A blue boat sitting on Lake Atitlán with a volcano off in the distance surrounded by clouds

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A Simple Guatemala Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

Are you headed to “La tierra de la eterna primavera”  or the Land of Eternal Spring? Let me start by saying, I adore Guatemala and had the most wonderful experiences there. Albeit, I stuck pretty closely to the well-paved tourist trail. Some balk at the thought of doing that, but, honestly, if its your first time in Guatemala, you should definitely enjoy some or most of the things in this guide at least once. Here is a simple travel guide to help you have an epic first visit to Guatemala!

brunette woman standing in front of the famous yellow arch in Antigua Guatemala

One of the things that I love about Guatemala is the simplicity. Nothing is complicated. I found it to be a relaxing, calming, slow paced, scenic destination with friendly and warm locals.

Want a good cup of coffee? No problem. Need solid wifi? You got it. Want to walk everywhere on foot? You absolutely can (well, in Lake Atitlan you need to use the ferry, but I digress). This is a place that you will not need a vacation from afterwards to recover from your vacation. So, without further adieu, let’s dig in.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

At this time, there are three main UNESCO World Heritage Sites to see in Guatemala.

Antigua, Guatemala

Tikal National Park

Here is a highly rated tour you can take to see the sunset at Tikal, take lots of epic photos and learn so much about this very important Mayan site. This tour has an archeological and wildlife focus and will be led by an expert guide!

Learn more about it and book it: here.

Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua

This archaeological park is home to some impressive Mayan masterpieces. It is still on my bucket list to return and see the ruins of Quirigua. If you want more information about visiting Quirigua, you can find that: here.

Antigua, Guatemala – “Old Guatemala”

Unesco World Heritage Site

I based myself in Antigua for almost a week and really took this time to take in the city. Once upon a time, Antigua was the capital of Guatemala. Despite not being the capital any longer, its old world charm and architectural beauty remains in tact. In fact, the Guatemalan government cares very much about protecting and preserving this UNESCO World Heritage site.

cobblestone street, colorful houses with a volcano in the background

Tip: the first thing you need to know about visiting Antigua is you need to wear really sturdy shoes of some kind. Don’t let the cobblestone fool you. It’s beautiful, but extremely jagged and uneven and it will be very easy to trip.

How Long Do You Need in Antigua?

The answer to this question is really based on your travel style, what you want to do see and do and how much time you ultimately have. I chose to spend almost a week in Antigua because I had the time, I wanted to move at a slow pace and really take in the atmosphere. You can feasibly experience Antigua itself in 2-3 days.

Places I Enjoyed in Antigua

Guatemala Travel Guide: Some spots to check out in Antigua

Antigua has small town charm with lots of elements of big city sophistication. You can peruse the town on foot and just kind of get lost down the cobblestone avenues. I thoroughly enjoyed moseying around town. Here are some places I loved!

Sobremesa Helados Exóticos – Delicious Small Batch, Artisanal Icecream Shoppe

I knew I had to visit Sobremesa while I was in Antigua. As the name would indicate, they serve ‘exotic icecreams.’ “Sobremesa” means dessert, or the time you spend at the table after your dinner.

Whether you like the simplicity of vanilla, or you’re bored to tears at the thought of a one note ice cream, this little shoppe has something for you. Their ice creams are made with only the finest, fresh, locally grown fruits, herbs and ingredients.

Here, you can find creative flavors like tobacco and Turkish figs soaked in Ron Zacapa, a fine Guatemalan rum. Some other popular signature flavors? Dark beer espresso brownie, roasted strawberry with caramelized ginger and roasted pineapple with chili cobanero. All the flavor offerings of the day are scrawled across two chalk boards. You can get prepacked cups or a cone!

Tip: Open 10am – 10pm daily, they do accept cards. If you get a cone, get a cup to hold it in!

Don Palatero – Unique Popsicle Flavors

Another inventive ice cream place for foodies! If you loved popsicles as a kid, you’ll love these adult flavors. Choose from boozy options to tropical and refreshing as well. Inventive creations such as Ferrero Rocher, pistachios and cream and red velvet and white chocolate popsicles.

I chose the Maracuja flavor because I wanted to try something from the region. Maracuja is a popular fruit in Guatemala from the passion fruit family. It’s absolutely delicious!

Tip: Try something Maracuja flavored while in Guatemala!

Dining at Restaurante Fonda Calle Real

As of 2023, Restaurante Fonda Calle Real has been serving up traditional Guatemalan fare in Antigua for 48 years. In terms of atmosphere, this restaurant has a beautiful open courtyard you can dine in, or a bright indoor dining room with open floor to ceiling windows.

Locals recommended this restaurant to enjoy some authentic Guatemalan cuisine. The service and food is good and the prices, while not cheap, are fair for a nice dining experience.

Tip: Rosa de Jamaica is a popular traditional drink in Guatemala. You can order it almost anywhere and I recommend you doing so! Not only does it taste wonderful, but it has many benefits that can help with gastrointestinal concerns while in Guatemala.

Also known as Hibiscus tea in other parts of the world, it’s full of antioxidants, vitamin c, fights bacteria and helps to improve digestion. I drink it at home because it’s so wonderful, but it also reminds me of Guatemala which is a bonus.

This is THE Place to Buy Souvenirs or Gifts

If you’re looking to bring home some truly authentic goods from Guatemala or thoughtful gifts to people back home, look no further than Nim Po’t. I stumbled upon this store while meandering around Antigua aimlessly on foot.

