Best Outdoor Adventures to Have in Guatemala

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Best Outdoor Adventures to Have in Guatemala

One of the best countries in the world for nature travelers, Guatemala is awash in cloud forests, active volcanoes, clear lakes, cave systems, hot springs, waterfalls and more. From the peaceful Rio Dulce to the Cuchumatanes mountains, to the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey to both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, the natural scenery is breathtaking. Whether your interests lie in birdwatching or belaying, hiking or hang-gliding, it’s all possible in Guatemala.
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1. Volcano Hiking
With more than 37 volcanoes throughout the country, there are ample choices for summiting one of these steamy peaks – safely, of course. The most popular choices for volcano hiking in Guatemala are Pacaya, which is close to Guatemala City; San Pedro, in Lake Atitlan; Acatenango, close to Antigua; and Acatenango, which at 13,044 feet tall is the most challenging and requires a guided overnight hike. Pacaya, at 8,372 feet and one of only three active volcanoes in Guatemala, is suitable for most experienced hikers and has plenty of volcanic rocks and vents at which to marvel. It’s one of Central America’s most active volcanoes. Make sure you employ the services of a local guide to ensure your safety at high altitudes and within the volcanic landscape.
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Wildlife Watching on the River
Known for its abundance of wildlife and rich biodiversity, Guatemala is a top spot for nature lovers. We suggest getting out on the water, particularly the Rio Dulce (“Sweet River”). As you sail up the river from the small town of Livingston, you’re likely to see howler monkeys and toucans in the jungle. Jump into thermal pools and take photos of canyons and gorges. Waterfalls, too, are excellent spots to get into nature and appreciate the country’s lush flora. If you can fit it in, take a dip in the Finca Paraiso Hot Springs Waterfall. For a quieter atmosphere, visit Chapin Abajo, west of Mariscos, or El Estor, on the west end of Lago de Izabal. From both towns, you’ll have access to the wildlife habitats, maybe undiscovered, of the Bocas del Polochic river delta.
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Hang Out with Sea Turtles on a Black-Sand Beach
A few hours by car from Antigua and Guatemala City, the Pacific coastline beckons. Visit El Paredon in Sipacate-El Naranjo National Park to admire beautiful black-sand beaches and, if you’re visiting between June and November, the chance to see nesting sea turtles. Take boat trips through the mangroves and watch surfers in action (or join in yourself). The bird life is wildly diverse in these parts and you may even glimpse a migratory whale. Another turtle option is in the small fishing town of Monterrico, home of the Tortugario turtle sanctuary. Guests can engage in the release activities, introducing baby sea turtles into the wild once they have hatched.
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Swim in the Wild
Jump on a 4WD vehicle and head inland to Alta Verapaz to the turquoise, wild-swimming paradise of Semuc Champey. The limestone caves, swimming, river tubing and hiking make Semuc Champey one of Guatemala’s top natural wonders. There are six tiered aquamarine pools that rest atop a natural limestone bridge over the Cahabon River. Explore on your own or get a guide (recommended), who will start your tour with a rope swing leap into the river. Then, explore the watery caves by candlelight.
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Take an Inner Tube Ride Through Caverns
Guatemala boasts almost as much beauty underground as it does aboveground. Case in point: the Candelaria caves in Alta Verapaz. Over the millennia, the waters of the Rio Candelaria have carved out a series of caves and passageways through which visitors may lazily float. You’ll glide on an inner tube through areas of darkness, then into bright sunlight and jungle views. Be sure to look up to marvel at the stalactites in the caverns.
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Explore a Secret National Park
Far off the beaten path, the Laguna Lachua National Park is a favorite of intrepid nature-seeking travelers. The main highlight of the park – reachable by your own rental car or as part of a tour – is the large circular lagoon, surrounded by jungle. Within that deep jungle lurk tapirs, wild cats, howler monkey, exotic birds and armadillos. Don’t miss the chance to jump in the lake for a swim – when it’s sunny, you can see almost the lake bottom, 656 feet below the surface.
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Visit Lake Atitlan
Spend a day or two exploring Lake Atitlan and its surrounding small villages. You can take a horseback ride through the hills of Santiago Atitlan, glide across the lake by kayak, visit local coffee farms, shop for Mayan handicrafts and chill with the locals in Panajachel, the lake’s largest town and home to buzzy nightlife.
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Visit Ancient Mayan Ruins
Although many of Guatemala’s Mayan ruins have yet to be excavated, or are just starting to be, they should not be overlooked. When you visit the most popular of the sites – Quirigua, Yaxha, Tika, El Mirador or Copan (technically in Honduras), you’ll get a deeper sense of the culture and heritage of the country.
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More Ideas for Outdoor Adventures in Guatemala

  • Mountain biking along the back roads, through small villages, along ridgelines or down the side of a volcano
  • Whitewater rafting on the Cahabon River, with class III and class IV options
  • Deep-sea fishing for marlin and sailfish on a sportfishing tour
  • Ziplining through a rainforest canopy
  • Birdwatching in El Peten

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