This post will explore the most famous landmarks in Guatemala, both natural and human-made, from the world-famous Tikal ruins to the impressive Semuc Champey lakes.
Guatemala isn’t the most popular travel destination, but it has an incredible array of notable landmarks. The country has beautiful natural scenery, including mountains, lakes, and, most importantly, volcanoes. The terrain is diverse, with volcanic scenery, tropical forests, and black sand beaches.
Located in Central America, it’s surrounded by Mexico, Belize, and Honduras, but also the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Caribbean sea to the East. With excellent food, low prices, and many activities, Guatemala is one of the best adventure destinations.
For this post, we’ve reached out to several other bloggers to pick their favorite landmarks in Guatemala to create the most comprehensive list possible. Without further delay, let’s dive into the top 15 most iconic landmarks in Guatemala!
Natural landmarks in Guatemala – Volcanoes
With 3975 meters (13,041 ft) of altitude and 1835 meters (6,020 ft) of prominence, the Acatenango volcano is the third-highest mountain in Guatemala and Central America. It is located relatively close to Antigua, Guatemala, the most popular tourist destination in the country.
Visible from Antigua, the Acatenango is one of the highlights of the striking setting where the old capital of Guatemala was built. Despite being considered an active volcano, it is possible to climb the Acatenango Volcano up to the top, as it is not currently erupting.
Climbing the Acatenango is one of the most popular challenges in Guatemala. The two-day climb is hard but doable if you are in good shape. If you are interested in doing this climb, check this post.
And besides the fantastic feeling of accomplishment when reaching the top, you get one of the most amazing views in Guatemala. You can see the various volcanoes surrounding it (Agua, Atitlán, Fuego, San Pedro, Santa Maria, Pacaya), Lake Atitlán, and several major cities such as Antigua and Guatemala City.
From the top of the Acatenango, one can see almost half of the most famous landmarks in Guatemala.
Located right in front of the Acatenango, the Fuego Volcano is another active stratovolcano in Guatemala. The volcanos’ tops are only about 5km from each other in a straight line. Together they are known as La Horqueta volcano complex.
As the name alludes (Fuego means fire in Spanish), the Fuego Volcano is highly active. In fact, registries show that it has erupted frequently since the Spanish conquest. Fuego volcano is famous for being constantly active, but at a relatively low level, with small gas and ash eruptions every 15 to 20 minutes.
As it constantly erupts, it is not allowed to climb to the top of the Fuego. However, you can climb to the Acatenango base camp and enjoy the show up close and safely. It is one of the best places in the world to see an erupting volcano, as it is almost guaranteed to erupt several times.
With daylight, it is only possible to see the smoke and ashes and listen to some powerful explosions. However, the lack of light at night allows seeing the incandescent lava flying in the air and then flowing down the volcano cone. It is one of the most spectacular natural shows one can witness.
Volcan Santa Maria
By Nina Ragusa from Where in the World is Nina
Volcan Santa Maria is an active stratovolcano in Guatemala, near Xela (Quetzaltenango). You’ll see this iconic landmark from the plane into Guatemala, as soon as you reach Xela, and from climbing the nearby volcanos too!
Santa Maria itself is hikable, and it’s the best way to explore it if you’re up for the challenge. A, hopefully, 4×4 vehicle ride from Quetzaltenango will take you to the beginning of the hike (it’s a bit rough!). You can get a taxi here or go with a local guide which is most recommended.
It will take a few calf-burning hours to get to the top, but you’ll get stellar views from the peak. One of the things you’ll get prime views of is the city of Xela, other volcanoes, as well as the shorter but more volatile Santiaguito volcano below. You’ll get a front-row seat from above this constantly erupting volcano!
Hiking the Santa Maria volcano is one of the best things to do in Guatemala and is quite underrated compared to the other volcanoes in the country. You can quickly get a bus from Lake Atitlan to Xela, about three hours away.
By Becki from Meet Me In Departures
If you’re visiting Guatemala and staying in the UNESCO city of Antigua, you’ll notice that it’s in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. Many of these are accessible as day trips from Antigua, including Volcan de Pacaya.
Pacaya is located about 45 km from Antigua, and although you can hire a car or private driver to get there, it’s easiest done as a tour that includes transportation and your guide.
The volcano is known for its frequent eruptions every five years, with the last major blast being in 2010. The volcano is constantly active, and at the top, you’ll be able to see the faint glow and see it spewing out small rocks and boulders.
Because this volcano is so active, the surrounding lava fields are warm, so much so that one of the novelties on this hike is to toast a marshmallow inside it!
