Guatemala is an amazingly underrated country. Although compact, it is densely filled with beautiful lakes, Mayan ruins, and 37 volcanoes. This is great to do many things while traveling shorter distances. The infrastructure is above average for Central America and the big attractions are well connected with buses and airplanes. Although not as cheap as Mexico, Guatemala offers an adventure experience at budget prices.
I would recommend three weeks to fully explore Guatemala but most people don’t have that time so I’ve put together this itinerary focusing on two weeks, but also one week and 10 days.
Overall, while Guatemala is more developed than many of its neighbors, it is still a rustic place to get around. There is no airport near Semuc Champey and many people are turned off at the idea of a 8 hour bus ride on bumpy roads. I didn’t see many ultra high end places in the country and I would say it’s geared more towards the adventurous traveler. If you’re the type that needs to have luxury and everything to go right, this itinerary may not be for you!
- If you have more time for travel and want to combine Mexico and Belize with Guatemala, read my three to four week itinerary for Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. These three countries are the perfect combo for those looking to get a taste of Central America.
Where I went in Guatemala
I visited Guatemala over New Years for around two weeks. The weather doesn’t change much year round and its “seasons” have mild variations at best. Guatemala is also a very geographically diverse place with tropical jungles and mountainous highlands close by.
Generally the wet season is between May and October and the rains are mild compared to other humid and tropical places I’ve been to. Lake Atitlan also sees the same weather and temperatures year round being shielded by all those volcanoes.
In total, this itinerary is for anyone that has 10-15 days to spend in Guatemala visiting the following places:
- Semuc Champey
- Lake Atitlan
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! I did my trip in that specific order but it is easy to mix and match depending on what you want to see. It’s very easy and totally common to do this in the reverse order and save Tikal for the end.
I met many travelers that started in Antigua, then to Lake Atitlan, then to Semuc Champey, and finally Tikal before flying back to Guatemala City.
Using Uber to Get Around Guatemala
Uber has completely changed the game for travelers, and it’s done so in Guatemala. Uber is readily available in Guatemala in the main cities. It is incredibly useful to take between Guatemala City and Antigua. If there are two or more people in the party, the Uber is a no brainer as it is cheaper than 2 bus tickets. It’ll be much more comfortable and you’ll arrive quicker.
The itinerary starts in Guatemala City, where most flights will land, and ends in Guatemala City as well. From Guatemala City, I stayed the night (as it was late) and took the early morning plane to to Flores to visit to Mayan ruins of Tikal. From here, I took a bus to Lanquin to visit Semuc Champey for a few nights. From Lanquin, I took another bus to Antigua, the beautiful colonial town in Guatemala. From Antigua, I took yet another bus to Lake Atitlan where I spent 5 blissful nights before finally returning to Guatemala City to catch my flight out.
Day 1-3: Land in Guatemala City and Tikal National Park
My flight landed late at night in Guatemala City. There wasn’t much time to do anything at this hour so we stayed at a In & Out Hotel (clearly the owners have been to California) which was 5 minutes from the airport. Flights to Tikal leave in the early morning at 6:30am so it was straight to bed.
The flight is 1 hour and leaves so early because many people do day trips to Tikal. Flights return to GC at 6:30pm giving people enough time to explore the ruins. I decided I wanted to spend a little more time there and stay the extra night.
The flight arrives in Flores, a town 1 hr south of Tikal. Lot of people really enjoy Flores and there are countless accommodation options here. There are also regular shuttle buses that drive to Tikal National Park (~1 hr).
I opted to stay inside the park. There are just a handful of lodges that are in the park. They are more expensive than the accommodation options in Flores but overall it’s still very reasonable with a private room with 2 twin beds at 400Q. It’s quite rustic (although not super rustic) and you’re exposed to the elements. I heard howler monkeys all night!
If you want to explore Tikal in the morning before the crowds come, staying in the jungle is a must.
