This 15-day adventure through Guatemala will take you to its most heralded wonders, both man-made and natural. It begins deep within coffee country as you visit nature reserves, waterfalls, and Maya ruins, then continues to the colonial towns and volcanoes around sacred Lake Atitlán. As an added bonus, you'll hop the border into Belize to visit coral islands and snorkel along one of the world's largest barrier reefs.


  • Tour the ancient Maya ruins at Tikal and Yaxhá
  • Hike around nature reserves and waterfalls
  • Go snorkeling on Belize's Barrier Reef
  • Enjoy a boat ride down the Río Dulce
  • Visit Lake Atitlán and hike up a volcano

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Guatemala City, Maya Culinary Class Guatemala City
Day 2 Transfer to Cobán, Hike Ram Tzul & Biotopo del Quetzal Cobán
Day 3 Day Trip to Semuc Champey Cobán
Day 4 Transfer to Tikal National Park via Candelaria Caves Tikal National Park
Day 5 Visit Tikal Ruins, Transfer to Flores, Yaxhá Sunset Flores
Day 6 Transfer to Río Dulce & Boat Tour Livingston
Day 7 Boat Transfer to Belize & Lime Caye Lime Caye
Day 8 Barrier Reef Snorkeling Tour Lime Caye
Day 9 Transfer to Livingston, Optional Activities Livingston
Day 10 Río Dulce Boat Ride, Transfer to Guatemala City Guatemala City
Day 11 Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Village Boat Tour Lake Atitlán
Day 12 Transfer to Antigua via Chichicastenango Market Antigua
Day 13 Antigua Walking Tour, Chicken Bus & Chocolate Workshop Antigua
Day 14 Pacaya Volcano Hike & Picnic Antigua
Day 15 Transfer to Guatemala City & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala City, Maya Culinary Class

Experience the deep flavors of Guatemalan cuisine

Welcome to Guatemala! Upon arrival at the airport in Guatemala City, a driver will be waiting to pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in the city. You'll quickly discover that this small Central American nation is a powerhouse of culture, history, and natural wonders. And there's no better way to get to the heart of a culture than through its food. So, after settling in, you'll head to a cooking class held either at a 17th-century colonial mansion or in an outdoor kitchen in the forest. 

It's an opportunity to discover a rich culinary heritage dating back to the days of the ancient Maya. This cuisine is nourishment for the mind and body, because, to the Maya people, each ingredient serves to maintain the body and also prevent illness and treat psychological problems. During the class, you'll prepare a traditional Maya meal that includes pepián (a spiced stew made with meat, vegetables, and fruit), jocón de pollo (chicken cooked in a tomatillo and cilantro sauce), and a vegetarian dish. At the end of the workshop, you'll sit down to feast on your creations.

Day 2: Transfer to Cobán, Hike Ram Tzul & Biotopo del Quetzal

See if you can spot the resplendent quetzal

In the morning, you and your personal driver will hit the road 3.5 hours north to the central highlands and the city of Cobán, located deep in Guatemalan coffee country. On the way, you'll stop at Ram Tzul, a private nature reserve that covers more than 247 acres (100 ha) of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Explore Ram Tzul's lush cloud forests, stop and smell the orchids, and hike to a beautiful waterfall that plunges 260 feet (80 m) into a lagoon. You might even spot Guatemala's national (and colorful) bird, the resplendent quetzal. 

You'll also stop at the Biotopo del Quetzal, a 2,580-acre (1,044 ha) nature reserve. Here, you'll embark on a one-hour nature hike to a 45-foot (13 m) waterfall plunging into a lagoon. This cloud forest reserve is also a haven for the quetzal, so you'll double your chances of seeing this rare bird that has been revered since the time of the ancient Maya. Know that it's most commonly spotted from January to June. After the hike, you'll continue to Cobán and check in to your hotel.

Day 3: Day Trip to Semuc Champey

Visit the turquoise terraced pools at Semuc Champey

After breakfast, you'll head out on a full-day tour to nearby Semuc Champey. This otherworldly natural landmark is located east of Cobán and is famous for its terraced turquoise pools. The best place to snap photos is atop a natural limestone bridge that rises 100 feet (30 m) above the water. En route to Semuc Champey, you'll stop in the Q'eqchi' Maya town of Lanquín and switch to a 4WD.

Once at Semuc Champey, you'll have the day free to enjoy a number of activities like swimming and diving in the refreshing pools. You can also embark on a 45-minute uphill hike to El Mirador. This stunning viewpoint overlooks the terraced pools 2,300 feet (700 m) below. Perhaps take a tube ride down the Río Cahabón and/or explore the K'an Ba river caves, half a mile (1 km) from Semuc Champey. At the end of the day, you'll return to Cobán.

