Guatemala is not a very big country in Central America, but it does not fall short of attractions for all kind of visitors. There is a very rich history, natural beauty, colonial cities, good food and activities to keep anyone busy and happy for weeks. Like any other destination it is always hard to try to cover everything. In fact people get the feeling that there is always more to see and one trip is not enough. I will suggest here some places and things to see for the person that goes there for the first time. I know that it is still a lot to see so it is possible to just choose some of the suggestions or to plan a long vacation and see all of these.
1- Guatemala City: it is a very big capital, full of contrasts, it is the business and political heart of the nation. A great city to explore. Some of the places not to miss are the Cathedral, the main square and the National Palace. These are located in the historical center were many of the colonial footprints in architecture are still alive. Another place not to miss is the central market, with a colorful fruit and vegetable section and probably the best place to buy souvenirs.
2- Antigua Guatemala: One of the most beautiful colonial cities in the Americas. It was the first capital of the country. One day is not enough to explore this magical city with amazing architecture, incredible hotels, great restaurants and remarkable ruins. Anyone who visits Antigua falls in love with this place.
3- Chichicastenango: A colorful town not very far from Antigua. Wednesday is the market day. People from all the surrounding villages come here and offer their products. This is the best day to experience all the different cultures and traditions.
4- Panajachel and Atitlan Lake: A beautiful natural scenery in a unique setting. The volcanoes in the center of the lake are the perfect stamp for a painting. Panajachel is a quite bohemian town actually always full with international visitors but managing to keep a surreal ambiance.
5- Rio Dulce: It is located around four hours from the capital. It is the place where the lake (Izabal) communicates with the sea. There is impressive tropical vegetation, beautiful vacation homes that blend with the nature and many opportunities for water sports and great relaxation.
Certainly a must for any visit to Guatemala: one should take a boat and go through the river all the way to Livingston, a Caribbean feeling town on the sea with a unique Afro heritage.
6- Tikal: From Rio Dulce it takes another 4 hours to arrive to one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world. Tikal hosts striking pyramids and ruins of huge cities that were mysteriously abandoned centuries ago. It is a dreamlike experience and a place not to miss. It is very nice to actually stay in one of the eco hotels and experience the beauty of the tropical rainforests.
Guatemala has much more to show: the amazing highlands, the unique beautify of Coban, the lively Pacific coasts and so many other attractions that it is actually impossible to just number them here. People are very friendly and welcoming toward visitors. Just one word of caution about safety: Social convulsion has affected the country and one still has to be very attentive about where to go and not to show around expensive electronics or artifacts that call the attention of others. Sadly the safety situation of the country is not perfect in recent years, but with caution and good information there is no reason to deprive oneself of such a great country.