2-Week Guatemala Itinerary

Guatemala is a relatively small country, making it ideal for a shorter trip, especially if you live in the Western hemisphere. It’s affordable, friendly, surprisingly safe and absolutely overflowing with incredible nature. Volcanoes, jungles & black sand beaches -- Guatemala’s got it all conveniently packed into a manageable and accessibly small country. 

2 weeks is plenty of time, in my opinion, to see Guatemala’s highlights -- that is Volcan Acatenango, the Tikal Ruins and the world famous Semuc Champey tide pools. There’s obviously always more to see off the beaten path, but for those with a limited timeframe, this itinerary is perfect for any and everything you want to see in Guatemala.

Guatemala Basics

Currency

Guatemalan Quetzal

Exchange Rate

$1 USD = 7.65 Quetzal (as of February 2020)

Capital

Guatemala City

Primary Language

Spanish

Time Zone

GMT -6 hours (Central Standard Time)

Seasons

Dry Season: November - April; Rainy Season: May - October

Food & Drinks to try in Guatemala

  • Arroz con frijoles - rice & beans (this will make up 60% of your diet)

  • Caldo de Gallina- tasty, tasty chicken soup

  • Chicharrones- fried pork skins

  • Empanadas- like empanadas anywhere in Central America, except generally stuffed with potato and spinach

  • Chiles Rellenos- stuffed chile peppers filled with rice, meats and cheeses

  • Pupusas- thick, stuffed and pan-fried tortillas filled with meat and cheese

  • Buñuelos- fried dough soaked in honey syrup

  • Tres Leches Cake- a yummy cake soaked in three (tres) kinds of milks (leches) 

Safety in Guatemala

Okay, I’m not going to lie to you, Guatemala isn’t the safest country in the world. On the plane ride there, a local woman specifically cautioned me against acting foolish in public or being negligent, because things do happen. Having said that, there was really no time in Guatemala when I felt unsafe or in trouble. The locals were friendly, accommodating and happy to welcome tourists, and the countryside felt far safer than the big cities. Guatemala City, in fact, would be the closest I’d come to feeling unsafe, so if you’re concerned, you can use it as a hub to fly in and out of, and spend the majority of your trip elsewhere. You wouldn’t be missing much anyway. Most of Guatemala’s beauty is in the country.

2-Week Guatemala Itinerary

 

Day 1: Guatemala City

Regardless of where you’re coming from, chances are you’ll be flying into Guatemala City. The country’s capital, Guatemala City often gets a bad rep for being dangerous and underwhelming, and I can’t say that I totally disagree. My time in Guatemala City was spent hanging out at the hostel, checking out local markets and attending the Christmas festival that was coincidentally happening when I was there. The fact of the matter is that it’s a city, and there’s not much else to say about it. It can be crowded and bustling and occasionally dodgy, so I’d recommend asking your hostel staff what they’d recommend doing and what times of day are safer than others to be out and about. 

Wondering where to stay in Guatemala City?

Check out Capsule Hostel

Day 2: Flores

 

A total opposite to Guatemala City is Flores, a tiny tourist village on the east side of the country. Built primarily for tourists headed to see the Tikal Ruins, Flores is safe, warm and super relaxed. It’s brightly colored and easygoing -- a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City. It’s so small and walkable, in fact, that you can walk around the entirety of it in 20 minutes. 

You don’t need a ton of time in Flores, since most people come here specifically for the day trip to the ruins, and there’s really not much else around to see. But enjoy the quiet, grab a smoothie and relax in a hammock overlooking the lake that surrounds it. 

What to do in Flores

Binge eat at the night market

Like every great international town, Flores has a night market. It sets up around sunset in the middle of the street and has all sorts of delicious foods. Not only is this your cheapest dinner option, but it’s likely the only authentic food you can get on Flores. Everything else is expensive western food.

Rent a boat to Jorges Rope Swing

I don’t know who Jorge is, but he owns a small bit of land at the edge of the lake that Flores is on. Catch a cheap boat across the lake to his rope swing. You can buy a few beers and relax on the hammock, swing into the water or just have a swim. We did this at sunset and it was empty, quiet and super relaxing. I definitely recommend going later in the day.

Party at Los Amigos

Whether or not you decide to stay at Los Amigos, there’s no denying it’s a great place to drink. The lobby is a beautiful indoor/outdoor garden, and when things get too rowdy, there’s a really cool bar in the back with a trippy, psychedelic vibe. Perfect for meeting up with some fellow travelers over a beer.

Grab a bite and relax in a hammock at Cool Beans Cafe

It’s a perfect spot to chill out and relax after either your quick flight or long bus ride from Guatemala City.

Enjoy the sunset from a rooftop bar

Because Flores is a tourist town, there are tons of choices for rooftop bars, all within walking distance. Grab a drink and watch the sunset over the lake. It’s really quite beautiful.

Wondering where to stay in Flores?

I recommend Los Amigos (for a party vibe) or Hostel Yaxha (for a chill yet social vibe)

 

Day 3: Tikal Ruins

Alright, so if you schlepped all the way to Flores, chances are it was to see the Tikal Ruins. Tikal is an ancient Mayan city, that was said to have been built around 200 AD until the Mayans abandoned it in 850 AD. It’s remarkably well-kept, absolutely enormous, and relatively crowd-free compared to the other Latin American tourist-swamped Mayan ruins. 