Day 4: Transfer to Tikal National Park via Candelaria Caves

Candelaria Caves
Venture into one of Central America's largest caves systems at Candelaria 
In the morning, you'll transfer from Cobán, a couple of hours north, to the town of Candelaria. The area is known for its towering limestone mountains, at the base of which are river caves you can explore. Besides hiking on foot and swimming in the water, you can go on a tubing excursion through this unique cavern system. Following the cave tour, you'll continue driving farther into northern Guatemala and the Petén Department, eventually reaching Tikal National Park, where you'll overnight.

Day 5: Visit Tikal Ruins, Transfer to Flores, Yaxhá Sunset

Hike the towering Inca ruins at Tikal

Wake up early and meet up with a guide for a half-day tour of the 222-square-mile (576 sq km) archeological site at Tikal National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the capital of one of the ancient Mayas' most powerful kingdoms until its decline around 900 CE. The ruins here include sprawling citadels and towering pyramids like Temple IV, which, at 230 feet (70 m), is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in Central America. Hike up the staircase at the side of the temple for incredible views.

Throughout the tour, you'll follow your expert guide through the temples and pyramids, stopping at all the major points of interest. This includes Temples I, II, III, IV, and V, the Lost World, Complex Q, the Great Plaza, the Window Palace, and more. After a break for lunch, you'll have more time to explore the site on your own. Keep an eye out for exotic wildlife like toucans and howler monkeys.

After the tour, you'll take a 1.5-hour drive south to the lakeside town of Flores. On the way, you'll stop at Yaxhá National Park. This archaeological site comprises the ruins of an ancient Maya city, home to over 500 structures, including pyramids, altars, plazas, ball courts, and a network of sacbeob (ancient roads). Here, you'll get to hike Temple 216, the site's tallest temple at 98 feet (30 m). At the top, you can watch the sunset over the Guatemalan jungle and bathe the ruins in golden light. Afterward, you'll continue to Flores and your hotel.
Plan your trip to Guatemala
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Transfer to Río Dulce & Boat Tour

Cruise down the Río Dulce for a relaxed change of pace

In the morning, you'll transfer south to the Río Dulce ("Sweet River" in English), where you'll meet your guide and embark on a boat tour. As you travel north along the tranquil jade waters, keep your camera ready, as the banks are lined with stunning rainforest scenery and charming 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. 

The ride will take you to Livingston. This small town on the Caribbean coast is more laid back than other parts of Guatemala and is a great place to kick back for a day. On the way there, the boat will stop periodically so you can visit natural hot springs and hidden caves. Once in town, you'll check in to your accommodations and can then enjoy lunch on one of the white-sand beaches.

Day 7: Boat Transfer to Belize & Lime Caye

Aerial views of Lime Caye, Belize

Today you'll board a boat to transfer from Livingston north, about two hours into neighboring Belize and Lime Caye. This unspoiled island is part of Sapodilla Cayes Marine Park and is located at the southern tip of the Belize Barrier Reef. Once here, you'll check in to your rustic accommodation and can spend the rest of the day however you like. Relax on the powdery white-sand beaches, take a dip in the water, or go fishing for snapper and tarpon. Then, at the end of the day, watch as the sun sets over the Caribbean before enjoying dinner.

Day 8: Barrier Reef Snorkeling Tour

Snorkel through dazzling colors in Belize's Barrier Reef

Wake up early and hop on another boat for a snorkeling trip along Belize's Barrier Reef. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is the second-largest reef in the world. It's home to over 100 species of coral and 500 species of tropical fish, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers alike.

During this five-hour excursion in the marine reserve around Lime Caye, you'll stop at two-different dive spots with great visibility and healthy corals. At each one, guides will lead you in the water as you swim with exotic marine life. These include sea turtles, rays, lionfish, angelfish, and even nurse sharks. At the end of the day, you'll return to Lime Caye.

Day 9: Transfer to Livingston, Optional Activities

Evening light over Livingston, Guatemala
In the morning, you'll transfer back to Livingston, Guatemala, from Lime Caye by boat. After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day free in Livingston. Get to know the area's Afro-Caribbean culture, which is called Garifuna and has its own language, cuisine, and customs. You can also spend time at the beach, go birding, and try tapado, a seafood stew that's the region's most popular dish. If the mood strikes, you can also learn to dance punta, a traditional Garifuna dance.

Day 10: Río Dulce Boat Ride, Transfer to Guatemala City

Travel back up the Río Dulce today

Hop on a private boat for the 1.5-hour ride back up the Río Dulce and Lago Izabal. Enjoy the scenery on the water, because once you reach the lake, you'll transfer by vehicle about 5.5. hours south to Guatemala City, where you'll check in to your hotel. It's a long drive, but there will be plenty of opportunities along the way to stop for food, stretch your legs, and take pictures.

