The Ultimate Travel Itinerary for Guatemala

Do you know the thing I love most about running this little blog? The fact that it now takes me to new countries and new corners of the world that I would have never dreamt of going before it existed. The novelty of that will never wear off for me. When the guys from Visit Central America got in touch to invite me on a blogger press trip to Guatemala and Belize, I had to re-read the email 3 times to believe it.

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This trip excited me for many reasons;

  • Central America is a part of the world I have never been before
  • I would get to visit 2 totally new countries in 1 trip (Guatemala and Belize)
  • I would get to go away with a fun group of fellow bloggers (Jen from She Gets Around, Scott from Intrepid Escape, Emily from Emily Luxton Travels and Fiona from Time2Gossip).

To set the scene, Guatemala is a Central American country that borders Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. It’s best known for its steep volcanos, vast rainforests and ancient Mayan ruins. After doing a bit of research, it sounded like the perfect ingredients for a Travelista adventure, and boy did it deliver.

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The tourist board were responsible for putting together our entire travel itinerary. Because we only had 5 nights and 4 days in total before crossing the border into Belize, it was their job to make sure we saw all of the highlights of Guatemala. This travel itinerary includes all of the highlights of Guatemala, however we only stayed 1 night in each place. If you’re thinking of following this route, I would recommend going at a slower pace and spending a few nights at each location. Here is the ultimate Guatemala travel itinerary…

Fly in to Guatemala City

We flew with United Airlines from London to Houston (9.5 hours) and then took a second flight from Houston to Guatemala City (2.5 hours). We were met at the airport by our fantastic tour guide Martin from Marstam Tours, who stayed with us for the whole time we were in Guatemala.

Apart from a few museums, Guatemala City doesn’t have all that much to offer in terms of tourism and sightseeing. It’s also not the safest place to be in Guatemala, so we stayed overnight at the Raddisson Guatemala City and moved on straight away the next morning.

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Lake Atitlan

Our first destination of the trip was Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands, known for it’s colourful Mayan lakeside villages and water sport activities. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is framed by 3 imposing volcanoes.

We all piled in the van ready for the 2.5 hour road trip and to take in a first glance of the sights, sounds and smells of Guatemala. The roads were bustling with cars, taxis, scooters and the famous Guatemalan chicken buses. So colourful and imposing you can’t miss them.

The landscape gradually became more lush and mountainous as we made our way to Panajachel, a lively town on the banks of Lake Atitlan.

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From ‘Pana’, we caught a long boat across the river to the traditional town of San Juan La Laguna, where we had our first taste of freshly ground Guatemalan coffee. The weather was overcast and humid, so I went for an iced latte to cool down. So delicious!

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Melvin guided us through the town and took us to a cotton making cooperative called Casa Flor Ixaco, which had the most beautiful handmade trinkets, clothing and souvenirs.

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After exploring San Juan La Laguna we hopped back on to the long boat for lunch at Posada de Santiago near the town of Santiago Atitlan.

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We spent the night at Hotel Atitlan, which was my favourite hotel of the entire trip. This charming boutique hotel is located right on the lake in a breathtaking location. With deep wood interiors, rustic furnishings and beautifully manicured gardens, it’s a lush boutique escape in the Guatemalan highlands.

On the evening of our stay the heavens opened and we were caught in a tropical downpour, which only made the setting even more atmospheric. I couldn’t recommend this hotel enough.
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Antigua Guatemala

The next morning we drove from Lake Atitlan to Antigua, Guatemala’s most iconic, historic and touristic town. Antigua is actually the oldest town in the whole of the Americas and dates back to 1541. The colonial town has a fascinating history and is a buzzing fusion of Spanish and Mayan culture.

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Antigua was definitely my favourite part of Guatemala and I would have loved a few more days to explore it. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’d probably still recognise it, with its colourful pastel walls, cobbled streets and the famous yellow arch of Santa Catalina.

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Our guesthouse, Hotel El Meson de Maria, was equally as charming as the town itself, which was located right around the block from the Santa Catalina Arch. The location was amazing, the rooms were characterful and the central outdoor courtyard and roof terrace made it a place you could really relax. Look out for my City Guide to Antigua Guatemala coming to the blog soon!

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Isle de Flores

After spending the night in Antigua we drove back to Guatemala City to catch an internal flight to Mundo Maya International Airport in the north west of Guatemala. The airport is located a 15 minute drive from the popular backpacker destination of Flores, which was our next stop of the tour.

