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Nestled between the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean and four other countries, it's no wonder that Guatemala has a bit of everything. Roughly the size of Tennessee, it's possible to see the whole thing with careful planning, but the most successful visits focus on a particular region or interest. Here are five of the best reasons that people find themselves in Guatemala in the first place, which should make planning where to start one's travels considerably easier:
1. Lake Atitlán. Sitting pretty at one mile above sea level, this lake occupies the crater of what was once a massive volcano, and the view from the lake's flat surface is a gorgeous panorama of Mayan villages, green rolling hills and several volcanoes.
2. Antigua. Enchanting and intoxicating, Antigua’s ancient cobblestone streets and clusters of convents and monasteries will woo you, as will the three volcanoes surrounding its colonial architecture. If you visit, take a day trip to Volcán Pacaya for the best views in the region after you explore the city's plazas, markets and must-see attractions.
3. El Petén. Combine the chance to see the rainforest in real life with some of the country's finest Mayan ruins and put a visit to El Petén on your trip’s itinerary. It's a fabulous selection for active travelers looking to hike, climb, and commune with nature.
4. Volcán Santa María. Four hours of hiking gets you a atop another volcano, Santiaguito, as well as panoramic sweeping vistas of the surrounding area — worth every step you're going to take to get to the summit. For skilled outdoorsy people, camping overnight is permitted, which could be a truly unique way to enjoy the country.
5. Lake Lachuá. In case you can't spend your entire time in the Caribbean on a beach but really want to, this lake is an excellent compromise. It’s sparkling turquoise waters are surrounded by some of the lushest expanses of rainforest in the country.