The store showcases a very large selection of Guatemalan textiles and hand crafted items. Everything they sell is handmade from locals in Guatemala! The merchandise for sale celebrates the traditions and culture of Guatemala.

From jewelry to hand carved wooden bowls to cultural masks to beautiful chocolate gifts, this market has an extraordinary selection of genuine Guatemalan gifts and keepsakes.

Where to Stay in Antigua

I absolutely loved my stay at Mesòn Panza Verde. It’s actually one of my favorite stays of all time. That said, in just six months since the time of my stay, the nightly rate for the epic suite I stayed in has more than doubled. Sigh. Sometimes, that’s the price we pay for an underrated gem of a destination becoming popularized. Even so, I think this hotel is so fabulous that it’s worth it – even if you don’t stay in a suite.

In any case, you can find the perfect stay for you, below:

 

Visit Hobbitenango

Not too far outside of Antigua, on a mountain top in Vuelta Grande, awaits a magical place for you to rest, relax, play and just have fun! You can go for a day trip or you can stay the night in one of the Hobbit Houses, which is a very unique stay and experience.

You can read my full Hobbitenango guide: here.

If you’re interested in visiting Hobbitenango, I highly recommend finding your way to their main office in Antigua and using their transportation to visit the eco park.

Do you love unique accommodations and experiences? Check out what it’s like to stay in a Hobbit house for a couple nights by reading my guide: here.

Tip: While I did spend three days and two nights here as mountain ‘retreat’ of sorts to relax, you can definitely get the full experience by spending a night here and enjoying the park the day before and after your stay.

Spending Time at Lake Atitlán

Lake Atitlán is somewhere I wish I’d scheduled more time in for. But that’s part of the travel experience – sometimes we don’t know how much we are going to love a place until we get there! Lake Atitlán is absolutely a place that you want to take your time in. Perhaps spend a whole day relaxing by the lake, kayaking even swim.

Lake Atitlán is comprised of 11 little towns and villages. It’s so fun to get lost on foot in these towns. There’s lots of local food options to choose from, shoppes to explore and general site seeing to take in.

Guatemala Travel Guide: Safety & Health

Listen up. If you were to listen to the State department, you’d likely never go anywhere. Literally half the countries I’ve ever visited had a travel advisory to “reconsider travel.” I felt very safe the entire time I was in Guatemala, without question.

That being said, no matter where you are traveling to, you should always exercise general safety precautions, awareness and common sense.

Travelers Tummy in Guatemala

The main thing I would be prepared for when visiting Guatemala is the potential for travelers tummy. This could be in the form of an upset stomach, gas, diarrhea or even vomiting. You may have any combination of these symptoms, you might not have any.

I had very mild symptoms – just slight stomach discomfort that went away on its own. Whereas my husband started vomiting uncontrollably but had no stomach issues. After chatting with some locals we befriended, he recommended just going down to the local pharmacy in Antigua and explaining the symptoms. In doing so, the pharmacist gave him anti-parasitic antibiotics and he was completely better by the next day.

Precautions You Can Take

Additionally, if you want to take some extra steps to avoid having any stomach issues you can:

Don’t drink tap water, consume ice and avoid water based drinks

Avoid fruits that need to be washed (like berries etc)

Use bottled water to brush your teeth

Try to eat cooked foods served hot

Know Before You Go

If you are a US traveler, you will not need to need any sort of adapters for your various chargers

Credit cards are widely accepted everywhere mentioned above

I’d still recommend bringing some Guatemalan Quetzales on your trip!

There really isn’t a tipping culture in Guatemala. But, despite tipping not being customary, it is still nice to leave a little gratuity for your tour guide or if you really enjoyed the service somewhere. A 10% gratuity gesture is sufficient, but as always you can tip as much as feel compelled to, it’s not considered rude in Guatemala. In Guatemala, it is really a gesture of being very pleased versus an obligation of any sort.

Any questions about visiting Guatemala? Let me know in the comments!

Save this for your Guatemala trip planning!

Headed to Guatemala?

Check these out:

One of the BEST Hotels in Antigua Guatemala: Mesòn Panza Verde

Hobbitenango Guatemala – a Magical, Mystical Gem in the Mountains

Hobbit Hotels: What it’s REALLY Like to Stay in a Hobbit Hole on the Guatemalan Shire

Introducing Lake Atitlán Eco Lodge La Fortuna – Is it Remarkable?

Travel Tips & Resources to Help You Plan an Epic Trip!

Going – I’ve subscribed to Going (formerly, beloved, Scott’s Cheap Flights) for awhile now and it’s an amazing resource for finding… did you guess cheap flights? Yes, you can set your preferences from airports to flight class and get destination deals right to your inbox. It’s fab! I use the Premium paid version, but they have a FREE version too. So what are you waiting for?! Let’s get Going!

Booking.com – the majority, if not almost all of my stays are booked on Booking.com. It’s a reliable site to book and manage your reservations. It’s a great way to find boutique stays and unique accommodations at the best rates! You can also easily communicate with your accommodation through the app.

Expedia – If I am looking for a flight to a specific destination for specific dates, I find myself booking many flights on Expedia. It’s user friendly and straight forward. I often find the most cost effective rates, while earning points for every flight I book (in tandem with the points I receive from the credit cards I pay with).

Viator – most of the activities, tours and excursions I book for my trips are booked through Viator. Whether you’re seeking a guide for the day, a group tour, a cooking class, Viator has you covered!

Get Your Guide – this is another great marketplace to find tours, excursions and activities to book for your upcoming trip.

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