Things to Do in Western Highlands
With its glistening blue waters framed by a trio of volcanic peaks and a fringe of lush greenery, Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) is surely one of Guatemala’s most stunning natural wonders. The deepest lake in Central America lies in an ancient caldera amid the mountainous landscapes of the Guatemalan Highlands.
Casting its imposing shadow over the western shoreline of Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán, this dormant 9,908-foot (3,020-meter volcano beckons adventure-hungry travelers. The volcano is one of the most accessible in the region, with the route up to its summit leading through corn fields, coffee plantations, and cloud forests.
Built during the 1540s upon the ancient foundation of a Maya temple site, Santo Tomas Church (Iglesia de Santo Tomás) is a Roman Catholic church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. It remains a venerated holy site for people of both Catholic and Maya faiths and blends of the two. The stone stairs leading to the gleaming white Dominican church are reminiscent of those at ancient temple sites, and the steps have turned black from prayer sessions in which shamans waft copal incense and set purification fires. Inside, the church is adorned with offerings, everything from maize to liquor, and numerous candles, which have colors and patterns that correspond with those they've been lit for.
Travelers looking for a relaxing, natural escape will find all they desire in the hidden trails, hot springs and stunning landscapes of Funestes Georginas Hot Springs. Located just outside Xela, this popular destination has been attracting travelers for decades. Although a major hurricane damaged much of the grounds in 2010, a huge rebuilding effort has restored most of the property to its original splendor.
Visitors can slip into one of four pools fed by nearby sulfur hot springs, wander through the tropical forests on one of the well-marked trails, or head to Volcan Zunil or Volcan Santo Tomas using one of the longer, more technical paths. Fuentes Georginas has a restaurant and bar to insure visitors are well fed and travelers can even spend the night at one of the quiet mountain cottages to insure there’s plenty of time to enjoy all Fuentes Georginas has to offer.
With quaint valleys, red-roofed houses, and cobblestone lanes in the highlands of Guatemala, Chichicastenango is perhaps best known for its enormous Thursday and Sunday market. You’ll find handmade pottery, medicinal plants, machetes, traditional clothing, and other items that pay homage to the area’s rich culture.
Tucked away in the northeastern department of Retalhuleu, the award-winning Xetulul Theme Park is the third largest amusement park in Latin America, featuring roller coasters, an enormous waterpark, a spa and a clutch of luxury hotels. One of the most visited tourist sites of Guatemala, the park welcomes over one million visitors annually.
Located on the outskirts of Panajachel, the Atitlan Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Atitlán) occupies a former coffee plantation that has slowly been reclaimed by Mother Nature. Nature trails take visitors into the canopy and wind past a waterfall and viewing platform, where it’s possible to spot tropical birds, spider monkeys playing in the trees or pisotes sniffing around for a bite to eat. The reserve also operates a butterfly garden, aviary, an herb garden and a small private beach.
Perhaps the most popular activity within the reserve are the zip-line canopy tours, where visitors fly through the trees along eight different cables. There are two zip-line options, depending on how brave you’re feeling.
For those who want to linger beyond a day trip, the reserve offers campsites and six guest rooms with private balconies.
Xocomil Water Park is the largest and most visited water park in Guatemala, and is designed around the recreation of a Mayan pyramid. The world-class, award-winning park has 14 different water slides, four pools and two wave pools, one for adults, and one designed for children.