- Take a Maya cooking class in Guatemala City
- Tour historic Antigua and hike up Pacaya volcano
- Visit Indigenous markets and take boat rides on Lake Atitlán
- Explore ancient Maya ruins at Tikal, Iximché, and Quiriguá
|Day 1||Arrive in Guatemala City, Maya Cooking Class||Guatemala City|
|Day 2||Guatemala City Tour||Guatemala City|
|Day 3||Hike Pacaya Volcano||Guatemala City|
|Day 4||Transfer to Antigua, Walking Tour||Antigua|
|Day 5||Visit Chichicastenango, Transfer to Lake Atitlán||Lake Atitlán|
|Day 6||Lake Atitlán Village Tour||Lake Atitlán|
|Day 7||Tour Iximché Ruins, Transfer to Antigua||Antigua|
|Day 8||Antigua Street Food Tour, Fly to Tikal||Tikal National Park|
|Day 9||Explore Tikal National Park||Tikal National Park|
|Day 10||Transfer to Río Dulce, Boat Ride & Hot Springs||Río Dulce|
|Day 11||Transfer to Guatemala City, Stop at Quiriguá Ruins||Guatemala City|
|Day 12||Depart Guatemala City|
Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala City, Maya Cooking Class
Welcome to Guatemala! This country is a wellspring of culture and history, which you will discover right upon arrival. From the airport in Guatemala City, a driver will transport you to your hotel. After checking in, you'll head out on your first cultural experience: a masterclass in traditional Maya cuisine. The class, led by a local chef/instructor, will take place either at a 17th-century colonial mansion or in an outdoor kitchen in the forest.
This is more than just a cooking lesson because, to the Maya, each ingredient they use is not only a source of nourishment but a way to 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. Afterward, you'll sit down to feast on your creations.
Day 2: Guatemala City Tour
In the morning, you'll meet a local guide to learn about the history and culture of the city on a half-day tour. Visit the Centro Histórico ("Historic Center"), near the Plaza de la Constitución. Here you can tour the National Palace of Culture, which houses a museum showcasing the history, art, and culture of Guatemala. You'll also visit some of the city's most famous religious landmarks, such as the 18th-century Iglesia San Francisco, St. Augustine Rectory, and the whitewashed Iglesia del Cerrito del Carmen.
For lunch, perhaps head to Mercado Central to taste a variety of traditional Guatemalan dishes as well as browse vendors selling clothing, crafts, and souvenirs. The rest of the day is yours to enjoy at your leisure. You can continue exploring the city's neighborhoods, relax at the hotel, or enjoy more local cuisine at cafés, restaurants, and wine bars.
Day 3: Hike Pacaya Volcano
Guatemala is home to 37 volcanoes, three of which are currently active. One of the most popular to hike is Pacaya, which stands at 8,370 feet (2,552 m) and whose slopes feature 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 lava field at the base of its caldera. You'll wake up early for the one-hour ride south from Guatemala city to Pacaya, where you'll embark on a day hike.
The trip up and back takes about six hours, but horses are an option if you'd prefer a more relaxed ascent. Upon arrival at the summit, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch amid panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes. For dessert, you can even roast marshmallows over volcanic vents. The hike down traverses more dried lava fields before descending through tropical forests and farmland. At the trailhead, you'll transfer to a vehicle and return to Guatemala City.
Day 4: Transfer to Antigua, Walking Tour
A driver will meet you this morning for the one-hour ride west to the historic city of Antigua. Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is known for the Spanish colonial Old Town around its main plaza, Parque Central. Three volcanoes also surround it, and the contrast between these imposing mountains and the city's colorful architecture is part of the reason Antigua has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
After checking in to your hotel, you'll meet a local historian, and the two of you will embark on a walking tour of the city. During this excursion, you'll visit 18th-century landmarks like the Palacio del Ayuntamiento ("City Hall Palace"); Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent that is now a hotel and museum; the Palace of the Captain's General; and La Merced Church, whose canary-yellow Baroque facade is a hallmark of the city. As you stroll the Paseo de Los Museos ("Museum Path"), you'll delve into the roots of Maya archaeology and culture.
Day 5: Visit Chichicastenango, Transfer to Lake Atitlán
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour ride west from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, the most famous lake in the country, which is sacred to the Maya people. A section of this drive is on the Pan-American Highway, part of a network of roads stretching from one end of the Americas to the other, from Alaska to Argentina. As you get closer to Atitlán and around the mountain bends, keep an eye out for stunning views above the lake.
Before stopping in Atitlán, you'll continue on to the mountain town of Chichicastenango, a K'iche' Maya (Indigenous peoples) cultural center. Here, you'll visit the town's famous open-air craft market, which is as lively as it is colorful. Commerce has existed here for thousands of years, and today it's reportedly the largest open-air market in Central America. Enjoy walking amid the many vendor stalls, where you can choose between a wide variety of artisanal items and hand-woven textiles. Afterward, you'll transfer to the lakeside town of Panajachel, where you'll overnight.
Day 6: Lake Atitlán Village Tour
Board a boat today for a tour around the villages dotting the lakeshore. Along with a local guide, you'll stop at towns that are far off the tourist trail and which 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 the infamous Maya saint of Maximon, known for his depraved behavior.
When the tour is over, you'll return to the hotel and can then enjoy Lake Atitlán however you like. Whether you choose to relax in a hammock and explore the nearby villages, it's your decision. There are many fun activities you can choose as well, like kayaking on the lake, boat rides, water sports, ziplining, and more. At the end of the day, you'll enjoy dinner at the hotel.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Tour Iximché Ruins, Transfer to AntiguaIn the morning, you'll board a boat for a ride to the eastern shore of Lake Atitlán. Then, take a private shuttle through the beautiful highlands to the ruins of Iximché. Back in the 15th century, this archeological site was a great capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom. Its ruins sit in the western highlands of Guatemala and include pyramid temples, palaces, and two Mesoamerican ball courts. Take a personal guided tour through the site, which was declared a Guatemalan National Monument in the 1960s. After the ruins, you'll hit the road back to Antigua and check in to your hotel.
Day 8: Antigua Street Food Tour, Fly to Tikal
Today, you'll meet a local expert guide who will introduce you to Guatemala's culture through its gastronomy. On this three-hour walking tour through Antigua, you'll taste culinary creations dating back thousands of years. The tour includes stops at eight traditional restaurants and vendors, each serving a variety of savory and sweet local treats. Besides the delicious food, you'll also learn about Antigua's history, visit 16th-century ruins, and enjoy views of the nearby volcanoes.
After the food tour, your driver will pick you up for the ride back to Guatemala City. At the airport, you'll take a one-hour flight to the lake town of Flores, the gateway to the legendary Tikal National Park. Upon arrival in Flores, another driver will be waiting to transfer you 1.5 hours north into the national park, where your hotel is located.
Day 9: Explore Tikal National ParkAfter 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 I (The Great Jaguar), 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
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.
Then, you'll hop on a boat for a ride on the river. As you travel north along the tranquil jade waters, keep your camera at the 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 11: Transfer to Guatemala City, Stop at Quiriguá Ruins
After a morning in Livingston, you'll hop on a boat for the ride back up the Río Dulce to Lago Izabal. Along the way, there's a detour to the Quiriguá ruins, an ancient Maya archaeological site in southeastern Guatemala. The site covers about 2 square miles (3 sq km) along the Motagua River. 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 Lago Izabal and then transfer by vehicle for about 5.5 hours to Guatemala City. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and enjoy your final evening in the capital at your leisure.