Two weeks in Guatemala is the perfect time to become acquainted with the country. For first-timers to Guate, you may wonder where to start. This two-week itinerary for Guatemala will start in Guate City. It loops around the country with some highlights being Tikal National Park, Semuc Champey, Lake Atitlan, and a volcano hike. I will elaborate on a few of my favorite destinations and offer some alternatives! If you don’t want to make the same mistakes I did, here is also a list of travel tips and advice for Guatemala. Have fun!
Back in high school, volunteering in Guatemala seemed commonplace. I read about it in articles, watched it on TV, heard about it through friends and family. But it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to visit the country. After stumbling upon a roundtrip ticket to Guate City that was less than US 120, I had to seize the day and experience a country I knew very little about.
I had 2 weeks in Guatemala, and I was going to make the most of it.
With less than a few days to plan my trip, I quickly reverted to my old ways and contacted a few locals I found on Couchsurfing. Everyone gave me some of their favorite places in the country, which formed the skeleton to the sizable body of my two week Guatemala itinerary.
Day 1. Arrive in Guatemala City
If you are flying from abroad, you can opt to fly directly to Mundo Maya International Airport in Flores (Tikal), but the plane ticket is much more expensive than that to La Aurora International in Guatemala City. There are also shuttles from Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Guate City airport was a chaos of people. The arrival area was small and compact, behind the crowd was a line of car rental booths. Everyone stared at me in amusement as I stepped out from behind the security door. There weren’t too many Asians around. ? But unlike the craziness in some other countries, no one at the airport tried to hustle me into a taxi or shuttle.
In short, there isn’t a direct flight or bus to the park itself. Most people opt to arrive at the Santa Elena Bus Station and book a stay in Flores before catching a shuttle to Tikal (1.30 hours).
After looking at a few options, I decided it was best for me to head towards Flores shortly after arriving in Guatemala City. You can also opt for a flight between Guatemala City and Flores (2 hours & ~ US 100), but I decided to catch a bus.
Although there were shuttles that left during the day, these 9-hour rides mean that you will arrive in the middle of the night. I thought it was a better idea to hop onto the 11 pm bus, take a nap, and arrive at 7:00 am the next morning
Tip: All bus schedules between Guatemala City and Flores
With this in mind, Mercy and I spent a day walking around Guatemala City before we headed to the bus station for my night bus towards Santa Elena.
Day 2. Visit Flores
Depending on how well you’ve slept on the bus, you can head directly to Tikal after arriving at the Santa Elena Bus Station, or spend a day around Flores. I opted for the latter.
Flores is the capital of Petén Department. This tropical island features bright red rooftops and quiet cobblestone streets and is connected to the mainland by a causeway. There are many hostels and restaurants in Flores. Due to the popularity of Tikal, the Flores I experienced seemed to cater to tourists. For a more local experience, I’d recommend stopping at the street food spot along the causeway to grab a cup of watermelon or pineapple juice. This joint also features tacos and other quick bites that you can enjoy along the waters.
During my trip, I stayed with a woman running for congress. Since it was just before the elections, I had the opportunity to travel with her campaign group and visit a few markets and towns. If you’ve two weeks in Guatemala, I think Flores is worth a stay. But do remember to check the weather as it is considerably hotter than Guatemala City.
Day 3. Visit Tikal National Park
The earliest direct shuttle to Tikal National Park leaves from the Santa Elena Bus Station at 6:30 in the morning. I was ecstatic to spend a whole day exploring this Mayan ruin, so the next morning, I woke with the sun and caught a tuk-tuk to the bus station.
Tip: In Flores, tuk-tuks begin running at 5:30 am
Unfortunately, there weren’t many passengers for the shuttle that day. The operators decided to cancel their early morning bus and we ended up departing at around 7:30 am. The 5 of us arrived in front of Tikal within an hour and a half (I’m pretty sure that this was the only bus that day as well).
