Guatemala Itinerary // 10 Days in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of my favorite countries in the world. I visited as a solo traveler in college and had been dying to go back ever since. So when my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip last January I knew I had to take him to this incredible country. All it took were a few weeks of begging (and maybe a powerpoint presentation for a little extra convincing) and we had our tickets booked!

Since this was a romantic trip with just the two of us, our priorities were relaxation, beautiful scenery, good food, and hidden gems. I knew I wanted to visit a few places that I had been to before but also explore some new sights. If you want to read about what I did in Guatemala as a solo traveler, you can find all of my Guatemala blog posts here.

Read on for my perfect two week itinerary for Guatemala!


GUATEMALA ITINERARY

10+ DAYS

LAKE ATILAN — 3 DAYS

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LAKES IN THE WORLD, SURROUNDED BY VOLCANOES AND MOUNTAINS ON ALL SIDES.

LANQUÍN — 3 DAYS

HOME TO SEMUC CHAMPEY — A BEAUTIFUL NATURAL AREA WITH WATERFALLS, LIMESTONE RIDGES, AND LUSH SCENERY.

ANTIGUA — 4 DAYS

COLORFUL LITTLE TOWN WITH CUTE CAFES, MOUNTAIN VIEWS, NEARBY HIKES, AND A CHOCOLATE MUSEUM (WITH FREE SAMPLES!).


LAKE ATITLAN

If you are traveling from outside of Guatemala, you will fly into Guatemala City airport. For us, we arrived later in the day so it made sense to head to Antigua for the night before heading to Lake Atitlan in the morning. However, if you have an earlier flight you can arrange transportation directly from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan. The best way to travel around Guatemala is to take the tourist buses. These are typically more spacious and comfortable than the local chicken buses — although less fun and definitely less chickens!

From Antigua, take a tourist bus to Panajachel. The bus will take about 2.5 hours and should cost somewhere around $5USD. From Panajachel, you can take a boat to your final destination.

Where we stayed: Because we were celebrating Jake’s birthday, we treated ourselves to a night at the luxury eco-resort, Laguna Lodge. The resort was amazing — fresh, healthy food, a lakefront infinity pool, sustainable amenities. After our night of luxury, we took a boat over to the little town of Santa Cruz to stay at my favorite hostel — La Iguana Perdida. I stayed here when I first visited Guatemala and I highly recommend it, even if you’re not normally the hostel type. They place a huge emphasis on community at La Iguana Perdida. From the family dinners to the happy hour deals to the lack of wifi, everything about this resort makes it easy to connect with fellow travelers. Every time I stay there, I meet some of the most amazing like-minded people. They also offer beautiful private rooms if you’re not a dorm bed type of traveler!

Towns to visit:

  • PANAJACHEL: Or “Pana” as the locals call it, is one of the larger towns along the lake. You’ll find plenty of restaurant, coffee, and shopping options on the main drag, called Calle Santander, in Pana. You also have the opportunity to visit the Atitlan Nature Preserve, which is home to waterfalls, suspension bridges, and even a butterfly garden. There are also spectacular views of the lake from the nature preserve.

  • SANTA CRUZ: This town is pretty much vertical. La Iguana Perdida hostel is located at the bottom close to the docks but if you want to visit the actual town, prepare for a steep hike up the hill. Santa Cruz is a traditional Mayan town and there are very few tourists in the town itself.

  • JAIBALITO: While I have never visited the town itself, we did take a hike to Club Ven Aca. Club Ven Aca is a day club with a beautiful infinity pool and hot tub. Relax here with a cocktail and enjoy incredible views of the lake. You can take an easy hike from Santa Cruz to Jaibalito for a little pre-cocktail exercise.

  • SAN MARCOS: AKA hippie heaven. San Marcos has attracted a very active community of hippie expats, which is very obvious from the amount of vegan cafes, yoga studios, and mystics. Get your chakras aligned, do some meditation, or just people watch. We chose to do the latter.

