Planning Your Trip to Guatemala
To get the most out of your Guatemala experience, plan on spending 10 days here. This will give you enough time to travel around the lakes, volcanoes, and ruins without having to rush. Having such ample time also reveals much of the local culture.
However, even if you’re only here for five days, you can still experience some major highlights of Guatemala. The ideal short itinerary includes a visit to Spanish-colonial Antigua and mystical Lake Atitlán. With seven or eight days, though, you can add a trip to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, plus additional experiences like hiking to the top of an active volcano and touring indigenous villages.
In two weeks you can experience the best sights and immerse yourself in Guatemala's culture. Go beyond Atitlán and Tikal as you head deep into the coffee region for hikes around cloud forests and waterfalls. There are even 14-day mountain-biking excursions that will test the limits of your endurance.
If the mood strikes, you could even hop across the border for an excursion to neighboring Belize. Or embark on a tour of the Mayan ruins at Copán, located just across the border with Honduras.
Guatemala in 5 Days
Get ready for an unforgettable journey around this pint-sized powerhouse of a country. You won't have much time to spare, so it's best to stick to the highlights of a single region.
One active adventure includes walking tours of historic Antigua, located about an hour west of Guatemala City. Until 1773, this UNESCO-designated site was the nation's capital, and its colonial past is well-preserved in the cobbled streets, grand plazas, and stunning antigueño-style baroque architecture. After a walking tour, hike nearby Pacaya, an 8,370-foot (2,552-meter) active volcano. At the base of the caldera, you can traverse dried lava fields and enjoy views of the volcano's perpetually smoking summit.
For indigenous history, dive into this 5-day Mayan journey. It begins at Guatemala's premier archeological site, Tikal National Park, which sits on 142,000-acres amid the dense jungle of the “Maya Forest." The park is home to over 3,000 structures that once comprised a major city/ceremonial hub of Mayan civilization. Some ruins even date as far back as 600 BCE. The journey, however, doesn't end at Tikal; you'll also enjoy a boat ride down the jade waters of the Río Dulce. This unforgettable tour passes along the orchid-lined banks of the river as toucans and howler monkeys frolic in the nearby trees.
An itinerary that really takes you off the beaten path is this outdoor adventure to Cobán, in the heart of Guatemalan coffee country. The first stop is the nature reserve of Ram Tzul, which features cloud forests and a beautiful waterfall that plunges 260 feet (80 m) into a lagoon. You'll also visit the terraced pools of Semuc Champey and Biotopo del Quetzal, a paradise for birders (see if you can spot the elusive quetzal). An amateur spelunking expedition and tube ride through limestone caves is another highlight, as is a trip to Laguna Lachúa, a protected area home to jaguars, pumas, and tapirs.
Want to know more? Check out these other 5-day Guatemala itineraries.
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Guatemala in One Week
A week is perfect for an immersive exploration of Guatemala. As before, it's best to begin in one region. That said, you'll have enough time to comfortably add a second area to your itinerary.
One option is this comprehensive highlights and culture trip, which begins in Antigua but also includes trips from the city to nearby indigenous towns. These towns are known for women's co-operatives that produce handmade textiles, which are an expression of Guatemalan culture. You'll also browse local markets and visit Lake Atitlán, which at 50 sq. miles is the largest lake in Central America. Nearby is the small Mayan archeological site of Iximché, home to the ruins of temples and even ball courts. The trip finishes with a day spent walking in Mayan footsteps at Tikal.
More active adventures await on this summit to shoreline tour. The itinerary covers the best of the western highlands and Guatemala's Pacific Coast. Besides Antigua and Atitlán, you'll also cycle to local villages. A rich cultural experience follows at a craft market in Chichicastenango, a highland town populated by the K'iche' Maya indigenous people. A hike up Rupalaj K’istalin, a mountain on Lake Atitlán's west side, reveals spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes. Then, enjoy a final day lazing on the black volcanic sands at El Paredon, one of the best surf beaches on Guatemala's coast.
