This 2-week Guatemalan adventure kicks off with walking tours of colonial Antigua followed by a vertical excursion up the slopes of Pacaya Volcano. After a kayak ride around Lake Atitlán, you'll head north to explore the ancient Maya ruins at Tikal, then travel down the jade waters of the Río Dulce. More culture awaits as you visit open-air markets and indigenous villages, and even take a traditional Guatemalan cooking class.

Highlights

  • Hike the summit of Pacaya Volcano and kayak on Lake Atitlán
  • Explore the Maya temples and palaces in Tikal National Park
  • Tour the historic centers of Antigua and Guatemala City
  • Visit indigenous villages and the famous Chichicastenango market
  • Learn how to make traditional Guatemalan cuisine in a cooking class

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Guatemala, Transfer to Antigua Antigua
Day 2 Walking Tour of Antigua & Cooking Class Antigua
Day 3 Summit Pacaya Volcano Antigua
Day 4 Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Boat Tour Lake Atitlan
Day 5 Kayak Atitlán & Hike to Lakeside Villages Lake Atitlan
Day 6 Lake Atitlán Free Day Lake Atitlan
Day 7 Visit Chichicastenango Market, Transfer to Quetzaltenango Quetzaltenango
Day 8 Walking Tour of Quetzaltenango & Cooking Class Quetzaltenango
Day 9 Flight to Flores & Transfer to Tikal National Park Tikal National Park
Day 10 Explore Tikal National Park Tikal National Park
Day 11 Río Dulce Boat Tour & Hot Springs Rio Dulce
Day 12 Río Dulce Day Trip to Livingston Rio Dulce
Day 13 Flight to Guatemala City, Walking Tour Guatemala City
Day 14 Depart Guatemala City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala, Transfer to Antigua

San José Cathedral
Central Park, in Antigua

Welcome to Guatemala! A personal driver will be waiting for you at the airport in Guatemala City to transfer you about an hour west to the colonial city of Antigua. After settling into your hotel, you'll have free time to explore on your own. 

Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is known for the Spanish colonial Old Town around its main plaza, Central Park. It's also surrounded by three volcanoes, 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. 

Spend the remainder of the day walking Antigua's cobbled streets and enjoying local cuisine at cafés, or head to the food markets for quick eats like tostadas and empanadas (called dobladas in Guatemala). Tomorrow you'll explore the city on a more in-depth guided tour, so for now, simply hit a few of the main attractions. These include the Santa Catalina Arch and the ruins of the 16th-century Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and 18th-century Convento Santa Clara.

Day 2: Walking Tour of Antigua & Cooking Class

Arches on City Hall Terrace, Antigua
The arcade of City Hall Palace, Antigua

In the morning, meet your local guide (who's also an expert historian) to explore Antigua. Guatemala's former capital boasts an impressive array of Baroque buildings and colonial homes painted in bright pastels. Many old religious and civic structures have been beautifully renovated after major earthquakes while others retain a tumbledown charm.

On this 3-hour tour, you'll visit 18th-century landmarks like the Palacio del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Palace), which houses the town offices and a museum of ancient books; the Palace of the Captain's General, home to the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism; the Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent that is now a hotel and museum; and La Merced Church, whose canary-yellow Baroque facade is a hallmark of the city.

You'll also learn about Maya archaeology and their use of jade. To the ancient Mayans, this mineral was more valuable than gold and held great religious and spiritual significance. After the tour, take some time to enjoy lunch and relax. But don't eat too much—up next is a culinary experience every foodie will love.

In the afternoon, you'll discover Guatemala through its smells and flavors as you take part in a cooking class. This cuisine is unique in that it's a potent mix of colonial Spanish and indigenous Maya flavors. Native Guatemalan chefs from the surrounding region of Sacatepequez will lead the class, teaching you how to cook a main dish, make authentic tortillas, and prepare a traditional dessert. Of course, at the end of the class, you'll sit down with your fellow chefs and enjoy the meal you've prepared.

Day 3: Summit Pacaya Volcano

Your objective for today

One of the hallmarks of Antigua's dramatic skyline is the 8,370-ft (2,552-m) Volcán Pacaya. It may not be Guatemala’s highest peak, but its slopes are home to some of the most impressive volcanic landscapes in Central America. Set in its own national park, Pacaya is a fascinating active volcano that cuts an imposing figure with its continuous plume of smoke drifting from the summit. And today you'll get to hike it.

