There are hidden gems in Guatemala that you won’t find in tourist guides. You need a Guatemalan like me to tell you about them. So here is my list of the top 10 secret places in Guatemala for you to visit and enjoy. Below you will find how to get there and what it costs.
1. Todos Santos Cuchumatan in Huehuetenango
Todos Santos Cuchumatan contains the essence of Guatemala. This is one of the few places where men still wear indigenous clothing on a daily basis. It is well-worth visiting the village’s fair on November 1st. The event consists of a non-competitive race of jockeys with their horses. The peculiar thing is that the jockeys must be totally drunk to run the race. It is popularly called “The Death Race”. The locals believe that if someone dies during the race it is a sign of a good harvest. The celebration begins a day before at the houses of the horsemen. And the spiritual preparation begins 7 days before with Mayan ceremonies.
It is one of the top 10 secret places in Guatemala and its fair is an event little-known by international tourism. Walking through its streets you will experience a typical indigenous Guatemalan village. You will see that the local culture pervades everything. Todos Santos is located in a mountainous area. The Central Square, the highest point, allows you to have a panoramic view of the village and the surrounding mountains.
How to get to Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Huehuetenango
By foot: It is possible to get to Todos Santos by doing a trekking tour. It takes 5 days from Antigua. Here you can book the organized trekking with a guide in English. This trekking is a special one because you stay in hostels run by the indigenous community and meet local families passing through different villages on the route.
By car: My advice is renting a car for the Huehuetenango area. In the region you can visit lagoons, rivers, natural parks, cenotes (underground water systems, often suitable for swimming) and Mayan villages. From Antigua or Guatemala City the journey takes around 6 hours.
By bus: From the Bus Terminal of Huehuetenango the main town, you can take a chicken bus. It departs very early in the morning (5:00 AM). However, this is not the safest option to get to Todos Santos. It can also be chaotic, and the rates are not established. They might charge you over 25 GTQ (3 USD).
I recommend you stay at hotels in Huehuetenango and arrive early in the morning of November 1st, the day of the race. Hotels are priced between 200 GTQ – 350 GTQ (25 USD – 45 USD).
2. La Igualdad waterfall in San Marcos
This is the highest waterfall in Guatemala, almost 200 meters high (656 ft). The place is administered by the residents of the Mayan-agrarian Community of La Igualdad. So, it is an ideal place to support locals in Guatemala by doing community-based tourism. The whole area is unspoiled and the town is very authentic, making it truly one of the top 10 secret places in Guatemala. Tourism is just emerging in these parts.
How to get to La Igualdad waterfall in San Marcos
By car: The safest option is to get to La Igualdad waterfall by car. My advice is you stay in San Marcos (29 km / 18 mi away) or Malacatan (20 km / 12 mi away). So, you can start your trip early in the morning. It is a single route to the community parking lot near the main entrance of the waterfall area. Have special caution because there are several speed bumps and potholes in the pavement. The parking lot costs 10 GTQ (1.25 USD).
By bus: From Guatemala City you can take a Coach bus to Malacatan, and then a public minibus to La Igualdad town. Take note that it is a long trip, so you will have to book a hotel in Malacatan and visit the waterfall the following day.
The entrance to the waterfall area will cost 12 GTQ (1.50 USD). You will hike almost 2 km (1.2 mi) through a subtropical forest until you reach the waterfall. I advise you to wear waterproof clothing. The breeze from the waterfall is quite strong.
3. Lanquin Caves in Coban (Grutas de Lanquin)
Lanquin Caves is a national park and protected area. It consists of a circuit of caves with stalactite and stalagmite formations and is home to thousands of bats. Inside the caves you will see a Mayan altar in which ceremonies are held twice a year: at the beginning and end of the harvests. This site is considered sacred and for the local people it is a representation of the Mayan underworld. You will walk the first 400 meters without any visibility problem since it’s illuminated. After that it will be completely dark, but with a flashlight you will be able to reach a cenote.
How to get to Lanquin Caves in Coban
By shuttle: You must get to the Lanquin village or to Coban City. There are plenty of shuttles from any touristic spot in Guatemala to both. Lanquin is a small village surrounded by jungle and is located 10 km (6.2 mi) away to the natural pools called Semuc Champey.
By tuk-tuk: From Lanquin village, you can easily get to the caves by taking a tuk-tuk that will charge you 5 GTQ per person, one way. The caves are located 1 km (0.6mi) away from the main road of the village.
I advise wearing shoes with good traction because it can be quite slippery inside. The entrance fee is 30 GTQ (3.75 USD). I highly recommend that you stay until 6:00 PM to see the thousands of bats leave the caves. It is a breathtaking spectacle.