  • SAN PEDRO: This is the backpacker party town. Cheap accommodation, good food, and lots of partying. This was my least favorite town on the lake but they did have some yummy food options!

  • OTHER TOWNS: There are plenty of other little towns dotted along the lake. I’ve only included the ones that I have visited in my two trips to Lake Atitlan. Do a little research and find the town that fits your vibe!

My top tip for Lake Atitlan: Pick one town to base yourself in and then take day trips to the other towns. The boats run very frequently between the towns and are cheap, fast, and efficient. Each town has something different to offer so make sure you visit as many as you have time for!


LANQUIN

Lanquin is the jumping off point for Semuc Champey — a series of limestone pools filled with crystal-clear turquoise waters that look like something out of a fairytale. Semuc Champey was one of those places I had wanted to visit so badly the first time I was in Guatemala, but didn’t have time for. So I was SO excited that we were able to carve out a few days on this trip to visit.

Lanquin is not an easy place to get to. It’s an isolated town about 8 hours away from either commercial airports in Guatemala. The best way to get there is a tourist shuttle from either Antigua or Flores. We took the shuttle from Antigua and let me tell you, it was LOOOONG day but it was so so worth it!

Where to stay: We chose to stay in Lanquin at a hostel called Zephyr Lodge. The hostel had incredible views of the surrounding landscape, decent food, and a huge infinity pool overlooking the lush valley. Not bad for a hostel. Our private room was spacious, clean, and had a huge window with amazing river views. There are a few other options for accommodation in Lanquin and closer to Semuc Champey.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Lanquin: From Lanquin town, take a 40-minute ride on any of the pickup trucks heading that direction. Spoiler alert — it will be bumpy and you will be standing. But it’s all part of the fun! Ask the front desk at your accommodation if you’re not sure which one to take. The entrance fee to Semuc Champey is about $7USD per person.

Things to do:

  • Hike to the viewpoint. If you want to take in Semuc Champey in its full glory, you need to see it from above! There’s a short but difficult hike up to the viewing platform right at the entrance to the park. If it has been raining, which it probably has, the trail will be slippery so be careful!

  • Swim in the river. After that hike, you’re going to want to take a dip ASAP! Climb and jump from pool to pool and take in all the natural beauty that surrounds you!

  • Explore the caves. If you’re on a group tour, this will be included in your excursion. We opted to visit Semuc Champey by ourselves because neither of us were really into the cave exploration thing. I’ve heard this is a really fun and thrilling tour though!


ANTIGUA

Antigua is one of those charming little towns that you just immediately fall in love with. The colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, amazing eateries, and bustling nightlife are a big reason why this town is home to so many expats. There are also plenty of things to do in the areas surrounding Antigua, so we decided to spend four full days here.

Where to stay: There are options for just about every budget in Antigua. In my two trips to Antigua, I’ve split my time between local home-stays and boutique hostels. I highly recommend Barbara’s Boutique Hostel. The staff was incredibly accommodating, the breakfast was awesome, and the rooms were super clean.

Things to do:

  • Visit the chocolate museum and try all the free samples.

  • Hike up to Cerro de la Cruz for amazing views of the city and surrounding volcanoes.

  • Take a day trip to hike Pacaya Volcano. This is the easiest of the volcano hikes in the area, but it’s still pretty challenging due to altitude! You’ll get to see amazing views of the other volcanoes and even roast marshmallows on the lava fields! We were lucky and got to hike it while the lava was flowing — it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.

  • Visit Hobbitenango. This is a crazy and fun hobbit-themed hotel near Antigua. Even if you’re not a guest, you can pay a small fee to walk around the facilities and take in the amazing views! You can also grab food and drinks at the onsite restaurant.

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Where to eat and drink: You may notice that most of the food on the list here isn’t traditional Guatemalan food. Before the travel police come after me, I’ll admit it — Guatemalan food is not my favorite. It’s not the most flavorful cuisine and it gets pretty boring after a few days.

