Guatemala is a Central American country adorned with volcanoes, lakes, rivers, secret surf spots, beautiful beaches, rainforests and ancient Mayan ruins. While Spanish is the official language, over 21 other mesoamerican languages are also spoken in Guatemala.
The country is home to coffee plantations and jade mines, and both coffee and jade are two of its biggest exports. Guatemala is also the birthplace of the first chocolate bar.
This 1 week Guatemala itinerary is designed to help you experience the very best of Guatemala. This gem of a country is filled with once in a lifetime adventures which should include taking the local transportation affectionately called chicken busses from city to city.
One week in Guatemala may not be enough to explore everything this country has to offer. Still, this Guatemala travel guide will help you take advantage of what to do in Guatemala and what to see in Guatemala.
Antigua is one of Guatemala's most resilient cities and at one time was the country's capital. Throughout its long history, Antigua has endured volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, wars and even fire and it has always bounced back, better and stronger each time. Today, this magical city is the perfect place to kickstart your 7 days in Guatemala.
The city is vibrant and alive with tourists as well as locals. Antigua is filled with parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, preserved buildings, monuments and markets. It is also surrounded by national parks, volcanoes and other natural wonders to satisfy all sorts of adventures.
Why not start your trip with a bang? The Acatenango overnight hike is one of the most thrilling and unforgettable experiences you can do while in Antigua if not all of Guatemala.
Acatenango Volcano and Fuego Volcano are twin volcanoes just outside of Antigua, and they are a popular attraction for adventure seekers. Acatenango is the third highest volcano in Central America with an elevation of 3976 meters (just over 13,000 feet). After hiking up, you'll set up camp so you can experience the spectacular views of Fuego Volcano as it erupts, emitting lava and smoke. Witnessing the sunset and sunrise atop these active volcanoes is truly something you will never forget.
OX Expeditions provides a top-notch trip, taking care of a lot of details so that you can focus on your journey. They provide a bilingual guide, rental gear, breakfast (for both mornings), lunch, and dinner for the overnight stay. They also, of course, provide locally grown coffee!
To prepare for the trek, you are required to attend a pre-trip meeting that takes place the evening before your hike. You should also ensure you pack the appropriate clothing. It is essential to pack things like a synthetic base layer, fleece, rain jacket, quick-drying leggings or shorts, and a good pair of hiking boots. I would also pack an extra set of clothes, especially if you know you tend to get cold and bring sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water.
The day starts early, at around 7 am. Most tours can provide transportation from where you are staying to the beginning of the hike. Expect to hike between 5 or 6 hours the first day, of course, with breaks for rest and lunch. After arriving at camp, you have time to relax and enjoy an early dinner.
You awake early the next morning to summit the rest of the volcano to watch the sunrise before setting off back to the bottom.
In full transparency, this trip will challenge you - physically and emotionally, and your level of fitness should be taken into consideration. It can be a challenging climb and should absolutely be done with a guide. However, it is also one of the most fulfilling challenges if you are up for it.
You will typically arrive back to your hostel or hotel in the early afternoon. After such an intense experience, you can shower and rest up for a bit. After a rest take a stroll around town, grab another cup of perfect coffee and check out the local markets, museums and ancient ruins. After that, treat yourself for completing the overnight hike.
Most people have a favourite chocolate bar, and most people do not know that the first chocolate bar ever made was in Guatemala.
The Choco Museo in Antigua is a great place to go if you're a chocolate lover. There are several different tours and workshops you can do, or you can just wander around the free museum.
There are workshops where you can create your own chocolate bars, as well as other cooking classes, and even an advanced chocolate truffle workshop.
The museum walks you through the history of chocolate and teaches you about the production of chocolate.
Treat yourself to a night in the world-famous, five star, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo and take full advantage of all their luxurious amenities.
Casa Santo Domingo is one of the highest-rated places to stay in Guatemala. There is a spa providing 11 different massage styles, several different facials, a jacuzzi, sauna, and pool. There are gardens you can stroll through too.
It is the perfect reward for finishing your overnight hike. There is a bar and restaurant on-site, and the hotel features six different museums.
Lake Atitlan is Central America's deepest lake with its maximum depth at 1,120 feet. It is about 12 miles long and 7 miles wide with 12 indigenous villages set up around the shores of the lake. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by several towns and dormant volcanoes called Volcano San Pedro, Volcano Toliman, and Volcano Atitlan.
Locals consider the lake to hold mystical and healing powers. Some believe it to be 1 of 3 energy vortexes in the world. The Mayan translation of Lake Atitlan describes the lake as the place where the rainbow gets its colour.
