#1 Lake Atitlan Tour: San Marcos, San Juan & Santiago
Our best-selling Lake Atitlan tour, this private boat trip allows you to explore the Mayan v...
Written by Lee Beal.
For some great things to do in and around Guatemala City, check out these must-see attractions, day trips, and easy excursions for any Guatemala City trip itinerary.
When it comes to exploring Guatemala City, there are numerous tours and activities that offer unique and memorable experiences, with key landmarks like the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Whether you're interested in history, nature, or adventure, these 20 tours and activities provide diverse opportunities to make the most of your time in Guatemala City before heading on to Lake Atitlan or Antigua.
The first four of these top sights are located very close to the Guatemala City airport which makes them easy and convenient to visit before or after your flight, without a guide. Nonetheless, a local tour guide will always offer additional insights and personal history to add value to your sightseeing adventures.
The Guatemala City Zoo is well-maintained and organized, and if you’re an animal lover it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. The zoo has several exhibit areas, including the African savanna, the Asian subcontinent, the Mesoamerican tropics, and a farm. The zoo’s proximity to the nearby Children’s Museum makes this a convenient day out if you’re traveling with kids.
At the Children's Museum, the doors are open to enjoy a unique experience. Between games and knowledge, curiosity and imagination, this is a space for the whole family to learn about different topics. The museum offers awesome diversion for kids, with exciting presentations of the human body, goliath jigsaw guide of Guatemala, an espresso estate, a Lego room, and its most well-known room which incorporates engaging ball games and hands-on exercises to keep the little ones upbeat.
Welcome to the bustling heart of Guatemala City, Avenida Reforma, a grand boulevard lined with towering trees and stunning architecture, serves as the main artery of the city. This same Avenida becomes Avenida de las Americas when it crosses Roosevelt Blvd. to the south of the city.
Make use of the dedicated bike lanes and hire a bicycle to get around, or simply stroll along this iconic avenue and be greeted by a mix of modern skyscrapers, historical landmarks, and charming parks.
Just a stone's throw away lies Zona Viva, a trendy and cosmopolitan district renowned for its lively nightlife, upscale restaurants, and fashionable boutiques. This vibrant neighborhood offers a wide range of entertainment options, from live music venues to bustling clubs, ensuring that there's something for everyone.
Two of the best places to go if you aren't sure what type of food you want are the Plaza Fontabella, and La Estacion. Both are city block-size developments that have all of Guatemala City's best restaurants. You can pick from any international cuisine and a few local Guatemala cafes.
A visit to the Jorje Ibarra museum is a great way to learn about the interesting geology of Guatemala's volcanos, with exhibition rooms including the Origin of the Universe or Big Bang room, the room of volcanoes, rocks and minerals.
The museum also offers exhibitions of the different birds that live in the country, both migratory and resident. The fern garden and temporary exhibition area show tropical forests in danger of destruction and topics related to nature and the environment are observed.
Located on Petapa Avenue in zone 12, the Mundo Petapa theme park is loosely split into different plazas with games and rides for young children. The main attraction in the park is the Rascacielos (Skyscraper), a 53-meter-high free-fall tower. The views from the top are amazing. On a clear day you can see the whole of Guatemala City and a glimpse of nearby volcanoes too. If you’d like to catch the views, but don’t have the stomach for this ride, we recommend the beautifully polished, gentle Ferris wheel at the other end of the park.
There are very clean bathrooms throughout the park, concession stands, and restaurants, all which are reasonably priced. Near the entrance, you can rent lockers (something to keep in mind, as hats and bags are not allowed on rides, which means leaving your belongings on a nearby bench – not the best of ideas).
The Solola market is undoubtedly an unmissable cultural experience when visiting Guatemala. This bustling market is hidden 7,000 ft in the mountains and packed with traditionally-dressed villagers every day of the week looking to buy locally-grown fruit and vegetables, vibrant flowers and hand-woven textiles.
