As the birthplace of the ancient Mayans, Guatemala is loaded with more cultural and historical attractions than almost any other country in Central America. In addition, it also offers plenty of peaceful fishing villages, busy local textile markets, and natural beauty in the form of lush tropical jungles, colorful coral reefs, active volcanoes, and breathtaking black sand beaches. Whether you're looking to immerse yourself in the culture, spend your time relaxing on the beach, or get your adrenaline pumping by joining a safari or heading to a theme park, here are the 25 best things Guatemala has to offer.
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1.Naciones Unidas National Park
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Only 13 miles away from Guatemala City, the Naciones Unidas National Park was one of the country's first national parks. Encompassing just over 1,200 acres, the park is one of the few remaining green spaces near the capital and is a great destination for anyone looking to get out of the city. In addition to a network of walking trails, the reserve offers some excellent lookout points, picnic areas with fire pits, and a variety of sports fields. Other points of interest include an exhibit about Guatemala's history and a small museum full of insects, snakes, and other reptiles.
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2.Auto Safari Chapin
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Founded in 1980 as a nature reserve, Auto Safari Chapin is Guatemala's largest animal park and is home to wide variety of animal species such as jaguars, crocodiles, and giraffes. The animals can be seen in two different areas of the reserve: a walk-through zoo and a drive-through animal preserve. Admission to both areas is included in the same ticket, and guests are also given complimentary use of the park's swimming pool and lagoon boat rides. The park is open Tuesday through Sunday between 9:30 am and 5 pm, and food can be purchased from either the on-site restaurant or snack bar.
Km 87.5 Carretera a Taxisco, Guatemala, Phone: +502-22-22-58-58
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3.Castillo de San Felipe de Lara
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Strategically located on the narrowest part of the Dulce River, the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara was first built in the early 1650s to stop pirates from raiding the towns of Izabal. Unfortunately, pirates captured and destroyed the fortress in 1686, and it was used as a prison for a good number of years before being left to fall apart. The present building was reconstructed in 1956, and it has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 2002. In addition to exploring the fort, visitors can also swim in the lake and relax or picnic on the grounds.
Río Dulce, Livingston, Guatemala, Phone: +502-79-47-06-61
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4.Cerro de la Cruz
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One of the best viewpoints in the city of Antigua, Cerro de la Cruz is well worth the ascent to the top. The site is best known for being home to a large cross dedicated to the city's patron saint, but it also offers stunning views of the city and the far-off Volcan de Agua. The area unfortunately has a reputation for assaults and muggings, but a police escort is offered every day between 10 am and 3 pm. Visitors who are worried about safety can also choose to join a guided tour or drive to the top instead of walk.
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5.Guatemala City Railway Museum
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The Guatemala City Railway Museum was formerly the city's main railway station, but it was opened to the public as a museum in 2004. In addition to a fascinating collection of historic steam and diesel locomotives, the museum offers a good number of displays that tell the story of Guatemala's railway development over the years. Special events and temporary exhibits can sometimes be found here as well. The museum is open until 4:30 pm every day of the week, but it opens at 9 am on weekdays and at 10 am on the weekends.
9A Avenida 18-03, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala, Phone: +502-22-32-92-70
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6.Ixchel Textile Museum
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Situated on the campus of the Francisco Marroquin University, the Ixchel Textile Museum was Guatemala's first museum of textiles. Many of the textile items in the museum's collections were donated by generous Guatemalan collectors; the textiles range in age from pre-Hispanic times to the present day, and they represent more than 180 different Guatemalan communities from all over the country. Most the displays are centered around traditional Guatemalan dress, but there are also excellent exhibits of jewelry, ceramic items, and books. The museum is closed on Sundays and most holidays, and hour-long guided tours are available for a fee.
6A Calle 6, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala, Phone: +502-23-31-36-22
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Often called the last capital city of the Mayas, Iximche was founded in 1463 and has remained remarkably well-preserved. The buildings are not as large as those in some other Mayan cities, but they boast the characteristic Mayan look. It takes approximately one hour to drive from Guatemala City to Iximche, making this a great day trip for visitors based in the city. The ruins are open every day of the week between 8 am and 4 pm, and there are plenty of restaurants and handicraft vendors here for visitors who get hungry or would like to purchase souvenirs.
