Things to Do in Western Highlands
Considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlán, located in the Guatemalan Highlands, is the deepest lake in Central America and surrounded by three volcanoes. Created from a volcano (the lake fills a caldera which erupted more than 84,000 years ago!), the fertile ground around the lake is home to numerous agriculture, including coffee and corn.
Aside from just taking in the breathtaking beauty of the lake, other options to enjoy this slice of nature include eco-adventures, including guided hikes of the San Pedro volcano, and kayaking. For those who want to explore on foot, the Reserva Natural Atitlán is home to hundreds of butterflies, coffee groves and even a waterfall. If water activities are wanted, take a boat across the lake to one of the traditional Maya villages like Santiago Atitlan.
Travelers looking for a relaxing, natural escape will find all they desire in the hidden trails, hot springs and stunning landscapes of Funestes Georginas. 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.
Although Chichicastenango is not located in Guatemala City – it’s a two-plus hour drive – it is well worth a visit.
This indigenous town is known for its market, which is held on Thursdays and Sundays. The largest market in Central America, here vendors sell colorful items like handmade pottery, medicinal plants, traditional incense, cal for preparing tortillas, machetes, flowers, food and more. People can also purchase traditional clothing, masks and other items that pay homage to the area’s culture.
Aside from the market, there are historical sites to explore, too. Next to the market is a 400-year-old church, Santo Tomas, which is built atop a pre-Columbian temple platform. There is also the Cofradia of Pascual Abaj, an ancient carved stone where Maya priests perform rituals.
Located on the outskirts of Panajachel, the Atitlan Nature Reserve 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.
Located in the Retalhuleu Department of Guatemala, Xetulul Theme Park is one of the largest amusement parks in Latin America. Together with the nearby Xocomil Waterpark, it is estimated that both parks welcome over one million visitors each year. Xetulul is capable of handling up to 12,000 visitors per day.
Xetulul Theme Park has been awarded both national and international prizes, helping it become one of the most-visited attractions for Guatemala and other Central America residents. Opened in 2002, Xetulul is divided into various plazas and features architecture from countries that have influenced Guatemalan culture, including Guatemala, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. Each plaza features themed attractions, shows, and related restaurants.
Looking for the best spot to get wet in Guatemala? Check out Xocomil Water Park, located in the Retalhuleu Department of the country. Together with nearby Xetulul Theme Park, both parks welcome over one million visitors each year.
Xocomil is the largest and most visited water park in Guatemala and covers an area of 77,300 m3 and is designed around the recreation of a Mayan pyramid. In 1998, the World Water Park Association awarded Xocomil the best water park in the world for “innovation” and in 2008, it was awarded the Park of the Year award by Amusement Today Magazine. The park has four different pools and two wave pools, one for adults, and one designed for children. Aguajal II is the wave pool designed for adults, where you can experience six different varieties of waves.
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