Best natural wonders in Guatemala

Jurg Widmer Guatemala

Guatemala is many things: culturally diverse, with a rich and fascinating history, remarkable art, architecture and cuisine. But it is also a country that has an endlessly beautiful natural landscape too. So, whether you are looking for dramatic volcanoes (some of which are still active), black sand beaches or dense jungles packed with exotic animals and the mysterious ruins of a lost civilisation, then Guatemala has something for you. Here is our pick of some of the country’s most unmissable natural wonders.

Go deep, deep underground at the Grutas Las Marias in Lanquin

For the adventurous among you, then there really isn’t anything quite like exploring the caves at Grutas Las Marias in Lanquin. You’ll need to sign up for a tour (obviously the caves can be extremely dangerous, and should never be entered without a knowledgeable local guide) and you will be given a pair of boots, a helmet and a candle to guide you. Almost all of the underground experience in these remarkable caves will find you wading through water (sometimes up to your neck!) with only the candles to light your way as you climb ladders and slide down waterfalls. Clearly, this isn’t an experience for the faint hearted, or anyone who is unfit or nervous about being in confined spaces. But, if you can handle the physical and psychological demands of the Grutas Las Marias, then it is a truly unique experience.

Soak up an ancient culture in an incredible natural park

The Maya Biosphere Reserve is absolutely huge: well over 20,000 square kilometres of dense tropical forest, that has carpeted mountains as well as ancient Mayan pyramids like the spectacular El Tigre. Today, the reserve is made up of a number of protected national parks which were created to prevent more rainforest being lost due to illegal logging and slash and burn farming practices. The Maya Biosphere Reserve is Guatemala’s largest area of rainforest and yet is surprisingly accessible – there are lots of local companies offering tours both of the rainforest itself as well as many of the Mayan buildings hidden in the depths of the jungle. It can be a wild and remote place to visit, but truly unforgettable – you will find yourself surrounded by an almost unimaginable amount of wildlife, from howler monkeys to tarantulas!

Ixpanpajul Nature Park

Another natural park, this time close to the city of Flores, that is well worth a visit. Ixpanpajul Nature Park is the perfect place to get a taste of the local wildlife – this is lush tropical rainforest after all – but it is also home to a spectacular set of hanging rope bridges, and a breathtaking zip wire. It is possible to take a canopy ‘skywalk’ that will give you a truly unique perspective on the rainforest, and there is also the opportunity to hire horses and go for ride through the jungle. We absolutely loved the zip wire course though – terrifying, but an exhilarating way to see the rainforest from a monkey’s-eye view.

Climb among the clouds on the Volcan de Agua

Antigua is a gorgeous city – and much of its dramatic beauty is down to the spectacular Volcan de Agua that looms over it. It is the volcano that will most likely be in the background of almost every photo you take while you are exploring Antigua, but it is also well worth making the effort to get up there too. It isn’t an easy hike – and there have been a number of robberies on the way up – so we recommend that you find yourself a guide that you trust at the tourist office in the corner of the main square in Santa Maria de Jesus. It is just a just a short bus or taxi ride from Antigua.

The weekends are busy, and you will most likely find yourself tackling this impressive volcano alongside plenty of locals. You will be heading up the mountain through thick clouds, so dress appropriately, or prepare to get cold and damp – but if you are lucky and they clear when you reach the top then your efforts will be rewarded with spectacular views of the nearby Acatanango and Fuego volcanoes. Once again, if you find a guide who will take you then it is also  well worth climbing the volcano overnight – dawn over Antigua is unforgettably beautiful.

Jürg Widmer


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