The most convenient and local way to get from village to village is by boat, commonly referred to as water busses.
Lake Atitlan is loaded with things to do and if you can, spend more than one day here and really explore the area.
One of the most popular hikes to do while visiting Lake Atitlan is the sunrise hike at Indian Nose. It offers one of the most breathtaking views of the sun coming up.
Using a guide or joining a group tour is a great option but it is possible and doable to do the hike without a guide.
As with any hike, make sure someone "nose" (Indian Nose - the trail name!) your plans - things like when to expect you back, who you are going with, and what route you plan to take.
Make sure you have a map and stay on the trail, dress appropriately and bring enough food and water.
SCUBA diving literally takes you to another world. Even if you have been diving before, diving in Lake Atitlan is an entirely different experience because the lake is located in the crater of a volcano at an altitude of 5,118.11 feet.
Please note that if you SCUBA in the lake, you cannot leave the lake the same day because of the altitude differences.
ATi Divers offers several different ways to explore the lake from beneath the surface. They provide fun dives for people who have done it before, as well as classes for total beginners, refresher courses, and even higher-level courses.
There are over five dive sites that are typically explored by SCUBA. These SCUBA sites go through old flooded homes, hotels, sunken trees, and through several volcanic rock formations.
San Pedro La Laguna is a popular stop for tourists. Some find themselves getting stuck here while others just take a quick walk by and move on.
The town is set along the shores of the lake and has a laid back vibe. There are loads of tasty places to eat and fun bars to dance around at night.
Hiking San Pedro Volcano is also a popular thing to do while in town. The hike can be a bit rough and takes anywhere between 3-5 hours each way. The views from the top are stunning and well worth the effort. You can opt to go with one of the local tour groups, but it is also possible to go on your own.
Chichicastenango Market, locally referred to as ChiChi Market is best visited on a Sunday or Thursday.
The market is famous for its vibrant textile colours. You have to buy a locally made huipil while at the market. A huipil is a traditional garment worn by indigenous and local women. They are typically decorated with colourful and intricate designs taking up to 12 months to make.
The market is filled with thousands of other handmade goods like jewellery, masks and blankets.
Take your time wandering through ChiChi market, and you are guaranteed to find some unique treasures to bring home.
Solola Market is a very popular market with locals, but tourists can find many good things here too. The market is set up with things local Mayans need like traditional clothing and shoes, food, and tools.
Mayans come from all over to this market, and you can tell where people have come from based on the way they are dressed.
This market is best known for its variety of indigenous fresh fruits and vegetables and is the perfect stop to stock up on snacks for your continuing journey.
The market is only open on Tuesday and Friday, so plan your visit accordingly.
Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala; it is also the largest city in Central America. It is known for its vibrant nightlife and music as well as its museums and UNESCO world heritage sites. It is a great city for a lot of jump-off points where you can find transportation and cheap flights to the less touristy areas and other options to get to where you want to go.
As with any large, populated city, be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables locked away.
Mueso Ixchel, also known as The Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Dress, is dedicated to conserving the history of the Guatemalan clothing. It is "a non-profit institution that collects, registers, catalogues, conserves, examines, exhibits, and promulgates Guatemalan indigenous dress."
The museum is a mix of both permanent and travelling exhibitions as well as a unique gift shop.
The National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology showcases exquisite pieces of jade, ancient pottery, colourful textiles, masks, and other interesting artefacts of Mayan Culture and Guatemalan Archaeology.
Iztapa is one of the closest beaches to both Antigua and Guatemala City, so if you are a surfer or just a beach bum missing the sea, head over to this little spot.
If you already know how to surf and are ready to jump in the water and have your own gear, there is a wave that breaks across a river mouth, in between two jetties. The spot is not for beginners or anyone learning to surf.
This spot is sometimes referred to as "the best right-hand break in Guatemala". It works the best with a 3-4 foot swell but can be great with a 4-6 foot swell, depending on your confidence and experience.
Pacaya Volcano is one of the more accessible volcanoes, thus making it a super touristy attraction, but for obvious reasons.
Pacaya is another volcano hike that you can do with a guide but is totally doable on your own or with a group of friends.
The volcano is active and at certain times you may be able to see some lava flow. The hike can be challenging because it is mostly loose rock and gravel left from old lava flow and explosions.
If you are struggling with the hike or just want a different sort of experience, there are horses available for hire to take you most of the way.
Don't forget to bring some marshmallows to roast above the hot rocks!