  • My favorite coffee shop in Antigua is Bella Vista Coffee. Make sure you take your coffee and breakfast up to the rooftop for amazing views of Antigua and the surrounding landscape.

  • For yummy vegan food, mushroom lattes, and probiotic bowls, make sure you visit Wachuma. Definitely American prices but the quality and portion size is great! I got a few different mushroom lattes during my time in Antigua and they were all delicious!

  • I’m obsessed with ramen so I was so excited to find incredible vegan ramen in Antigua. Kombu Ramen Shop serves up seriously delicious ramen. We ended up eating here twice!

  • Cafe No Se was our favorite spot to grab a few drinks. Jake loves mezcal so he was a big fan of their house-made mezcal. This is a fun dive-bar type of vibe full of expats and some locals.

  • We love breweries so it Antigua Brewing Company was a really fun find. With a rooftop patio, big beer list, and yummy bar food, this was a great spot to to eat and drink at!

Are you traveling to Guatemala soon? Put a pin in this itinerary so you can refer back to it!

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Jungle Tree Houses and Hot Waterfalls in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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Rio Dulce Town was my final destination on my visit to the east coast of Guatemala. After spending a night in colorful Livingston, I took a bumpy speedboat ride up the Rio Dulce River to the town with the same name. At first glance, the town of Rio Dulce is nothing special. There are two sides connected by a long bridge over the river. One side contains the town’s main hostel and not much else. The other is basically one long stretch of shops and restaurants. However, adventure and beauty are just around the corner in this underrated little town on Guatemala’s east coast!

The boat drops you off directly Rio Dulce’s biggest hostel. I paid about $3.50 for a dorm bed in Hotel Backpackers. Proceeds apparently go toward a local orphanage which was pretty cool. However, the noisy bars nearby ended up being too much for me. I had come to Rio Dulce for some nature and relaxation. With the next night being New Years Eve I quickly began looking for a new place to lay my head.

 
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I read in my guidebook about Hotel Kangaroo, which was only accessible by boat. It sounded like a perfect escape from the noise and excitement. I joined forces with an American couple in the hostel who were also looking for a quiet holiday. We called the owner to arrange a boat to the hostel and within an hour or so we found ourselves in a completely different setting.

The owner Gary and his dog met us at the dock in his little speedboat. On the way to his property he gave us a mini tour of the area, explaining all the activities we could do during our stay. We paid about $6 for a night in a thatched-roof treehouse. Our stay included a rope swing into the river, kayaks to rent, and delicious Mexican food. Best of all, the hostel is far enough from the town that the nights are perfectly silent.

Hotel Kangaroo was exactly what we were looking for.

 

On the first day, I rented a kayak and made my way to Castillo San Felipe, a Spanish Colonial Fort nearby. Gary had told me about a shortcut but I must have been distracted by the beautiful view because I paddled right by it both on the way there and back. I didn’t mind too much though — the peaceful ride through the mangroves made made up for the extra exercise.

When I got to the Castillo, I paid a couple quetzales for a map, which serves as a ticket, and then entered. I opted to wander on my own rather than pay for a guide.

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The architecture was impressive and it was a gorgeous day so it was well worth the couple dollars spent. One of the guides stopped me on my way out and warned me about crossing back over the river. It was New Years Eve and locals were partying on their boats. He told me that several people died recently from drunk boaters over the holiday weekend. I definitely appreciated the heads up and stuck to the side of the river on my way back.

Back at Hotel Kangaroo, everyone was getting ready for New Years dinner. Several groups had arrived while I was gone and everyone was drinking and mingling. I ended up spending the night playing cards with the American couple I rode over with and a sailor from Australia.

At midnight we all went outside and watched the fireworks in the distance. Some people stripped down and jumped in the river but I was perfectly watching from afar.

