Top 10 Best Departments of Guatemala
The departments of Guatemala are hidden gems. They offer incredible hikes, ancient ruins, and mesmerizing colonial architecture. Guatemala is known as the Mayan center of Central America because of its historical sites and large indigenous Mayan population.
Read on to discover the top 10 departments! All departments in Guatemala have smaller regions called municipios. I’ve included a map and the most famous site in each of these top 10 out of 22 departments to give you a glimpse into the most impressive sites in this Mayan country.
Top 10 Best Departments of Guatemala
Some departments of Guatemala have lush rainforests that are home to jaguars, monkeys, toucans, iguanas, and the famous quetzal—the national bird (and currency). Others have quaint colonial cities, volcanoes, or rolling hills. Check out the following 10 favorites!
1. Alta Verapaz
Pronunciation: ahl-tah bair-ah-pas
Population: 1.2 million
Alta Verapaz is a mountainous department of Guatemala located in the center of the country. It is famous for birdwatching and home to the national bird, the quetzal.
The main economic activity in the department is agriculture. They produce coffee, corn, tea, and cocoa. I recommend trying the hot cocoa; it’s delicious.
Coban’s vast cave system attracts international cave explorers and beautiful wildlife. Some of the most interesting specimens of plants grow in this region including the Monja Blanca, the national flower.
Semuc Champey is the most awe-inspiring place to visit in Alta Verapaz. It’s a 500-meter long natural land bridge that the Cahabon River runs through.
Some people believe its waters are healing. On top of the rock formation within a small canyon-like formation there are amazing 3-meter deep pools. It is warm, humid, and rich in birds, mammals, and plants.
The coastal department of Escuintla is the gateway to the Pacific Ocean. Escuintla has a growing economy based on sugar cane, livestock, cardamom, and coffee. In Escuintla, people sell fresh pineapples and coconuts on the side of the road.
Many people from Guatemala City go because of the hot weather and attractions. The region’s most visited attractions are the black sand beaches, thermal baths, and swimming pools.
Pacaya Volcano is located in San Vicente Pacaya in Escuintla. Its altitude is 3,763 meters, and it’s an active volcano that is relatively easy to hike. The experience is one-of-a-kind. You can go all the way up to the top and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see lava flows.
Population: 1.2 million
Huehuetenango is one of the largest departments of Guatemala, and it has the largest number of municipios in the country, 32. Its capital, Huehuetenango City, is 269 kilometer from Guatemala City. It has amazing lagoons with azure water.
Most inhabitants of Huehuetenango are of Mayan descent, and the department is located in the northwestern part of the country. Huehue is one of the places in the country where several indigenous languages are spoken, and it offers a mystical atmosphere in the highlands of Guatemala.
La Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes
The Sierra de los Cuchumatanes is the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America with elevations reaching over 3,800 meters. The highest peaks are in the department of Huehuetenango.
Capital: Puerto Barrios
The department of Izabal is the gate to the Caribbean Sea. It has beautiful bodies of water and incredible places to visit. The region has many natural reserves, which makes it one of the most visited places in the country. Lake Izabal is the largest freshwater lake surrounded by a combination of waterfalls, rivers, and canyons.
The Río Dulce region encompasses a beautiful river that flows from Lake Izabal to Livingston. Río Dulce National Park which has been a protected area since 1955. It flows into Amatique Bay in the Caribbean Sea. The town of Livingston is located here, which home to the Garifuna ethnic group.
Peten is the largest department in Guatemala, and it’s full of swamps, savannas, and rainforests that inspire many people to visit.
This region is an incredible natural beauty and is considered one of the most important regions in all of Central America due to its ecological areas. It’s an enormous wildlife reserve with old trees that is considered one of the lungs of the planet due to its lush trees and plants.
Tikal National Park
Tikal is located in the northern region of Peten, 65 km from Flores, and it’s part of the Maya Biosphere reserve. Tikal is a refuge to many animals including pumas and jaguars, and it contains the fascinating archeological remains of an ancient Mayan city.
This department in Guatemala is famous because you can find the oldest colonial buildings in the country since Spanish conquistadors first settled here. It also boasts numerous volcanoes, thermal water beds, valleys, mountains, and rivers.
Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs
These are the famous hot springs at the Zunil Volcano. Because Guatemala has so many volcanoes, hot springs are an amazing benefit to enjoy in these volcanic lands. The Fuentes Georginas were discovered in 1902, and it’s the perfect escape for travelers who are looking to unwind after epic hikes.
Retalhuleu is one of the most famous departments in Guatemala due to its agricultural, natural, and industrial richness. The department of Retalhuleu is a homogenous land with mountains on one side and a flat coastal region on the other.
Its humidity and rain make the soil extremely rich. But what makes Retalhuleu popular are its pampas. Pampas are natural coastal systems that makeup lagoons that attract diverse reptiles, aquatic birds, and other animals.
This is one of the most important regions for the Mayas. It’s located 15 kilometers from Retalhuleu city. The archaeological sites here are used for ceremonies and can be visited by the public. It is considered one of the oldest ceremonial centers of the Guatemalan coast.
The department of Sacatepequez constitutes one of the most important touristic places in Guatemala due to the lovely colonial city of La Antigua, Guatemala. From cultural sites to ruins, Sacatepequez is recognized by UNESCO and people love to come visit, especially during Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Antigua’s cobblestone streets and charm attracts many tourists. In Antigua Guatemala there are many colonial monuments including San Jerónimo, La Compañía de Jesús, La Candelaria, Santa Clara, San Francisco Capuchinas, Merced Convent, Recolección, San Joseph Cathedral and San Sebastian. It also features many museums, restaurants, cafes, hotels, and beautiful courtyards.
Sololá is located in the west part of the country. It’s known for its indigenous traditions and Mayan villages. Listen to dialects such as Cackchiquel and Tzutujil. Solola is the capital city of the department, and it’s located 85 miles from Guatemala City.
Lake Atitlan is one of the main attractions in all of Guatemala. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful lake in the world. The large lake encompasses 130 square km, and the color of the water varies from green to deep blue.
It’s a mystical lake that people visit from all over the globe. Explore hiking trails and shop for textiles and souvenirs in the many pueblos Mayas (Mayan towns) along the lake shore.
Totonicapán is a tiny department in Guatemala that can get quite cold, especially in the winter. Totonicapán is known for its production of textiles and artwork. Many designers go to Totonicapán to buy their textiles and make designer clothes. The market is a beautiful spot to find textiles and much more!
Riscos de Momostenango
The Riscos de Momostenango are a rock formation that formed as a consequence of erosion and roots from the mountains that disappeared. The landmark is a unique place to have an amazing experience.
Traveling Abroad and Practice Your Spanish
Traveling abroad is one of the most incredible experiences you could ever have. Choosing any of the departments of Guatemala will help you expand your Spanish skills. Nothing is better than to fully immerse yourself in the culture and language. Whether you travel for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, immersing yourself in the culture is an unforgettable experience.
Travel easier to Spanish-speaking countries and learn Spanish today. Speaking Spanish enables you to immerse yourself in Latin American cultures without feeling like a tourist. Spanish continues to grow in the U.S. According to a study conducted by The Economist, a person can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 extra just by knowing a foreign language. Learning Spanish not only allows you to make your travels more enjoyable but it’s also an investment in your career.
To make the most of your trip, practice your Spanish conversational skills in a free class with a certified, native Spanish-speaking teacher from Guatemala.
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