This 15-day adventure will take you from Guatemala's southern and central highlands to the northern rainforests and the Caribbean coast. In the south, you'll walk the cobbled streets of Antigua, camp out on volcanoes, and take a boat tour of Lake Atitlán. After touring ancient Maya ruins at Tikal and Yaxhá, you'll ride the famous Río Dulce to the coast before finishing the trip in historic Guatemala City.


  • Tour the historic center of Antigua and Guatemala City
  • Hike up Pacaya and Acatenango volcanoes
  • Take a boat ride on Lake Atitlán and the Río Dulce
  • Visit Maya ruins at Tikal, Yaxhá, and Quirigá

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Guatemala, Transfer to Antigua Antigua
Day 2 Pacaya Volcano Day Hike Antigua
Day 3 Hike Acatenango Volcano & Camp Overnight Acatenango Volcano
Day 4 Acatenango Summit Hike & Descent Antigua
Day 5 Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Optional Activities Lake Atitlán
Day 6 Boat Tour of Lake Atitlán, Transfer to Antigua Antigua
Day 7 Chocolate Workshop, Guatemalan Cooking Class Antigua
Day 8 Transfer to Tikal National Park, Sunset at Yaxhá Tikal National Park
Day 9 Tour Tikal Ruins Tikal National Park
Day 10 Transfer to Río Dulce & Hot Springs Río Dulce
Day 11 Río Dulce Boat Tour to Livingston Río Dulce
Day 12 Transfer to Copán (Honduras), Ruins Tour Copán
Day 13 Transfer to Guatemala City, Visit Quirigá Ruins Guatemala City
Day 14 Guatemala City Tour Guatemala City
Day 15 Depart Guatemala City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala, Transfer to Antigua

The Santa Catalina Arch, in Antigua

Welcome to Guatemala! This country's rich history dates back long before Spanish colonial conquest to the days of the ancient Maya kingdoms. You'll witness this history plus experience Guatemala's renowned natural beauty almost from the moment you step off the plane. At the airport, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride west to Antigua, one of the most well-preserved Spanish colonial cities in the Americas. Looming over its skyline are three towering volcanoes—one of which you'll even get to hike.

Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel. Then enjoy some free time exploring Antigua on a self-guided walking tour. Once the capital of Guatemala, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its Spanish colonial Old Town around its main plaza. As you walk, you'll pass by historic landmarks like the Santa Catalina Arch, the ruins of the 16th-century Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, and the 18th-century Convento Santa Clara. Be sure to stop along the way and treat yourself to local street food like tostadas and empanadas (called dobladas in Guatemala). 

Day 2: Pacaya Volcano Day Hike

Volcan de Pacaya
Join a group hike up Pacaya

Get an early start for a guided climb up the 8,370-foot (2,552 m) Pacaya volcano. These slopes are home to some of the most impressive volcanic landscapes in Central America. Set in its own national park, Pacaya cuts an imposing figure with a continuous plume of smoke drifting from its summit and the massive dried lava field at the base of its caldera.

The trip up and back takes about six hours, but horses are an option for those who'd prefer a more relaxed ascent. Upon arrival at the summit, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch amid panoramic views and even roast marshmallows over the volcano's natural heat. The hike down traverses more dried lava fields before descending through tropical forest and farmland on your way back to Antigua. 

Day 3: Hike Acatenango Volcano & Camp Overnight

The view of Fuego's eruptions from Acatenango

The volcano adventures aren't over yet. In the morning, you'll meet your hiking group at Old Town Outfitters in Antigua. Here, you'll fill up water bottles and stock up on gear. Then take a one-hour drive to the slope of the Acatenango volcano and the village of La Soledad, where the trailhead is located. The route up this volcano has four microclimates, each of which takes about an hour to hike. Begin by walking up a steep path through farmland, which is the same trail used by villagers to reach their crops. The first hour is a nice warm-up for your leg muscles in preparation for the rest of the journey.

The second phase of the hike passes through an old-growth, high-alpine cloud forest. This type of forest exists on the higher slopes of Guatemala's tallest volcanoes and is home to many exotic birds, including the famous resplendent quetzal. After emerging from the cloud forest around mid-day, you'll be treated to fantastic views of the other highland volcanoes: Atitlán, Tolimán, San Pedro, Santa María, Santo Tomás, and Tajamulco. You'll have plenty of time to admire the scenery on a break to enjoy a picnic lunch.