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We stayed on Isla de Flores (simply translated to Island of Flowers), which is a popular base for travellers planning to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Isla de Flores is surrounded by water and home to plenty of friendly and low-key guest houses. The coloured walls and cobbles are reminiscent of Antigua but much less well-known. Cocktail bars and restaurants line the waterfront, attracting locals and travellers alike.

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We spent the night at Isla de Flores Hotel before heading off to Tikal early next morning. The drive from Flores to Tikal took about 2 hours

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Tikal

Tikal was once a powerful Mayan empire that dated back to 800 B.C. Today, Tikal is now a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of more than 4,000 Mayan ruins over 16km2 of Guatemalan jungle. Also known as ‘the lost world’, Tikal was deserted and became lost in the vast jungle until it was rediscovered in 1877.

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There are 6 major temples which are all incredibly preserved, some of which you can even climb up. Being at Tikal feels like you’ve just stepped into the film set of Indiana Jones, and you may well see Lara Croft swing past on a jungle vine at any moment.

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For the rest of our time in Central America we crossed the border into Belize to spend 2 nights at Hopkins Beach. Look out for my Belize post coming soon!

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The Conclusion

Exploring Guatemala was one of the most inspiring and intrepid travel experiences I have ever had. It’s a country of colour, culture and so much spirit and looking back on this post I can’t believe how much we squeezed in in just 4 days. If you’re thinking of visiting Guatemala for your self, make sure all of the places above are on your list. They are the absolute highlights of Guatemala, and each place is completely different to the next.

What did you think of my Guatemala travel itinerary? Are you planning a trip here or have you already been? I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you enjoyed this post please leave me a comment in the box below x

Disclaimer: My trip to Guatemala was provided complimentary as part of a blogger press trip with Visit Central America. All views are my own

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27 Comments

  1. 26th May 2016 / 2:09 am

    My brothers are adopted from Guatemala and my family took many trips to Guatemala when I was younger! It seems like I never see blog posts about Guatemala and so I’m so excited that I found this one! I have been to all of these places! I think Antigua is my favorite because of all the colors and the markets, but they are all such different places that it is so hard to compare!

  2. Doreen
    16th May 2016 / 4:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing your trip. We adopted our son from Guatemala. My son and I plan on doing a missions trip in 2 years and than spend several days seeing his birth country.

    • Jessica
      20th May 2016 / 6:22 pm

      This is such a lovely story. Thank you for sharing I hope you have a wonderful time in Guatemala and enjoy it as much as I did X

  3. Will Gomez
    13th May 2016 / 3:36 am

    Hello Jess, I never respond to blogs but I had to make an exception. Thank you very much for putting such a positive light on the great country of Guate. I was born not far from Pana and as most people looking for a better life, my parents brought us to the U.S when I was 8 yrs old. I must say all the beautiful photos that you posted bring back so many memories of when I used to play on the stone roads and buy snacks at the corner stores. Thank you very much for the post as it just made me realize I haven’t been back in 4 or 5 years and perhaps it’s time to take a vacation to visit my birth place. We as immigrants get too carried away trying to live the American Dream that we sometimes forget what brought us here in the first place. Thanks for the little reminder.

  4. 12th May 2016 / 10:02 pm

    As much fun as you had, it was too bad you couldn’t spend more time to visit the rest of the highlands (Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango and Quiché) and the central-part of the country Jess (Alta y Baja Verapaz), there is a lot more to Guatemala than you could see.

    I only have to thank you for the kind words and fresh view you paint the world about the country I was born in, you’re most than welcome to return.

  5. Edgar Mejia (@EdConexion)
    12th May 2016 / 7:00 am

    I’ve had the great fortune to travel through most of Central America, South America, lived in Europe and attended school in parts of Southeast Asia, here’s my life lesson: In Asia, you fall in love with the food and humility. In Europe, you fall in love with the architecture and history. In Latin America you fall in love with the people — everyone seems to want to share what little they have — with a smile.

    Spent my first 11 years of life in Guatemala, now in the USA, but I’ve taken several trips to Pana, Antigua and Belize — it doesn’t get old.

    Thanks for sharing the love.