Day 4-7: Semuc Champey via Lanquin
From Tikal, I took the shuttle back to Flores and boarded a bus to Lanquin, the gateway city to Semuc Champey. Hidden in the lush mountainous jungle just 11kms of the nearby town, Lanquin, Semuc Champey, is a 300 m long natural forming limestone bridge that has six turquoise blue water pools. People visit Semuc not only to enjoy swimming in the pools but also to explore the nearby water cave, or tube down the Cahabon River which disappears under the limestone bridge only to reappear miles later.
Semuc Champey is easy to do on your own. No tours or guides are really necessary. You can just rock up to the pools and take a swim, which I highly recommend. Also be sure to go to the El Mirador viewpoint to really take in all of the beauty. Semuc Champey really is one of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve seen!
There are many options to stay in the area. Electing to stay in the park will be similar to staying in Tikal in that you’re subjugated to the food being offered at your hotel at much higher prices. Staying in Lanquin is a much better option as it is much closer than Flores is to Tikal.
From Lanquin, take a bus to Antigua. These buses run regularly as Antigua to Lanquin is a popular route (8 hours). The hostel or hotel will be able to arrange everything.
Day 7-10: Antigua
The next stop on the itinerary is Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial but also cosmopolitan gem of a town. It’s renowned for its beautiful Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets, history, and panoramic views of the towering volcanoes. I really really enjoyed my stay in Antigua and found it to be one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever visited.
The town is quite small but is full of fantastic restaurants, bars, and local markets. It’s surrounded by Volcan De Agua, Volcan De Fuego, and Volcan Acatenengo with Volcan de Fuego regularly experiencing eruptions. There’s no better place to put it all together than standing in front of the iconic Santa Catalina arch on Avenida 5a with Volcan de Agua in the distance.
Antigua is also the place to take tours to hike the numerous volcanoes in the area. Volcan Pacaya is the popular day trip option for the less committed, while Acatenengo is a more serious (overnight) but much more rewarding hike. I only did Pacaya with my limited time here but everyone I spoke to unanimously said that Acatenengo was the highlight of their trip. It is right next to the active Volcan de Fuego and you can see the eruptions up close and personal. If I had more time, I would elect for the overnight Acatenengo hike instead.
Day 10-14: Lake Atitlan
From Antigua, there are multiple shuttles and private transfer options available to Lake Atitlan. From Antigua, the drive is 3-4 hours depending on traffic. Alternatively, you can request an Uber for 500-700Q which I would recommend if you are more than 2 people as the bus ride can be quite uncomfortable.
Lake Atitlan is hands down my favorite part of the country. There isn’t much like it that I’ve seen in the world: impossibly calm and untouched lakes surrounded by dramatic volcanoes. It’s like Lake Como but with volcanoes, no super yachts, and a fraction of the cost. There are numerous little villages along the lake. Some are all locals, while others are well suited to host backpackers and expats.
We stayed at an Airbnb here near San Marcos La Laguna called Anzan Atitlan. This is definitely one of the most amazing places I’ve ever stayed in. The views are completely unrivaled and the rooms were pure luxury (at a non luxury price). I would highly recommend a stay here.
Day 14-15: Guatemala City
I stayed a night in Guatemala City because my flight was leaving in the early morning. There are plenty of hotels nearby to the airport so it doesn’t really matter where you stay. I didn’t explore much of the town but I did stop by and eat at Donde Joselito, an absolute gem of a steakhouse.
Like the Argentines, Guatemalans love their meat and they have numerous Asado style steakhouses in the city. These places range from family hangouts to higher end steak dining. Donde Joselito is more of the former and came highly recommended by a friend.
I absolutely LOVED this place. The steak was to die for. It was incredibly tender and juicy, almost reminding me of my Kobe beef experience in Japan. Make sure to eat the house specialty along with some chorizo to get the full experience. When I return to Guatemala, Guatemala City will always be a stop I make just to eat this steak!
Guatemala Two week itinerary Day by Day breakdown
Note that I visited Tikal first on my trip. Many people save that for the end. It’s very possible to do this itinerary in reverse or in any other mixture of routes. I met many people that did Antigua to Lake Atitlan, to Semuc Champey, to Tikal, and fly back to Guatemala City.
