Discover the culture and ancient Maya history of Belize and Guatemala while also packing in the fun. It kicks off on Belize's stunning coral island Caye Caulker, where you'll go snorkeling in crystalline waters and swim with sharks. Head inland to explore the ancient Maya ruins of Xunantunich on horseback, then cross into Guatemala to visit the pyramid temples at Tikal National Park. End with a tour of the historic colonial city of Antigua and visits to indigenous villages on the shores of Lake Atitlán.

Highlights

  • Swim with nurse sharks on Belize's Caye Caulker Island
  • Hike around the Maya temples and palaces in Tikal National Park
  • Explore the historic center of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Ride horses through the ancient Maya city of Xunantunich
  • Take a boat tour of the Maya craft villages around Lake Atitlán

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Belize, Transfer to Caye Caulker Caye Caulker
Day 2 Caye Caulker Free Day Caye Caulker
Day 3 Caye Caulker Snorkeling Excursion Caye Caulker
Day 4 Horseback Tour of Xunantunich, Transfer to Tikal National Park Tikal National Park
Day 5 Explore Tikal National Park, Transfer to Antigua Antigua
Day 6 Village Tours Around Lake Atitlán Antigua
Day 7 Transfer to Guatemala City, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Belize, Transfer to Caye Caulker

The Beaches of Caye Caulker
White-sand beaches on Caye Caulker

Welcome to Belize! Upon arrival at the airport in Belize City, a personal driver will transfer you to the port where you'll catch a water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker. After settling into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the beach. You can also wander the streets of Caye Caulker Village. Perhaps enjoy dinner at one of its fine restaurants or grab a seat at a waterfront bistro with prime views and enjoy a sundowner. 

Day 2: Caye Caulker Free Day

Hit the water around Caye Caulker

The day is yours to spend however you like. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, take a stroll along the beach, then maybe head back to Caye Caulker Village. There's plenty to see and do, but here it's best to abide by the mantra of the locals and "go slow"—after all, you're on island time now. 

If you do want to pack the day with adventures, there are many to choose from. You can head to the Split—where the island is divided in two by a narrow canal—for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, or dining on fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants. Or take a breezy stroll around the island. Caye Caulker is only about 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, meaning everything is within walking distance. During the outing, you're sure to spot local wildlife including birds, lizards, and the occasional crocodile.

If you're really feeling adventurous, dive into the water for a swim with sharks. Just off the coast of Caye Caulker is an area called Shark Alley that's teeming with gentle nurse sharks. This species is a suction feeder, meaning although they have teeth, they suck seawater into their mouths and push it out through gills, filtering all the small fish and plankton that remain. Although you'll take general precautions, there's nothing to worry about with these docile animals.

Another option for lovers of marine life is a visit to visit the Seahorse Sanctuary. You can view these tiny sea creatures up close as they live just off the island's wooden boardwalks in a protected area. If you simply want to relax, you can hire a water taxi, kayak, or private boat and travel to the northern side of the island. Here you can visit one of the beach clubs and enjoy the bars and swimming pools.

One pastime you'll definitely want to indulge in is eating lots of delicious local food. The island is particularly known for its lobster, which is great for lunch or dinner. But don't miss tasting some of the local favorites, especially fried street food. One of the most popular dishes is a "fry jack"—deep-fried dough stuffed with many different ingredients, including chicken, eggs, vegetables, and bacon.

Day 3: Caye Caulker Snorkeling Excursion

An underwater paradise awaits

After breakfast, you'll head to the offices of a local snorkeling tour operator where you'll meet your guide and grab your mask. The activity begins with an orientation on the dock where you'll watch local nurse sharks feed on fish. Then it will be time to head to the beach and hit the water.

The first hour of snorkeling will be in shallow water, which will help you acclimate. You'll still get to see plenty of marine life, as many species of brightly-colored fish gather close to the shore. Then a boat will take you to deeper waters where you'll explore the coral reef. It's amid these corals, just below the surface of turquoise waters, that a world of exotic sea life exists. You may even see larger creatures like sea turtles, eels, and manta rays. 

Back on the boat, there will be plenty of snacks and drinks, as well as lunch. Throughout the afternoon you can snorkel, swim, and relax on the boat for as long as you like. The boat returns to the dock around 4 pm, at which point you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the island. Grab an aperitif at one of the bars lining the waterfront, as you don't want to miss Caye Caulker's amazing sunsets.