Temperate and tropical forests characterize the third part of your ascent, which leads to the storm-beaten tree line of the volcano. Your campsite is just below this tree line and offers sweeping views of the Antigua Valley and the adjacent Fuego volcano. After setting up camp, take some time to stretch out and relax while your guide prepares dinner at 12,300 feet (3,750 m). Enjoy your meal while marveling at the awe-inspiring spectacle of Fuego's eruptions.

Day 4: Acatenango Summit Hike & Descent

4x4 Acatenango Overnight day 2
Descending Acatenango

Depending on weather conditions, your group will rise early, enjoy the sunrise over volcano peaks, and embark on a one-hour trek up a gravel trail through a pine forest. This is the steepest trail yet, and it leads to the rocky, windy summit of Acatenango's peak.

At the summit, rest and enjoy breathtaking views of the Guatemalan highlands stretching all the way to Mexico. After breakfast and breaking camp, you'll begin the three-hour descent back to La Soledad. This route follows a different trail, so you can enjoy even more beautiful scenery as you descend through different microclimates. From La Soledad, you'll hop in a 4WD vehicle for a bit of off-roading fun on the way back to Antigua.

Day 5: Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Optional Activities

Boats and volcanoes on Lake Atitlán
Welcome to Lake Atilán

Set off this morning for the three-hour drive to Lake Atitlán, Guatemala's most famous lake. This body of water is part of a volcanic crater in the southwestern highlands and is surrounded by volcanoes, creating a spectacular skyline. The drive to get there is a treat in itself, as it follows a section of the Pan-American Highway, which stretches from one end of the Americas to the other (Alaska to Argentina). Along this road are stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

After checking in to your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy however you like. If you wish to spend the day on the water, you can rent kayaks, go swimming, or enjoy some water sports. For something more adventurous, try a zipline ride over forests and waterfalls. Toward the end of the day, you can relax in a hammock and watch as the sun sets over the glassy waters of Atitlán.

Day 6: Boat Tour of Lake Atitlán, Transfer to Antigua

Explore more of Lake Atitlán today
Plan your trip to Guatemala
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
In the morning, you'll board a boat for a tour around the villages dotting the lakeshore. Along with a local guide, you'll stop at villages like Santiago Atitlán and San Juan Laguna, far off the tourist trail, and thus offer a truly authentic cultural experience. For example, you'll get to visit a local women's weaving co-op and see how they turn cotton into beautiful textiles by hand. You'll also visit a shrine to Maximon, an infamous Maya saint known for his depraved behavior. Afterward, you'll transfer about three hours back to Antigua via the lakeside village of Panajachel.

Day 7: Chocolate Workshop, Guatemalan Cooking Class

Make your own chocolate confections in today's workshop

Switch gears this morning and participate in a two-hour "bean to bar" chocolate workshop. Besides crops like coffee and bananas, Guatemala also produces cacao (cocoa), the main ingredient in chocolate. This crop has been cultivated here for thousands of years and was even enjoyed by the ancient Maya. During the workshop, you'll learn all about its history, the growing and harvesting process, and roasting the beans. You'll even get to prepare your own traditional Maya cacao drink and make custom chocolates to take home with you.

Next, ride to a nearby traditional village and participate in a cooking class hosted by a local family. During this four-hour workshop, you'll discover that Guatemalan cuisine is a tantalizing mix of colonial Spanish and Indigenous Maya gastronomy. It's a fun and eye-opening experience in which you'll prepare a regional meal utilizing local ingredients (vegetarian options available). When the cooking is done, sit down with your hosts to feast on your creations and wash them down with local beer or wine.

Day 8: Transfer to Tikal National Park, Sunset at Yaxhá

See the sunset at Yaxhá

This morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport in Guatemala City, where you'll catch a one-hour flight north to the Petén region and the lakeside town of Flores. This will be your base for exploring ancient Maya ruins over the next two days. Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up for the 1.5-hour ride east to Yaxhá National Park. Here, you'll meet a local guide for a half-day tour.

This archaeological site at Yaxhá comprises the ruins of an ancient Maya city and ceremonial center that reached its height of power during the Classic Period (200-900 CE) when it was the third-largest city in the region. There are over 500 structures here, and your guide will lead you to various pyramids, altars, plazas, ball courts, and a network of sacbeob (ancient roads). One major highlight is a hike up Temple 216, the site's tallest temple at 98 feet (30 m). After watching the sunset from atop the ruins at Yaxhá, you'll transfer 1.5 hours to Tikal National Park, where you'll overnight. 

