Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Everything you need to know about visiting Guatemala with kids

Guatemala is full of color and wonder, making it an exciting place for children to explore.

Like all Latin American countries, family is a central tenet of the culture – children are treated with a special tenderness that will lift even the most travel-weary of hearts. Expect lots of big smiles, kindness and general accommodations for little ones and mothers-to-be.

This genuine hospitality, coupled with incredible sights such as towering volcanoes, crater lakes and jungle ruins, make Guatemala a wonderful destination for families.

Is Guatemala good for kids?

Guatemalans welcome little ones in all of their chaotic glory. Children are not only invited but expected to be everywhere, from the fanciest five-star restaurants in the city to remote volcano hikes in the highlands.

This is a country full of sensory delights for those discovering the world: think sprawling markets with colorful textiles, sparkling jewels and sweet treats around every corner. For older kids, seeing an active volcano, jumping in limestone pools or exploring the ancient ruins where Star Wars was filmed can make them feel like they are in another world.

Despite all the goodwill and jaw-dropping nature, a Guatemalan adventure does not come without its challenges. There is little in the way of family-friendly amenities, such as changing tables in washrooms, and both car seats and high chairs are hard to come by.

A baby carrier will serve you better than a stroller due to the cobbled streets and narrow footpaths that dominate the country. There are not a lot of open play spaces, but many restaurants have play areas inside, so it’s possible for parents to take a breather while kids burn off some steam.

Where is best in Guatemala for kids?

The first stop for almost everyone in Guatemala is the charming city of Antigua, and for those traveling with kids, this should be no exception. There’s plenty here for everyone: museums, markets, green spaces and volcanoes. From Antigua, hop on the shuttle to Lago de Atitlán for the ultimate experience in boating, swimming and paddling on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Alternatively, head in the other direction to the black-sand Pacific beaches or the heart of Guatemala City for museums and culinary delights. Further east, jungle escapes await where the crystal clear pools of Semuc Champey and the ancient ruins in El Petén make for epic outdoor adventures.

Best things to do in Guatemala with babies and toddlers

Release baby turtles at Monterrico Beach

From September to January, the university-run project Tortugario Monterrico in the beach town of Monterrico allows visitors to show up at sunset and adopt a baby turtle.

For a small fee, your child can choose their own turtle to cheer on as the little creature scrambles towards its forever home in the water. Profits from the project go directly towards helping preserve the local turtle population and other reptiles native to the area.

Visit Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

Don’t let the name fool you – this is less a museum and more a recreational center, with lots of colorful, interactive displays and super enthusiastic staff. There’s plenty of open, well-maintained space for running around and exploring, both indoors and outside, and educational games that range from very simple to more science-based and Guatemala-specific, such as learning about volcanoes and why they erupt.

There is a fast-food restaurant (Pollo Campero, think Guatemala’s version of KFC) on site, but a better option would be to pack a picnic lunch and eat outside on the lovely lawn.

Best things to do in Guatemala with kids

Swim in the pools of Semuc Champey

It’s an adventure in itself getting to Semuc Champey (eight hours from Guatemala City, including some bumpy backroads), but the turquoise pools are well worth the trek. A short hike up to a mirador offers spectacular views and chances to spot wildlife, such as colorful birds and elusive iguanas.

After the walk, it’s easy to spend a day splashing around in the cool waters, rock hopping around the pools, or just kicking back and sunbathing in the middle of the jungle.

Ride a horse up Volcán Pacaya and roast marshmallows at the top

It would be a shame to visit Guatemala and not climb one of its many spectacular volcanoes. Fortunately for parents, there is Volcán Pacaya. Located near Antigua, it’s the only volcano that offers local guides on standby with horses ready to help carry the weary to the top. It’s a moderately paced hike and is perfect for kids who want to try out a climb but might grow too tired on the trail.

Since this is one of the country’s designated national parks, there are plenty of amenities, including well-maintained washrooms and stands where you can buy local snacks. The best part of the trek? Roasting marshmallows over cooled lava at the top.

Make (and eat) chocolate at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua

The ChocoMuseo will lure people of all ages in with its free samples and then keep you entertained with information about the history of chocolate in Guatemala. Located in the heart of the shopping district of Antigua, it hosts excellent workshops where the friendly and knowledgeable staff teach participants how to make chocolate.

They show how it’s all done, from bean to bar, with the opportunity for kids to get as weird as they want when customizing their own treats.

Best things to do in Guatemala with teenagers and tweenagers

Explore underground caves in Lanquín

Located near the stunning pools of Semuc Champey in Lanquín, the K’anba caves tour is a unique experience for those who dare to delve into the dark.

Thrill seekers can walk, slip, slide and swim through an underground river cave system, lighting the way with a candle in hand. The tour takes about an hour and a half and includes a tube down the Río Cahabón at the end.

Paddleboard around Lago de Atitlán

A morning session with Stand Up Paddle Atitlán is the perfect start to the day and is suitable for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Glide across Lago de Atitlán in the morning while the water is still tranquil and enjoy the spectacular view of the crater lake’s impressive trifecta of volcanoes. The tour includes interesting tidbits about the history of the area and a stop at a special spot for cliff jumping.

Explore the ruins of Tikal

The ancient ruins of Tikal are buried deep in the jungle of El Petén and will satisfy young history buffs and nature lovers. Kids will love the strange sounds of howler monkeys screaming throughout the park and the chance to spot tropical birds, snakes and crocodiles.

The site is home to more than 200 structures, some of which are partially or completely swallowed by jungle. The most dramatic pyramid in the park, Templo IV is an incredible spot to watch the sunrise, for those able to corral everyone out of bed in time. Older kids may also enjoy the Tikal Canopy Tour, a zip-lining adventure inside the park every morning at 9am.

Planning tips

  • The water from the faucet is never (ever) drinkable in Guatemala, so always have bottled water on hand.
  • The rainy season runs from May to November, and parents should be extra cautious about potential food-borne illnesses during these months. The fresh fruit sold on the street will definitely tempt everyone in the family, but it’s best to stick to fruit with a peel. Some kids might also be happy to hear that salads are a no-no, as raw produce runs the risk of having been washed in contaminated water. Stick to warm, cooked food whenever possible.
  • The local buses may be a little too chaotic for kids (not to mention some adults), so it’s best to go with the pricier shuttles that move between the touristic parts of the country. When visiting Lago de Atitlán, the lanchas (water taxis) are a fun way to get around the different villages, and children under 12 ride for free sometimes, but not always (depending on the captain).
  • There are no car seat laws in Guatemala, and they are not readily available. For those who need a car seat or other specialty items like breast pumps, the chain store Jugueton carries them at a premium, so it’s best to come prepared.