Day 4: Horseback Tour of Xunantunich, Transfer to Tikal National Park

The Ancient Mayan Ruins of Xunantunich City
The ancient Maya ruins of Xunantunich

In the morning, you'll return to Belize City by water taxi and meet your personal driver at the port. You'll then transfer about two hours inland to Xunantunich, an archeological site that dates to around 1,000 BCE and is filled with ancient Maya ruins. Hike up to the top of the pyramid temples here to enjoy incredible panoramic views.

The best way to explore the area around Xunantunich is on horseback. The tour begins at a local stable where you'll meet your guides and horse. The ride to Xunantunich takes you along a well-maintained trail through a large private farm, along the banks of the Mopan River, and through the village of San Jose Succotz. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as monkeys, lizards, and birds. 

At San Jose Succotz, you'll cross the river on a traditional hand-operated ferry and then ride up to Xunantunich. As your horse rests, you'll have ample time to explore the temples and plazas on foot. Afterward, there will be two options for lunch. You can enjoy traditional Belizean dishes at a nearby restaurant or dine at the farm on your way back to the stables.

After the tour, your driver will take you to the border with Guatemala. After a quick crossing, you'll meet your new driver on the Guatemalan side and make your way to Tikal National Park, where you'll stay the night. Know that the park limits electricity to 9:30 pm, which protects the tranquility of the environment. You'll certainly enjoy the quiet sounds, bright stars, and fresh air after an active day.

Day 5: Explore Tikal National Park, Transfer to Antigua

Mayan Temples in Tikal National Park
Maya temples in Tikal National Park

Today's excursion takes you on a tour of the ancient Maya ruins within Tikal National Park, which date to around the 1st century ACE. An expert guide will lead you through the vast citadel complex where you'll visit its major sites including the five main temples, plus the Lost World Complex, Complex Q, and The Great Plaza. You'll end the tour at the beautiful Window Palace and enjoy a picnic lunch in the park. Keep an eye out for exotic wildlife like toucans and howler monkeys.

In the afternoon, your driver will take you to the airport in the town of Flores, where you'll board a flight to Guatemala City. Upon arrival, you'll transfer about an hour west to your local hotel in the colonial city of Antigua. After settling into your accommodation, head out and enjoy the city's historic center.

Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is filled with a colorful Old Town surrounding its central plaza, Central Park. The city is also surrounded by several volcanoes. The contrast between these imposing mountains and the colorful architecture of the city makes it one of the prettiest settlements in the country.

Spend the rest of your day strolling Antigua's cobbled streets. Stop along the way to admire the architecture of the 16th-century Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and the remains of the 18th-century Convento Santa Clara. Later, treat yourself to snacks and street food from local vendors.

Day 6: Village Tours Around Lake Atitlán

Volcano Views from Panajachel
Volcano views from Panajachel

Get an early start, because today you'll head west to the volcano-fringed shores of Lake Atitlán. Here you'll tour some of the waterfront villages around the lake to experience indigenous culture. The first stop is the primary settlement of Panajachel. Here you'll enjoy views of distant volcanoes as you browse the traditional textiles and handicrafts sold along its main street, Calle Santander.

From Panajachel, you'll explore many of the smaller Maya villages around Atitlán. A boat tour will take you around markets where you can see the artwork, learn about the traditions, and hear the stories that define this region and culture. In particular, the town of Santiago is known for its quality artisanal crafts as well for being the home of the infamous Maya saint, Maximon.

Further down the lake is San Juan, famous for its textiles hand-woven at a local women's co-op. Here you can learn about the natural dying process, weaving techniques, and more. Then, with the help of recommendations from your guide, you'll enjoy lunch in one of the villages. In the early afternoon, you'll head back to Panajachel to meet your driver and return to Antigua.

Enjoy your final evening in Guatemala admiring some of the city's other Spanish colonial landmarks, such as the City Hall Palace, the Palace of the Captain’s General, and the Paseo de los Museos.

Day 7: Transfer to Guatemala City, Depart

Goodbye, Guatemala

Unfortunately, it's time to bid farewell to Guatemala. Enjoy one last breakfast in Antigua before transferring back to Guatemala City in time to catch your flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

More Belize & Guatemala Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Belize and/or Guatemala? Check out these other Belize and Guatemala itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.  

Map

Map of Cultural Highlights of Belize & Guatemala - 7 Days
Map of Cultural Highlights of Belize & Guatemala - 7 Days