  6. 11th May 2016 / 8:52 pm

    Wow what an incredible trip Jess! I’ve never visited Guatemala before but I must say that it really reminds me of Peru (my mother’s homeland)! If you haven’t visited Peru then you definitely should at some point. Thanks for highlighting Guatemala as a country to visit xx

  7. 10th May 2016 / 3:03 pm

    Your trip looks incredible! I’m heading to South America next year – a part of the world I have never been – and we were thinking of heading somewhere central for a week at the end of our trip. So I’m definitely book marking this!

    Vicky xx http://dalton-banks.co.uk/

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:34 pm

      Thanks Vicky! So exciting for you about the SA trip. I haven’t been to SA either but it’s on my list. Please consider Guatemala or Belize for your week in CA! I’ll be posting on Belize soon too 🙂 xx

  8. Chepito
    10th May 2016 / 12:20 pm

    Thank you for such a good piece on my beautiful country.

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:32 pm

      You’re welcome Chepito. There are 2 more posts to come 🙂

  9. 10th May 2016 / 3:57 am

    This is fantastic! A good friend of mine lives in San Juan, near the lake Atitlan most of the year working with a cooperative there, so these photos looked so familiar! Glad you had a good trip 🙂

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:31 pm

      Your friend is a lucky guy / girl! It has so much charm there. Thanks for commenting Emily and happy travels X

  10. Angie LeBlanc
    10th May 2016 / 3:01 am

    I lived there for 5 years. I am a Pana and Antigua lover. Loved Tikal also. I’d highly recommend Semuc-Champey if you return.

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:30 pm

      Wow what an experience that must have been! Where are you from originally? Tikal is magical and will be sure to see Semuc if I return 🙂 xx

  11. 10th May 2016 / 1:40 am

    So colorful and beautiful! Great video too, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:29 pm

      You’re so welcome! Thanks for your comment Carmen xx

  12. karen wells
    10th May 2016 / 12:19 am

    I’m from Scotland and stayed in Antigua for a week back in Easter 2014 when it was Semana Santa. In the space of one week we watched the Semana Santa processions, had a guided tour of a coffee plantation, a mule ride, hiked up the Pacaya Volcano, spent a day at the spa, went zip lining, hired a local tour guide who took us to a textile market, a macadamia nut farm, a jade factory and museum, a wine brewer and a chocolate museum. Guatemala is a poor but stunningly beautiful country, rich in architecture and beautiful landscapes but more importantly full of very charming, vibrant and friendly people and lots of bright and bold colours. I think I left my heart there and hope one day to venture back.

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:29 pm

      You’ve summarised this country perfectly Karen! Thank you for your comment. Sounds like you crammed lots in and really made the most of beautiful Antigua. I’d absolutely love to return again too xx happy travels

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:28 pm

      It was exactly that! 🙂 Thanks Angie xx

  13. 9th May 2016 / 10:05 pm

    Sounds fun! There are boutique hotels popping up all over Guatemala, even some very remote ecolodges like Las Guacamayas in Laguna del Tigre National Park or Chiminos Island Lodge in the Petexbatun area. And poco a poco – local guides and even some bilingual local guides. If you need ideas for your next visit don’t hesitate to contact me. I enjoyed your article – thanks. Safe travels! – Mark

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:28 pm

      Hi Mark! That’s very true. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the accommodation in Guatemala but I was very pleasantly surprised with our hotels, all very much in the 4* boutique category – often the most charming and much more character than the 5 star Giants. Xx

  14. gleeoflife
    9th May 2016 / 9:36 pm

    Such a great post. I have always wanted to visit central America, now even more so.

    Margita http://www.gleeoflife.eu

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:27 pm

      Thanks Margita! It’s a beautiful and colourful part of the world. There should be so much more tourism there ! xxx

  15. 9th May 2016 / 9:26 pm

    I went to Guatemala in March and did this exact itinerary in a slightly different order! I don’t know how you guys did this in 4 days – I did it in 8 and still didn’t feel like I had as much time as I’d have liked. I agree that Antigua was gorgeous, and we had time to hike up Pacaya volcano too which I would definitely recommend.
    ~ Kate | https://alifeofmoxie.com/

    • Jessica
      11th May 2016 / 8:26 pm

      Wow how interesting! It really must be the highlights tour. It was crazy how much we crammed in but it included getting up at 6am every day and even 3am once to catch the flight to Flores! Thanks for the tip on the volcano 🙂 happy travels xx