There are not all that many places in the world where you can be on a black-sand beach, a gorgeous volcano-surrounded lake, hiking to waterfalls, climbing Mayan pyramids and temples in the rainforest, wandering on 16th-century cobblestones, and eating world-class cuisine just by traveling a few hours by car, helicopter, or plane. If any of that sounds appealing, consider Guatemala for an epic honeymoon or vacation that offers way more than you realized. And while it might sound like you’d break the bank doing all this, the other thing that makes this accessible paradise a winner is that it’s actually very affordable.
Guatemala City, the capital and largest urban center in Central America, is where you’ll start your dreamy adventure—but you probably don’t need to spend too much time here, except to eat. Zona 4 is the place to find cute and cool restaurants like the food hall-esque La Esquina. You’ll have your choice of mouthwatering ceviches, tacos, pizzas, donuts, and elaborate milkshakes the size of your head. If you have a sweet tooth, head across the street for more fantastical ice cream creations at Helados Adela.
Now that you’ve fueled up for the hour-long journey, hit the road for Antigua, a town colonized by the Spanish. Today it is full of excellent eats and shopping, and it's surrounded by volcanoes and manageable mountains for hiking or watching the sunset with a bottle of wine. Here, the largest hotel is Casa Santo Domingo, which rose out of a former convent and offers many romantic nooks, especially in its new sprawling spa. Other overnight options that are quaint and intimate are Hotel Sor Juana and Villa las Pilas, with gardens so cute you may just want to hang there for a while. When you’re ready for activity, book with Antigua Tours and get a bit of cultural education and history of the area. It’s pretty fascinating!
Guatemala is essentially a secret foodie destination, and Antigua is at the center of the deliciousness. There are former Nobu chefs who serve incredible Japanese tapas with little Guatemalan twists (Izakaya), and an Italian expat who goes to the market daily for the freshest produce to put in his ever-changing pasta dishes (Caffe Mediterraneo). Both eateries are perfect for a date-night dinner, followed by—if it’s January through July—a curated selection of Japanese whiskey at Alquimia Cocktail Room, where the passionate mixologists are like magicians with aromas and essences. (To get a little tipsy, you can also visit the beautiful Ron Zacapa tasting room in town.) Other hot spot restaurants include Tartines and Bistrot Cinq for French cuisine, Doña Luisa for incredible banana bread, and Cafe Sky for rooftop tacos with a photo-worthy view.
Food is certainly not the only reason to go to Lake Atitlan’s spectacular Casa Palopó, a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel that’s supremely romantic—but it’s certainly a big plus. You’ll want to ask for table number one at the intimate property’s 6.8 Palopó restaurant, which has its own little nook perched on a terrace overlooking the tie-dye blue lake and its trio of volcanos. For even more privacy you can also dine on your lake-facing room’s balcony, or have something set up in a remote corner, too—say, after a blessing by the resident Mayan shaman or a couples’ treatment in the hotel's spa.
Boat trips across Central America’s Lake Como to the various little towns surrounding it—one renowned for yoga and meditation while others have reputations for weaving, ceramics, and even nightlife—are definitely worth your time. If you and your partner are hikers, grab a guide and climb one of the volcanos or to waterfalls in the verdant, picturesque area. Whatever you do, don’t miss the sunset—preferably with a refreshing and fruity cocktail and just-made blue-corn tortillas and guacamole by the pools or hot tub over the lake.
Sunsets are a bit different—but still epic—from the West Coast’s black-sand beaches (thanks to all the volcanos in Guatemala) and also in the North, near Belize, at the deluxe Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel, Museum & Spa. There, you can hop a pontoon boat and glide through the lagoon with wine and charcuterie as the sun sets and moon rises. The water is different but the idea of their spacious and private over-lagoon stilted suites (each with a jacuzzi on the deck) is almost like being in the Maldives. You can also head out on a boat to commune and share coconuts with spider monkeys, or check out the private nature reserve’s jaguar on a thrilling quad tour. For pampering, hit the spa for hot volcanic stone massages that will melt any leftover wedding stress.
In Guatemala's lush rainforest locale, everything seems oversized—from the palm fronds to the massive Mayan temples and pyramids that were built starting in the second or third century A.D. and continue to survive in nearby Tikal, an ancient ceremony site for the Indigenous people. A tour of the area will provide a history lesson, awe-inspiring photo-ops, and your daily steps. The views from the tops of the temples over the rainforest canopy—one of which has appeared in Star Wars—are worth the many climbs. And because this is Guatemala, and the smoke-infused cuisine is way better than anything you can get at home, wrap things up with a candlelit feast on the private dock where it’s just you two in the moon’s spotlight.