So, you’re finally on your first Build Abroad trip in Antigua, Guatemala! Time is flying, you’re making the difference you set out to make, and before you know it, the weekend has arrived. You spent all of the last weekend getting to know colonial Antigua and are itching to see the rest of the country. You need something fun to do with your fellow volunteers and new friends, but where should you go? What should you do? The good news is we’ve got the answers you desire. Read on for some recommended weekend trips sure to take you to the best parts of Guatemala. Just make sure to make it back in time to continue your volunteering!
The lake is known for it’s beautiful and picturesque setting. It is surrounded by small indigenous communities you can boat between with natural hiking, mountains/volcanoes for exploring, and plenty of backpacker fun nearby.
You can’t go wrong coming to this region as there is something for every type of person. Looking to immerse yourself in nature and mountains? There are tour groups operating hikes for every level of hiker and fitness. Want to connect with other traveler? The Atitlán area is well known for being a host to many backpacker types looking to connect and have a good time.
After spending your first few hours on the water you won’t want to leave the vista of Lake Atitlán. That being said, you absolutely have to save time to explore the nearby Mayan villages and the unique spread of differing indigenous towns bordering the lake. This can again be done on your own if you’re feeling more adventurous or through local tour groups going through four villages in four hours.
Pro tip: Travel to lake Atitlán from Antigua by shuttle. Book through a travel agency while in Antigua or through a hotel. The average rate is only $15 to $20 per person! You’ll get into your shuttle and after two and a half hours will find yourself in this incredible place for the weekend!
Tikal National Park with Mayan Ruins
If you have time before or after your trip we recommend checking out this national park. One minute you will find yourself trekking through the dense Central American jungle and another at the opening to a lost Mayan city. Let yourself be wowed by the city itself containing thousand year old pyramids and all that’s left of the ancient Mayan civilization that inhabited it. Going through Tikal, you can’t help but notice that it’s one of the most extensive Mayan cities ever discovered in the Americas (and relatively intact considering the time it’s been standing).
The feeling of being at a site of ancient civilization in the middle of the jungle is simply indescribable. You have to see it for yourself. The people of Guatemala recognize it as the country’s most famous cultural and natural preserve. It was declared a national park in 1955 followed by Unesco making it a World Heritage site in 1979. Join in and lose yourself through the 6 square miles of the Tikal site and over 220 square miles of the Tikal National Park’s Guatemalan jungle.
After Tikal, Semuc Champey is one of the most famous places in Guatemala. It also has a natural jungle setting making you feel insignificant as you step through unknown territory. Upon arrival, you’ll find yourself at a natural monument consisting of a limestone bridge measuring 300 meters with swimming pools beneath it. We recommend this trip for those outdoorsy types looking to get away. There are trails for hiking, spots with incredible views, and tours to make sure you don’t miss an inch of this amazing park.
An extra tip is to go to the Kan’Ba caves, a labyrinth where you can swim through this famous underground cave network. Expect fun activities like cliff jumping and rope swings!
Quetzaltenango, better known as Xela, is a great weekend home base to climb volcanoes and relax in natural hot springs. This is the second largest city in Guatemala and doesn’t give off the touristy vibe that many other sites around Guatemala can. Enjoy the culture of the city but don’t forget to look into all the amazing places surrounding it. Just one of the many journeys you can partake in while here is to climb the tallest volcano/mountain in Central America, Tajumulco. At nearly 14,000 feet, you’ll definitely notice the high altitude during this challenging hike. It’s a difficult experience, but well worth it when you reach the top! If you’re lucky, the volcano next door might give you a welcoming greeting with crackling and smoke. For this trip, we recommend getting a guide to the top. This way, you won’t have to worry about logistics or finding the fastest way up and down. Please treat yourself after this difficult adventure by booking a visit to any of the hot springs surrounding the Xela area to relax!
If you’ve scoured Antigua, but aren’t quite ready to leave its surrounding attractions you should check out the volcano Pacaya. At only a 90 minute drive, it is not only close but also one of the most accessible in all of Guatemala. It’s recognized as one of the easiest climbs in Central America as it’s only another 90 minutes to reach the top. You can set out from Antigua and be up in the clouds 3 hours later! One thing to keep in mind is the climb itself is very steep. Other than that this is the most famous and exciting climb of the three volcanoes surrounding Antigua.