If you love heading off the beaten track for some real, wild adventure travel – this Guatemala travel itinerary will be just what you need to feed your wanderlust. Guatemala might not be one of the top places on your bucket-list right now. But rest assured, by the end of this blog post, you'll be desperate to jump on the next plane. Even a seasoned traveller like myself, I only knew one person who had been to Guatemala. But from the second I landed in Central America it was the only place anyone could talk about. After spending 3-4 weeks there – I absolutely fell in love with the country, the people, the nature and the memories I have from there. It's a place I already can't wait to return to, and that will always hold a piece of my heart. A real highlight of my time in Central America.
From the lush green jungles to the ancient Mayan temples and wild spring festivals. To swimming through waterfalls in caves with a candle between your teeth for light. Channeling the spiritual healing powers of nature at crystal clear lakes surrounded by volcanoes, and climbing 4000m volcanoes for sunrise above the clouds. There was not a single moment of my Guatemala travels that were average – everything blew me away! I'm typing this with the biggest smile on my face as I relive some of my most special travelling memories from the last 6+ years. In this post I will not only cover the highlights and must-sees. But I'll break them down into an easy Guatemala travel itinerary that you can adapt whether you have 1, 2 or 3+ weeks to explore.
Guatemala is located in Central America, nestled between four different countries and two oceans. It's bordered by Mexico and Belize in the North and El Salvador and Honduras in the South. It also has coastline on the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. It's home to 17.95 million people and covers an area of 108.890 sq km. Interestingly, the UK is about 124% bigger than Guatemala. However, due to the roads and transport there, the journeys take a LOT longer.
The Guatemalan quetzal is the currency of Guatemala. It is named after the national bird, the resplendent quetzal. In Mayan times, the bird's feathers were actually used as the currency! At the time of writing this post 1 quetzal was equivalent to 9p (GBP) or 0.13 USD.
Yes! I spent 3+ weeks travelling Guatemala as a solo female traveller and found it to be the safest country in Central America. I never once felt unsafe, threatened or vulnerable during my time there. The local people were friendly, kind and welcoming. Even speaking limited Spanish, I was still able to communicate with ease. Always read up on the latest travel advice for the region before you go. And always use your common sense – hide your valuables, don't take unnecessary risks or drink too much alcohol/take drugs that leave you unable to fend for yourself. Generally be a responsible traveller and it's entirely safe.
One great thing about Guatemala is that it's perfect for travel all year round. It has a warm climate that does vary slightly due to altitude and volcanic areas – but generally the temperature ranges between 22ºc and 32ºc. In the North, the climate is far more tropical, while the South can be cooler. From November to April is the dry season, and between May and October is the wet season. But during the wet season rainfall usually only lasts a max of a few hours per day in the main visitor areas.
The country's most Northern town lies close to the Belize border. It is the arrival/departure for many travellers who are keen to visit nearby UNESCO World Heritage site, Tikal National Park. It is one of the major sites of Mayan civilisation which dates back to 6th century BC. Flores is a colourful town and the Island of Flores is a beautiful place to start, or end your time in the country. Surrounded by lush, green, vegetation and with a tropical feel. Flores is surrounded by amazing Mayan history including sites such as Yaxha and El Mirador.
You can also take boat taxis across the water, explore the lake. Or even visit Jorge's Rope Swing to cool off in the hot sun. There are plenty of places to swim, shops to browse and amazing local food stalls. If you visit during the first two weeks of January, you will get to join a brilliant and unique local festival. The Dance of the Chotona (doll) is the centre of the occasion. But expect daily parades, live music, shows, dancing, firecrackers and fireworks and some amazing costumes!
One of the most spectacular hidden natural wonders that separates the backpacker from the adventure traveller in Guatemala. Diving deep into the Guatemalan jungle, you'll find a turquoise paradise awaiting you. With stunning natural limestone pools, waterfalls and caves to explore. The best way to explore Semuc Champey is by hiking the steep 45m upward jungle climb to the El Mirador viewpoint. Then head back down and go swimming and water sliding down the natural pools. You can also take cave tours where you swim through waterfalls by the light of a candle you hold between your teeth.