Guatemala's volcanoes are indeed beautiful. If that is your interest, you'll love this hiking adventure. The first volcano to visit is Pacaya. A 3-to-4-hour hike up the black sandy slopes reveals expansive views out to the ocean. You'll then hike Acatenango Volcano (3,600 feet / 1,100 m) plus embark on a full-day ascent to the summit of San Pedro Volcano (9,900 feet / 3,020 m). These hikes offer incredible scenery that includes dried lava fields and 360° views at the summits. A real treat is camping overnight at Acatenango. Enjoy a relaxing kayak or boat trip around Atitlán to end this active adventure.
Get inspired with our other weeklong Guatemala getaways.
Guatemala in 10 Days
Ten days allows time for Antigua, Atitlán, Tikal, plus tours of local Maya villages. You can also squeeze in additional natural wonders and active adventures on cycling trips, kayaking excursions, caving, and more.
Embark on a cultural trip that begins in Antigua and continues to the ruins at Tikal. A trip to the heart of Guatemala’s coffee country features not only the lagoons of Semuc Champey but also 4X4 trips around indigenous Q’eqchi' Maya towns like Lanquín. Throughout, visits to natural highlights like the massive limestone sinkhole Hoyo el Cimarrón are broken up with trips to local villages, often by bicycle. This is the case with Panajachel, an indigenous town on Lago Atitlán’s north shore where you can shop for textiles and crafts plus take a boat tour.
To really push yourself to the limit, there’s a 10-day trek up seven different volcanoes. Among others, you'll summit Pacaya and Acatenango as well as Volcán Santa Maria, which towers 12,000 feet (3,770 m) over the Maya city of Quetzaltenango. Highlights of these treks are the microclimates that occur at different altitudes and showcase everything from tropical jungle to alpine cloud forest. Needless to say, the biodiversity here is incredible, and you'll have plenty of time for wildlife spotting and birding. Another bonus is the picnic lunches you'll enjoy on volcano summits amid spectacular views.
A less strenuous but no less rewarding experience is a 10-day highlights tour of the country. You’ll enjoy the greatest hits of Guatemala but also other unique experiences. Take a walking tour of Antigua’s colonial streets followed by a cooking class to learn the art of traditional Maya cuisine. Then cycle to a nearby coffee farm where you’ll tour the fields and learn about small-batch coffee roasting. Excursions on Lake Atitlán and to its surrounding villages await, as does a guided tour of Tikal’s temples and pyramids.
Get inspired with these other 10-day trip ideas.
Guatemala in 2 Weeks
In two weeks you can enjoy Guatemala’s most famous excursions and sites, plus a few that are not so well known. It’s a great opportunity to travel with a significant other, as the country’s historic cities, waterfalls, and hot springs are nothing if not romantic.
That exotic allure is waiting for you on this honeymoon getaway to Guatemala. You and your partner will marvel at Antigua's 16th-century buildings and get extra close during a cooking class. More rustic romance awaits with a picnic lunch atop Pacaya Volcano. Afterward, hydrotherapy baths in natural thermal pools will tenderize your muscles. Then take a boat ride around Lake Atitlán, tour women’s weaving co-ops, and visit Tikal. You’ll also see other ruins like the sacred Mayan site of Uaxactún and the 500 structures at Yaxhá National Park. Capping it all is a romantic ride down the Río Dulce.
This packed 14-day trip celebrates Guatemala’s nature and culture. You'll tour Antigua, kayak Atitlán, hike Pacaya, visit indigenous villages, and discover Tikal. Then head to the Caribbean Coast for an adventure in Río Dulce National Park. Overnight in a waterfront lodge and ride the Río Dulce, stopping at historic San Felipe Castle, a Spanish defensive outpost founded in 1644. At the mouth of the river is Livingston, a town known for its unique mix of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean culture. A final highlight is a walking tour of Guatemala City’s historic center, which, like in Antigua, is a piece of living history.
If you’re looking for an adventure at a quick pace, Guatemala by mountain bike could be for you. This trip is led by experienced guides along the most exciting trails in the country. It starts in Antigua, where you’ll embark on a maiden ride through a nature reserve on Volcán de Agua. The 12-mile route was purpose-built for cyclists and passes through unspoiled highland forest. Following this are excursions through Atitlán's backcountry, rides up mountains towering 10,000 feet (3,000 m), cycling through indigenous villages, and cross-country journeys up rocky plateaus and down into lowland valleys.
More Guatemala Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Guatemala? Consider these other Guatemala itineraries, with active adventures, cultural experiences, and best-of trips to hit the highlights.