The next morning I made my way to one of Rio Dulce’s coolest attractions — Finca Paraiso. According to Gary, this is the waterfall of its kind in the world. Water from a nearby hot spring flows down into the cool river below it, creating a warm pool to swim in.

 
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I took a minibus from the center of town to the waterfall. The ride was shared with plenty of locals in traditional dress and even a couple chickens. I was excited to find out that this little gem remains pretty much a secret. A few locals were splashing around but there were very few foreign tourists in sight.

I spent my time standing next to the cascade and letting the hot water flow over my shoulders. It was exactly what the doctor ordered before the long bus ride back to Guatemala City.

I was sad to leave this beautiful part of the country but excited to start my next adventure — taking Spanish classes in Antigua!

More From Guatemala:

Living Like a Local in Livingston

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Exploring East Guatemala -- Living Like a Local in Livingston

 
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This January I spent a few weeks in Guatemala to brush up on my Español. I knew I would be spending the majority of my trip in the quaint city of Antigua so I really wanted to get some nature in before my program started. I managed to narrow down my options to two destinations — Semuc Champey and the coastline of Eastern Guatemala. The entire day prior had been spent in transit and so I opted for the coast which was the closer of the two.

I had read great things about the boat ride up the Rio Dulce river and so I decided to start my weekend in Livingston and take the cruise to Rio Dulce town the next day. Livingston is a little fishing village on Guatemala’s Caribbean coastline that is only accessible by boat.

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The ride to Puerto Barrios was long and winding but offered some great views of Eastern Guatemala’s countryside. The dusty little port town doesn’t offer much in terms of views but the people were extremely helpful.

I didn’t want to shell out the quetzales for a cab ride so I took off wandering in search of the dock. The sun was hot and I was exhausted so I stopped in a little tienda to ask for directions. After I muttered a couple sentences of seriously broken Spanish the young man at the counter directed me in perfect English. I walked out of the store and he actually began walking with me, offering to help carry my bags. We got to the dock and he helped me buy my ticket and then we parted ways.

A quick 40 minute boat ride later and I was in Livingston — Guatemala’s main tourist hub on its Caribbean coast. A short walk up the hill from the boat dock and you’ll find several cheap hotels and inns. I stayed at the first one I could find — a tiny inn right at the top of the hill. I paid about $4 for a night in a private room with a fan. The room was dirty and the music from the bar next door was blaring through my window all night. Luckily I was exhausted from two days full of travel and so I managed to get some shut-eye.

Livingston doesn’t have many tourist attractions. I was told there is a waterfall right outside of town but I was catching the afternoon cruise to Rio Dulce town so I opted out. I spent my short time wandering around snapping pictures of the lush coastline and unique Garífuna culture. The town was just waking up and the locals were starting to set up their shops on the main road.

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In the afternoon I grabbed lunch at Casa Nostra and sat by the water catching up on some work. I ordered the best pizza I’ve had in Central America and watched a group of birds take over a nearby fishing boat.

If I could do it over I definitely would have stayed at Casa Nostra. The property was beautiful and the owner, an American expat named Stuart, made me feel like a welcome guest. We chatted about our hometowns and he even gave me some tips on traveling around the Rio Dulce area.

In the afternoon I took the cruise up the Rio Dulce River for 125Q ($17).There is also a slower boat ride available that makes a few stops along the way but that one leaves early in the morning. As charming as it was, I wasn’t too eager to spend another night in Livingston so I settled for the fast boat. The scenery was lush and green but the boat ride was very choppy. I thought it was a lot of fun and sat there with a grin while we bounced around in the little speedboat.

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Livingston was a unique stop on my Eastern Guatemala adventure. Despite being the main tourist hub on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, it doesn’t make it on too many traveler’s itineraries. But the unique culture and easy access to Rio Dulce make it a worthwhile destination.

Next up: Jungle Treehouses and Hot Waterfalls in Rio Dulce

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