Attractions Nearby Guatemala City, Day Trips and Excursions
(Guatemala City, Central Highlands, Guatemala)
The main reason for a visit to Guatemala City is in Guatemala
, the country itself. Nobody stays in the city the whole time and virtually everybody will want to see some of the 'nearby' Mayan ruins and ancient archaeological attractions. You can drive yourself, take an official day trip or join a multi-day excursion.
A major draw are the historical attractions of Antigua
, to the west of Guatemala City. This is a fantastic old city of colonial structures and plazas, and is just a short trip away. Other must-see attractions nearby include the volcanoes of Guatemala - especially the active Volcan Pacaya, the serene Lake Atitlan - out beyond Antigua, and the Mayan temples of Tikal, right up in the north-east of the country. White water rafting expeditions, trekking and wildlife-watching excursions can also be arranged.
Better known as simply Antigua is the nearby gem of La Antigua Guatemala. Lying a mere 40 km / 25 miles to the west of the capital, Antigua is actually the previous capital city and one of the top draws in Guatemala, with its vibrant culture and old relics. The city is wholly colonial and displays a huge wealth of buildings and attractions, and is rather like chalk and cheese when compared to Guatemala City, with regards to its bustle and ubiquitous crime. Day trippers visiting Antigua, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be able to enjoy sights such as the Captain General's Palace (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the Capuchin Convent (Convento de las Capuchinas), the City Hall (Palacio del Ayuntamiento) and the Santiago Museum (Museo de Santiago).
Address: Guatemala City, Guatemala, GT
Guatemala is loaded with volcanoes, a number of which are close by and can be easily visited. The Pacaya Volcano (2550 metres / 8,366 feet) is within comfortable reach of Guatemala City, being 45 km / 28 miles to the south, and is one of the active ones, happily smoking away and spewing lava at a great rate. Visitors can climb Pacaya and tour buses run daily from the city. Also close by are the equally appealing and photogenic volcanoes of Acatenango (3,976 metres / 13,045 feet), Agua (3,766 metres / 12,356 feet) and Fuego (3,763 metres / 12,346 feet).
Open hours: daily
Admission: charge for Pacaya Volcano
Anyone into the Mayans should take a trip out to Tikal in the north-east of Guatemala. Tikal is a fair distance away, roughly 380 km / 236 miles to the north, and so really requires a flight. Local travel agencies have tailored day trip packages that include the flight, hotel pick-ups and drop-offs. You get to see a field of ancient ruins, including pyramids, although it can get pretty busy with tourists. These Maya temples and their plazas lie deep within the jungle and have been uncovered and partly restored, with the pyramids towering to heights of more than 40 metres / 131 feet. There are also rainforest trails through the lush jungle, where you can often spot howler monkeys swinging their way through the trees, accompanied by colourful parrots and toucans.
Open hours: daily - year round
Chichicastenango, also often referred to as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a bustling Guatemalan market town located some 105 km / 65 miles to the north-west. This town is the best bet for picking up native clothing, pots and shoes, and can be visited as part of a combined trip to Lake Atitlan, lying as it does to the north. Most tours offer the same sort of deal, which will include a visit to the lake and one of its villages, plus a look at the market - lunch included. The famous market is held each Thursday and Sunday, being overlooked by the historic Church of Santo Tomás (Iglesia de Santo Tomás), which dates from the mid-16th century.
Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan)
The Lago de Atitlan makes for a good day trip from Guatemala City as it is the picture of serenity. This is amongst the country's largest lakes and lies due west, where it is surrounded by volcanoes, meaning good hiking and outstanding views. You can join a tour of Lake Atitlan by tour bus from the city centre, or indeed go at it alone and circumnavigate by car. Side attractions include lakeside villages and boating on the lake.
Ciudad Vieja (Old City) is to be found around 47 km / 29 miles to the south-west and features many interesting ruins, caused by centuries of volcanic eruptions. The city was founded in 1527 and the first devastating eruption took place just 14 years later, when the Water Volcano (Volcan Agua) erupted, causing its crater lake to flood the city below. Sightseers should keep an eye out for the Iglesia de La Concepcion church and the Governor's Palace remains. Close by, you may like to pop next-door to check out the village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes and its Mercado de Artesanias (Handicrafts Market).
The seaside village of Monterrico draws day trippers looking for a pleasant beach in the vicinity. Roughly two hours to the south of Guatemala City, the beaches of Monterrico are made up of dark lava sand. Many recreational activities are possible around the coastline, including hiking and fishing. There are also some sea turtle hatcheries, attractive canals and holiday resorts. The nature reserve named the Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii and the year-round whale watching tours all add to the overall magnetism.