Tikal is a must for any Guatemalan itinerary. This massive Mayan site is set in the Guatemalan jungles and offers a glimpse into the ancient world.
The park was massive. I wandered around the forest and pathways, temples and ruins for a total of 5 hours. The shuttle picked us up at 2:30 pm and I slept the whole day towards Flores.
However, unless you make private arrangements, it might be difficult to catch a bus from Tikal to Flores then make it to Lanquin, where we will be heading next. But if you eliminate the day spent in Flores, this might work out for a two week Guatemala itinerary.
Two days in Flores was enough for sightseeing activities. After I bid farewell to my host, I headed towards Lanquin.
Day 4. Flores-Lanquin
Lanquin is one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala but can be a tad difficult to get to. I left Flores at 6:00 am and was on the road for nearly 8 hours. Thus, I think it best to spend the remainder of the day in this cute town and rest up.
Lanquin was a last-minute decision. I was hesitant at first because it seemed too much of a struggle with only two weeks in Guatemala. But trust me when I say that it is well worth it. I woke up to the chirping of birds and crowing of roosters every single morning. The mountain air was cool and fresh while the town was pleasant and charming.
Most importantly, Lanquin is home to Semuc Champey, a gorgeous spot that rests in a forest 40 minutes away by a local jeep.
My only regret was not spending a few extra days in Lanquin soaking up the forest sun.
Day 5. Explore Semuc Champey
After a good night’s rest, I headed to Semuc Champey for a swim in the turquoise pools. Getting there wasn’t difficult. From early morning to noon, multiple jeeps will leave from the Lanquin town center. These rides are 25 Q/way and last for about 30 minutes up and down a bumpy mountainous road.
I arrived in Semuc mid-morning and spent a day climbing the hills, swimming in the chilly water, and enjoying the sun.
There aren’t any restaurants or shops nearby so prepare snacks and water beforehand!
At 2:00 pm, I decided to head back to Lanquin. I walked to the front gates of the park and caught a jeep home.
Day 6. Lanquin-Panajachel
The next morning, I got onto a shuttle from Lanquin to Panajachel. This was an extremely long ride that lasted into the evening. Although some bus operators will tell you that it will take 10 hours or so, we spent 12 hours on the road with two rest stops in-between.
Panajachel was a sleepy town that rested along Lake Atitlan and quickly rejuvenated my soul after all those endless bus rides. It was almost impossible to stay indoors, as the charming markets, enticing water sports, and relaxing vibe constantly drew you out.
That night, my host from Casa Colonial Panasurf accompanied me around the town and showed me a few popular street food places along the main market road. As with most towns, all the delicious quick bites came out once the sunset!
Day 7. Enjoy Panajachel
There are many sports and activities you can choose from in Panajachel. From water skiing to yoga retreats, this town offers options that gear towards tourists. Since Casa Colonial Panasurf offered paddle-boarding tours, I was quick to jump onto a board and glide down Lake Atitlan. This three-hour activity took me across the waters towards Santa Catarina Palopó, where we stopped for a rest.
With the Volcano San Pedro, Volcano Toliman, and Volcano Atitlan as the backdrop, the experience was beyond breathtaking.
You can also opt to take a boat tour, climb a volcano, or wander around the marketplace.
14 Days Around Guatemala
Day 8. San Marcos, San Juan, & San Pedro
Lake Atitlan has 11 towns spread around its periphery. Each indigenous village has a unique vibe. Some of the tourist favorites are San Marcos (laid-back), San Juan (art & rich colors), and San Pedro (Spanish schools & nightlife). Since these towns are relatively close together, you can take a day to explore all three. I only had the opportunity to dive into San Juan La Laguna, a beautiful town with talented indigenous artisans and local co-op programs. This town features many local tours and plenty of striking street art.
As busy as this day may seem, all towns along Lake Atitlan are easily accessible with speed boats that double as public transportation. Spend a night in San Pedro and visit Santa Cruz and Jaibalito the next day.