You'll embark in the morning, and as your group moves up the mountain trails stunning vistas will appear with every step. Upon reaching the base of the caldera, your guide will lead the group across rugged lava fields that were reformed after an eruption in 2010. Continue traversing these unique volcanic landscapes as you ascend the peak. After conquering the summit, celebrate with a picnic as you enjoy panoramic views that include three nearby volcanoes: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango

The hike back down takes you across more dried lava fields before descending through Pacaya’s tropical forest and farmland. Upon returning to the trailhead, you'll transfer back to Antigua.

  • Est. hiking time: 3-4 hours
  • Distance: 3.8 miles (6 km)
  • Ascent: 1,300 feet (400 m)
  • High point: 7,500 feet (2,288 m)

Day 4: Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Boat Tour

Boats and volcanoes on Lake Atitlán
The volcano-lined shores of Lake Atitlán

This morning, you'll start a scenic, 3-hour drive to Lake Atitlán, traversing through parts of the Pan American Highway, a network of roads stretching from Alaska all the way down to Argentina. As you near Atitlán, keep an eye out and your camera ready for incredible views of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes. 

You'll arrive in the town of Panajachel, on the north shore of the lake. Here you'll hop on a boat for a guided tour of Atitlán's lakeside indigenous villages. These are truly special places, abounding with rich Maya culture evinced in the local traditions, markets, arts, crafts, and the stories of the people. 

Your first stop is the town of Santiago, which is known for its quality artisanal crafts as well as being home to the infamous Maya saint of Maximon. Nearby is San Juan, a village 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. 

After the tour, you'll head to a beautiful lakeside hotel. The rest of the afternoon is yours to relax, swim in the lake, and enjoy the views.

Day 5: Kayak Atitlán & Hike to Lakeside Villages

Kayaking on Lake Atitlán
Kayaking on Lake Atitlán

Wake up to views of the lake and its towering volcanoes before meeting your guide for today's expedition. You'll start out in a kayak, paddling westward along the north shore of Lake Atitlan for roughly 2 hours. Pass by villages perched on lakeside cliffs, hop in the lake for a swim, or even do some cliff-jumping. Your destination is a spot between the villages of Tzununá and San Marcos La Laguna, where you'll leave your kayak behind and lace up your hiking boots.

Follow the lake trail that runs between the villages, taking in views of the San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán volcanoes. You'll hike along the shoreline and through small villages for about 1.5 hours, at which point you'll arrive in the town of Jaibalito. Enjoy a hearty and well-earned lunch at your hotel, then continue to explore Atitlán on your own for the rest of the afternoon.

Plan your trip to Guatemala
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Lake Atitlán Free Day

View of Lake Atitlán
Enjoy a day on Lake Atitlán

Today is yours to enjoy beautiful Lake Atitlán on your own schedule. Start the day with a leisurely breakfast at your hotel. Then maybe hire a boat to take you around the lake and visit the different villages. You can also arrange specific tours such as zip-lining, visiting women's weaving co-ops, and more. 

If you do wish to spend more time on the water, you can rent kayaks, go swimming, or try your luck at other water sports. There are many public water taxis to help you get around, and several companies offer specialized themed tours.

Day 7: Visit Chichicastenango Market, Transfer to Quetzaltenango

Aerial View of Quetzaltenango
Aerial View of Quetzaltenango

In the morning transfer back to Panajachel and from there continue north by car for about three hours to the town of Chichicastenango. This village has been a hotbed of Maya culture for more than 4,000 years and is most famous for its bi-weekly market. Here vendors sell everything from flowers and fresh produce to handicrafts and handwoven textiles. It's reportedly the biggest open-air market in Central America, and you'll love browsing the many vendor stalls for handmade souvenirs.

You definitely 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). At this church, you can see firsthand how many Guatemalans simultaneously adhere to two different religions and cultures. 

After lunch, you'll transfer west around the lake to the city of Quetzaltenango, also known by its Mayan name of Xela (pronounced sheh-la). Sitting at an altitude of over 7,500 feet (2,335 m), this is Guatemala’s second-largest city and the center of the K'iche' Maya people. Settle into your hotel close to the central Parque Centro América, where you can later enjoy dinner at one of its many fine restaurants.