Although the walk itself isn’t too strenuous, it is at elevation. If you’ve just arrived in Antigua, I suggest a few days to acclimatize before doing any strenuous activity. Although the elevation gain on Pacaya is only 1500ft, this is done at 7700ft above sea level.
Allow around 1.5 – 2 hours to reach the top. There are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way, take in the scenery and catch your breath.
It can also be cold on the volcano hike so take a windproof jacket. You’ll also find that ash and small bits of rock get everywhere, and your shoes will be filled with it, especially on the way down. Also, you’ll be blowing dust out of your nose for the next day, so you might want to take a scarf or buff to put over your nose and mouth.
Natural landmarks in Guatemala – Lakes
Situated in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlan is a large but picturesque lake considered one of Guatemala’s most iconic natural landmarks.
Known for its stunning natural scenery, the lake is surrounded by three imposing volcanoes (Atitlan, Tolimán, and San Pedro). Their peaks can be seen from almost anywhere in the lake, creating astonishing views.
Lake Atitlán is also famous for being surrounded by several traditional Mayan villages with very different characteristics – each with different costumes and traditions. The most popular among tourists are San Juan, Santiago, San Marcos, and San Pedro. To visit each of them, you have to take a taxi boat and cross the lake.
Visiting Lake Atitlan is an unforgettable experience, with natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. This beautiful Guatemalan landmark is also popular for swimming, boating, kayaking, and SUP. Water activities are easy and fun as the water is reasonably clean, warm, and waveless.
Semuc Champey is one of Guatemala’s most beautiful natural wonders. It consists of a limestone bridge on top of the Cahabón river. The bridge formed natural pools with turquoise water. So you will find a river passing under a bridge that has pools on top. How magical is that?
Semuc Champey means “where the river hides under the stones” and is located in central Guatemala. The nearest city is Lanquín, at 11 km. To visit Semuc Champey, you can catch a shuttle from Guatemala City or Antigua to Lanquín.
In Lanquín, several open trucks take you to the park. The road from Lanquín to Semuc Champey is a dirt road in bad condition, so be aware that it is a tough drive.
To visit the limestone natural bridge and pools, you need to pay an entrance fee and are only allowed to visit during park hours. You can explore the several pools from the limestone bridge in the park. You are allowed to swim in the pools, which is pretty awesome.
“Besides the pools, the park has several pathways to explore the tropical forest surrounding the river. A beautiful viewpoint is on top of the mountain,” El Mirador.” From there you can see the river and the natural bridge with its pools. It is the best place to admire this natural phenomenon fully.”Besides the pools, the park has several pathways to explore the tropical forest surrounding the river. A beautiful viewpoint is on top of the mountain, “El Mirador.” From there you can see the river and the natural bridge with its pools. It is the best place to admire this natural phenomenon fully.
Flores Island and Peten Itza lake
Petén Itzá lake is located in northern Guatemala in the Peten Department. The lake has an area of 120 km2, 32 km long, and 5 km wide, making it the third largest in Guatemala.
The lake is a popular destination for sightseeing and water activities and is home to a large variety of fish, birds, and other animals. There are several lovely lake beaches on its shore, where one can enjoy the water and sun.
The island of Flores is located in Petén Itzá lake and is one of Guatemala’s most popular destinations. Flores is a charming island/town with colorful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and a very relaxed vibe.
Flores also serves as the base for visiting the Mayan ruins of Tikal, possibly the most famous landmark in Guatemala. Thus, it is very touristy, with many restaurants, bars, and hotels.
Other famous natural landmarks in Guatemala
By Bella from Passport & Pixels
Somewhat off the beaten track, Rio Dulce is an area that most tourists don’t visit. Still, if you have a bit more time, it’s definitely worth putting on your Guatemala itinerary.
Rio Dulce is both a river and a town of the same name in the East of Guatemala. The town itself is nothing special, a gritty and underprivileged transport hub with little to see and do. But the river, which runs from where the town sits at the eastern end of Lake Izabal, all the way to the Caribbean coast, is a different story. It’s a tranquil green waterway, bordered by thick jungle on both banks, where great white egrets perch like sentries in the treetops and locals in small wooden boats chug gently up and down.
Upriver, close to Rio Dulce town, the area is something of a playground for Guatemala’s wealthy, and you’ll see dozens of gleaming white yachts lined up. But further downriver, you’ll find a string of remote private hotels and ego lodges, most of them off-grid, accessible only by boat, and perfect for getting away from it all.
Relax in a hammock, take a kayak out and explore the backwaters, or hop in a boat down to Livingston on the coast. Yes, this is the jungle – it can be hot and humid, there are bugs, and Wi-Fi is scarce, but if you want to experience the beautiful natural side of Guatemala, Rio Dulce is the place to go.