Day 1 – Guatemala City: Arrive in Airport, stay overnight nearby
Day 2 – Tikal: Early morning flight to Tikal, full day to explore Tikal
Day 3 – Tikal: Visit Tikal for sunrise, leave to flores in afternoon
Day 4 – Flores to Lanquin: Early morning bus from Flores to Lanquin
Day 5 – Semuc Champey: Explore Semuc Champey
Day 6 – Semuc Champey: Explore Semuc Champey
Day 7 – Semuc Champey to Antigua: Bus to Antigua
Day 8 – Antigua: Full day to explore Antigua
Day 9 – Antigua: Day to explore Antigua, Pacaya Volcano hike
Day 10 – Antigua to Lake Atitlan: Morning bus to Panajachel, taxi boat to Casa Rosada/Anzan Atitlan
Day 11 – Lake Atitlan: Hike to Jaibalito and Santa Cruz La Laguna
Day 12 – Lake Atitlan: Hike Volcan San Pedro
Day 13 – Lake Atitlan: Explore other towns (San Pedro, San Juan etc.)
Day 14 – Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City: Lake Atitlan back to Guatemala City, stay overnight and dine at Donde Joselito Steakhouse
Day 15 – Flight home: Fly home early in the morning
Travel Itinerary for 10-11 days in Guatemala
10 days or a week and a half is still a good amount of time to see the highlights of the country.
Although I would hate to leave out Semuc Champey, it is a time consuming and inconvenient place to get to that with such short time, I would save it for another trip.
Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan will be the highlight of a 10 day trip. The two week itinerary I’ve written about in this post can be applied but just take Semuc Champey out. Instead of taking the bus out of Flores/Tikal, just fly back to Guatemala City and take a bus or taxi to Antigua.
The plane departs Flores at 6:30pm and arrives in Antigua at 7:30pm. It is a 1 hour drive from Guatemala City to Antigua. Uber is also very popular in Guatemala City/Antigua. I used Uber to get from the airport to Antigua and paid 170Q which is a complete no brainer.
Day 1 – Guatemala City: Arrive in Airport, stay overnight nearby
Day 2 – Tikal: Early morning flight to Tikal, full day to explore Tikal
Day 3 – Antigua: Afternoon flight from Flores to Guatemala City, transfer to Antigua
Day 4 – Antigua: Full day to explore Antigua
Day 5 – Antigua: Day to explore Antigua, Pacaya Volcano hike
Day 6 – Antigua to Lake Atitlan: Morning bus to Panajachel, taxi boat to Casa Rosada/Anzan Atitlan
Day 7 – Lake Atitlan: Hike to Jaibalito and Santa Cruz La Laguna
Day 8 – Lake Atitlan: Hike Volcan San Pedro
Day 9 – Lake Atitlan: Explore other towns (San Pedro, San Juan etc.)
Day 10 – Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City: Lake Atitlan back to Guatemala City, stay overnight and dine at Donde Joselito Steakhouse
Day 11 – Flight home: Fly home early in the morning
Travel Itinerary for 1 week in Guatemala
With one week, you will have to choose what is more important. Some visitors have to visit the Mayan ruins and others have to visit Lake Atitlan. Of the four highlights I went to (Tikal, Semuc Champey, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan), one week will be enough for two of them.
If it were me, I would visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Antigua is on the way to Lake Atitlan so it optimizes travel time in my opinion.
Day 1 – Guatemala City: Arrive in Airport, stay overnight nearby. If you arrive during the day, take the bus to Antigua
Day 2 – Antigua: Full day to explore Antigua
Day 3 – Antigua to Lake Atitlan: Morning bus to Panajachel, taxi boat to Casa Rosada/Anzan Atitlan
Day 4 – Lake Atitlan: Hike to Jaibalito and Santa Cruz La Laguna
Day 5 – Lake Atitlan: Hike Volcan San Pedro
Day 6 – Lake Atitlan: Explore other towns (San Pedro, San Juan etc.)
Day 7 – Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City: Lake Atitlan back to Guatemala City, stay overnight and dine at Donde Joselito Steakhouse
Day 8 – Flight home in the morning
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