By Rich C. Smith
People ask me all the time what are the top things to see and do in Guatemala. I have made a list and limited myself to the top 10 things to see and do, and sorted them by distance from Guatemala City. To maximize, your travel time pick a must see destination and start branching out to destinations around your chosen area. There's plenty to keep one busy for a long time, these are my top 10 things to do in Guatemala (family friendly) and plan your vacation around:
1. Visit Zoologico Nacional La Aurora. Surprisingly good zoo in Guatemala City, great if you're traveling with kids. Driving time: 5-20 minutes from within the city depending on your location.
2. Visit Antigua Guatemala. View colonial architecture and walk the cobblestone streets. Even better if you can make it for Easter Week processions (book hotel early). Driving time: 45 minutes from the capital.
3. Climb the Pacaya Volcano. As close as you can get to a live, lava-spewing volcano. Driving time: 45 minutes from the city.
4. Explore Lake Atitlan. Surrounded by volcanoes, thought to be the most beautiful lake in the world. I agree. Driving time: 2 - 2:30 hours from Guatemala City.
5. Visit the beaches. You get a 2-for-1 here. Monterrico and its black sand beaches are to the west. Great place to relax. Playa Blanca in Izabal, and its traditional white-sand
beaches are to the East. If in Izabal, check out Castillo de San Felipe (San Felipe Castle), an old Spanish fort. Very scenic, on the water, and well-kept. Driving time for Monterrico: 2 - 2:30 hours from Guatemala City. Driving time to Izabal: 4 hours from Guatemala City.
6. Shop at Chichicastenango Market. Open Thursdays and Sundays, Chichi market is THE largest handicrafts market in the world. Haggling is accepted and encouraged. Buy your souvenirs here. Driving time: 3 - 3:30 hours from Guatemala City.
7. Visit IRTRA parks in Retalhuleu. Central America's Disney/Water Park destination. Kids will have a blast. Stay at the affordable IRTRA hostels and enjoy its spas, restaurants, tennis courts, pools, bowling alley and other grown-up amenities. The grounds are amazingly well-kept and you'll enjoy the peacocks strutting all throughout the hostel complex. Driving time: 3 - 3:30 hours from Guatemala City.
8. Take a stroll in Xela. A slice of Europe in Central America. Competes with Antigua for sheer beauty and as the destination to learn Spanish at its many schools. Safe to walk at night, its beautiful architecture (and international cuisine) can be enjoyed anytime. Driving time: 4 - 4:30 hours from Guatemala City.
9. Explore Semuc Champey. Enjoy peaceful rock pools filled with turquoise blue waters explore amazing caves by candlelight. You will not find a single picture online that will do it justice. It's that breathtaking in person. Driving time: About 5 hours from Guatemala City.
10. Visit Tikal National Park. Last, but in no way least. View the awe-inspiring Mayan temples, right in the middle of the jungle. Ponder if the end of the world starts here in 2012. Driving time: 8 hours from Guatemala City (flying to Flores' airport from Guatemala City is the often-chosen, time-saving route).
There's plenty more to mention. Eco-tourism is huge here, for example Hard to limit it to ten things, but these will get you started.
Rich Polanco, World Traveler
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