Guatemala's not the typical family destination, but if your kids are inquisitive and adventurous, there's plenty here to keep them occupied and interested. Locals are quite friendly and accommodating to children, and you'll find a few hotels or attractions specifically geared toward families. This 10-day itinerary is designed for families with athletic and adventurous kids.
Day 1: Antigua
Arrive and head straight to Antigua. Check into your hotel, and spend the afternoon walking the rugged cobblestone streets and getting to know this colonial-era city. Teenage boys will get a kick out of the central fountain on the Plaza Mayor. In the afternoon, head up to the Cerro de la Cruz for a beautiful panoramic view of Antigua and the volcanoes that surround it. Parents might want to steal some time for shopping or a romantic dinner. Many hotels in Antigua have, or can arrange for, babysitters.
Day 2: Volcán Pacaya
Venture 1 1/2 hours outside of Antigua to the active Volcán Pacaya. The climb is strenuous, but in the end you'll be treated to an otherworldly scene of volcanic smoke, ash, and recently molten lava. The descent can include some "ash skiing," which will appeal to any skateboarders or snowboarders in your group.
Day 3: Quetzaltenango
Drive north to the bustling city of Quetzaltenango. After settling into your hotel, use the afternoon to visit the small town of San Andrés Xecul and its church. The church is painted in a dizzying mass of bold primary colors, and the intricate facade is not to be missed. After marveling at the main church, head uphill to the town's smaller church, where you're likely to see locals praying in a vacant lot and cemetery just next to the church.
Day 4: Around Quetzaltenango
Active families will want to spend this day climbing Volcán Santa María. At 3,677m (12,256 ft.), this is a long and challenging climb, but the view from the top is impressive. I especially like staring down into the crater of Santa María's very active sister volcano Santiaguito. Less athletic families might opt to visit the Laguna de Chicabal, a pretty lake formed inside the crater of an extinct volcano. Real laid-back families can opt to soak in the sulfur hot springs at Las Fuentes Georginas.
Day 5: Time for a Theme Park
Take a day trip from Quetzaltenango to the side-by-side water and theme park attractions of Xocomil and Xetulul. Make sure your kids don't focus on comparing this to Disney World or Six Flags. Instead, have them relish in the fact that they're in Guatemala and have a chance to interact with local kids. If I had to pick, I would choose the Xocomil water park, though you can easily visit both in 1 day. Both feature plenty of modern rides and attractions, including those with an ancient Maya theme and design.
Day 6: Cobán
Guatemala's Alta Verapaz region is a beautiful area of wild forests, raging rivers, and extensive cave networks. The drive here will take up much of your day, but be sure to stop at the Biotopo del Quetzal on the way. Spend a couple hours hiking and see if your kids can spot a resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.
Day 7: Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is often described as the most beautiful spot in Guatemala, and I agree. To get here, sign up for a tour from Cobán. After you're done with Semuc Champey, try the cave tour at Kan' Ba. At the end of the cave tour, ask for an inner tube, and float down the Cahabón River to Hostal Las Marias, where you can have lunch. Time your day so that you can visit the caves at Lanquin in the late afternoon, when thousands of bats exit the cave mouth to feed.
Day 8: Río Dulce
From Cobán, head to the town of Fronteras on the Río Dulce. Kids will love staying in an over-water cabin at the Catamaran Island Hotel. If you can drag the kids away from the pool, take an afternoon boat tour to Castillo de San Felipe, where they can imagine themselves pirates storming the castle.
Day 9: Livingston
In the early morning take a boat down the Río Dulce to Livingston. The boat ride is beautiful. In Livingston, check into the Hotel Villa Caribe, which has a lovely setting overlooking the ocean and the best pool on Guatemala's Caribbean coast. Spend the day on a guided hike to Los Siete Altares with a local Garífuna guide. The tour should take you through town and then on a brief dugout canoe ride through some mangroves, leaving you on the beach a few miles from the waterfalls. (You can hike here.) Active kids will enjoy jumping off the top of the tallest waterfall here, but parents should use discretion in deciding if they think it's safe for their child. For dinner, reserve a table at the Hotel Villa Caribe, which features a nightly presentation of Garífuna drumming and dancing.
Day 10: Fly Home
You'll have to take a very early boat out of Livingston, but you should have plenty of time to get from Livingston to Guatemala City in time for your return flight home.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.