Planning a trip to Guatemala soon? Check out the best things to do while there, with this 2-week Guatemala itinerary that will take you to all of the country’s highlights, from jungle and beaches to volcanoes and lakes. Learn all about the best things to do in Guatemala, plus useful travel tips that will help you when traveling in Guatemala.
This 2-week itinerary is perfect if you want to discover Guatemala, its culture as well as its natural sights. Learn about other things to do in Guatemala if you have more time or want to get off-the-beaten-path.
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Best places to include in your Guatemala Itinerary
Antigua – 3 days
Antigua used to be Guatemala’s capital during the Spaniards’ occupation, until the 18th century, when a terrible earthquake destroyed most of the city and the capital was moved to the current Guatemala City.
Despite the frequent earthquakes, Antigua has been incredibly well preserved and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city has kept its paved streets and traditional houses and preserved its colonial architecture. Tourism has allowed the city to prosper and at every corner, you’ll find cute cafés and tasteful restaurants.
In Antigua, you can spend 2 days visiting the city and a coffee plantation nearby, taking in the local atmosphere and the picturesque scenery. Indeed, the city is boarded by volcanoes, with the majestic Volcano de Agua, always in the background.
You can spend the third day, climbing a volcano. The easiest is the Pacaya Volcano. It’s a half-day trip from Antigua. It takes around 3 hours up and down. You can also climb Acatenango and Fuego Volcano, but it’s better to do it in two days.
Read more about Antigua and things to do while there.
Atitlan Lake – 3 days
Atitlan Lake is often considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and it’s not for nothing, it’s also a must-add to your Guatemala itinerary. Surrounded by volcanoes, the lake offers breathtaking sceneries and stunning landscapes. People looking for authenticity won’t be disappointed either. Several small traditional villages are found around the lake, villages where you can watch some traditional handicrafts making and beautifully dressed indigenous people.
Where to stay on Atitlan Lake
The easiest town to stay at is Panajachel. Its central location makes it easy to visit all the other villages, but the town lack charms.
San Pedro La Laguna is great for backpackers, with tons of hostels and cheap bars.
San Marcos La Laguna is the place to be for zen and new age followers. The thing is, the vegan cafes and yoga retreat vibe is great but it’s not authentic, everything was created with tourism in mind. The “tourist” part of the village is super cute and worth a stroll, but not the best place if you’re looking for a cultural experience.
If you want something more authentic, check out Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo. Both villages only offer a few accommodation options and are far less touristy.
What to do around Atitlan Lake
Visiting the villages
You should definitely spend a day or two visiting the villages listed above. Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo are only accessible by road, the pickups leave from the church in Panajachel. All the other villages you can access by boat.
I would suggest visiting Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo in the morning and Santiago Atitlan in the afternoon. There you can have a look at the church, the market, and walk around the paved streets.
The next day, you can visit San Pedro La Laguna, San Juan La Laguna (make sure to visit a Chocolate factory, the honey center, a weaving center, and a medicinal garden). On your way back make a quick stop in San Marcos, then Santa Cruz La Laguna.
Trekking around the lake
There are a lot of trekking opportunities around the lake. From Panajachel, you can walk to Santa Catarina Palopo (3.7 miles). From San Marcos, you can trek to Santa Cruz La Laguna (3 hours).
From San Pedro, you can trek to the Indian Nose to see the sunrise over the lake. You’ll need to hire a guide or go with a tour.
You can also trek to several nearby volcanoes such as Cerro de Oro (2 hours up and down, you’ll need to hire a guide at the village), and San Pedro Volcano (6 to 7 hours up and down, from the top you can see the Pacific).
Can you swim in the lake? Yes, you can, but know that it’s very polluted (there’s almost no fish left) so I wouldn’t recommend it. If you want to swim anyway, don’t put your head underwater and make sure to not get any water in your mouth or nose.
Yes, you can dive in Lake Atitlan, the highlight being the underwater ruins. Just be careful, because you’re diving in altitude, you can’t go anywhere for the next 24 hours after the dive.