By visiting Solola you step into the daily life of the Kaqchikel Maya – the indigenous people of Lake Atitlan – as you travel along ancient roadways, pass through cloud forests, corn and coffee fields to arrive high in the mountains where the Solola market can be found.
This tour is best done using Lake Atitlan as a starting point, but if you don't have time to stay in Atitlan, a day trip from Guatemala City is still a fantastic way to add this eye-opening cultural experience to your Guatemala itinerary. We can help you arrange roundtrip transportation as part of the Solola market tour, just contact us to let us know your dates.
The precious and longstanding National Museum of Modern Art remains in good condition and is considered to be the most popular art museum in the city. Here visitors can admire fascinating exhibitions of Guatemalan art and sculptures, surrealism and multimedia artwork as well as exclusive collections of early 19th century paintings. Most of the fine artwork presented here was created by notable national artists including Zipacna de León and Efraín Recinos.
On a clear day in Guatemala City, you can see the very active Fuego volcano spewing ash into the sky. If you want to see the eruption up close, be sure to sign up for the Acatenango volcano hike, which will bring you within 2 kilometers of the Fuego cone. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is the most popular tour in Guatemala with good reason. Hikers sleep under the stars in a wooden hut where you can hear and see rumbling explosions throughout the night alongside views of surrounding mountains.
Guatemala City is not only a bustling metropolis but also home to several beautiful nature parks and greenbelts that provide a refreshing escape from the urban chaos. One such gem is the Kanajuyú Ecological Park, which is also an archaelogical site.
It is a sprawling green space offering walking trails, picnic areas, and a diverse range of flora and fauna. It's the perfect spot for nature lovers to immerse themselves in the tranquility of the surrounding forests and admire the scenic views.
Another notable park is the Metropolitan Ecological Park, a vast green oasis that features jogging paths, recreational areas, and even a small zoo. Here, visitors can reconnect with nature, enjoy breathtaking vistas, and engage in outdoor activities. For a more cultural experience, La Aurora Zoo combines wildlife conservation with educational exhibits, allowing visitors to observe various species up close while learning about their natural habitats.
These nature parks and greenbelts not only provide a breath of fresh air but also serve as vital spaces for environmental education and conservation efforts in Guatemala City. So, whether you're seeking a peaceful retreat, a place to reconnect with nature, or an educational adventure, these green spaces get you off the beaten path and offer a welcome respite from the urban hustle and bustle of Guatemala City.
Welcome to Zone 4, a vibrant and eclectic neighborhood nestled within the bustling streets of Guatemala City. Zone 4, also known as "4 Grados Norte," is a trendy and rapidly evolving district that has become a hub for creativity, culture, and gastronomy.
Zone 4 is a haven for food lovers with incredible restaurants like Flor De Lis and its menu of contemporary Guatemalan cuisine. This neighborhood is teeming with colorful street art, charming cafes, boutique shops, and trendy galleries that showcase the local art scene. As you wander through its lively streets, you'll discover a fusion of old and new, with beautifully restored colonial buildings standing side by side with modern architecture.
It may be small, but Guatemala City’s Botanical Garden is very, very pretty. Located at the northern end of Zona 10, the gardens contain an impressively extensive collection of plants that are managed by the Universidad de San Carlos. Your ticket price also includes admission to an adjoining natural-history museum.
In the heart of the city is the historical district, home to the National Presidential Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral & the Parque Central. So much of Guatemala’s history has played out along these streets, in the central square, and in the iconic buildings scarred by earthquakes, civil war, and graffiti, making it an important place to spend time if you want to truly appreciate Guatemala City.
At the centre of the district is the Parque Central, also the largest central plaza in the country dating back to 1776. It’s a beautiful square with a fountain in the center and is ringed by the National Palace of Guatemala, the Cathedral of Santiago, the Portal of Commerce, and the Portal de la Sexta.
