Guatemala is a country in Central America that draws in more than 2 million tourists every year, and many of these people flock to the more well-known attractions such as the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Still, this country has a lot of things to offer those who are willing to explore a little deeper.
Some of the lesser-known attractions in Guatemala are just as, if not more incredible than those that bring in the majority of tourism in the country. Whether you are passing through this amazing country for a couple of days or are planning to spend a more extended time here, I have put together a list of the most incredible less-known attractions in Guatemala.
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A Little Bit About Guatemala
Guatemala is bordered by several other central American countries, including Mexico and El Salvador, and the North Pacific Ocean to the west. It has a beautiful tropical climate, perfect for a summer vacation, but it is known for being particularly wet, so always be sure to pack your umbrella when visiting here.
The country has a higher population than any other country in the Central American region. It has a long and rich history, much of which is reflected in the attractions that tourists flock to every year. Most notably, the ancient Mayan civilization, for which this part of the world is so well known, was based on modern Guatemala. Many ruins and temples remain to this day.
Many archaeological explorations have taken place here, and there have been a lot of interesting findings. Some of these findings have led experts to believe that humans have been living in these areas as far back as 18,000BC, making Guatemala one of the world’s oldest countries. It is little wonder, then, that we see so much of this history when we look at the things Guatemala is famous for.
In the 1500s, the Spanish invaded the country when they took over most of it, which remained the case until the mid-1800s when the country finally gained independence. However, Guatemala’s struggle did not end there. The country went on to experience harsh dictatorship through much of the 19th century, and moving into the mid-20th century, the country suffered a civil war that saw many lives lost.
In the following years, the country rose up like a Phoenix from the ashes, and a peace treaty was signed with the United Nations. Since this time, Guatemala has gone from strength to strength, and both democracy and the economy have continued to flourish. There is still some way to go, but the massive influx of tourists who come here every year helps the country regain the peace and harmony that it once knew.
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, but if you think that this will be enough to get by, you may be surprised to learn that there are, in fact, more than 21 dialects commonly used throughout the country, making it one of the most linguistically diverse in the region. This could be due to the various rulers and cultures that existed here since the country was founded.
Lesser-Known Cultural Attractions In Guatemala
Exploring Central and South America is genuinely one of the most amazing things that anyone can do – these are countries that are so filled with history, culture, and amazing people. Yet when most tourists head to this corner of the world, they have one thing in mind – those world-famous tourist attractions. While this is great, and many of them are a must-see, it is sometimes nice to get off the beaten track and explore some of the more obscure and lesser-known places Guatemala has hidden away.
Heading off to the places that are not as often frequented by tourists will give you the opportunity to interact with the locals and explore more of the country. You won’t be faced with massive crowds and you will have much more time to enjoy your adventures.
It may come as a surprise to you that Guatemala has many less well-known tourist attractions for such a small country – it is merely a matter of finding them out. I’d love to tell you about all of them, but I have narrowed them down to what I consider to be five of the very best for the purposes of this article.
01. Tajumulco Volcano
Guatemala can lay claim to being the home of the highest peak in all of Central America, yet this is not a place that brings in the waves of tourists that other mountains in the country do. Standing at more than 4200 meters, it’s not difficult to see the appeal of this beautiful volcano.
However, due to its height, I would suggest making a day of this and taking your time to get to the top. A lot of people flock to Pacaya to see a Guatemalan volcano, but if you want to see something exceptional, then Tajumulco might just be it. But don’t worry, it isn’t active, so it’s perfectly safe. In fact, while there are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala, only 3 of them are still active.
Climbing to the top of this peak will give you some of the most extraordinary views you will have ever seen in your life. On a clear day, Mexico and El Salvador can be seen, and if you’re fortunate, you may even catch a glimpse of the ocean sparkling in the background.
02. Semuc Champey
If there is one thing that immediately comes to mind when thinking about countries in this part of the world, it’s lush green rainforests and aquamarine waters – if this is your vision of paradise, you’d struggle to find anywhere quite as beautiful as Semuc Champey.
