Guatemala has long been popular with travelers, and not only because it is one of the cheapest countries in Central America. Whether you’re a history buff, an adventure junkie or a cultural explorer, Guatemala has something for everyone. The Mayan culture is is very much alive and the people are incredibly friendly.
It’s easy to spend a month (or more) in Guatemala, but it’s entirely possible to get all of Guatemala’s highlights in 2 weeks. Here’s our Guatemala itinerary to help you plan!
But first: some Guatemala quick facts
- Capital City: Guatemala City
- Language: Spanish
- Currency: Quetzal (1GTQ = 0.13$)
- Visa: Check your requirements here
- Best to travel: Dry season runs November-March and is a busy time. Wet season is May-October and can make visiting places like Tikal difficult. However, Guatemala is known as the land of eternal spring, make of that what you will!
- Transportations: The chicken buses are the easiest to get around. They run often and plenty. The better shuttle buses can be booked through your accommodation
- Safety: Never leave your luggage alone on the bus, keep it with you. Guatemala is safe if you stay on the tourist route. Avoid arriving at new places in the middle of the night.
It is easy to fall in love with Antigua. A UNESCO heritage site since 1979, the colorful streets are so pretty to wander through, and where else could you sip cocktails at a rooftop bar with volcano views? Antigua has a super laid back vibe and it’s the perfect place to stay for a few days, especially if you’re looking to do some day trips.
Things to do in Antigua
- Climb a volcano! The hike up Pacaya Volcano takes about 2 hours and not too rough. It’s an active volcano, which means you won’t get to go near the crater, but you can buy marshmallows to roast in the ground. Don’t fall for advertisements promising you hot lava, you won’t see any. Your hostel can help arrange a local guide.
- See the Santa Catalina Arch. This gateway dates back to the 1600s, and on a clear day you get a view of Volcan Agua through the arch
- Join a walking tour. One of our favorite things to do in a new city, and Antigua is perfect for a walking tour. Book one with Get Your Guide.
- Visit Antigua’s churches. Iglesia de Merced and Antigua Cathedral are stunning
- Hipster it out at one of the many coffee bars or rooftop bars. Our favorite rooftop: Cafe Sky.
Where to stay
Honesty check: we chose wrong and stayed somewhere a little too far out and it wasn’t anything special compared to all the cute guesthouses and hotels that Antigua has. Disappointing, but we decided not to change since we were only there for 3 nights and really only slept there. Regrets? Little bit.
Lake Atitlán could easily be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The water is very blue, the lake is surrounded by volcanoes and little villages, and the sunsets are majestic. If you’re a hiker, this is definitely the place to do so.
Things to do around Atitlán
- Hike the Indian Nose. After a 45 minute hike up you’ll be above the mountains and have a beautiful view over the lake and villages. Recommended to do this with others.
- Go kayaking! Rent a kayak and ‘hop’ from village to village.
- Go shopping in Chicicastenango. This colorful market has everything your heart desires and is actually a market not just for tourists, but also a local one. Pick up some handicrafts or fresh fruits or just wander the huge grounds
- Visit some villages; Panajechel is a good base and good for souvenir shopping, Santa Cruz to meet travelers and to hike from to Jaibalito, and San Pedro for partying.
Most people choose to stay only on Isle de Flores and us it as a base for Tikal, but Flores in itself is worth to explore! The island in lake Petén Itzá is connected to Santa Elena on the shore by a causeway and only about a quarter mile from one end to the other. Looking out onto the lake it’s easy to forget you’re nowhere near the sea.
Things to do in Flores
- Wander the cobblestone streets. The colorful houses and cute boutiques are perfect for pictures
- Catch a sunset. Flores is the poster child for magical sunsets! Best rooftop bar: Sky Bar
- Get your streetfood fill at the daily Malecon market by the water
- Rent a kayak and explore the lake. Make you way to Jorge’s rope swing, San Miguel for the Mirador Del Rey Canek viewpoint and the beach at Playa Chechenal Peten. Get your kayak on in the morning as the lake can get rougher in the afternoon
Ah, Tikal. If you’re traveling Guatemala, there’s probably no way you would (and you should’t!) miss Tikal. The ancient ruin of an old Mayan citadel in the northern rainforest, the area stretches around 200 miles, with the UNESCO Heritage Site around 6 square miles.
There are thousands of temples, some beautifully restored and some in ruins. It’s easy to get lost wandering the huge grounds, so if you’re not touring with a guide, buy a map. You’re allowed to climb some temples and from the top they boast beautiful views over the rainforest dotted with temple peaks. Go early morning or at dusk and you’ll hear the monkeys.
Tips for visiting Tikal
- Choose between sunset or sunrise. If choosing sunrise, make sure you buy the tickets the day before. Or choose it all and come before sunrise and stay in the park overnight.
- There are no stalls inside, make sure to bring water and sunscreen
- Wear sturdy shoes! We’ve seen people fall over rocks sticking out of the ground more than a few times
Livingston is a funky little Caribbean town on the east coast of Guatemala. One could argue it’s not really worth a visit, but we quite liked the vibe. It’s only accessible by boat and the population is small. On Livingston, Maya and Garifuna culture come together. There’s live music every night and the local food is fantastic. Try tapado!
The beaches are not really worth a visit, but you’re only a few miles from Belize! There is an immigrations office in Punta Gorda and plenty of boats to take you there.
Livingston actually sits at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, or Sweet River. This river meanders into a jungle area of lakes to the small town of Rio Dulce. It is again a completely different side of Guatemala, and relatively undiscovered at that.
The main draw is to get a canoe and make your way through the jungle. Listen for monkeys and birds and just relax. There’s a lot of pretty and secluded places to stay to really help you relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
Remember to not book anything in Rio Dulce itself as this is just a big main street on the mainland, but make sure to book on the river and coordinate your arrival with your hotel so they can send a boat to pick you up.
In all honesty; we had not done a whole lot of research beforehand. We knew we wanted to see Tikal and we love ourselves a UNESCO city but other than that, it was pretty much winging it. We never thought we’d love Guatemala as much as we did! The diversity, friendliness and Mayan culture blew us away. Traveling around is relatively easy and you can eat all your heart desires for just a few Quetzales. What’s not to like? Hopefully our Guatemala itinerary will help you find your way!
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