4. Laguna Lachua in Coban
Visiting the Laguna Lachua National Park will be a wonderful experience. The hike and the views are totally worth the trip. The entrance fee to the National Park is 50 GTQ (6.25 USD) and you walk 4 km through the tropical jungle to reach the lagoon. The waters are turquoise, warm and calm. It is a very clean and well-organized place. Inside you can camp for 30 GTQ (3.75 USD). You can also stay in rustic cabins for 70 GTQ (8.75 USD). You will enjoy your visit more if you spend the night, because the sunrise is amazing. With the first rays of the sun, the turquoise of the waters turns even more intense.
If you don’t stay the night at Laguna Lachua, I recommend you arrive early in the morning. Opening hours are from 7:00 AM to 2:30 PM. You will have to bring food and drink with you because there are no restaurants or shops inside the National Park. I advise you to wear suitable hiking shoes and mosquito repellent.
How to get to Laguna Lachua in Coban
By car: Laguna Lachua is located 144 km / 90mi away from Coban. This is the city where most of the hotels are. The driveway is well-paved but take note that the last 5 km / 3mi is a dirt road. There are parking lots in front of the main entrance of the Laguna Lachua. The parking fee is around 20 GTQ (2.50 USD) per day.
By bus: From Bus Terminal of Coban take the minibus that goes to Playa Grande Ixcan, which will cost around 40 GTQ (5 USD). This takes you right to the entrance of the Laguna Lachua National Park. Just let the driver know that your destination is Laguna Lachua because there are no fixed stops during the trip. I advise you take the first bus, that departs at 5:00 AM, because the journey can take over four hours.
By private tour: The safest and most organized option you have is to book the all-inclusive tour from Coban. They pick you up at your hotel at 6:00 AM and include all meals, transportation, entrance fee and tour guide in English and Spanish. It will cost around 1480 GTQ (185 USD)
5. Crater Azul in Peten
This is a breathtaking spot and a must-go on the list of the top 10 secret places in Guatemala to visit. Surrounded by luscious vegetation, Crater Azul, a little-known place in Peten, is the source for La Pasion River. This is the river by which you will arrive. The clarity and freshness of its waters are guaranteed since the area is free of any pollution. You will see this applies to the whole area.
How to get to Crater Azul in Peten
By car: From Flores Island go to Arroyos Pucte (87 km / 54 mi from Flores). You will need an off-road vehicle because the road is in good condition, but the last 28 km / 17 mi are unpaved. Park your car in the main beach. The parking is free of charge. From there take a boat that will take you down the river. The round-trip costs 500 GTQ (62.30 USD). You will find yourself at Crater Azul in 40 minutes.
By bus: There are no direct buses to Arroyos Pucte. In addition, the connexions are not good at all, and the stops are not fixed. The journey to get to Crater Azul can take around 5 hours from Flores Island. So, I do not recommend it.
By shuttle: The best option to get to Crater Azul is booking a private tour. They will organize the whole day for you. It will cost you around 1600 GTQ (200 USD). The experience and views are priceless. Below you will find the button to book your tour. Transportation, meals and guide in English and Spanish are included.
6. Finca El Paraiso waterfall in Izabal
El Paraiso waterfall is a hot water spring that falls into the pool below. Experiencing the sensation of hot water falling on your back and being immersed in cold water at the same time will be very relaxing. The waterfall is 8 meters / 26 miles high. Walk for 10 minutes from the main entrance until you reach the river. I recommend you bring water shoes. Walk through the river to get under the waterfall. There are no changing rooms or showers. The entrance fee is 15 GTQ (less than 2 USD).
How to get to Finca El Paraiso waterfall in Izabal
By car: From the main street of Rio Dulce town take the road to El Estor. After 27 km / 17 mi you will see the entrance to the Cascadas de Finca El Paraiso on your right-hand side. The first 3 km of the road are unpaved. After that, it is a road in perfect condition with no traffic at all. Park your car in the on-site car park for 10 GTQ (1.25 USD).
By Bus: To get to Finca el Paraiso from Rio Dulce take a minibus towards El Estor, from the intersection. There is no fixed timetable, so just ask the people at the bus stop if the bus to El Estor has already passed. The wait shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes. When you get on, tell the driver to leave you in front of the entrance to Cascadas Finca El Paraiso. A one-way ticket will cost 20 GTQ (2.50 USD). On the way back take the minibus that goes to Rio Dulce from the other side of the road to get off at the same intersection as before. It will be another ticket of 20 GTQ (2.50 USD).