Alta Verapaz is in the northern part of Guatemala and is a jungle paradise. Here you can find vibrant rainforests, natural turquoise rock pools, caves and white water rafting.
There are several national parks in the area, and it is perfect for people who like to take the path less travelled.
For now, this part of Guatemala is a little bit of a secret. Not many tourists venture here, making it that much more special.
Semuc Champey is definitely the number one thing to see while in Alta Verapaz. It is a series of limestone pools, hidden deep in the jungle.
Walking there can take about 2.5 hours, or you can take a 4x4 to the entrance of the falls. If you are hiking in, be sure to wear sturdy footwear as it can get rocky and slippery at times.
Booking a tour is the best and safest way to go. It provides a candlelit tour of K'an Ba Cave, which keep in mind can be scary and out of a lot of people's comfort zones. Once you get out of the cave, your guide will give you several options of things to do.
You can go tubing through the river, or you can opt to take a 45-minute hike to the top of the hill for epic views of the waterfalls and pools. You can also slide down natural rock slides for a refreshing swim into the pools.
As with any adventure into the jungle, expect some scrapes and bruises.
Candelaria Caves National Park is another secret gem you have to visit. The Candelaria Cave system is one of the largest in Central America, and you can take a tour of the caves either on foot or by tubes floating down the river.
There are caves in the system that are 100 feet wide and 200 feet tall.
While exploring the caves, you can also see the ancient Mayan ruins of Cancuén. Cancuén has only recently been discovered and features the largest known Mayan palace and has over 200 rooms and 11 courtyards. It is believed that Cancuén was used as a trading post. Archaeologists have also uncovered a ball court, a bath, and a massive stone panel that is covered with hieroglyphics.
Guatemala is quickly becoming a top destination for white water rafting. The Cahabon River is one of the more popular routes as it has rapids ranging from level lll to lV.
You can raft any time of the year but if you are looking for extra adventure you want to time your trip with a recent rainfall. No matter what time of year you go, you definitely want to go with a tour guide, and you must know how to swim.
Tikal National Park and the surrounding areas are mostly part of UNESCO and designated as World Heritage sites.
The Mayan ruins are a must-see for anyone spending a week in Guatemala, they are one of the places to go in Guatemala. However, Tikal is not the only impressive ancient city around. There are thousands of other ruins hidden throughout the jungles and parks close by.
Some have been restored and open to the general public, but others are still being studied or restored, and you'll need to pre-plan and book special tours or guides.
Flores is a very small island in Lake Peten. You can walk around the entire island in less than 30 minutes. Despite its small size, Flores is packed with beautiful views, fun little adventures, colourful buildings, and great food.
While here, you can visit the Uaxactun ruins. The Uaxactun ruins were used for Mayan ceremonies and possibly an astrology centre. While excavating the Uaxactun ruins, Archaeologists have uncovered lots of intricate ceramics and masks from the site.
Another interesting part of the island is Jorge's swing. This little section of the lake has a rope swing you jump from into the water, and there is also a great little cafe nearby.
Ixpanpajul Natural Park is also located near Flores. The park is home to native flora and fauna with options for self-guided hikes, zip-lining, horseback riding, and mountain biking. If you happen to spend the night in the park, there are also spotlight tours available.
While you are in Flores, you have to try the local pupusas. Pupusas are made by frying a thick corn tortilla. A pupusas is typically stuffed with cheese and beans.
The Tikal ruins are an impressive show of how intelligent the Mayans were and are. Buried deep in the jungle, Tikal was at one time in history the most prosperous Mayan city.
At one point the population was as many as 100,000 people, and some parts of the city suggest it dates back to 700BC. The city once held a sports stadium, a school, a hospital and even a library. The library once held thousands of books, but today, sadly, there are only 4 Mayan books still in existence.
The pyramids and ruins are made from limestone and you can and should climb to the top of the highest pyramid for an unedited view of the jungle canopy with the occasional pyramid top emerging from the trees.
Despite the overwhelming beauty of the site and its once-prosperous economy, no one really knows why this city was abandoned after it had thrived for over 1000 years.
You don't necessarily need a guide to see Tikal. However, there is always the extra benefit of more local knowledge about the history of the sites and different tours come with various benefits such as early access to the ruins for sunrise.
The Yaxha Ruins are the third largest site in Guatemala and were only discovered in the early 1900s by someone rowing on the lake. Yaxha can be translated to "green water".
The site contains over 400 "ruins" which include nine temples and pyramids. The highest is known simply as Templo 216 and is at the East Acropolis. A Lot of the sites have been restored, and you can walk along the original paths leading from temple to temple.