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8.La Aurora Zoo
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Opened in 1924, La Aurora Zoo is one of the best and largest zoos in Central America. The animals in the zoo come from all over the world, and they are grouped into three different areas based on their place of origin: Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Besides the animal exhibits, the zoo also offers a children's game area, a small theater, and several restaurants. The zoo is conveniently located only a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute drive from the airport, and it is open between 9 am and 4 pm every day of the week except for Tuesdays.
Finca La Aurora, 5A Calle, Guatemala 01013, Guatemala, Phone: +502-24-63-04-63
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Encompassing more than 10,000 acres, the Monterrico-Hawaii Biotope is a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors. The nature reserve runs along the coastline for approximately 12 miles, and it boasts everything from lush mangrove forests to volcanic beaches. A wide range of guided tours are available; visitors can choose to go horseback riding, kayak through one of the biotope's bird sanctuaries, visit the sea turtle sanctuary, or relax on one of the many black sand beaches. It's possible to visit the reserve on a day trip from Antigua, but accommodation can also be found in the town of Monterrico.
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Conveniently located within driving distance of Antigua, Mundo Petapa is a theme park that offers a variety of rides and other family-friendly attractions. Some of the most popular rides include the Ferris wheel and a 53-foot-tall free-fall tower, but visitors can also use the pool, visit the small zoo, or amuse themselves with arcade games. Additionally, there are plenty of restaurants and concession stands scattered throughout the park, and lockers can be rented by the front gate. The park is open Thursday through Sunday, and a variety of event packages are offered for anyone who would like to host a special event here.
Avenida Petapa 42-36 | Zona 12, Guatemala City 01009, Guatemala, Phone: +502-24-23-90-00
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The Museo Miraflores is a relatively new archaeological museum located only a couple miles away from the city center. The first floor focuses primarily on artifacts found at Kaminaljuyú, one of the most historically important Mayan archaeological sites in Guatemala, while the second floor houses a variety of exhibits about traditional textiles and clothing from across the country. Most of the signage is in both Spanish and English, and the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday. Right behind the museum is a peaceful grassy area that offers plenty of seating and the chance to see three ancient Mayan mounds.
7 Calle 21-55, Ciudad de Guatemala 01011, Guatemala, Phone: +502-22-08-05-50
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12.Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología
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Home to the country's biggest collection of ancient Mayan artifacts, the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology was founded in 1898. The collection of vessels, ornaments, and other historical objects boasts more than 20,000 items, and the museum also holds a collection of more than 4,000 textile pieces that date from the 20th century. Some of the highlights include a throne from Piedras Negras, several beautiful pieces of jade jewelry, and a large-scale model of the ancient city of Tikal. The museum is located only five minutes away from La Aurora International Airport, and it is closed on Mondays and certain holidays.
7ta. Avenida 6a, Guatemala, Phone: +502-24-75-40-10
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13.Museo Nacional de Historia
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Established in 1976 to preserve and share the history of Guatemala, the National Museum of History has exhibits on all the important events that have happened in the country since it gained independence in 1821. Although it was originally located in the National Library, the museum was later moved to the Registry of Deeds building, which survived the earthquakes of 1918 and 1919 and underwent restoration during the mid-1980s. The museum is happy to provide informational services and advice to students and researchers, and it regularly hosts conferences, concerts, film screenings, and other special events.
70 01001, 9A Calle 9, Guatemala, Phone: +502-22-53-61-49
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14.Museo Popol Vuh
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Named after a book about the mythology and history of Guatemala before the Spanish conquest, the Museo Popol Vuh is home to a large collection of Mayan art. More than 400 archaeological artifacts are on display; these are divided into a series of chronological galleries, with the oldest artifact being a stone tool that dates back to 9000 BC and the most recent being pieces of artwork from the colonial period. Guided tours of each gallery are available, and the museum also offers a variety of presentations, Mayan pottery classes, restoration activities, and other educational activities.