Day 9. Santa Cruz, and Jaibalito
Santa Cruz and Jaibalito are a short distance from San Pedro. They are also easily accessible by boats and offer plenty of nature and culture. If you’ve two weeks in Guatemala, Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito are worth a stop as they are considerably less touristy than the towns mentioned above. These two Mayan villages are built on steep mountain hills and offer a more authentic experience compared to others around Lake Atitlan.
Alternative #3: Opt for a longer stay in one of the villages and visit fewer towns if you’d like to go at a slower pace!
Day 10. Panajachel-Antigua
Following Panajachel, I boarded a few chicken buses toward Antigua. Antigua is a small colonial town an hour away from Guate City. I’ve basically traveled in a lopsided heart-shape route around Guatemala at this point. I was about a week into my journey and a bit tired. However, Antigua’s colorful villas and vibrant atmosphere quickly boosted my morale. The cobblestone roads and chic shops had a European vibe, unlike the other towns I’ve visited over the past few days.
It was a shorter ride of about three hours between Panajachel and Antigua. After speaking to my host and having some dinner together, I prepared myself for the Acatanego Volcano the next day.
Day 11. Climb a Volcano
Although I found the city irresistibly charming, I was determined to hike Acatanengo Volcano-one of the most well-known volcanoes in the region. I opted for an overnight hike that took a day and a half. We met at the pre-arranged spot in Antigua before the driver took my friend and me into a smaller village. From there, our guide drove us to the foot of Acatanegno, a 4000 m giant that took nearly 5 hours to hike. We camped on the hip of the volcano before heading to the cliff for sunrise the following morning.
This entire adventure lasted until 11:00 am the next day, just in time for lunch in Antigua. My friend and I gave the popular Pollo Campero a try. This fast-food chain was seen around the country, but honestly? It wasn’t much different from KFC ?
Alternative #4: There are several other hiking options as well. You can do the one-day Acatanengo hike, which is a bit more difficult, or an easier trek up Volcano Pocoya, where you can roast marshmallows in the lava!
Day 12. Antigua
After coming back from the hike, I took some rest and proceeded to explore the town some more. There are many things to do in Antigua, including countless restaurants and cafes that are tucked away behind the colorful walls and wooden doors. I wandered into several hotels and stores since many can be easily accessed. The exteriors of the city streets do not do the interiors of these spaces justice.
For example, I stumbled into a hotel quietly tucked away on one of the side streets. At first, it didn’t seem all that unordinary. There was a long hallway that extended towards the back of the hotel. Once I passed the hallway, however, I came across a museum, a classy restaurant, and eventually ended up in a carefully set up garden with plenty of flowers and greenery, even an archeological site!
Other than these hidden chambers, Antigua is known for its distinct churches, the Santa Catalina Arch, and Cerro de la Cruz. If you’ve more than two weeks in Guatemala, I’d recommend spending some extra time in Antigua!
Day 13. Antigua- Guatemala
Although Guate City isn’t a popular tourist destination, I wanted to see the capital city while I was in Guatemala. In addition to the first day I spent before my bus to Flores, I thought one more day was just enough to explore what it has to offer. Known for its shopping and markets. I spent a day visiting thrift shops and chowing down at some local markets in Guatemala City.
My friend also took me to a youth community in a nearby town that she worked at. Throughout my travels, I’ve noticed numerous NGOs and non-profits that are well established in Guatemala. Despite the alarming stats, it is evident that people in the country are passionate, hardworking, and resilient.
Day 14. Guatemala City & Departure
Needless to say, there are many things to do in Guatemala. Whether you want to embrace the country’s nature or dive into its history, you will find yourself charmed by everything Guate has to offer. I hope this two week itinerary for Guatemala gives you a glimpse of my experience, and helps you with planning the perfect trip to Guatemala!