Our (almost) perfect 11 day itinerary for Guatemala
Updated: Nov 3, 2019
Wow where to start, we have both travelled to many countries before, and Guatemala definitely would fall in our top 10. It is such a quiet, under rated country that should be on everyone’s list to visit. Being generally more “beach people”, we were sceptical about this trip through the jungle that we had heard so many great things about, but we were blown out of this world by the natural, untouched beauty this country has to offer.
We we’re surprised by how clean, healthy and environmentally friendly Guatemala is. The amount of health food shops/cafes, yoga everywhere, water refill stations and no single-use plastic was very refreshing – even Mel got to eat her GF bread with brekkie everyday too. There were also many options for all the vegans out there. With a perfect mix between adventure and chill, we think everyone would love it!
We spent 11 days in this magical country, which is never enough, but we thought a good amount of time to explore the areas that we did. Of course, longer in each place would be great, but we think our 11 day itinerary was pretty perfect for a short trip, so we thought we should share it with you all to help you also plan an amazing trip here.
Lake Atitlan – 3 nights
This place has to be one of the most majestic places we have ever been, and our favourite place in Guatemala. This beautiful lake is made up of 11 towns around the massive lake, surrounded by volcanoes. In our eyes it is not to be missed. In fact, we would come back to Guatemala just to visit this beautiful lake again.
We do think a big part of it comes down to which town in the lake you stay in though. We stayed in the most beautiful casa in Jaibilito, a tiny town in the lake district that we would highly recommend. It is so small that there is only very limited shops and restaurants with very few supplies (not so handy arriving here straight after the airline lost Mel’s bag – but that’s another story), but who cares when you are in this incredible place. Even if you don’t stay in this town, we think any town along this side of the lake wins with the panoramic scenery. Santa Cruz and San Marcos are two bigger towns close by that also have amazing views, healthy food, daily yoga, more restaurants and cute little market stalls.
We found that most people stay in either San Pedro (mostly backpackers), or Panajachel (not our cup of tea but it is the capitol of the lake district and the easiest to access). Although any town on the lake would be great to visit, please take our advice and stay in one of the above towns mentioned (Jaibilito, San Marcos or Santa Cruz). If you want the best possible romantic experience, stay in La Casa Del Mundo. You can thank us later.
Each town is easy to visit by boat. You just pay a couple of dollars (20Q for the public boat or 75Q for a private boat - you can haggle though) and they come past regularly to take you to any of the towns around the lake.
Ideally, we would stay here for longer than 3 days, we had actually booked 4 nights but our flight here got delayed so we missed 1 night – not so bad though when we got to have an awesome night with our friends who live in LA instead :)
Accommodation: La Casa Del Mundo (1000% recommend). We had the best room with incredible views and it only cost about US$100* a night, but there are rooms here for as little as US$40* a night which would still be amazing. Make sure you make use of the antique cast iron hot tub.
Where to eat: We pretty much ate most of our meals at La Casa Del Mundo. The breakfasts were so delicious with the most spectacular views of the volcanoes, and the family dinners were such a fun way to meet other travellers and exchange stories from around the world. Other than that, we grabbed a quick bite in the other towns each day as we explored from the plentiful cafes around.
What to do: La Casa Del Mundo is so amazing that all you really want to do in lay in a hammock, go for a swim around the submerged terraces and soak in the volcano views. But in saying that, this majestic lake has plenty to do. You can hike up the San Pedro volcano (which we planned to do but overslept – jetlag), visit all the villages around the lake, practice yoga, go hiking, kayaking and visit the colourful markets.
How to get here: Lake Atitlan is located about a 3 hours drive from Antigua or a 4 hour drive from Guatemala City airport. As we arrived super early in the morning and didn’t want to wait for the 11am bus on the start of our honeymoon, we paid US$100* to get a taxi straight to Panajchael from Guatemala City Airport. From here, you need to take a boat to get to the other towns.
Antigua – 3 nights
This colonial little city covered in cobble stone streets is a perfect hub for cool bars, delicious food and to explore the surrounding volcanoes. The feel you get from Antigua is sleepy/laid back during the day but has a night life charm. It feels incredibly safe with the heavy Police presence. The thing we loved about it was the amount of epic doors you would find in the streets. A lot of doors are open and each one is as unique as the next. What’s behind this one? Ruins? An amazing courtyard? A nightclub. We recommend having a sticky beak, behind as many open doors as you can. There are hidden gems peppered throughout the iconic mountainous city.
Accommodation: Casa de Stela – this place had a cute and colourful courtyard, AMAZING free brekkie (think Aussie style), daily yoga, really nice boutique (Stela 9) and was great value at just US$30* a night.
Where to eat: Antigua is full of nice restaurants. The biggest standout for us was recommended to us by a couple we met at a family style dinner in La Casa Del Mundo. The French restaurant, Hector’s Bistro, is a little pricey by Guatemalan standards but the beef medallion is not to be missed! Cactus is a cute little Mexican restaurant with cool live music, great taco’s and margaritas, and very cool vibes. Another one we loved for a cheap eat was Toko Baru and was just around the corner from Casa de Stela. We would also highly recommend a visit to the Caoba Farms where you can get fresh produce from the grounds to your plate, live music, craft beers and cool market stalls. Make sure you walk around and explore the gardens.