Universidad Francisco Marroquín, 6A Calle, Guatemala, Phone: +502-23-38-78-96
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15.Museum of Colonial Art
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As the name suggests, the Museum of Colonial Art has an excellent collection of paintings, furniture, sculptures, and other pieces of artwork from the colonial period. More than 130 different items are displayed in its galleries, including the "Passion of Christ" by Guatemalan artist Thomas Merlo, several pieces of artwork by the well-known Mexican artist Cristóbal de Villalpando, and a fascinating colonial hearse. The museum also offers a library and a furniture restoration workshop, and it is open every day of the week except for Mondays. Admission is free of charge for all visitors on Sundays.
5a Calle Oriente 5, Antigua 03001, Guatemala, Phone: +502-78-32-04-29
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16.National Museum of Modern Art
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Located inside a beautiful colonial-style building that dates back to the 1930s, the National Museum of Modern Art takes visitors on a journey through Guatemala's modern art scene. The exhibits are centered around the Quetzaltecan artist Carlos Mérida, who is widely recognized as the founder of the artistic movement in Guatemala. The permanent displays cover everything from Romanticism to Cubism, and the museum often hosts fascinating temporary exhibits as well. The museum is open every day of the week between 9 am and 4 pm, but is closed for lunch during 12:30 pm and 2 pm on the weekends.
Edificio 6 | La Aurora Park, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Phone: +502-24-72-04-67
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17.National Museum of Natural History
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Established to collect, preserve, and exhibit Guatemala's natural resources and treasures, the National Museum of Natural History boasts an extensive collection of insect specimens, mineral and rock samples, plant matter, and other natural items. Topics covered in the permanent exhibitions range from the creation of the universe to the nocturnal animals of Guatemala to the history of the museum itself. There is also a space dedicated to rotating temporary exhibitions that cover topics related to nature and the environment in general. The museum is closed on Mondays and holidays, and most of the building is wheelchair-accessible.
6ª. Street 7-30 Area 13, Zone Complex of Museums 13, Phone: +502-24-72-04-68
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18.National Palace of Culture
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Formerly known as the National Palace of the Republic of Guatemala, the National Palace of Culture is one of the most famous symbols of Guatemala City. The building is where all the roads in the Republic begin, and important government ceremonies are often held here. There is also a museum here, and the building itself is a fascinating blend of construction styles ranging from Spanish Renaissance to neoclassical. The palace is open to the public every day between 9:30 am and 4 pm; visits are by guided tour only, and these are offered in both English and Spanish.
6 Calle and 7 Ave., Guatemala City, Guatemala, Phone: +502-22-32-85-50
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19.Old Book Museum
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Home to more than 2,500 books and manuscripts, the Old Book Museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the literary heritage of Guatemala. There are three permanent exhibition rooms in the museum: the first has an introduction to printing in Guatemala, the second offers displays about stone and wood etching, and the third is centered around the Decorated Jasper bookbinding technique, which was primarily used during the colonial era. Temporary exhibits typically cover topics such as Guatemalan art, samples of the collection that are usually held in storage, and other aspects of the country's rich literary heritage.
House of the First Printing, Portal of the City not. 6 La Antigua Guatemala, Phone: +502-78-32-55-11
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20.Parque Centro America
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Known to some as Quetzaltenango's Central Park, the Parque Centro America is the cultural heart of Guatemala's second largest city. Most of the garden was designed in the 1800s by the Italian architect Alberto Porta; before the 1930s, the space consisted of two separate gardens that were eventually merged to create a large, oblong shape. In addition to admiring the park's distinctive central pillar, visitors can enjoy the well-maintained walking trails and the beautifully landscaped grounds. The park is worth a visit in and of itself, but it has the added bonus of being surrounded by most of the city's main attractions.
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Discovered in the 1840s, Tikal was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Mayans during the Classical Era of more than 1000 years ago. Tucked away in the dense jungle, the UNESCO Heritage of Humanity site has some temples that archaeologists are still in the process of uncovering. Some of the temples can be climbed, thanks to steep wooden staircases, and there are plenty of walking trails that allow visitors to explore the site. Overnight accommodation is available here, but it's quite expensive and some visitors choose to stay in the nearby city of Flores.