Try to make your itinerary so you’re in Panajachel a Thursday or a Sunday, so you can visit the Chichicastenango market, Guatemala’s most colorful market. I guarantee it will be one of the highlights of your Guatemala itinerary. If you do this itinerary the other way around, some travel agency, can pick you up in Panajachel, take you to the market, and drop you off in Antigua in the afternoon.
Chichicastenango market is the best place in Guatemala to shop for handicrafts. Make sure to bargain, ask different stands for the prices, and maybe before going, try to ask locals about the prices of things you want to buy, to have an idea on how much things should cost. When bargaining, keep in mind that some of the clothing and fabrics take months to embroider.
Lanquin (Semuc Champey) – 2 days
It takes around 12 hours to reach Lanquin from Panajachel, so you’ll lose a day in transportation, but one day is enough to visit Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey is a stunning underground river located deep into the mountains. Getting there is not easy but it’s definitely worth it. You won’t see many other places like this in the world, and the best is that it’s far from being crowded. This unique place is a must-add to your Guatemala itinerary.
From Lanquin, there are pickups doing the trips, they leave every 15 minutes more or less. It takes one hour to reach the park’s entrance. From there you can walk directly to the river (15 minutes) or head to the viewpoint (one hour). Apart from the area where you can swim, don’t miss the part where the water goes underground and the one when the cave ends.
Inside the park, you’ll find bathrooms, changing rooms, and lockers (bring a padlock). There are also a few people selling fruits and water. On the parking lot, they are a few food stands. Anyway, make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks.
If you leave early enough from Lanquin, you can also go river tubing nearby (you’ll pass the place on your way to the park).
If you have more time, or before leaving the next day, you can visit the Lanquin cave. It takes around an hour, and the cave is stunning, with many interesting things to see.
Flores – 2 days
Flores is a cute little island located in the lush Peten region. Most of the area is covered by a dense jungle where Maya pyramids, covered by vegetation, appear here and there.
The island of Flores in itself is not what I expected. While some buildings are really cute and will make great Instagram pictures, the rest of the island is nothing exceptional. It’s a good place for tourists because you’ll find a lot of cute cafés, nice restaurants, and busy nightlife. I was disappointed because there’s nothing authentic about it, everything was created with tourism in mind. If you want something more local, you can stay at El Remate village, located mid-way between Tikal and Flores.
Flores is still a must-visit, as what’s around it is spectacular. Nearby, you’ll find the unmissable Tikal ruins. Located, an hour away from Flores, Tikal archaeological park is the best-renovated Maya site in Peten and one of the most spectacular. You can easily reach the ruins from Flores, either via public transportation or with a tour (the price is the same). Tikal is a UNESCO site and you can’t visit the country without adding it to your Guatemala itinerary.
Tikal’s entrance fee is 150 GTQ for foreigners, add 100 GTQ to be there during the sunset or the sunrise. You can also camp there for 50 GTQ, the entrance fee will then be 350 GTQ, as you’ll have to pay for the sunset and sunrise.
You can also spend a day visiting the villages around the lake. Ask first at your hotel the correct prices for the boat and negotiate with the boat driver. You could visit Santa Barbara Museum featuring a few archaeological artifacts. You can also trek to the Mirador del Rey Kanek to get a panoramic view of the lake. Alternatively, you could just boat around the lake or rent kayaks.
If you have more time, the Peten region as a lot of places to discover, here are a few of its highlights:
- Aguateca, El Ceibal, and Dos Pilas: three Maya sites located near Sayaxche, only accessible by boat, if you’re a group you can negotiate directly with a boat owner, otherwise, you can book a tour from Flores.
- Crater Azul: a stunning lagoon (sometimes polluted though), again only accessible by boat. Some travel agencies in Flores offer a tour there.
- El Mirador: a spectacular Maya site near the border with Mexico and surrounded by dense tropical jungle. There’s no road to it, you’ll need to trek. The trip usually lasts five to six days back and forth. It’s a great adventure if you want to wake up the Lara Croft or Indiana Johns in you. If you can afford it, you can also take a helicopter tour to the ruins that will only take a day.
