In February 2020, right before the pandemic blew up, I was lucky to spend the month traveling Guatemala. Before I went, I didn’t know that much about the country – I was meeting a friend who was there for a festival, but I quickly fell in love with Guatemala! I didn’t have any major expectations in terms of content, but I did some research beforehand and let the fates decide how much content I ended up with. Let me tell you, the fates delivered!
El Dragon Hotel - San Marcos La Laguna
I found El Dragon Hotel while researching places to stay in San Marcos that would make great content. It is situated on the shores of Lake Atitlan and has a beach and a cute little pier extending into the water. The loungers are cozy its garden is lush, but it’s most striking feature is the big stone dragon snaking its way through the sundeck. Beyond the gaze of the dragon, across the expanse of the lake towers volcano San Pedro. The beachfront property also faces due east, so the sunrises are spectacular.
Sababa Resort - San Pedro La Laguna
Sababa provides #tropicalvibes near the shore of lake Atitlan in the town of San Pedro La Laguna. You can either stay (it is SO nice!), or you can buy a day-pass to hang out poolside. From every angle around the pool you’ll find a great shot, but the one to get is in the swing that is flanked by two banana palms.
Eagle’s Nest - San Marcos La Laguna
Eagle’s Nest is a guest house and hostel above San Marcos La Laguna with the most insane views of Lake Atitlan. You’ll need to hire a tuktuk to take you up there (only 10Q or $1.50 per person), but it’s worth it to get a shot on their epic yoga deck. They offer yoga daily so before you go, make sure to research the schedule so you’re not interrupting. If you stay, you can also get great shots of their rustic cabins perched on the lush hillside.
Trampolin - San Marcos La Laguna
If you’re not afraid of heights, get an epic shot jumping from a 12-meter platform into the lake with a volcano in the background at the Trampolin in San Marcos. Located in the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve (which is a must-do while in the area!), pay 15Q ($2 USD) to get in and follow the stunning lakeside trail to get to the massive wooden platform. You cannot miss it! Get your “photographer” to follow the path just past it and down to the left to shoot from a slightly lower level that will show the height of your badass jump and will get volcano San Pedro behind you. Pro-tip: shoot in burst mode to capture multiple images and save yourself from jumping multiple times to get the perfect shot!
Held every Thursday and Sunday, artisans and vendors gather in this massive market to sell handicrafts, textiles, produce, and traditional clothing. The market is a technicolor explosion and it’s the textiles that make for stunning backdrops of photographs. There is also a church perched atop a set of stairs where locals sell flowers that makes for dramatic shots. Unfortunately, I went alone so I didn’t get any shots with me in it, but here’s a pic I took.
The nearest tourism hub to the market is Lake Atitlan. It is 2 hours each way to get from the northern lake towns. I took a tourist shuttle from San Marcos that left San Marcos early in the morning and left the market just after lunch that cost about $11USD.
Chicabal Volcano - Xela
Near the city of Xela (Quetzaltenango) is a sacred Mayan site of Chicabal Volcano. What makes this so special is there is a lagoon in its crater. Myth has it that the gods hid this sacred body of water in the crater of a volcano to keep it safe. This area of Guatemala is not popular with tourists, and when I went my guide and I were the only ones there. You’ll need a guide – I booked mine through “Adrenalina Tours” which seems to hold the monopoly on tours in the country. Part of the hike out of the crater, there is a lookout point where you can get a shot of the entire lagoon in the background, let the guide know that you want to go there in advance because they won’t always take you to this spot.
Like my bag? It’s from an amazing boutique in in the city called Tan Chula Yo.
Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs - Xela
The other attraction in Xela is the Georginas Fuentes hot springs. Head to the central city plaza and hire a taxi driver to take you there, or take a chicken bus to Zunil and then a tuk-tuk (if you have the money just go with a taxi driver and safe yourself the faff). Past a path that meanders through the lush jungle with pre-historic sized leaves lies a series of pools filled with hot water trickling down the side of a volcano. You’ll want to get there early to avoid the crowds, and then you can relax and soak your body in the healing waters.
El Paredon Sunset
Going to the beach town of El Paredon was a last-minute decision, but we needed beach time! It is located on the west coast of Guatemala and so you’ll get the most spectacular sunsets – they’re pink! Every night they’re pink! Images here have a beautiful contrast of dark sand, white seafoam, and the pastel pink skies.
Pakalolo Heldaria - El Paradon
The tiny town of El Paredon is still building its name (and buildings!), but Pakalolo ice cream parlour is one of the go-to establishments. Its aesthetics are an 80s neon and geometric explosion, so you have to get a photo in front of its colourful walls. Make sure to grab an ice-cream while you’re there and hang out – it’s more than just an ice-cream shop!
Ka’ana Surf - El Paredon
Ka’ana Surf is one of the more luxurious hotels in El Paredon. Escape the heat and get great shots diving into the pool framed by vibrant bougainvillea. If you’re looking for a splurge-worthy place to stay in El Paredon this is definitely it!
Santa Catalina Arch - Antigua
If you went to Antigua and didn’t get a shot in front of the Santa Catalina Arch, did you really go to Antigua?! This archway with Volcano Agua towering in the background is the most iconic Guatemala shot! To find, download Maps.me or Google Maps and walk the charming cobblestone streets until you find it. It is a very popular spot so you may have to be patient to get a shot without people in it or cars honking you out the way. On weekends the road is closed to traffic, but the weekends are busier. To get a shot with a tuk-tuk flag one down and give him some cash for his troubles. I had to try a couple of times with different drivers to get the perfect shot, but the drivers were always patient and helpful!
Semuc Champey, translated as “where the river hides under the earth” is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Located in the center of Guatemala, it is a journey that is not for the faint of heart but is definitely worth it. It takes about 8-10 hours to get from Antigua to the town of Lanquin, and then forty-five bumpy minutes on unpaved jungle roads to get to Semuc Champey. If you go I’d recommend staying in a hotel near Semuc Champey rather than in Lanquin to save yourself the 45-minute journey twice a day (this is literally the only thing to see in the area). Semuc Champey is a series of stepped natural pools filled with bright turquoise waters flanked by lush jungle and limestone cliffs.
Pay just $7USD to enter and then follow the “mirador” path. It’s a beautiful climb up the cliffside to a wooden platform overlooking the series of pools. It’s so beautiful that I teared up when I peered over the edge and took in the view. No word of a lie. It was breathtaking. There is another area perfect for a photographer to get the shot of you in the corner of the platform. Don’t worry, it’s safe, there are park rangers to stop people from hanging of the edge and falling.
After you got your shot, follow the path down and explore the crystal-clear pools and waterfalls, you’ll find plenty more shots as you cool off!
When you post your photos be sure to tag these accounts for chances of getting reposted: @guatemala, @qupeladoguate, @guatetrending, @guatemala_magica, @therealguatemala.
Guatemala was a pleasant surprise in terms of the content I got, but also the account growth I experienced while I was there – I grew a few hundred followers during my time there! Even if you aren’t that big into Instagram, Guatemala is an amazing country that I would return to in a heartbeat! When COVID is over, definitely add Guatemala to your bucket list.