What to do: Antigua is beautiful to just walk around in and immerse yourself in the Guatemalan culture. Every corner you turn is full of colourful casas, old ruins and cobble stone streets that you don’t want to miss any of them. A volcano hike is a must do. If you are a little lazy like us and don’t want to spend too much money, Pacaya volcano is perfect. With just a 2 hours hike round trip, you can see the lava flowing at the top of the volcano (do the afternoon tour) and roast marshmallows over the hot volcanic rocks. If you are a little worried about the hike, horses follow you up so you can jump on one of them if you get tired. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can hike Acatenango volcano where you camp overnight and watch the volcano spurting out lava sporadically throughout the night. Keep in mind it is chilly up there but this one did look really cool as well.
How to get here: Antigua is located about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City Airport. You can take a bus or taxi from the airport. In our case we took a shuttle bus from Lake Atitlan which took about 3 hours.
Semuc Champey – 3 nights
This beautiful town with natural pools is not the easiest to get in and out of, but in saying that it is stunning. The jungle town is so lush that you just want to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Accommodation: We stayed at Utopia Hotel. This hostel is not like a regular hostel. We stayed in a cabin on the river which was made private by the surrounding cacao trees and flowing river. Being in the middle of the jungle, with free yoga, a vegetarian menu and the best brownies, this place was like a spiritual sanctuary. If you are looking for more of a party, we have heard the Zephyr hostel in town also has incredible views and is a lot of fun.
Where to eat: As Utopia was about 30 minutes out of Lanquin (the closest town), we ate at the hostel the whole time. The food and drinks were reasonably priced and the family style dinners were a nice way to meet other travellers.
What to do: Whilst here, make sure you do the Semuc Champey and Kanbah cave tour. On this tour you will make your way through the coolest cave with a candle to light your way. After this you can eat your packed lunch from the hostel or join in on the local BBQ. After lunch you walk up to the lookout (about 45 minutes) then walk back down to chill in the beautiful pools. When you have spent enough time “pool hopping” you can jump in a tube and make your way down the river back to the hostel with cheap beers. They call this extreme tubing, and for Mel it did feel quite extreme, but there are only a few small rapids on your way. This tour cost Q185 (about US $20*), but keep in mind you can also do all of these things individually and walk between them (about an hour’s walk each way), but we had limited time so just did it all in one go. Another favourite of ours was the chocolate tour which cost Q115 (about US$15*). We walked amongst the cacao trees of Utopia then made chocolate from scratch using just the raw ingredients – it was delicious and we can’t wait to try this at home! Also don't forget to join in on the free yoga classes with the most incredible backdrop.
How to get here: Semuc Champey is not the easiest place to get to. With a full day bus (or overnight bus) from Antigua, then a full day bus out of here to Flores, it is probably not for the luxury traveller – and no you can’t fly here – at least on a normal airline that we could find. Keep in mind that all buses will also take a couple hours longer than they say, so factor this in to your arrival time.
Flores and Tikal – 2 nights
Flores is a tiny island close to the boarder of Belize and a great place to sleep when exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal. There is not a whole lot to do here (it probably only takes 30 minutes to walk around the island – slowly whilst looking around), which is why we chose to only stay here for 2 nights and have 1 full day here to visit Tikal.
Where to stay: We stayed at Los Amigos Hostel which had been recommended to us by quite a few people and we sure know why. The cute hostel is set in a ‘secret garden’ with a nice bar, restaurant and even a spa! This was definitely not your average hostel. It has a good mix of chill and party vibes (with a sound proof club to not disturb the Tikal early birds). Being such a small island, we did notice that this was ‘the’ place to stay, and a nice private room with water views only set us back about US$40* a night.
Where to eat: We really enjoyed the food at the hostel. The burgers and smoothies were amazing if you are missing Western food, and don’t mind the cute little bunnies that will climb all over you while you eat. We did eat out one night too, but it wasn’t worth mentioning on here.
What to do: Most people come through Flores to visit Tikal, and it is conveniently located on the ‘Gringo trail’ headed up North. But Tikal was definitely worth visiting. With much smaller crowds than the more popular Chichen Itza in Mexico, it was worth getting up early and joining in on a tour to hear stories of the Ancient Mayan times. Located in the jungle, Tikal was also full of wild life and beautiful trees, making these some of the most unique ruins out there. We recommend doing the early morning tour to avoid the heat and crowds. If you have some extra time in your day, you can also catch a small boat over to the rope swing, where you can swim and chill out with some beers for the sunset.
How to get here: Being located close to the Guatemalan and Mexican borders, it is very easy to travel out of here (or to here when going south). When coming from Guatemala, you can take a day bus from Lanquin (near Semuc Champey), or an overnight bus from Antigua/Guatemala City. You can also fly here for a reasonable price from Guatemala City airport if you don't want to brave the 2 days on buses to go through Semuc Champey. From here we took a bus and boat to Caye Caulker in Belize, this took about 5 hours in total.
Essentials to pack (other than the obvious)
As Mel's bag went missing from day 1 in Guatemala and she didn't get it back for three weeks, she spent the whole time here with just what she was wearing on the plane, and a couple of other essentials we could find in the local markets. It turns out you don't need as much as you think. But here are some things we think are ideal if you are lucky enough to bring your bag through:
· Pants and jumper - Depending on the time of the year, it can get pretty chilly in Guatemala (something Nath didn’t bring, and actually all Mel had)
· Insect repellent - There are plenty of little creepy crawlies in the jungle
· Runners and comfy clothes - For all the beautiful hikes everywhere
· Reef walkers – For the cave tour (you can also rent them from there but they were pretty gross)
* Prices vary depending on season and exchange rate