Located near the Maya town of Lanquin – it's a serious journey to reach the pools. We were told the bus ride would be 10 hours from Flores but it actually took us around 14 hours. When you reach Lanquin, it's all off-road 4WD and seriously rough roads. If you're someone who struggles with travel sickness you will want to come prepared. BUT, it is 100% worth it to visit! I stayed at Zephyr Lodge which is undoubtably one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It even has an infinity pool and hot tub with views over the jungle. And don't get me started on the amazing shower views!
When planning your Guatemala travel itinerary, you can't miss one of the most spiritual places I have ever been. Imagine sparkling water that stretches for miles and the endless volcanic views. The deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan is an enormous body of water in a massive volcanic crater. Located in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The lake is surrounded by Mayan villages and even more volcanoes.
You arrive to the busy town of Panajachel which is the main port for vendors and trade. But the true magic lies in visiting and staying at one of the many other towns. Popular stops include backpacker haven San Pedro La Laguna which is home to a few hostels, hotels, bars and restaurants. Nearby San Juan La Laguna is a real cultural hub. It's colourful and full of street art, markets, local weavers, coffee tours and healing centres. Hippy favourite, San Marcos La Laguna is the tiny centre for all things yoga, meditation, healing, ecstatic dance and endless amazing vegan cafés and jewellery stores. There are many other towns to visit, but these are the most popular with travellers.
A real favourite among backpackers – Antigua is the place that so many visit and then "get stuck". It has a thriving expat community and the perfect balance of colonial architecture, rich culture and also a really lively party scene. This candy-coloured city is one of the prettiest I have ever visited and you will never be lost for things to do. It's a popular place for travellers to stick around to study Spanish, or even teach English. There's local markets, cute shops, museums, architectural sites and spas to visit. Plus countless impressive churches, cathedrals and convents to explore.
Don't forget to take a 20 minute walk up to Cerro de la Cruz for the sunset, or sunrise. Enjoy views across the whole city with the volcanoes as a background. It's an incredible sight especially when the church bells toll. For the more adventurous types – there are loads of activities to keep you busy. Check out the 2-day sunrise hike of Volcano Acatenango – one of the best things I have ever done! And other easier volcano trips including Volcano Pacaya. And for the party animals, check out Hostel Tropicana for rooftop party vibes (or stay somewhere quieter and just head there to party!). Lucky Rabbit and Café No Sé are popular haunts filled with DJ sets, pool tables, games and a thriving mass of bodies. Or head to the infamous pool party rave.
If you're squeezing just a week in Guatemala as part of a larger trip – or just can't get anymore time off. Don't worry – you can still squeeze a lot into a week! My best advice? Plan the top things you want to do before you arrive and either arrange as soon as you arrive, or even book on to a tour. However, it is very easy to do things independently and to solo travel Guatemala. I have two Guatemala travel itinerary options that would help you make the most of your time in the country:
This Guatemala travel itinerary is the absolute ideal because it allows for the long travel times and gives you time to relax instead of constantly rushing to the next place. You can definitely enjoy your trip with a two week itinerary, but you'll have more time to connect with the country in 3+ weeks. I spent around 3-4 weeks exploring Guatemala but there is still so much I have to see and so much I would love to go back and explore.
Each Guatemala travel itinerary is completely adaptable depending on the exact length of your trip. You can easily add a day here or there if you feel you want to spend longer in a place. My best advice? Have a rough guide of what you want to do and where you want to go. But always allow a great deal of flexibility. One thing you will learn about travel in Central America is that it is never predictable – buses break down, trips run late and generally you'll be on Guatemalan time! Relax, go with the flow and don't worry if things don't go to plan. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Have you been to Guatemala? Would you like to go? What would be your highlight from these itineraries?