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22.Torre del Reformador
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Constructed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of former president Justo Rufino Barrios, the Torre del Reformador was inaugurated in 1935 and is now one of the most beautiful symbols of Guatemala City. Located in Zone 9 of the city, the steel tower stands 236 feet tall and has a shape similar to that of the Eiffel Tower. The tower was constructed in the United States, and it has a bell suspended inside that was donated by Belgium as a symbol of goodwill. Since 1986, the tower has had a beacon on the top that was donated by the company PUBLICAR, S.A.
7A Avenida, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
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23.Xetulul Theme Park
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Opened in 2002, the Xetulul Theme Park is the third largest theme park in Latin America. The park is divided into a series of plazas, each of which is designed to represent a different country that has had an impact on Guatemalan culture. There are a wide variety of rides suitable for all ages, but highlights include a steel roller coaster with eight inversions, a double-decker carousel, and a train ride that goes through the park. There are plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, snack bars, and live music shows to be enjoyed, and the park also owns three hotels right across the street.
Carretera a Quetzaltenango km. 180.5, Retalhuleu, Guatemala, Phone: +502-77-22-94-50
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Nestled in the heart of the jungle, Xocomil is Guatemala's largest water park. The Mayan-themed park was designed around a replica of an ancient pyramid, and all of the water slides and other attractions have been masterfully fashioned and decorated to reflect the country's rich history. The park offers a wide variety of slides, and its highlights include the river tube ride, the inflatable log water roller coaster, and a giant ride that offers seven different courses of twisty slides. In addition to the water slides and rides, the park also features four pools, two wave pools, and a beach-themed resting area.
Carretera a Quetzaltenango por la Costa Sur. Km. 180.5, Retalhuleu, Guatemala, Phone: +502-77-29-40-00
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25.Cayala Ecological Park
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Cayalá Ecological Park is a surprisingly beautiful green space tucked away in Guatemala City only 10 minutes away from zones 15 and 16. Butterflies, rabbits, squirrels, and other animals have made the park their home, and visitors will likely see a few of them as they stroll along the park's interpretive nature trails and relax in the squares. The park is also a popular destination for birdwatchers, as more than 105 different species of bird have been spotted here over the years. There is a small admission fee, and guided tours of the park are available for a additional charge.
Diagonal 29 02-00, Calzada la Paz, Guatemala, Phone: +502-45-61-80-82
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25 Best Things to Do in Guatemala
- Naciones Unidas National Park, Photo: Courtesy of anabanana1988 - Fotolia.com
- Auto Safari Chapin, Photo: Courtesy of eplisterra - Fotolia.com
- Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, Photo: Courtesy of robnaw - Fotolia.com
- Cerro de la Cruz, Photo: Courtesy of Simon Dannhauer - Fotolia.com
- Guatemala City Railway Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Pabkov - Fotolia.com
- Ixchel Textile Museum, Photo: Courtesy of letfluis - Fotolia.com
- Iximche, Photo: Courtesy of michalzak - Fotolia.com
- La Aurora Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Adam - Fotolia.com
- Monterrico-Hawaii Biotope, Photo: Courtesy of Matyas Rehak - Fotolia.com
- Mundo Petapa, Photo: Courtesy of diy13 - Fotolia.com
- Museo Miraflores, Photo: Courtesy of chatiyanon - Fotolia.com
- Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Photo: Courtesy of Lucian Milasan - Fotolia.com
- Museo Nacional de Historia, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Bogusky - Fotolia.com
- Museo Popol Vuh, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Bogusky - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Colonial Art, Photo: Courtesy of Marcus - Fotolia.com
- National Museum of Modern Art, Photo: Courtesy of sassenfeld - Fotolia.com
- National Museum of Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of Björn Wylezich - Fotolia.com
- National Palace of Culture, Photo: Courtesy of diegograndi - Fotolia.com
- Old Book Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Pichugin - Fotolia.com
- Parque Centro America, Photo: Courtesy of janiha - Fotolia.com
- Tikal, Photo: Courtesy of Matyas Rehak - Fotolia.com
- Torre del Reformador, Photo: Courtesy of aquatarkus - Fotolia.com
- Xetulul Theme Park, Photo: Courtesy of mashiki - Fotolia.com
- Xocomil, Photo: Courtesy of Olesia Bilkei - Fotolia.com
- Cayala Ecological Park, Photo: Courtesy of drakuliren - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Fotos 593 - Fotolia.com