Day 8: Walking Tour of Quetzaltenango & Cooking Class

Parque Centro América, Quetzaltenango
Parque Centro América, Quetzaltenango

Today a local historian will lead you on a walking tour of Quetzaltenango's historic center. You'll visit some of the city's major religious landmarks, including the 19th century San Nicolas Church and Quetzaltenango Cathedral, which dates to the 1530s but was mostly rebuilt in the 1900s. You'll meander along streets filled with colorful Spanish colonial architecture, browse charming boutiques, and stop in at local cafés.

Following the walking tour, you'll attend a cooking lesson taught by a local chef. During this activity, you'll learn how to prepare a variety of traditional Guatemalan dishes. Once complete, sit down with the other students and enjoy your creations for lunch. Afterward, you'll have the remainder of the day free to explore the city on your own. If you want to snap the best photos, make a beeline for the hills of Cerro El Baúl Park, which overlook Quetzaltenango and offer stunning views. 

Day 9: Flight to Flores & Transfer to Tikal National Park

Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Tikal National Park, Guatemala

After breakfast, you'll return to Guatemala City to catch a domestic flight north to the lakeside city of Flores, located in the rainforests of Guatemala's Petén Province. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel inside the 222-sq-mile (574-sq-km) Tikal National Park. This expansive protected area is famous for its thousands of ancient Maya temples, palaces, and other structures, most of which date to the 1st century ACE. 

After settling in, you can kick back and relax amid the sounds of the surrounding nature. The park limits its electricity at night, preserving the natural ambiance so you can hear birds, monkeys, and the wind rustling the trees.

Day 10: Explore Tikal National Park

Mayan Ruins in Tikal National Park
Maya ruins in Tikal National Park

Today's excursion takes you through Tikal National Park to visit its vast complex of Mayan ruins. Tikal is known worldwide for its impressive pyramid temples. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the former capital of the ancient Maya civilization, including its impressive Temple IV, which, at 230 feet (70 m), is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in Central America.

An expert guide will lead you through the park to visit its major sites, including the five main temples plus the Lost World, Complex Q, and The Gran Plaza. You'll end the tour at the beautiful Window Palace with a picnic lunch in the park. Throughout the tour, be sure to keep an eye out for resident animals like toucans and howler monkeys.

Afterward, you'll return to your hotel and have the remainder of the afternoon to relax, lounge by the pool, and enjoy the sunset.

Day 11: Río Dulce Boat Tour & Hot Springs

Finca Paraiso Hot Springs Waterfall
Take a dip in the hot springs at Finca Paraiso

In the morning, you'll transfer south 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. Upon arrival, you'll settle into your accommodation in a waterfront lodge and enjoy lunch.

Then you'll make your way to Finca Paraiso, a beautiful waterfall fed by natural hot springs. You'll have the entire afternoon to relax and swim in the waterfall. After returning to the lodge for dinner, you'll have the remainder of the evening free. 

Day 12: Río Dulce Day Trip to Livingston

Take a ride on the Río Dulce

After a leisurely breakfast, you'll meet your guide for a boat tour on the Río Dulce. 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 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, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Along the way, you'll stop at the famous 17th-century Castle of San Felipe. You'll also visit a protected island home to exotic birds and a natural hot spring. Once in Livingston, you'll experience a different side of Guatemala, as this waterfront village is more laid back than the country's inland cities and towns. Enjoy lunch on the white-sand beaches before returning to your hotel later in the afternoon.

Day 13: Flight to Guatemala City, Walking Tour

The Plaza de la Constitución, in Guatemala City

In the morning, you'll transfer back to the airport in Flores and catch your flight to Guatemala City. After checking in to your hotel, you'll meet a local guide to learn about the history and culture of the city. It starts in the Centro Histórico (Historic Center), near the Plaza de la Constitución. Here you can visit 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, visit 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 14: Depart Guatemala City

Adios, Guatemala

Unfortunately, it's time to say goodbye to Guatemala. When you're ready, a personal driver will transfer you to the airport for your flight home. See you soon!

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Map

Map of Nature, Culture & History in Guatemala - 14 Days
Map of Nature, Culture & History in Guatemala - 14 Days