The Highlands is the country’s most dramatic area, with towering volcanos, rolling green hills, wooded forests, beautiful lakes, colonial villages scattered through the landscape, and traditional markets. The city of Antigua and its picturesque backdrop surrounded by volcanos is a great launching point for all your highland adventures. Witness the colonial structures that are incredibly well preserved despite some major earthquakes that have rumbled this city in the past. Stroll the cobblestone streets that are lined with colorful homes and buildings. Soak up the charm of this UNESCO World Heritage site and visit the main plaza and Central Park, bursting with culture every moment of the day. Looking for a great day trip? Hike up the magnificent and still active Pacaya volcano or tour one of the many local coffee plantations where you can learn from independent coffee producers all the steps that go into creating your favorite morning energy drink. Next stop is perhaps the most spectacular lake in the world, Lake Atitlan. Three massive volcanos and lush mountains form a ring around the lake creating a scene that begs to be photographed even more than the Kardashians. Explore nearby villages around the lake, or watch locals dye traditional textiles with natural dyes. Visit the legendary Mayan God Maximon, a wooden statue that is guarded and changes location every year. If you’re lucky enough to learn where Maximon is staying you can ask permission to pay him a visit, but make sure your a gracious guest and not walk in empty handed. Maximon has a real passion for cigarettes, rum and candles. If you’re looking to get even more spiritual, there are many Shamans around Lake Atitlan who can give you a reading. The Lake region offers some great adventure activities. Hike between small villages that offer amazing views in all directions, or spend the day kayaking on the lake. If you’re looking for even more adventure then ask yourself what it would be like to see and feel a volcano erupt. Visit Volcan Santiaguito, one of the most active volcanoes in the world that erupts about every 45 minutes!
Time to head north to the ancient Mayan Ruins of Tikal which is set in a lush tropical rainforest. Tikal is unmatched in its offerings, and if you get there early enough, the howler monkeys will easily out number the travelers many times over! Climb to the top of these enormous stone pyramids to be above the tree line where you can see for miles. There is an abundance of wildlife in the park, so don’t be shocked to see Jaguar crossing signs on the roads as this is big cat country. Want to escape the crowds? Check out Yaxha National Park. This lesser known but equally spectacular set of ruins offers some of the best sunsets as you sit high above the jungle canopy. After the sun is down, grab your torch and trek back in the darkness where you can hear the nocturnal wildlife of the jungle come to life.
Semuc Champey is another amazing place that you will want to experience while in Guatemala. Set deep in the jungle, you’ll travel down some classic Guatemalan dirt roads littered with potholes and bumps…all included in your entrance fee. When you arrive you will find massive natural limestone formations. These formations have been carved by a flowing river that has created a series of waterfalls and crystal clear turquoise swimming pools that will have you feeling as if you just discovered paradise. Semuc Champey is a natural water-park in the middle of the jungle. Dive on in and explore the many pools and caves that can only be accessed by swimming under the rocks. If claustrophobia is not your thing, then find a flat rock and lay down in the warm sun and listen to the birds and the monkeys who are lucky to call Semuc Champey home.
Guatemala is one of those destinations that will burrow deep into your heart as each time you visit you leave with more friends, more memories and you realize that what you really needed is more time to spend in one of the friendliest place on Earth!