Day 9: Explore Tikal National Park

Temple I (the Great Jaguar Temple), in Tikal
After breakfast, you'll head out on a half-day guided tour of Tikal, known worldwide for its ancient Maya pyramids and sprawling ruins. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Classic Maya period (250-900 CE). Among many highlights, Tikal is home to the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas: Temple IV, which stands 270 feet (70 m) tall. You'll see all the major sites of interest, including Temples I, II, III, IV, and V, the Lost World, Complex Q, the Great Plaza, and the Window Palace

Day 10: Transfer to Río Dulce & Hot Springs

Waterfall at the Finca Paraíso hot springs
In the morning, you'll transfer south about five hours to the Caribbean side of Guatemala and Río Dulce National Park, home to the river of the same name. The "sweet river" is located near the country's eastern border with Belize and connects to Lago Izabal. Near the lake, you'll stop at Finca Paraíso, a beautiful river and waterfall fed by natural hot springs. During a refreshing break here, you can alternate between taking dips in the cool river and then standing under the thermally heated waterfall to warm up. After lunch on the banks, you'll transfer to the mouth of the Río Dulce and your hotel.

Day 11: Río Dulce Boat Tour to Livingston

Cruise down the Río Dulce and spot diverse wildlife

After breakfast, you'll hop on a boat for a ride on the river. As you travel north along the tranquil jade waters, keep your camera ready, as the banks are lined with stunning rainforest scenery and quaint villages. Waterbirds like herons are constantly flitting overhead or resting on the lily pads, and you're sure to see blooming flowers like orchids and white water lilies. Along the way, you'll stop at the famous 17th-century Castle San Felipe.

The ride will eventually take you to Livingston, where you'll experience a different side of Guatemala. This Afro-Guatemalan community is defined by its distinctive Garifuna culture, which has its own language, cuisine, and customs. You can take a dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean, do some bird-watching, and try tapado, a seafood stew that's the community's most popular dish. Or learn to dance punta, a traditional Garifuna dance. At the end of the day, you'll retire to your hotel in Livingston, where you'll overnight. 

Day 12: Transfer to Copán (Honduras), Ruins Tour

Pyramid ruins at Copán

Today you're in for a treat as you hop the border to adjacent Honduras and visit one of the most impressive sites in the Maya world: Copán. This UNESCO World Heritage Site (also known as the "Kingdom of the Sun") dates from the Maya Classic Period (300-900 CE) and was once the capital city of the kingdom at the time. The site covers 250 acres (100 ha), and within it are thousands of structures, including pyramids, plazas, stairways, ball courts, and stone sculptures.

Your expert guide will lead you on a tour through the site, during which you'll stop at the major landmarks and can hike up temples. Afterward, you'll transfer to a hotel near the ruins, where you'll overnight. 

Day 13: Transfer to Guatemala City, Visit Quiriguá Ruins

Sandstone stelae at Quiriguá 

In the morning, you'll cross the border back into Guatemala and hope in a vehicle for the five-hour drive back to Guatemala City. On the way, you'll stop to visit the Quiriguá ruins, an archeological site that covers about 2 square miles (3 sq km) along the Río Motagua. During its heyday around 800 CE, it was an administrative center at the junction of several important trade routes. Today, it's famous for its 17 impressive sandstone stelae (monuments), which you'll see up close. 

When the tour of Quiriguá is over, continue to Guatemala City and check in to your hotel. Feel free to enjoy the evening in the capital at your leisure. Perhaps head out to dinner at one of the fine restaurants in the trendy Zone 10 neighborhood.

Day 14: Guatemala City Tour

Visit the National Palace, in Guatemala City
Today, you'll embark on a tour of Guatemala City's Centro Histórico ("Historic Center") led by a local expert. Head to the Plaza de la Constitución and visit the National Palace, a historic Spanish Renaissance building that was once the headquarters of the president, but today it's a museum. Nearby are famous religious landmarks like the 18th-century Iglesia San Francisco, St. Augustine Rectory, and the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built in 1871.

Day 15: Depart Guatemala City

Farewell, Guatemala
Unfortunately, all great adventures must come to an end. Enjoy one last breakfast at your hotel in Guatemala City. Then, at the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up for the ride to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Adíos! 

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Map of Essential Guatemala: Volcanoes, Ruins & Waterfalls - 15 Days
Map of Essential Guatemala: Volcanoes, Ruins & Waterfalls - 15 Days