Want to visit Guatemala but don’t have a lot of time? Follow in my footsteps and you’ll be amazed at how much you can do and see with just 1 week in Guatemala!
My first trip to Guatemala was booked on a whim ($90 roundtrip on sale) and I couldn’t even point it out on a map. I was afraid to go due to it’s reputation of being dangerous and almost cancelled my 3 day trip. I am so glad I didn’t do that as Guatemala was one of the most beautiful, fascinating countries I’ve ever visited. I loved it so much that the following year I booked another ticket so I could spend 1 week in Guatemala.
There’s so much to do in Guatemala, much more than you can fit into just a week of travel but if you only have a week, consider following my itinerary to get the most bang for your buck. I will show you my exact itinerary and what I would change if I could do it all over again.
Antigua-Pacaya Volcano-Tikal-Lake Atitlan-Guatemala City
Days 1-3: Antigua and Pacaya Volcano
Optional: If you’re not into the whole hiking an active volcano thing, consider taking a day trip to Chichicastenago to visit their famous markets selling handicrafts, textiles, pottery, wood carvings and more. You can arrange day tours at most travel agencies in Antigua. PLEASE REMEMBER the market is only open on Thursday and Sunday.
Book a flight that arrives in Guatemala City earlier in the day, then immediately make your way to Antigua, which is about 1 hour away. Take a shuttle bus to save money rather than taking a taxi. It’s easy to find the shuttles, just walk out the airport and there will be dozens of them sitting there waiting for passengers. The fare is generally $10-12 per person and the shuttle will depart once it’s full.
Once you arrive in Antigua, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this amazing place. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you will see why as soon as you get there. It’s all cobblestone streets and old Spanish style buildings with large volcanoes in every direction.
Take a tuk tuk to the Mercado de Artesanias and browse through locally made art, clothing, wood carvings, blankets, food and more. Make sure to bargain for what you want!
Take a half-day trip to Pacaya Volcano. All of the tour operators in Antigua can book them for you. It’s an epic adventure you’ll never forget. To read about my Pacaya tour, click here. You need to wear proper footwear on this trip. No sandals!
Days 4-6: Flores and Tikal
Optional: Instead of taking an 8 hour bus from Antigua to Flores, you can get a fast flight from Guatemala City to Flores for about $200. This will give you more time in Tikal or more time elsewhere on your trip.
On day 4, I took a bus to Flores, Guatemala, which is the town nearest to the ancient Mayan site Tikal. The bus was supposed to be 8 hours long, but due to a flat tire, we were forced to spend the night in a town called Coban and then take another bus the rest of the day in the morning of Day 5.
Optional: You could take a van to Coban in the morning and see Semuc Champey, which is an amazing cascading waterfall with water that is colored the most amazing shades of blue and green. Then book a van to Flores for the next day. We didn’t do this due to time constraints with our broken down bus, but if I go back I definitely plan to.
When you finally arrive in Flores, spend the afternoon walking around this neat little town. The town is actually an island in the middle of a lake, Lago Peten Itza. It’s got a great, laid back vibe and the streets are lined with charming colonial architecture and cobblestone roads. Flores is also a very safe town and we never felt uncomfortable walking around after dark. Find a restaurant on the lake and spend a few hours relaxing and eating delicious Guatemalan food and cheap drinks.
Tikal was the most important Mayan city at its peak, and it’s still the most impressive Mayan ruins you’ll ever see. Arrange for a shuttle to pick you up from your hotel before dawn so you can see the sunrise over the site from the top of Temple IV, which is the tallest temple in Tikal. It will be quiet and peaceful and you’ll have the whole place to yourself. We arranged for this, but our shuttle was late picking us up and we missed the sunrise, but we still got there before the crowds so we were able to get some great pictures!
Tikal is an all day event, and it’s extremely hot and humid. Bring lots of mosquito spray and make sure to stay hydrated. If you are leaving in the evening like we did, try to arrange a shower at your hotel before you leave. We’d already checked out but we paid the lady at the front desk to let us into an empty room to wash up before our overnight bus back to Antigua.
Days 7-8: Lake Atitlan
Optional: Go to Atitlan before going to Tikal, especially if you plan to fly to Tikal. By going to Atitlan first, you won’t have to rush on your last evening or day to get back to Guatemala City. Plus, if you fly to Tikal, you can fly back the morning of your flight home so you can save yourself a cab ride.
Lake Atitlan, or Lago de Atitlan as it’s known in Spanish, is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, and upon seeing it you will probably agree. Its beauty has been compared to Lake Como in Italy. So basically, if George Clooney had a summer lake house in Central America, it would be here on Lake Atitlan.
I’ve been to Guatemala twice and both times I came to Lake Atitlan to go ziplining through the jungle at Atitlan Nature Reserve, located just outside of the main town Panajachel (or Pana, for short) The hike up to the top of the zip line course is steep and it will definitely have your heart rate up before you even get hooked up to the zip lines! The hike is beautiful, passing by waterfalls and monkeys and other animals that live in the reserve. You can take this hike even if you aren’t going to go zip lining.
When you finally get to the top of the zip line course, you’ll probably be pretty nervous if you are afraid of heights. The zip lines go from one side of the mountain to the other, crossing over a deep valley. On one side of you, you’ll see this waterfall. On the other side, the most amazing view of Lake Atitlan that you could possibly get. It’s a rush and you’ll want to go a second time once you get to the end of the course.
After your zip line adventures, you can either go back and spend your final evening in Antigua, or, depending on how late your flight leaves the following day, spend the night at Lake Atitlan in Pana or any of the other small towns that dot the edges of the lake.
On Day 8, it’s time to go home. Take a van or taxi to Guatemala City for your flight home. If you’re going from Atitlan, make sure to allow yourself several hours for travel time to the airport.
- Bring a lot of cash as credit cards aren’t accepted at many places, especially small towns.
- Take proper precautions when walking around. Pick-pocketing and theft is common, so don’t keep all your money in one pocket, try to leave some in your suitcase and get a room with a safe, if possible. I’ve been twice and had wonderful experiences, but I still walked around with money in several pockets, as well as my shoes! If you go out at night, take tuk-tuks or taxis to get around instead of walking.
- If you have more than 1 week to spare, Belize is a short flight from Guatemala City or Flores, and you can take a bus to Copan, Honduras if you want to see more Mayan ruins.
- Practice some Espanol before you go as you’ll need to know some basic phrases. Definitely learn your numbers so you can bargain better at the markets!