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Less known for diving than its Central American neighbors, Guatemala still hosts plenty of underwater environments to explore. Take a trip under the surface in Lake Atitlán or Puerto Barrios.

Diving in Guatemala

Quick facts

Guatemala may not host the plethora of diving locations you find in Honduras or Belize. However, if you happen to be in Guatemala and hold a dive certification, the country is home to a variety of unique sites. These sites present training challenges in the form of both altitude and freshwater diving.

Guatemala’s premiere dive area is Lake Atitlán. This lake was formed by a volcanic explosion 84,000 years ago which created the large caldera. Today, the lake is the deepest in Central America, reaching depths of 1100 feet (335 meters) and is surrounded by three active volcanoes. Legend has it that the lake was also home to an ancient Mayan village, now hidden below the water. In 1997, this was proven to be fact. Although the exact location remains a secret, divers report occasionally finding ancient artifacts. Besides looking for the Mayan village, divers can enjoy many oddities beneath the surface. These include a warm fault line, a variety of homes and hotels overtaken by rising water levels and a petrified forest.

At an altitude of 5100 feet (1560 meters), diving in Lake Atitlán does require special procedures. It is recommended that divers spend at least one night at the lake before and after their dives. In addition, the climate around the lake is relatively cool. March and April are the warmest months with average air temperatures of about 70°F (21°C), while the water in the lake remains a constant 71°F (22°C) throughout the year.

Outside of Lake Atitlán, Puerto Barrios and Cabo Tres Puntas on the eastern coast also host dive shops. While there are a few sites found in the Guatemalan Caribbean waters, many of these shops actually travel into the Cayes of Belize on most dive trips. In addition, a few dive shops arrange trips to the Pacific coast or a few other lakes scattered around Guatemala. Whether you choose one of these trips or a dive in Lake Atitlán, diving in Guatemala is sure to add an extra bit of adventure to your Central American vacation.

When to go

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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What to see

Unfortunately, a series of environmental disasters has negatively impacted the biodiversity of Lake Atitlán. In the 1950s, Guatemala introduced a host of non-native black bass to the lake in order to entice fisherman to the area. These fish ate their way through the natural ecosystem and today spawn often, but die quickly due to the variation in the lake’s temperatures. This has also had the unintended consequence of creating toxic cyanobacteria which produces a brown sludge on the water and a nasty smell. However, diving in Lake Atitlán is not completed for sightings of black bass. Rather, people hold an interest in diving here for the hope of finding historical artifacts and the intention of enjoying a dive at high altitude.

When diving near Guatemala’s Caribbean coast and into the Cayes of Belize, you can find about 70 species of coral and 400 species of fish. However, big sea animals are the show stoppers in this part of town. Divers occasionally spot whale sharks, nurse sharks, eagle rays, stingrays and even manatees. Schooling grouper, snapper, barracuda, Atlantic spadefish and horse-eyed jacks surround the walls of the atolls. Sea turtles use the area’s sandy beaches to nest during summer months.

Calendar

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Country

At the most basic level, Guatemala is a country in Central America. It is surrounded by Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras as well as the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and is the most populous country in Central America with 15.8 million people. Guatemala is mostly mountainous with small patches of desert and the lowlands of Petén. Active volcanoes criss-cross the land, making for interesting landscapes.

Guatemala formed the backbone of the Mayan civilization thousands of years ago. During the 16th Century, the Spanish colonized most of the country which subsequently become part of New Spain. In 1821, the country gained independence but not stability. From the late 19th Century until 1944, the country was subsequently ruled by a series of dictators. A pro-democratic revolution raged from 1944 until 1954 when another dictator was installed, and from 1960 until 1996, Guatemala was the center of a bloody civil war. In the final year of that war, the UN backed a peace proposal that brought an end to violence and brought democracy to the country. However, crime, the drug trade, instability and poverty still plague Guatemala.

Today Guatemala is on the rise. The country is known as a biodiversity hotspot owing to its rich variety of environments. It is also home to a unique mix of Spanish and Mayan cultures. Guatemala’s main export is coffee followed by raw sugar, bananas, gold and precious metal ore. Interestingly, the country’s currency is called the Quetzal, which is also the name of the national bird.

Other attractions

The main attraction in Guatemala are the Mayan ruins, particularly El Mirador and Tikal. Climbing up one of the many active volcanoes also presents a thrill. Antigua offers access to many of them. Flores and Semuc Champey are home to wild jungles and exciting waterfalls, and hiking around the Rio Dulce area is sure to please nature lovers. Finally, if you are visiting Lake Atitlán, don’t miss the chance to enjoy some kayaking or boating in this tranquil setting.

Getting there

Guatemala’s main airport is La Aurora International Airport (GUA) in Guatemala City, which welcomes flights from North America and Central America. It is also possible to fly into Flores, Petén or to drive from Mexico, Honduras or El Salvador. Buses operate from Honduras, Belize, Mexico and El Salvador to Guatemala. Furthermore, ferries leave from Belize to Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.

Once you are in the country, you can travel from point A to point B by bus, van, picop, rental car, plane, trolley or train.

UTC-06:00

Time zone

GTQ

Currency

+502

Calling code

120 V

Electric volt

A, 

B

Plug type

GUA

Main airport
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