7. El Boqueron in Izabal
El Boqueron is a beautiful canyon, surrounding part of El Sauce River which flows into Lake Izabal. Its waters are brown, which makes the coloring of the surrounding landscape very striking. Both walls of the canyon are over 100 meters high. The vegetation is lush and dense and there are several small waterfalls. The entrance fee is 5 QGTQ (a little more than 0.60 USD) A canoe to take you through the canyon will cost 15 GTQ (less than 2 USD) per person.
How to get to El Boqueron in Izabal
By car: From Rio Dulce take the route to El Estor and keep following it until you see the entrance sign on your right-hand side. Remember that the first 3 kilometers of the road to El Estor are not paved so it will be a bit slower. Although unpaved, the route is very pleasant because of the beautiful surroundings. El Boqueron has its own parking lot, which costs 10 GTQ (1.25 USD).
By bus: From Rio Dulce you can take the same minibus that goes to El Estor, from the intersection and tell the driver that you want to get off at El Boqueron. It is important that you say it, because there are no fixed stops. The minibus will charge you 20 GTQ (2.5 0USD) one way from Rio Dulce. Taking the bus back to Rio Dulce it will be another 20 GTQ (2.50 USD). Remember to get off at the same intersection where you took it on your outbound trip.
8. El Paredon beach in Escuintla
This is one of the top destinations, although it is still relatively unknown. This place is very special for its hippie chic and surfer vibes in each of its hotels and cafes. The area is safe, the beach is clean, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. Situated on the south-pacific coast of Guatemala, the sea has the perfect waves for beginner or intermediate level surfers. There are surf schools and some of the hotels also offer free accommodation, surf lessons and board rentals if you do volunteer work of any kind. In addition, you can go kayaking in the nearby mangroves.
Staying there will cost you between 15 USD per shared bedroom in hostels and up to 130 USD for private bungalows/apartments.
How to get to El Paredon in Escuintla
By car: The easiest way to get to El Paredon is by car. The road is in good condition. Just take note that there are several speed bumps, so you need to be cautios and patient. In addition, a part of 7 km / 4 mi is unpaved.
By bus: There are no direct buses to El Paredon. The journey is connected by 3 different chicken buses and then one tuk-tuk. However, I don’t recommend doing this journey by buses because it is not safe. Assaults happen day and night on public buses when they are arriving at the terminal of buses of Escuintla and Siquinala.
By shuttle: There are plenty of shuttles from Antigua Guatemala every day. There are two departure times: 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Rates vary between 120 GTQ (15 USD) to 160 GTQ (20USD). If your journey starts in Guatemala City, first go to Antigua and then take the shuttle to El Paredon.
9. Jaibalito in Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is surrounded by several Mayan villages, and Jaibalito is one of them. Its Mayan culture is preserved almost intact. Jaibalito is extremely welcoming and peaceful. It is the perfect place to meet and immerse yourself in the local indigenous culture. It is quiet because the streets are free of cars. Although there is little tourism, there are some small hotels and cafes where you can stay and drink the purest coffee in the region. You can take boat rides and hike to San Marcos La Laguna or Santa Cruz La Laguna, two nearby villages.
How to get to Jaibalito in Lake Atitlan
By lancha (small boat): You can take a lancha from any of the other towns around Lake Atitlan. The charge is 15 GTQ (less than 2 USD) from Panajachel, San Pedro La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna and San Juan La Laguna. Jaibalito is not accessible by road.
10. Las Cristalinas beach in Lake Atitlan
Las Cristalinas beach is located between San Juan La Laguna and San Pablo La Laguna. It is the only public beach of white sand and stone that you will find on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Its waters are extraordinarily clear and transparent. It is the perfect beach to sunbathe, have a picnic and swim in the lake. My list of the top 10 secret places in Guatemala would be incomplete without this beach in Atitlán.
Entry to the beach is free, but there is also a private area, costing 5 GTQ (a little more than 0.60 USD). There you can make use of the toilets, showers and changing rooms.
How to get to Las Cristalinas Beach in Lake Atitlan
By tuk-tuk: You can take a tuk-tuk from San Marcos La Laguna, San Pedro La Laguna and San Juan La Laguna. The tuk-tuk will cost you 10 GTQ (1.25 USD) per person. On the way back you have to wait on the road for a tuk-tuk. The wait should not be longer than 15 minutes. It will be another 10 GTQ (1.25 USD).
By kayak: The kayak can be rented at various places and hotels in the villages nearby. The cost per hour will be 20 GTQ (2.50 USD). I advise you do the trip early in the morning because then the lake is calm. From 12:00 PM winds turn stronger.
*It is not possible to visit Las Cristalinas Beach by car because there are no parking lots nearby.
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