Guatemala, a Central American country bordered by Mexico to the north and Honduras to the south, has a large amount of coastal exposure on its western Pacific shores and a small amount of eastern Caribbean Sea coastline. With about 30 active and extinct volcanoes, numerous caves, jungles, cities and some of the most famous ancient ruins in the world, there are a number of activities here for the adventure traveler, so book your tickets, pack your bags, and get ready to go!
Caving in Guatemala is one of the most unique activities around because it combines the excitement of exploring ancient grottos with an added historical component. Many Guatemalan caves feature Mayan wall art, artifacts and tombs.
Caving in Guatemala can require endurance, swimming, wall-scaling and repelling skills. Lanquín caves, part of Lanquín Caves National Park, is more of a spelunking 101 adventure since only a portion of the grotto is open to travelers and generators light the cave’s main galleries. One highlight to visiting Lanquín is seeing bats emerge at dusk for feeding.
For a more rugged spelunking adventure, Candelaria, located in Los Nacimientos nature preserve, was a sacred pilgrimage site for ancient Mayans. The natural cave system is composed of several interconnected chambers spanning roughly 14 miles and has underground rivers that can be navigated by raft.
Cahabon, one of the country’s most popular rivers, is located in eastern Guatemalan subtropical jungle and features class III and IV rapids. By opting for a multi-day Cahabon adventure, you’ll have the opportunity to experience a full range of natural and historic sites along the river’s path, including Mayan artifacts, waterfalls, caves and hot water springs.
Adventurers who want the full rafting experience in a single day can visit the Coyolate river, located in the Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa region. Rio Coyalate has class II and III rapids that travel through diverse landscapes including volcanic canyon rock walls and waterfalls.
Lots of outfits offer a variety of biking tours lasting from one to 14 days. A bike tour of the northern highlands’ Altiplano region offers views of dormant and active volcanoes, thriving Indian marketplaces, and views from mountain plateaus. A scenic ride through the Antigua Valley takes just a day and includes views of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes, the later of the two are twin volcanoes that serve as a backdrop to Antigua, the former capital city. Interesting sites in the area include San Antonio Aguas Calientes’ street market, Guatemala’s oldest church, macadamia nut farms and coffee plantations.
Hiking volcanic trails in Guatemala is more than a lazy, uphill stroll. Hikers must be able to endure changes in atmospheric pressure, the ability to scale steep hills and climb jagged, unforgiving rock and lava formations.
Escuintla Department’s Pacaya volcano in southern Guatemala, with an elevation of 8,373 feet and spectacular crater views, is one of the most frequently scaled active volcanoes in the country. Climbing Pacaya can be an unforgiving adventure for hikers who can’t take the heat from flowing lava and spewing ash columns. Located less than an hour south of Antigua, there are two main trails leading to the summit. One trail is protected by rangers and has rest stops along the way. The Ruta Cerro Chino trail is a more challenging, less maintained path offering exposure to a variety of geological formations.
The Volcan de Agua trail, located in the department of Sacatepéquez, less than an hour southwest of Guatemala City, is a steep, five-hour trek from the cemetery in Santa Maria de Jesus village. The rugged path to the summit passes through coffee plantations, cornfields and a cloud forest.
If you’re interested in an adventure packed vacation, Guatemala is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise, but it also offers pristine beaches, fantastic food, and a thriving nightlife so you can mix and match adventure and relaxation.