Lake Atitlán (Western Highlands): Whether or not you agree with Aldous Huxley that Atitlán is the "most beautiful lake in the world," you would be hard-pressed to not be at least slightly impressed. Formed thousands of years ago in the crater of a massive volcano and surrounded today by several other towering volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is stunning. The road that circumnavigates much of the lake actually follows the rim of the extinct crater, and the views on the high end, and those from the lakeshore and the many boats plying its waters, are fabulous.
Semuc Champey (Alta Verapaz): Semuc Champey is a series of stepped waterfalls and pools that actually sit on top of a raging underground river in a narrow forested canyon. It's often described as the most beautiful spot in all of Guatemala, and in addition to swimming in the pools, there's great hiking here. The spots where the Cahabón River enters and then exits its underground tunnel are jaw-dropping in their power and fury. The surrounding area is also full of caves that are worth exploring.
Parque Nacional Laguna de Lachuá (Alta Verapaz): The deep turquoise of Lake Lachuá may have you wondering whether you're staring at the Caribbean Sea. All around the lake, lush rainforests are home to an amazing array of tropical flora and fauna.
Volcán Santa María (outside Quetzaltenango): Not only is Volcán Santa María an imposing sight and exhilarating climb, the view from the summit peers down into the crater of its very active sister volcano, Santiaguito. It's about a 3- to 4-hour hike to the summit. Camping is allowed, and many enjoy spending the night up here, although it can get cold and windy.
Nebaj & the Ixil Triangle (Northern Quiché Province): This remote area was once ground zero in the government's oppressive civil war campaign against indigenous populations suspected of supporting leftist rebels. Today, it's the best place to go deep into the Guatemalan highlands for a glimpse into the country's timeless rural life and landscape. Numerous towns can be visited by hiking centuries-old dirt paths and trails.
El Petén (Northeastern Guatemala): The Petén province is a massive region comprised primarily of virgin tropical rainforest, and is home to many of the country's major archaeological sites and Maya ruins. The bird-watching is top-notch, and you can see a host of other species of tropical flora and fauna on a guided hike through one of the natural parks or nature reserves.
Río Dulce (Lago Izabal Region): The Río Dulce, or Sweet River, runs from a narrow opening at one end of Lago Izabal all the way down to the Caribbean Sea. Along the way it passes through lush tropical lowland rainforest, as well as one gorgeous narrow canyon. In addition, hot springs bubble from underground, creating hot pools where you can stop and soak. Boat trips between the villages of Fronteras and Livingston are popular.
Los Siete Altares (Livingston): The name of this place translates as "The Seven Altars." Each of these altars is, in fact, a beautiful jungle waterfall. The falls are set in a steady progression in a narrow forest canyon and fed by a gentle river. The final waterfall is the largest, with a deep pool for swimming. This spot was chosen as a location for the filming of an early "Tarzan" movie.
Tortuguerio Monterrico (Monterrico): This turtle protection project is a great place to learn about the life cycle of giant sea turtles. If you're lucky enough to be here when the turtle eggs are hatching, you can take part in their weekly raffle, wherein participants are assigned a hatchling, and the quickest hatchling to the sea wins its sponsor a prize. If the turtle hatchlings aren't in season, you can still see iguanas and caimans and hike the nature trail.
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.