Grutas de Lanquín (Lanquín caves)
By Dan from Backpacking Latin America
When visiting famous landmarks in Guatemala, traveling to Lanquin will likely be on your list. Lanquin is a small town located in the northern lowlands that are on the map of most travelers who are backpacking Guatemala or visiting the country looking for a tropical vacation.
You can get to Lanquin from Antigua with a shuttle bus, and once here, you are most likely to do two activities, visit Semuc Champey or/and the Lanquin Caves (also known as Grutas de Lanquín).
The most famous cave to visit is Kan-Ba Cave. It consists of a massive network of underground caves that are somewhat spooky but to see how thousands of bats fly out at the same during sunset as they go looking for food is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you can, carry a torch with you, but if not, your tour guide will supply you with a candle so you can make your way around the caves and get over the rocks.
It is damp and slippery in parts, so a pair of water shoes can also go a long way here. As you wade through the chest-deep waters, you will see a rope available for you to hold on to. It is essential to cover up well, as bat bites, like mosquito bites, can go unnoticed and occur with very little pain.
This is not an experience for the light-hearted but worth the risk if you want to have a fantastic story to tell when you get home.
Famous landmarks in Guatemala – Mayan ruins
The Tikal ruins are certainly the most famous landmark in Guatemala and, in our opinion, the most impressive Mayan ruins globally. Located in the Peten department in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, they are about 65 km (1h30) from the city island of Flores.
Once Tikal was the largest and most powerful city in the Mayan world. It is estimated that about 50 000 to 60 000 people used to live there. Although they were abandoned between 900 and 1000 AD, the ruins still survive and have been a UNESCO heritage site since 1979.
Considered by everyone as one of the most important Mayan ruins, they are well known for their enormous size, which includes more than 3000 structures, including six large pyramids, several temples, and many plazas. They are among the best-preserved examples of Mayan architecture and engineering.
One of the most impressive features of the Tikal ruins is their location deep inside the jungle. The temples and pyramids are surrounded by lush vegetation, and animals roam freely (mostly at night when people aren’t around).
Fortunately, it is still possible to climb these 1000+ year-old structures. From the top of the largest pyramids, we can see that we are completely immersed in the Jungle and witness one of the most impressive ruins in the world.
By Bella from Passport & Pixels
Most travelers visiting Guatemala head straight for the famous Maya ruins at Tikal. And while these are certainly one of the top Guatemala landmarks and definitely worth a visit, another Maya site nearby is also worth taking the time to see: the magnificent ruins of Yaxha.
Like Tikal, Yaxha was once an important Maya city. It was founded sometime between 1000-350 BC, and the kingdom grew to become a dominant power in the region, home to about 40,000 people and covering over 90 square miles. However, like all the Maya cities in Guatemala, it was eventually abandoned when the Maya civilization collapsed in the 9th century.
Today, it’s a stunning and atmospheric place, part of the UNESCO-listed Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo biosphere reserve. Here, dramatic temples and monuments spread out through the jungle on the edge of a lake while spider and howler monkeys swing through the treetops and toucans chatter in the branches.
Similarly to Tikal, the best way to visit Yaxha is on a day tour from the nearby town of Flores. Take an afternoon tour for the chance to explore this fantastic site without the crowds and watch the sunset over the lake from the top of the tallest temple before a nighttime drive back to Flores.
Famous landmarks in Guatemala – Antigua
Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua
By Lucy and Dan from Thoroughly Travel
Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is a small city with rich history and culture. Featuring picturesque colonial architecture, several domineering volcanoes, and an old town center of churches and convents that give the city its UNESCO World Heritage status, Antigua is filled with distinguishable landmarks.
Most famous of all is the Santa Catalina Arch, a bright yellow arch between two historic buildings straddling a cobbled street.
Santa Catalina Arch dates back to the 17th century, although its clock was later added in the era of the Central American Federation in the 1830s. Its original purpose was to connect two convents, the Convent of the Virgin and the Convent of Santa Catalina, allowing cloistered nuns to pass from one building where they lived to the other where they taught without going down onto the street.
The spot where the arch stands is a popular Instagram and photography location, as one of Antigua’s surrounding volcanoes, Volcán de Agua, can be seen directly through it on a clear day. Santa Catalina Arch is such an icon that the Guatemala Post Office Building in Guatemala City is actually based upon it.
There are several souvenir and gift shops down the street, which is known as Calle del Arco (Street of the Arch), and the neighboring El Arco Wine Bar is an excellent place for a drink.
The Arch is located on 5th Avenue North and is easy to walk to within Antigua, while those not wishing to visit on foot can always flag down a passing tuk-tuk. It is included in many day trips to Antigua and can be seen as part of a walking tour too.