The magnificent Presidential Palace was built between 1936 and 1943 by prisoners on the orders of the infamous dictator General Jorge Ubico, and today this palatial building is a museum and cultural center. Take a couple of hours to explore its quirks; the grand banquet hall, with its ornate stained-glass panels, ironically represents the virtues of good government.
Next to the Palace is the Cathedral of Guatemala City - also called the Metropolitan Cathedral - boasting interior design that stands as a shining example of colonial art and architecture. The layout mirrors the form of the Latin cross, while in front of the cathedral are 12 pillars – a tribute to the murders and disappearances of thousands of people during the Guatemalan civil war during the 1960s. Inside the cathedral are 14 paintings by revered 17th century Mexican artist Pedro Ramirez.
Sixth Avenida is a pedestrian-only street hosting many of the city's main attractions. The wide sidewalks take you beneath purple jacarandas flowering in the central plaza. Flocks of pigeons peck for seeds outside the national palace with its ornate green walls, and fruit vendors push their carts over the stones beside the fountain. They sell brightly colored slices of mango and papaya seasoned with lime -make sure to try some!
In the mornings you will find a small flock of goats between the trees, offering fresh goat milk (squeezed on demand) to passersby. Be sure to walk through the Paseo Rubio, the capital's first enclosed shopping area with residences on the second and third floors.
Skirt the cathedral in the central plaza to access another iconic Zone 1 destination: Mercado Central. This is one of the largest local markets in Guatemala and takes up an entire city block. It has multiple underground levels, each dedicated to different wares. Spend time walking through the seemingly endless maze of underground passages to explore it all.
You can buy handicrafts here from all over Guatemala. It is just as pretty as the open-air local markets in Antigua, and the handicrafts found here are often much cheaper. Browse stalls selling leather goods, wooden masks, and woollen blankets. Once you’ve picked up your gifts and mementos, head down a level to explore the eateries and fruit and veggie stalls. This is a great place to buy tropical fruit such as paternas, zapotes, guanabanas, mangoes, and more.
If you’ve been wanting to try typical Guatemalan food and get a taste of the Maya culture, you’ll find a wide selection here. There are rellenitos de plátano, tostadas, and an array of traditional soups, sauces, drinks, and candies.
“Atol”, a thick sweet and steamy drink, is one of our favorite things to buy. We usually choose “atol de elote” made from fresh maize and “atol de arroz” which is a drinkable version of rice pudding. “Atol de plátano” or “arroz con chocolate” are also good.
On the lower level you will find small comedors, which are informal eateries serving inexpensive dishes for the workers in the market. Each comedor specializes in a traditional recipe, and you can sample the most famous of the Guatemalan recipes such as pepian, jocon, pulique, and more.
If you wonder how to prepare these dishes for yourself, you can take a Mayan Kitchen cooking class at Lake Atitlan. What better souvenir to take home with you than a few amazing recipes - made 100% in Guatemala!
To discover the bohemian beating heart of Guatemala City, head to La Bodeguita del Centro. This hangout spot has live music from Tuesdays to Saturdays including everything from rock to jazz to classical, and there are plenty of poetry readings, discussions, and forums going on here too. The walls are adorned with prints of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Vincent Van Gogh, and entrance is free every night apart from Fridays and Saturdays.
Located within the Fransisco Marroquin University, this stylish and modern museum documents the different stages of indigenous Guatemalan culture and history. Named after the ancient Mayan sacred book, Museo Popol Vuh showcases intricate pre-Hispanic figurines and statues, carved wooden masks, burial urns, traditional textiles, and many other Mayan artifacts from the Maya civilization. The lower level displays paintings and gilded wood upon its walls from Guatemala's rich colonial history.
Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena offers visitors the chance to learn about Guatemala’s iconic Mayan textiles. The museum has excellent exhibitions showcasing indigenous dress and arts and crafts, and documents the history of these garments as well as the Mayan influence on the country’s history. It also has an art gallery downstairs, a children’s section, a café, library, and an ethical shop that sells textiles made by local weavers.
