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Antigua: Gateway to Guatemala
Sitting at the confluence of three tectonic plates, Guatemala is defined by its dynamic geology. More than 30 volcanoesincluding 13,845-foot [4,220-meter] Tajumulco, the highest in Central Americapepper the country's southwestern highlands, where stunningly blue Lake Atitlán fills 50 square miles [130 square kilometers] of a collapsed volcanic caldera.
Though it was only in 1996 that Guatemala ended a devastating 36-year civil war, it has already earned a well-entrenched spot on the "gringo trail." Many travelers base themselves in the colonial city of Antigua, where mountain biking, hiking, and rafting trips are easy to set up, and trails lead to volcanic peaks.
All prices in U.S. dollars
Where to Go
Framed by three 12,000-plus-foot [3,658-plus-meter] volcanoesAgua, Fuego, and Acatenangoand filled with 18th-century architecture, Antigua is home to most of the country's best outfitters. Old Town Outfitters
For a longer excursion, travel to Lake Atitlán, which is ringed by Maya villages and volcanoes of its own. Instead of staying in touristy Panajachel, stop in tiny Santa Cruz La Laguna. Take long hikes, then dive in Atitlán with ATI Divers (two-tank dive, $45; four-day PADI open-water certification, $175; contact through the Iguana Perdida Hotel [see Lodging and Dining]).
How to Go
Shuttle buses ($10) leave six times daily from the Guatemala City airport for Antigua. From Antigua, "chicken" buses (converted school buses; $3), comfortable "Pullman" buses ($4), and tourist minibuses ($10) make the three-hour run to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, where you can catch a boat ($2) to nearby Santa Cruz.
Lodging and Dining
Photograph by Frans Lemmens/Getty Images
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