Topoxte is another site you can visit. It can be found on the biggest island in the Yaxha Lagoon and is only accessible by boat. These ruins are set up on 100 terraces and were used for ceremonies and as elite Mayan government housing.
The Naranjo site is another massive site with almost 400 buildings. The Naranjo site was considered to be the Mayan epicentre for art and ceramics.
For all of these sites, I strongly recommend you hire a guide or go with a tour group due to the remote locations and jungle wildlife.
The Yaxaha park is filled with native flora and fauna and is ideal for nature lovers. It will provide you with the chance to see the real locals like monkeys, pumas, jaguars, armadillos, ocelots, tapirs as well as loads of bird species.
El Mirador is one of the most impressive yet isolated and mysterious of all the Mayan ruins it was discovered in the early 1900s by rubber tree farmers but wasn't really studied by archaeologists until 2003 and even now the site is far from being a tourist attraction.
The site of El Mirador is larger than the city of Los Angeles and at one point in history had a population of 100,000. Now, it is abandoned and overgrown, lost to the jungle.
If El Mirador is at the top of your list of things to see, you may have to plan on spending more than one day in the area as the hike is nearly a five day round trip tour that you have to arrange with a tour guide and group. You can also arrange for a helicopter ride over the site, offering a unique perspective of the pyramids poking out the top of the trees.
Rio Dulce National Park is a vast, lush, green jungle area.
Within Rio Dulce National Park, you can visit Castillo De San Felipe, which was once an active fort but is now a popular tourist attraction. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Quirigua Ruins are also located within the park, and while they are not as impressive as Tikal, these ruins are still worth seeing.
In Rio Dulce National Park, you can also hike to Finca Paraiso, which is a natural hot spring and waterfall. You can choose to sit and lounge in the little pool, or you can climb down and stand underneath the falls; letting the warm water flow over you while you're standing in cooler water.
Check out the unique town of Livingstone before heading back to the coast at El Paredon for some sun, surf and sand.
Livingston is not like any other town in Guatemala. You can literally only get to it by boat! It was originally a town founded by slaves that had found refuge in the area after escaping from a ship that had been abandoned at sea. Later, during the civil war, some Mayans found safety here, and the unique town was born.
If you visit Livingston, you have to try the local food called Tapado. Tapado is seafood stew made in coconut broth.
The bars and restaurants feature local musicians, and it is always a good time. If you are feeling brave on your night out, you can try some of the local rum calle Gifiti. This rum is poured over roots and herbs, and it set to sit in the sun for a few weeks. Locally it is known to provide some medicinal benefits. However, it is actually really potent, so be careful!
If you have time for a hike, there are some nearby beautiful waterfalls named Los Siete Altares. The walk takes about an hour, but there are rock pools to swim in as well as a cultural centre you can visit.
And if you are into birds and wildlife, you have to make time for Punta de Manabique. This protected area is home to a variety of birds, monkeys, and crocodiles.
El Paredon Surf House is a perfect place to relax in the sun and learn to surf. The surf house provides surf lessons as well as board rentals.
El Paredon has waves for all abilities, from first-timers to experts. The waves are consistent and range from knee-high to overhead, so there is always something to ride. El Paredon is a beach break with a sandy bottom with both left-hand and right-hand waves.
It is the perfect place to visit alone, as a couple, or with a group that has different levels of surfing experience.
If you get surfed out, other activities like taking tours into the mangroves, playing beach volleyball, visiting the sea turtle sanctuary, or take a cooking class, are also available.
The surf house provides breakfast and dinner, and there are loads of hammocks to take afternoon siestas in.
The best part of surfing in the Pacific Ocean is surfing at sunset; it is one of the most magical times to be in the water.
For now, Guatemala is a hidden secret, shrouded in history and mystery. It is the perfect country to visit for anyone looking for an adventure in uncharted territory. Guatemala is filled with exciting experiences, beautiful people, good food and vibrant culture. There is a lot to do, and hopefully, this itinerary for Guatemala can help you experience the best of it.
While the country is small, locations can be hard to get to, but there are various ways to get around. Many hostels and hotels team up with tour operations and can provide transportation to and from your activities. Other options include renting a car, hiring a driver, or taking the local chicken busses. There are even daily "puddle jumper" flights or water busses to some of the more remote locations.
While one week in Guatemala may not be enough time to cover everything, hopefully, this Guatemala travel itinerary will help you choose where to go in Guatemala and make your trip everything you wish for and more.
Guatemala will surely leave an impression on your heart and in your memories.
This article was edited by Loredana Elena.
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