I’d recommend getting in on an early morning tour, where you can get to the ruins before sunrise (we booked our tour with Hostel Yaxha). It’s quite cool and mysterious walking through the ruins with flashlights before you can see any of them, and getting in early means beating the crowds that want to sleep in. Plus, you get to watch the sunrise over the entire archaeological park and witness the local howler monkeys waking up in the morning (which is an absolute must-see. I’ve never heard sounds like that in my life). Tikal also notably played a part in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, as the filming location for the planet Yavin 4. Make sure to stick around past sunrise so you can get the famous picture. 

Wandering through Tikal is remarkable because it’s so remote. You can easily get lost and not find a single person for minutes at a time, not to mention there are some beautiful viewpoints where you can see for miles. 

Wildlife in Tikal

There’s also a really cool abundance of wildlife living in the park. Toucans and parrots can be seen just about anywhere, as well as some brave wandering coatis (long-nosed relatives of raccoons). The howler monkeys are really easily spotted at the taller viewpoints in the park, but they’re quite curious and not afraid of humans, so keep that in mind when they get close. It’s said that jaguars and crocodiles are known to hang around the ruins as well, but they’re much more shy than the rest of the animals, so I wouldn’t count on spotting any.

Days 4-7: Antigua

 

Antigua is hands down one of the most beautiful and iconic cities I’ve ever been to. A short one-hour bus ride from Guatemala City, it’s quite easy to get to, especially since buses run there from the Guatemala City airport, perfect for when you fly back from Flores. Once you get there, you’ll immediately notice the colorful and beautiful colonial buildings, the cobblestone streets, and the volcanos that flank the city on all sides. Antigua sits at the base of three volcanoes: Volcan de Fuego, Volcan Pacaya and Volcan Acatenango. They all are active, but only Fuego will provide you with a beautiful and somewhat scary explosive show at night. 

What to do in Antigua

Take a chocolate workshop at ChocoMuseo Arco

This fun and affordable workshop will show you the process of chocolate-making from the cocoa pod to the chocolate bar. There are tons of free samples and the English-speaking instructors are very sweet.

Take that famous picture at the Santa Catalina Arch

If you’re just walking around Antigua, you’ll likely bump into this instagram star. Tons of people take pictures under the arch with the volcanoes in the background. Something to see if you’re doing a self-guided walking tour of the city.

Check out Antigua’s Open Air Market

Just like any other Latin American city, Antigua has a market that sells the usuals- cheap knockoff clothes, tasty local food and stalls upon stalls of fresh fruit. It’s a fun and free thing to do when you’re not quite sure how to spend your day.

Head to el Mirador for sunset

This easy-to-get-to viewpoint overlooks the entire city of Antigua with a panoramic view of both volcanoes, and it’s totally free. Ask around in your hostel; it’s an easy reason to chat with other travelers and get a group headed up there for sunset.

Do a day hike of Volcan Pacaya

If you don’t have the time or physical endurance for the Acatenango hike, Pacaya is a great alternative. With a duration of 7 hours and pick-up and drop-off at your hostel, it’s quite easy to get to. The hike itself is only 3 hours and totally doable for moderate hikers.

Wondering where to stay in Antigua?

I recommend Three Monkeys Hostel (for a chill vibe & awesome rooftop)

Hiking Volcan Acatenango

Volcan Acatenango has the world’s most rowdy next door neighbor. Sitting right next to Volcan de Fuego, it has a strategically perfect spot for viewing the fiery mountain in all its glory.

I’m going to be honest, Acatenango is not an easy hike. 2 days total (with one overnight), this hike is almost exclusively uphill, with about 7 hours of hiking per day. It’s steep, it’s temperamental (literally), and it’s challenging. Brace yourself for some cramps, leg exercises and freezing weather, because the top of Acatenango is very cold. However, having said that, it is absolutely 100% worth the challenge. The view of Fuego from the top is breathtaking and unmissable. 

**Note: Don’t panic if you didn’t pack warm clothes or a jacket. Most trekking companies will have gloves, jackets and hats you can rent for a cheap price.

What to Expect when Hiking Acatenango

You’ll set out early in the morning on the first day, head up to about 3,500 meters above sea level, and arrive at your campsite facing Fuego. You’ll have a front and center view of the volcano, and you’ll see, it’s very active. After a home cooked dinner, some Guatemalan hot chocolate and some furry pup friends, you’ll head to sleep early so you can wake up at 3 AM and hike to the very top.

The morning hike is challenging, not only because of the advanced altitude (up to 4,500m) or because it’s pitch black out, but more so because the top of Acatenango is covered in volcanic sand -- the kind that’ll swallow your ankles up just a bit and pull you backward. Just keep going at a moderately comfortable pace and you’ll make it to the top for sunrise. And boy is it worth it.

The way down, you’ll find, is much easier, will take less time, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself taunting the hikers going up the mountain on your way down. After 7 hours you should arrive at the starting point and catch a bus back to town -- dirty, tired, but with a great story to tell.