After learning about the indigenous textiles at the museum, you will have a better appreciation of the designs and patterns when you visit the Chichicastenango market. At the famous Chichicastenango market, delve into the world of Mayan clothing and learn about the intricate symbols – the universe, lightning, cardinal points, and the sun – that are hand-sewn into textiles.
Located in the heart of Guatemala City, the Railroad Museum is a must-visit destination for history buffs and train enthusiasts alike.
As you step inside, you'll be greeted by a collection of meticulously restored locomotives, vintage carriages, and historical artifacts that tell the story of Guatemala's railway system. The museum provides a captivating journey through time, allowing visitors to learn about the construction of the railway network and its impact on the country's development through interactive exhibits and informative displays.
The vibrant Paseo Cayala is known for its beautifully designed streets with European-inspired architecture and picturesque squares, lush green spaces, and lively atmosphere that is perfect for leisurely strolls. Whether you're looking to indulge in gourmet cuisine, shop for high-end fashion, or simply enjoy a cup of coffee in a cozy café, Paseo Cayala is a great place to spend an afternoon in the modern and cosmopolitan side of Guatemala City.
You could also visit the brand-new United States Embassy which is located in the Cayala area. Its construction was completed in 2023 and the architecture is quite interesting with open-outdoor spaces drawing inspiration from Maya architecture including Tikal, Yaxha, and Copan. The main chancery building was designed to reference the temple architecture of the Maya and local plant species surround the base of the building to mimic the way ancient temples appear to “rise” out of the canopy.
If you want to browse the stores of Guatemala City for clothes and cosmetics, head to Oakland Mall. This premier shopping mall has high-end shops and boutiques, with everything from renowned fashion brands to upscale jewelry, accessories, and cosmetics.
The mall houses a diverse selection of entertainment options, including a state-of-the-art cinema complex. With an impressive selection of restaurants and cafes, Oakland is one of the main social gathering places for people from the city and surrounding villages, making it the perfect place to spend a day of leisure and indulgence in Guatemala City.
Cervecería Centroamericana has brewed the large mainstay of Guatemalan beer since 1886, and most visitors to the country will have tried Gallo, its flagship beer. This brewery manufactures beverages that include Gallo Light, Victoria lager, the dark bock beer Moza, and Malta Gallo malt liquor, and offers fun, informative tours in both Spanish and English. You’ll need to make a reservation (at least a week in advance) but the tour itself is free – and ends with some free samples!
The Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología is home to Guatemala’s largest collection of ancient Mayan artifacts and information on the history of the Maya civilization. Showcasing jade jewelry, traditional masks, and stone sculptures – many of which were found at temples in Tikal – there’s also an excellent ethnography section dedicated to the language, costumes, and dances of the indigenous Maya peoples. The archaeology section is also home to a large-scale model of Tikal.
Understanding the ethnic origins of the Maya people will be helpful once you head into the western highlands and Lake Atitlan since the population of the highlands is still 95% pure Mayan, and their rich culture and history are what attract visitors from around the world.
Zone 1 has a reputation for being unsafe, but we have never had any problems during our multiple visits to Guatemala City’s historic center. Follow these recommendations and you should be good to go:
Visit Zone 1 during the day, it gets sketchy at night
Stick to populated areas like Sexta Avenida or nearby sidestreets and the Plaza de la Constitution
Don’t take a lot of things with you, especially valuables. Limit yourself to a small bag or what can fit in your pockets. Don’t wear expensive watches, jewelry, etc.
Don’t flash your money or valuables
Stay relaxed, but also pay attention to your surroundings
Kayak Guatemala is Lake Atitlan’s #1 base camp for exploration and adventure, offering activities like epic volcano hikes, family kayak tours, cooking classes, and village-to-village boat and walking tours. We employ and upskill underprivileged local people, plus a portion of our profits goes towards an NGO that works hard to alleviate poverty in Lake Atitlan.
For more help with planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, check out our "Top Tours & Things To Do In Lake Atitlan" guide.