This incredible natural monument allows visitors to get back to nature in a way that nowhere else in the world could. It features several staggered turquoise pools that lead down to a breathtaking limestone bridge.
The pools draw in many people since they are perfect for taking a dip, but even if you don’t want to get your hair wet, their immense beauty makes for one of the most incredible photo opportunities I have ever seen.
Semuc Champey has made this list as one of the lesser-known and least visited places in Guatemala thanks to its extremely remote location. It is situated near to the town of Lanquin and does require something of a trek to reach, but it is, without any shadow of a doubt, worth every step. The walk will take around 45 minutes, and in the heat, this can be quite arduous, but the views along the way more than make up for this.
If you want to experience the authentic culture that this tropical country has to offer, getting into its natural heart is one of the best ways to do this.
I mentioned earlier that the Mayan temple of Tikal is one of the most popular tourist attractions in this small nation, but there are many others like this that have not been dressed up and renovated as Tikal has.
One such location is Uaxactun, which is situated in the Peten Basin region of the country. One of the most notable things about this ceremonial center is that it features the oldest astrological observatory that has ever been found while looking at Mayan civilizations.
Mayan temples were all built with the sun in mind. Still, here at Uaxactun, during the solstices, it would appear that the sun is making an appearance directly from the center of the temple as it rises each morning, so if you can get here early, it truly is a sight for sore eyes. However, if dawn is a little too much for you, sunset can be just as magical on the same days.
Parts of the ruins are overgrown with greenery, and this adds to the rustic and ancient charm of the place. If you want to go to the more popular Tikal, you could realistically kill two birds with one stone since Uaxactun is located just 12 miles from the more well-known ruins.
04. San Juan La Laguna
Lake Atitlan is perhaps the most frequently visited natural attraction in the whole of Guatemala, and there are many little towns around the shores of the lake that benefit from the income that tourism brings. This is great, but if you want to understand the culture and nature of this stunning country truly, then going to one of the lesser-known towns can put you in an excellent position for interacting with the locals.
San Juan La Laguna has many beautiful things to see and do, including the Tzunun Ya museum, which displays various exhibits relating to the lake and the local culture. There are also some great little places to eat and drink, such as the Alma de Colores, which serves some gorgeous local bread and coffees that will give you a real flavor of what this country is all about. When you learn that the chocolate bar was invented in this country, it isn’t as much of a surprise to know that the cuisine and food culture here is exceptional.
05. Los Cuchumatanes
I have talked about getting involved with the locals, and I genuinely believe that this is one of the most effective ways of getting a good knowledge of the culture and way of life in any country in the world. To do this in Guatemala may give you a greater appreciation of the rocky past of this nation, and while the streets of the cities are still quite risky and busy, up here in the mountains, you will experience a completely different way of life.
If you are something of a globetrotter, you will likely have seen various cultures around the world, but none are quite as unique as those found in these tiny mountain villages in the Los Cuchumatanes range.
Peaks here range massively in size, but this is where you will find many of the most gigantic non-volcanic mountains that call Guatemala home. Whether you are looking for a gentle stroll up one of the 500-meter peaks or an epic trek to the top of a 4000-meter giant, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the stunning area.
The mountains are littered with traditional Guatemalan villages, many of which will welcome tourists with open arms – what more authentic way to spend an afternoon than in the bosom of the local mountain folk? For anyone with a passion for nature, this area is one of the most impressive in the country thanks to the micro-climate and chiller temperatures compared to those down the mountains. Here you will find a variety of bird life and flora that cannot be seen anywhere else in Guatemala.
Visiting any country gives you the chance to see some of the most famous places in the world, but many of these places also have some fantastic lesser-known attractions that lie off the beaten track, and Guatemala is no exception.
This beautiful Central American country bordered by several others is home to so many hidden gems, many travel enthusiasts have referred to it as one big hidden gem.
One could be forgiven for thinking that a country with such a tragic past might not have very much to offer to the aspiring tourist, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Getting away from the busier attractions has many advantages including more freedom to explore and discovering places that you never knew existed – and this makes a getaway even more special.
In terms of culture, nature, and experiences, Guatemala is more than up and coming – it’s already risen!