Livingston – 2 days
Livingston is the heart of the Garifuna culture in Guatemala. This colorful town is only accessible by boat from Puerto Cortes (there’s also a “tourist”, aka expensive, boat leaving from Rio Dulce). There are tons of activities to do there, from learning about the local culture to discovering natural sights.
On the first day, you can take a tour of the Siete Alatares Waterfall and Playa Blanca. It’s the most common tour so it’s easy to find people to join you on the tour. You can also walk to the waterfall from the town (1 hour and a half.) The beach is only accessible by boat.
Once you get to the river and the house where you pay the entrance fee, you’ll need to walk for about 20 minutes along the river, passing by small waterfalls and natural pools. It can be disappointing if it hasn’t rained in a while. you’ll need to walk inside the river, so bring appropriate shoes.
The next stop is Playa Blanca or White Beach, this one you can’t access on foot, only by boat. This private beach (there’s a resort there) is one of the nicest beaches in the area. You can relax in a hammock sipping on a coconut at the beach or eat fresh seafood at their restaurant.
On the second day, you can trek to the Tiger Cave. It takes 25 minutes by boat then 30 minutes walking through the jungle to reach this stunning cave. This cave is one of the biggest in the area and is considered sacred by locals. Religious ceremonies are often performed there. Inside the cave, you’ll find beautiful rock formations and a natural pool you can swim in.
Planning your Guatemala Itinerary
This Guatemala itinerary can be done in 2 weeks and will take you to all the country’s highlights, but you won’t have much time in each place, especially as you lose a day in transportation to get to one place to another. Spending 3 weeks in Guatemala is better if you have the timed and don’t want to rush. If you just have 2-weeks and want a more relaxed pace, skip Livingston at the end.
If you have more time, you can spend a day visiting Guatemala city and/or head to the beach. The two main beach destinations are El Paredon and Monterrico. You can get there from Antigua or Guatemala city. Some people just take a day trip, but I would recommend spending at least a night.
If you prefer nature, you can spend a few days exploring around Copan (I’ll advise renting a car, unless you have plenty of time). There you can visit:
- Chicoj Coffee Cooperative: they organize guided tours of the plantation.
- Ecocentro Hun Nal Ye: this center offers tons of outdoor activities (Lagoon, waterfall, treks, tubing, horse riding…).
- Laguna Lachua: a national park perfect for swimming and seeing birds.
- Reserva Natural Ranchitos del Quetzal: one of the best places in the country to see birds, especially the quetzal, you should spend the night there, so you can go trekking early in the morning and have more chances to see birds.
- Candelaria Cave: one of the biggest and most impressive cave in Guatemala. The classic tour is to walk a bit into the cave then come back river-tubing. If you don’t want to get wet, you can just visit the cave on foot.
If you want a 1-week Guatemala itinerary, you can visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan, or fly to Flores to visit Tikal (2 days), then visit Antigua (2 days) and Atitlan (2 days).
What to pack for your trip to Guatemala
Your trip to Guatemala will be much easier if you pack light and use a backpack. If you’re planning on traveling via public transportation, don’t even think about having a suitcase, most of the time you’ll have to put it on your laps, so the lighter the better.
- Clothing: you’ll easily find same-day laundry services so you don’t need to overpack, one week of clothing is enough. Make sure to have long pants for when you go in the jungle to avoid mosquito bites. Keep in mind that it can be cold, especially at night, and hot during the day. If you’re going to go off-the-beaten-path, locals don’t wear revealing clothing, so if you wear shorts outside of touristy destinations you might get a few stares. Also, don’t forget to pack a swimsuit.
- Shoes: I always recommend packing only two pairs, one pair of flip-flops or sandals and one pair of snickers you can use for trekking.
- Toiletry: apart from the essentials, make sure to pack organic mosquito repellent, biodegradable sunscreen, and wet wipes.
- Other: There are a lot of mosquito-borne diseases in Guatemala, apart from using covering clothes and repellent, you might want to pack an ultrasonic mosquito repellent (get it here), you can use it both indoor and outdoor, it works with a rechargeable battery. When traveling, having an action camera is always a good idea, especially in Guatemala, where there are tons of water activities. Plugs are the same as in the US, if you’re coming from Europe, pack a plug adapter.
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