If you’re planning an adventure trip to the southern Americas, chances are you’ve been looking into the Andes: maybe some mountaineering in Argentina, or kayaking along the glacial rapids of eastern Peru. Sound familiar? But what if we were to tell you that you don’t need to set your sights below the equator to find these kinds of challenges? In fact, just farther north in Central America there’s a country that’s quietly gaining a reputation as a hub of wild outdoor experiences, to the thrill and excitement of unsuspecting adventurers everywhere. Enter Guatemala, a land replete with peaks (30+), caves, rivers, hot springs, coastal wetlands and, of course, jungle-enshrouded Mayan ruins. Provided you’re not looking for a ski-vacation, this is about as exciting as a journey abroad gets. But since we’re aware that these summits and rapids aren’t necessarily household names (just yet), let’s take a minute or two to examine this bountiful adventure-offering in depth.
It’s almost impossible to talk about outdoor excursions in Guatemala without starting straight at the source: its volcanoes. We’re talking about massive, active, and stunningly beautiful igneous landmasses that tower more than 4,200 meters above sea level. Feel like watching the sun rise from the highest point in Central America? Take a hike up Volcán Tajumulco. Want ringside seats to daily volcanic eruptions? Set up camp atop either Acatenango or Santa Maria. Got an itch for some incredible at-altitude rock climbing? Make a beeline for Cerro Quemado. You can even find plenty high-level mountain biking trails around these parts, like those traversing Volcan de Agua. We could go on, but you get the picture. With dozens of available volcanoes spread over a relatively small geographical area, your hiking and climbing options are almost limitless, and the landscapes you’ll be exploring along the way will likely fall somewhere between surreal and sublime.
Should your appetite for adventure stretch beyond high altitudes, however, rest assured you won’t go wanting here. Guatemala’s whitewater résumé is nothing to scoff at, and includes close to ten navigable rivers (Los Esclavos, Naranjo, Cahabon, etc.) with rapids ranging from class II to the occasional class V. Speaking of aquatic adventure, you’d do well to set aside at least a few days at the renowned Lake Atitlan to experience all that this inspiringly beautiful body of water has to offer. And then there are the hikes through Guatemala’s pervasive jungle: a thick, untamed wilderness that shrouds incredible sights like Semuc Champey and El Mirador in mystery and adventurous intrigue. When you put it all together (and trust us, we’re just getting warmed up here), it’s a wonder that Guatemala has taken so long to make its formidable mark on the adventure-travel industry. But make it it has, and now it’s high time you experienced what all of the fuss is about.