 

Days 8-10: Lake Atitlan

Only 3 hours by bus from Antigua, Lake Atitlan is a remarkable next stop on your trip. A prehistoric crater that filled with rainwater over thousands of years, Lake Atitlan has extraordinary biodiversity and unbeatable panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes. In fact, you can see the Lake from the top of Acatenango when you’re back in Antigua.

Lake Atitlan is the perfect haven for weary travelers who want to relax and unwind after the difficult hikes in Antigua. Whether you stay in San Pedro, Santa Cruz, or any of the other dozens of villages on its coast, you can find something perfectly suited to the kind of experience you’d like to have. 

Getting to Lake Atitlan is very simple. There are dozens of buses that run to Panajachel (the main town on the edge of the lake) from Antigua, and the ride is a short 3 hours. From there, you can take a water taxi to the village of your choosing. Be sure to do a bit of research regarding which village you’d like to visit, as they all have different personalities:

  • San Pedro- partying, nightlife, huge array of other backpackers

  • Santa Cruz- quiet, relaxing, with lots of hammocks

  • San Marcos- hippy, alternative, vegan, dreadlocks

  • San Juan- local, indigenous, authentically Guatemalan

What to do at Lake Atitlan

Go Kayaking or Swimming

Many hostels will have kayaks that you can use for free when you stay with them. Kayaking the lake is amazing and offers the best possible panorama of its entirety.

Kick back in a hammock

This is exactly what I needed after my Acatenango hike, and boy did the views not disappoint. Grab a beer or a smoothie and kick your feet up while enjoying the sunshine. But if you're looking for more ideas, check out this handy guide at AtitlanLiving!

Hike from village to village

One of the cool things about the lake is you can hike the perimeter to get from village to village, and it’s worth doing. The lake has this cool tropical-yet-chilly biosphere because of its altitude, and the plants you can spot on the way reflect that, from pine trees to palm trees. Be sure to grab a map and follow the route, because it can be easy to get lost. And don’t worry about having to hike back; there are tons of water taxis that can take you back when you’re ready.

Scuba dive at La Iguana Perdida

La Iguana Perdida is home to the only dive shop on the lake. Pay them a visit and learn about the multiple options you have for diving the lake, from a sunken hotel to a petrified underwater tree. But expect to wear a wetsuit; the water’s cold!

Wondering where to stay at Lake Atitlan?

I recommend Free Cerveza (San Pedro) for an awesome glamping experience, or

La Iguana Perdida  (also San Pedro) for easy access to diving lessons.

Days 11-12: Semuc Champey

 

Once you’re all rested & relaxed from the lake, grab a water taxi back to Panajachel and book your bus to Lanquin. Lanquin is the biggest village near Semuc Champey, and the trip to it requires a bit of backtracking and going past Guatemala City. From Lake Atitlan, the ride is about 12 hours, so stock up on food and podcasts and try your best not to need the bathroom. I know it’s a long ride, but trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Semuc Champey is a remarkable natural stream of water that’s formed these gorgeous crystalline blue tide pools in the middle of the country’s jungle. It’s an absolutely perfect destination for adventure seekers and couch potatoes alike, as you can hike around Semuc or just relax in the tide pools.

When you get to Lanquin, there will be small trucks with locals asking you where your hostel is. Don’t be alarmed when you’re loaded in the back like cattle and shipped off to your hostel; this is just how things are done here.

Wondering where to stay in Semuc Champey? I recommend Vista Verde Hostel

The Semuc Champey Tide Pools

Really the main reason people come to Lanquin is to see the Semuc Champey tide pools, but the tours are generally much more than that. They’ll start you off by driving you into the jungle (in those same cattle trucks) and take you to a rope swing that feeds into the river. This is particularly fun for thrill seekers, but you can of course opt out if it’s not your style.

After that, they’ll take you through a truly unique tour through Semuc’s cave system. This will consist of half submerged caverns, so be ready to swim and try your best not to be claustrophobic. The only light provided are from candles you’re all holding, which sounds bad but in reality is super fun. The cave tour actually might have been my favorite part of the entire day.

After that, you’ll have lunch and head over to the tide pools. Before taking a dip, your guide will lead you all the way up to the viewpoint so you can get a panoramic view and take that classic Semuc picture. And then you’ll head down and get a chance to swim in the pristine pools. Some guides will offer to take you under the stone formations. Yes, you read that right -- under them. This bit is quite claustrophobic so you can certainly opt out if you don’t like tight spaces, but it is rather cool and safe, so no need to worry too much.

 

Days 13-14: Back to Guatemala City; Fly Home

Once you’ve had your fill of jungle and caves, you can catch the much shorter 6 hour bus ride back to Guatemala City and prep for your return home. Like I’ve said, I didn’t find a ton to do in Guatemala City, so I mainly wanted to get back to it the night before my flight so I wouldn’t have to rush in the morning. Check into your hostel, grab a drink and toast with some travel buddies to a good trip!

If you’re interested in seeing other parts of the world, you can always check out my other itineraries right here. Happy travels, my friends!

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