Volcanoes, lakes and jungle ruins in Guatemala

Discover the 'vibrant indigenous culture' and biodiverse landscape of this Central American paradise

A view across Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Guatemala's Lake Atitlán is considered Central America's most beautiful lake by many
(Image credit: Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images)

Move over, Costa Rica – Guatemala is twice as big and arguably far more beautiful, said Claire Boobbyer in The Times. Known as the "Land of Eternal Spring" for its mild climate and abundant flora, Guatemala has more active volcanoes and ancient jungle ruins than its Central American neighbours, as well as a "vibrant indigenous culture with very deep roots".

A quarter of a century ago, most foreign visitors to Guatemala were backpackers. Since then, stylish hotels have opened in Antigua, an hour's drive south of the capital. This city flanked by volcanoes was the seat of Spain's colonial power in central America until a devastating earthquake reduced much of it to rubble one afternoon in 1773. Residents were ordered to leave, and resettle in Guatemala City, but some refused to go. Some of its colonial buildings have been restored; others from that era lie in stunning, well-preserved ruin. Nearby, the Mayan Kaqchikel town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, which lies in the lee of a 12,000ft volcano, offers a glimpse of an older way of life; women here still wear traditional woven outfits, and some have formed collectives to protect their traditional Mayan weaving from the machine-made imitations.

A three-hour drive west lies the vast (12 miles long) Lake Atitlán, which fills in the caldera that was created when a mega-volcano "blew its top" some 85,000 years ago. Surrounded by steep verdant hills, it is said to be the deepest lake in Central America, and considered by many to be the most beautiful. And in the northern part of the country, set deep in a national park, you will find the towering stone pyramids of the pre-Columbian Mayan city of Tikal. Once, these honoured kings and queens obeyed the stars and communed with the gods on behalf of their people. Now, the jungle ruins are a World Heritage Site, home to jaguars, howler monkeys and toucans.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Sign up for The Week’s Travel newsletter for destination inspiration and the latest news and trends.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.