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6 Top Guatemala Shore Excursions

Tikal Mayan ruins
Tikal Mayan ruins; credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Of all the Latin American countries, Guatemala is one of the best places to learn about native culture. The country has a rich and distinctive mix of elements from Spain and especially the native Mayan people.

This diverse history and the natural beauty of the land have created a country rich in interesting and scenic sites, making Guatemala one of the more memorable cruise destinations in Central America. Here are the top six most impressive tourist attractions in Guatemala.

1. Antigua

Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its Spanish Baroque architecture and impressive ruins of historical churches. This is the most popular shore excursion from the Puerto Quetzal cruise port.

2. Tikal

Due to its beauty and ancient wonders, Tikal (“Place of Voices”) is certainly one of the top tourist attractions in Guatemala.

While the area once boasted a bustling population of a quarter million, all that remains today is an ancient Mayan metropolis with a number of beautiful Mayan sites.

The city is surrounded by a large wildlife reserve, complete with various jungle animals including monkeys, deer, macaws and other incredible specimens. The sites are in fact so large that at least two days are needed to completely explore the entire area.

3. Volcán Pacaya

How many people get to visit an actual, active volcano in their entire lives? In most places, it is not possible, in others, it’s simply not allowed. In Guatemala however, there is the Volcán Pacaya, an active volcano, last erupting in 2010.

Like the trek to El Mirador, Volcán Pacaya is not a site for the faint of heart. While there are clear nature trails open to the public, care should be given to the preparation stage before the visit. Travellers should ensure they are in the mind frame to climb the Volcán Pacaya as the journey can last multiple hours, up to a day or longer in some cases.

4. Monterrico

Located off the Pacific coast of Gatemala near the Port of San Jose, Monterrico offers beautiful black sand and volcanic beaches that are secluded but extremely well kept. The strip is wonderful for those looking for a true “escape” from reality.

Due to the strong Pacific currents and tides, however, sometimes the water may become rough, so much so that inexperienced swimmers are not expected to leave the safety of the beach.

For the environmental enthusiasts, the local sea sanctuaries offer the choice for visitors to help them to release baby sea turtles into the warmth and safety of the ocean.

5. Flores

Flores is a small island located on Lake Petén Itzá and connected to land by a causeway, on the other side of which lie the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Benito.

It was on the island of Flores that the last independent Maya state held out against the Spanish conquerors. For many tourists, the main reason for visiting Flores is its proximity to the famous Maya ruins of Tikal.

However, the island in and of itself boasts amazing tourist attractions as well. This includes colonial red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, as well as numerous hotels and restaurants.

6. El Mirador

El Mirador was a major and central Mayan city that flourished from around the 6th century BC. The ruins of El Mirador were rediscovered in 1926 but received little attention due to its remote location deep in the jungles of northern Guatemala. Today the site remains largely covered by tropical jungle.

Visiting El Mirador can be a daunting challenge for the uninitiated as the nearest point to the ruins is the village of Carmelita, located several miles out. From the village the trek to the ruins can be quite gruelling, lasting at least five days and four nights.

For those who like hiking and camping however, such a journey will be a blast. Undoubtedly, a trip to El Mirador is an unforgettable experience.

Bonus Site: Livingston

Livingston is one of Guatemala’s well kept secrets. Tucked away along the Caribbean coast, this town can only be reached by boat. Fortunately, two ferries head out each day.

For those looking to enjoy grassroots Guatemalan culture with the native people, Livingston is quite possibly the best place to do so. Here, visitors can enjoy the Garifuna culture, i.e. aspects of the local culture including menus, fun activities and music during their visit.

This is especially true for those arriving at Livingston in the evening when the excitement escalates with the Punta, a regional dance with an incredible beat.

For many people, travelling to Guatemal is a unique experience because of the attractions available. From historical Mayan sites to the seemingly insurmountable Volcán Pacaya, Guatemala offers some of the best experiences for even the most experienced traveller.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
July 16, 2022

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