Day 11: Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Village Boat Tour

Lake Atitlán's dramatic setting makes it one of Guatemala's most iconic sights

In the morning, you'll transfer 3.5 hours west from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlán. Widely considered among the most beautiful lakes in the world, Atitlán's sparkling blue waters are surrounded by dramatic volcanoes. Moreover, its shores are home to several Indigenous Maya villages abounding with rich culture evidenced in the local traditions, markets, arts, crafts, and even the stories of the people. Today you'll visit a few of these villages on a private boat tour.

The first town you'll visit on this 4.5-hour tour is San Juan La Laguna, which is famous for its textiles and weaving co-ops run by indigenous women. You'll visit one of these co-ops to learn about the natural dying process and other time-honored techniques that go into producing beautiful handmade clothing, handbags, shawls, and other products. There will also be time to visit an apiary and an artists' workshop to see traditional paintings by local artists. 

Next, you'll stop at Santiago Atitlán. This town is famous for its shrine to Maximón, a Maya deity known for his depraved behavior. You'll also visit the Cojolya Weaving Center and Museum, founded by the Cojolya Association of Maya Women Weavers. This museum showcases the history, tradition, and methodology of backstrap-loom weaving, which the Indigenous people of Santiago have utilized to craft their traditional garments for centuries. 

Day 12: Transfer to Antigua via Chichicastenango Market

Browse alongside the locals at the colorful Chichicastenango Market

After breakfast, you'll leave Atitlán and head east about three hours to the colonial city of Antigua. On the way, you'll stop at Chichicastenango. Known as "Chichi" by locals, this indigenous town in the Guatemalan highlands is home to one of the largest markets in Central America, which was established before the Spanish arrival. Its primary purpose is to service locals who come far and wide to buy and sell products. During a visit, you'll browse the market, whose vendors sell everything from handicrafts and textiles to fresh produce and street food. You'll even get to visit an artisanal mask factory.

You also won't want to miss the nearby Iglesia de Santo Tomás. This 16th-century Roman Catholic church is built on the site of a former Maya temple and is a striking example of Guatemalan syncretism (a mix of ancient Maya religious beliefs and traditional Catholicism). Besides sightseeing and sampling typical foods like Guatemalan bananas and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), you'll also browse a local textile factory to see the process of making the traditional outfits of the region. Following this is a traditional dance performance.

After the market, continue to Antigua. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the capital of Guatemala before an earthquake in the 18th century forced its relocation. Many of this colonial city's 16th, 17th, and 18th-century structures have been beautifully renovated, while others have fallen to ruins yet retain a tumbledown charm. Once here, you'll check in to your hotel and spend the rest of the day tasting delicious street food, souvenir shopping at the crafts markets, and enjoying the nightlife.

Day 13: Antigua Walking Tour, Chicken Bus & Chocolate Workshop

The Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

Start today with a three-hour guided walking tour of Antigua. As you stroll the charming cobbled lanes, you'll visit 17th and 18th-century landmarks like the Palacio del Ayuntamiento ("City Hall Palace"), which houses the town offices and a museum of ancient books. There's also the Palace of the Captain's General and the Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent now a hotel and museum. Another highlight is the Iglesia de La Merced, a Baroque church destroyed by earthquakes but rebuilt in the late 1700s and whose canary yellow facade is a hallmark of the city.

After the walking tour, you'll experience Guatemala like a local with a ride on a famous "chicken bus." Within Guatemala, these brightly painted buses are the most cost-effective mode of public transportation. During the outing, you'll visit historic villages and markets where you can purchase textiles and other Guatemalan crafts. Highlights of the trip include visiting the Spanish-colonial town of San Pedro Las Huerta, touring a macadamia nut farm, and stopping at Ciudad Vieja, the original capital of Guatemala, until 1541.

Later, you'll participate in a "bean to bar" chocolate workshop. Besides crops like coffee and bananas, Guatemala also produces cacao (cocoa), the main ingredient in chocolate. Cacao has been cultivated here for thousands of years and was even enjoyed by the ancient Maya. During the workshop, you'll learn all about this history as well as the process of growing the cacao, harvesting it, and roasting the beans. Of course, the tour concludes with a delicious tasting. 

Day 14: Pacaya Volcano Hike & Picnic

Hike dried lava fields up the rugged slopes of Pacaya

Rise early today for a guided hike 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.

This moderate hike takes about two hours to reach the top, and upon arrival at the summit, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch amid incredible panoramic views of the highlands. The hike down traverses more dried lava fields before descending through tropical forests and farmland. From there, you'll return to your hotel in Antigua and have the rest of the day free.

Day 15: Transfer to Guatemala City & Depart

Farewell, Guatemala
The great Central American adventure has, alas, come to an end. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up in Antigua for the 1.5-hour ride to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. ¡Buen viaje! 

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