Antigua is easily accessible from Guatemala City via Uber, taxi, shuttle, and public transport, with La Aurora Airport (GUA) being the closest international airport.
Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)
By Jase Quelch from Roaming Vegans
Cerro de la Cruz is a popular tourist spot located in the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala. The hill overlooks the picturesque city, and its stunning views have made it one of the most famous landmarks in Antigua, Guatemala.
Visitors can climb the steep stone steps that lead to the top of the hill and admire stunning views of nearby volcanoes, churches, and green hills.
Atop Cerro de la Cruz, there is a cross that has stood proud since 1651 as a reminder of its essential role in protecting the city from pirates and other invaders. There is also an amphitheater for religious ceremonies as well as sculptures and plaques depicting significant events from Antigua, Guatemala’s history.
Getting to Cerro de la Cruz is easy from central Antigua, and it is approximately a 30-minute walk or 5-minute taxi ride, which costs about 10 Quetzales ($1 USD).
While Cerro de la Cruz is generally safe, there have been instances of tourists getting mugged when visiting in the dark, thus best to visit during daylight hours.
By Giorgy from G-Extreme Travel
Chichicastenango Market is one of the most famous landmarks in Guatemala. Located just a few hours’ drive away from Guatemala City, the market is an experience that should not be missed. As one of the oldest and largest markets in Latin America, Chichicastenango has been a significant trading center for centuries. It offers a unique mix of traditional Maya culture and modern commerce.
The market sprawls across the entire city, with hundreds of vendors selling various goods ranging from traditional Mayan items to modern appliances. Visitors can find handmade crafts, textiles, pottery, furniture, medicinal herbs, spices, and vegetables. A significant market highlight is the vibrant colors and sounds of the vendors selling their wares.
The market is held every Thursday and Sunday, with additional celebrations for special holidays such as Easter and Christmas. The surrounding town of Chichicastenango is a stunningly beautiful mountain village full of colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. Visitors can also explore nearby temples and archaeological sites and enjoy the breathtaking views of nearby Lake Atitlan.
To get to Chichicastenango Market, there are several options. Visitors can take a shuttle bus (Chicken Bus) from Guatemala City or rent a private car or taxi directly to the market rates range from $11 to $30. Direct buses also run between Chichicastenango and the nearby cities of Quetzaltenango and Antigua.
Chichicastenango Market is one of Guatemala’s most famous landmarks, with a unique blend of traditional Mayan culture and modern commerce. It offers visitors an unforgettable experience that cannot be found anywhere else.
From its vibrant colors and sounds to its stunning views, it is the perfect place to explore and experience the culture of Guatemala. So if you’re looking for an unforgettable cultural adventure, don’t miss out on this amazing market!
By Brodi Cole from Our Offbeat Life
Are you looking for an unforgettable experience in Guatemala? Are you a fan of The Shire and want a taste of what life is like there? Then look no further than Hobbbitenango, the eco-friendly activity center near Antigua!
Hobbitenango is more than just a theme park – it’s an eco-friendly activity center that embraces sustainability and works to protect the environment. All of the buildings in the park are built from recycled materials, and every effort is made to minimize energy and water consumption.
Visitors can book guided tours of Hobbitenango or explore on their own from nearby Antigua. You can walk through trails searching for birds and other wildlife, enjoy breathtaking views of multiple volcanoes or try your hand at the axe-throwing range. After a long day of exploring, you can grab some delicious food from one of Hobbitenango’s restaurants or just sit back with a cold drink and enjoy the view.
And don’t forget to book a stay in one of their hobbit houses! These cozy homes feature everything you need for a comfortable night’s sleep. Staying overnight in these little homes makes for a truly unforgettable experience!
Convento la Recoleccion
By Chelsea from adventuresofchels.com
While visiting Antigua, Guatemala, be sure to stop by Convento la Recoleccion.
Convento la Recoleccion is a 17th-century church and monastery now in ruins. It was completed in 1717 and, at one point, housed 35 friars. The building suffered significant damage from two earthquakes and further damage by man as it was used for various other purposes.
Plan to spend an hour or two exploring the ruins around the complex. Note that while the cloisters are open to the public, the crypt is not. But don’t worry. The space is enormous, and there are still plenty of excellent parts to see and explore!
As a note to photographers and photo-taking enthusiasts, be prepared to find all kinds of cool angles and shots of this place. From the crumbling architecture to the grass and nature growing and overtaking bits of the ruins, there’s no shortage of incredible scenes to be captured.
The closest airport to Antigua (and the monastery) is Guatemala City (GUA). Catch a local bus (a chicken bus for the complete experience) to Antigua, and the monastery is located right in the old city center.
Enjoy exploring this historical piece of Antigua!