guatemalan food is not Mexican food, although there are some dishes that are similar. A typical Guatemalan breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, refried beans, tortillas, and some fried plantains. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day.

Guatemala is big on stews, with Pepian being one of Guatemala’s national dishes. Fiambre is another famous Guatemalan dish; it’s basically a salad on steroids. It can have as many as 50 ingredients! I could personally eat Guatemalan taquitos and tostadas all day.

Guatemalan taquitos are a reason to visit Guatemala
Guatemalan taquitos
Guatemalan tostadas
Guatemalan tostadas

3. Chocolate

You can thank Guatemala for chocolate! The word “chocolate” comes from the Maya word “xocoatl” which means bitter water. Research shows that chocolate was used in Mayan culture as early as the sixth century A.D.

If you’d like to know more about the history of chocolate and its nutritional values, we recommend visiting the ChocoMuseo in Antigua. Its a small museum that also offers chocolate making classes, and lots of chocolate products for you to buy.

ChocoMuseo in Antigua
ChocoMuseo in Antigua

4. Coffee

Another reason to visit Guatemalan is for its delicious coffee. In fact, it’s so loved that it is consumed all over the world, making coffee the country’s biggest export and source of income.

coffee is one of the reasons to visit Guatemala
Guatemalan coffee

5. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Guatemala has three UNESCO World Heritage sites. The beautiful colonial town of Antigua and the ancient Maya archaeological site of Quirigua are both UNESCO sites. The third site, Tikal National Park, has an added distinction: it is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was given this designation for its cultural and natural wonders.

Pro Tip: If you’re a fan of ancient ruins, we also recommend visiting Monte Alban and Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Copan Ruinas in Honduras.

Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala
Mayan ruins of Tikal are of the the reasons to visit Guatemala
Mayan ruins of Tikal
Incredible pyramids in Tikal
Incredible pyramids in Tikal

6. Volcanoes

There are over 30 volcanoes in Guatemala! Three of them are still active: Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito. Additionally, the volcano named Tajumulco is the tallest volcano in Central America. It rises 4,203 meters above sea level. On a clear day, you have great views of volcanoes from Hobbitenango, and eco-park where you can stay in hobbit houses.

Guatemala is known for its many volcanoes
Guatemala is known for its many volcanoes

7. Lake Atitlán

Another popular reason to visit Guatemala is to see Lago Atitlán. At 340 meters deep, this beautiful lake is the deepest lake in Central America. It’s surrounded by three volcanoes and many small Mayan villages. Whether you spend the day on the water, or exploring the surrounding villages, you’re sure to have a good time. We recently explored some of the villages around the lake during a Deaf Tour of Guatemala.

Lake Atitlán is one of the reasons to visit Guatemala
Lake Atitlán

8. Beaches

I’ve always loved Guatemala’s black sand beaches. They’re so different from the Florida beaches I grew up going to. They’re usually not very crowded either, since most tourists tend to stay inland. I have a lot of happy memories visiting the town of Puerto de San Jose with my family. It’s on the Pacific Coast, about two hours south of Guatemala City.

The beach at Puerto de San Jose
The beach at Puerto de San Jose

9. Architecture

Impressive architecture is another of the many reasons to visit Guatemala. Whether its Mayan architecture in Tikal, Spanish architecture in Antigua, or modern architecture in Guatemala City, enthusiasts will be fascinated.

Ruinas del Convento de la Merced
Ruinas del Convento de la Merced
Church of the Merced in Antigua, Guatemala
Church of the Merced

10. Mayan Culture

The Mayan civilization spanned from around 1800 B.C. to around 900 A.D., when most of the great stone cities were abandoned. The cause of the Mayan civilization collapse is still unknown. By the time the Spanish invaders arrived, most Mayan descendants were living in agricultural villages.

At its height, the Maya civilization excelled in agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making, and mathematics. They also left behind impressive architecture and symbolic artwork.

Today, visitors to Guatemala will still find traces of Mayan culture. Colorful examples include the traditional dresses worn by Mayan women. They are made by hand and vary depending on the region the woman is from. They are very intricate and really beautiful.

mayan woman wearing traditional dress
Isn’t her dress beautiful?

11. Sunsets

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you’ll see some gorgeous sunsets…

Beautiful sunset in Guatemala City
Beautiful sunset in Guatemala City

12. Chicken Buses

It’s hard to miss these colorful buses! American school buses that are 10 years or older, or that have more than 150,000 miles, are often auctioned off and driven to Guatemala. Once there, they get a colorful makeover and are used for local transportation. We even saw a fancy chicken bus that was used as a restaurant in a food hall!

Chicken bus in a food hall in Cayala
Chicken bus in a food hall!

13. Quetzals

The quetzal is one of the most beautiful birds in the world and it is the national bird of Guatemala. It lives in the cloud forests of northern Guatemala and has always been an important part of the Mayan culture.

The Quetzal represents freedom, as it will die if it is caged. The bird is so important to the Guatemalan people that the country’s currency is named after it and it can be seen on the Guatemalan flag.

Guatemalan Quetzal

14. Practice Spanish

Another reason to visit Guatemala is to learn Spanish. It’s a very popular place to take lessons. Classes aren’t expensive and locals don’t speak fast, unlike some other Spanish-speaking countries. This makes it much easier to learn.

15. Independence Day

On September 15th, 1821, Guatemala gained its independence from Spain. This national holiday is celebrated with parades, festivals, fireworks, and food. It’s a lot of fun!

Independence Day parade in Guatemala
Independence Day parade

Best Time To Visit Guatemala

Guatemala is known as the “land of eternal spring” because of its pleasant year-round weather. However, Guatemala does have a rainy season from May through October. Really, the best time to visit Guatemala is from November to April. Keep in mind though, that December through March are the busiest times for tourism.

Additional Things To Know Before You Visit Guatemala

Ready to visit Guatemala? Here are some additional things to know before you go:

  • Spanish is the official language, although there are 21 indigenous Mayan languages still used throughout the country.
  • Using credit cards is common, although it doesn’t hurt to carry some cash with you. One US dollar is roughly 7.76 GTQ, but you can check current conversion rates here.
  • La Aurora International Airport (GUA) is in Guatemala City.
  • Driving in Guatemala can be stressful if you’re not used to it. We recommend using Uber.
  • Guatemala is in Central Standard Time (GMT-6).
  • The Guatemalan flag has two blue vertical stripes, which represent the sea on either side of the country. In the middle is a white vertical stripe that has the country’s coat of arms. The coat of arms includes the quetzal and a scroll that has the date of Guatemala’s independence.

Final Thoughts On Visiting Guatemala

Guatemala truly is an exquisite country. There is so much natural beauty and you’ll find some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. We hope that these reasons to visit Guatemala have inspired you to plan a trip. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Vicky in "Guatemala Vale La Pena" shirt

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Here are 15 reasons to visit Guatemala! Includes the best time to visit Guatemala and things to know before you go.

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  1. I’ve visited Guatemala twice now, and loved it both times! It’s one of those countries I always wish I could spend longer in, and you photos have reminded me of some happy times cyclling through the country!

  2. The scenery is lovely, but I want to see a photo of the market. Even without that photo, I’m convinced!

  3. Looks like a fun place to visit. 😉 i would go for the architecture alone. I keep learning so many new things with you. 😉 Thanks for sharing.

  4. I didn’t know you were Guatemalan! How cool. It looks like a beautiful place. I hope to make it there one day soon.

    1. Yup! Half Guatemalan and half Puerto Rican. I hope you’re able to visit soon too! 🙂

  5. I haven’t visited Guatemala but seems like there’s so much to see and do! Would love to visit and see Tikal. I was fascinated with Mayan culture at Chichen Itza in Mexico so I know that it’ll be really memorable experience for me.

    1. Hi Danielle! I personally think the ruins in Tikal are a bit more impressive than in Chichen Itza. I hope you’re able to visit one day! 🙂

  6. I spent a month in Guatemala, and still it didn’t feel like enough! For such a small country, it really packs a punch. Can’t wait to go back, and your photos just reminded me how badly I need to 🙂

    1. It really does! I hope you’re able to go back soon! 🙂

  7. Hi Vicky!
    Didn’t know that you are “latina” 🙂
    Your photos definitely convince anyone to travel to Guatemala.
    History, culture, nature.. so many reasons to visit Guatemala!

  8. These photos make my heart ache! I was in Guatemala for all last summer and I love and miss it so much! Whereabouts is your Guatemalan family from?

    1. Hey Claire! Mostly the capital but also from Antigua. 🙂

  9. I’ve heard so many great things about Guatemala, and I’m really hoping I have a chance to visit before the mass of central american tourism diverts from Costa Rica and realizes what they’re missing out on!

  10. There’s something special about visiting a destination that holds family ties. Guatemala looks like a fascinating country. I’d love to visit one day.

    1. Hi Christina! Yes, that always makes it a little more special. I hope you’re able to visit one day. 🙂

  11. You look like you’re eager to get into the musical action in those shots! It looks like a beautiful place to visit.

  12. Aww this brings back so many wonderful memories of our trip to Guatemala in 2011! It sure looks like it’s time to go back again!

  13. Those are great photo reasons to visit! It’s been on my horizon for a long time, as I have a friend who is married to someone from Guatemala and I hear pretty amazing things. Thanks for this beautiful reminder.

  14. Carol Colborn says:

    Guatemala looks very interesting. We also play the marimba in the Philippines. We do have a common heritage: Spanish.

    1. That’s true! I didn’t realize they played it in the Philippines as well. Very cool!

  15. I looks to me like Guatemala is a place that is laidback and down-to-earth. I would definitely be up for visiting a place that has great outdoor scenery, colonial architecture, and open plazas to wander and explore local life. Sounds like I need to book a trip to Guatemala! 🙂 Thanks for your great inspiration!

  16. So many great reasons to visit Vicky. Fab job on this post. My wife visited before I began doing the world traveling bit. She loved the place. I would enjoy being on one of those funky-looking chicken buses.


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