Welcome to Guatemala, a country with a rich history of Mayan civilizations, breathtaking volcanoes, vast jungles and charming colonial cities. If you are looking for an adventurous and diverse travel destination in Central America, Guatemala is the perfect choice! This country has so much to offer and you can easily travel around. This Guatemala itinerary is a great base to explore the country at your own pace. I share several options and tips so you are well prepared for your adventure through Guatemala!
In this article:
Guatemala itinerary for 2 to 3 weeks
Antigua ➤ El Paredon ➤ Lake Atitlan ➤ (Semuc Champey) ➤ Flores ➤ Rio Dulce ➤ Antigua
This Guatemala itinerary is a suggestion based on my experiences, but you can add your own twist to it just fine. For example, you could skip Semuc Champey if you are short on time. Or you could also skip Flores if you don’t want to travel that far and mainly explore southern Guatemala. Since I also combined my itinerary with one through Belize, I made one round trip through two countries in a combined Guatemala and Belize itinerary.
If you fly to Guatemala, you will probably fly to Guatemala City. Now this is not a very pleasant city to stay in, so I would recommend you travel directly to Antigua. Antigua is now one of Guatemala’s most popular destinations and was one of my favorite places in the country.
This charming colonial city is surrounded by several volcanoes which you can get extraordinary views of from the city. With a little luck, at night you can see lava from the active Fuego volcano shooting into the sky from a great distance! Some of these volcanoes you can also climb, such as the nearly 4,000-meter-high Acatenango volcano from which you can see Fuego volcano up close.
Number of days in Antigua: 2-4 days.
Just 2-3 hours away by shuttle bus from Antigua is a lesser-known destination in Guatemala: El Paredon. However, this beach destination on the south coast is becoming increasingly popular and not without reason. It’s a very relaxing place where you can completely unwind. In addition, it’s an ideal place to (learn to) surf and ride the waves.
Number of days in El Paredon: 2-4 days.
From El Paredon you can take a direct shuttle bus to Panajachel at Lake Atitlan which takes about 3 to 4 hours. Should you skip El Paredon, then it’s also possible to travel directly from Antigua, in about 2.5 hours to Panajachel by shuttle bus. Lake Atitlan is an impressive destination, surrounded by majestic volcanoes. The various villages around the lake all have their own charm and are fun to explore at your leisure.
Number of days in Lake Atitlan: 3-5 days.
From Lake Atitlan, you can travel on to Lanquin with Semuc Champey, one of the most beautiful natural spots in Guatemala. Located in the Alta Verapaz region, this hidden paradise offers multiple turquoise-colored natural pools surrounded by lush green jungle.
On the map it may look like a nice middle stop between Lake Atitlan and Flores, but you end up spending a lot of time traveling because the roads are of very poor quality. The bus trip is about 10 hours from Lake Atitlan. From Semuc Champey to Flores, it’s about another 9 hours of travel after that. Many people therefore skip Semuc Champey. If you do have the time and don’t mind a few long trips, Semuc Champey is a great place to add to your Guatemala itinerary.
Number of days in Semuc Champey: 2-3 days.
To Flores it’s about 9 hours of travel by minibus from Lanquin or about 12 hours from Lake Atitlan (that route always passes through Antigua/Guatemala City). Flores is best known for the beautiful Mayan ruins you can visit nearby, the most famous of which is Tikal. These are located about 60 km from the city. The historic city center is located on an island in Lake Peten Itza with beautiful views of the jungle and beautiful sunsets at the lake.
Number of days in Flores: 2-4 days.
From Flores it takes about 4 hours to travel to Rio Dulce in southern Guatemala. Rio Dulce is a beautiful location on an impressive river that winds its way to the Caribbean Sea. Along its banks you can enjoy green jungle and perhaps catch a glimpse of monkeys. A chance to be fully immersed in the peace and serenity of nature.
If you like it, you could take a boat trip down this river to the town of Livingston. Most travelers take this route to continue on to neighboring Belize.
Number of days in Rio Dulce: 1-2 days.
Is Guatemala safe?
Guatemala is a country that’s easy to travel through, but there are some security risks. It’s important to be aware that crime is generally more prevalent in major cities.
Although the travel advisory from most governments indicates that most destinations in the country are unsafe, in reality it’s not so bad. I must honestly say that the travel advice made me very concerned beforehand, but when I actually traveled through the country I generally felt very safe.
It’s true that it’s important to be cautious. You would do well to avoid the big cities like Guatemala City, especially at night. Make sure you always store your valuables safely and carry copies of your passport and other important documents. It’s a matter of using your common sense and also asking around how locals perceive safety.
For example, I spoke to someone who has lived in San Juan near Lake Atitlan for many years. The villages are generally very safe, although people there did advise against hiking on your own. Armed robberies occur in some remote places, such as San Pedro volcano.
In Guatemala, tourism is an important source of income, so it’s very important to locals when tourists feel safe. In the most visited areas you may encounter the “Policía de Turismo” (Tourism Police) who ensure the safety of tourists.
Usefull tips and facts Guatemala
Practice your Spanish
I found the locals in Guatemala to be generally super friendly and welcoming. They are happy to help you, but they do so in Spanish! So some knowledge of Spanish is definitely a plus when traveling around the country. Otherwise, Google Translate and gestures will also get you a long way.
Public transportation is adventurous
Transportation in Guatemala can sometimes be a bit adventurous. The roads are not always of the best quality and are quite bumpy. Public transportation can be unpredictable in terms of schedules and comfort.
The best known and cheapest form of public transportation is the chicken bus. These transformed old school buses are far from comfortable and stop in many places. Adventure guaranteed!
I recommend that you just check the options with your accommodation in advance so you can easily plan your trip a day in advance. Most routes between destinations are covered by minibuses that you can arrange at almost any accommodation.
Medical facilities are limited
Medical facilities are quite limited in Guatemala, especially in remote areas. Many of the places mentioned above in the itinerary do have small pharmacies or doctor’s offices where you can go with simple problems, but these aren’t always open.
Make sure your travel insurance provides full coverage for emergencies and consider bringing a first aid kit. It can always come in handy.
In high season, book some accommodations in advance
December and January is when most tourists visit Guatemala, and it’s definitely smart to book your accommodations in advance, as the best options fill up quickly. Tourism in Guatemala is still emerging, so there are not as many options available as in, say, Thailand or Indonesia.
Personally, I like to plan at the last minute while backpacking so I can be flexible. But because of this, I often had limited options and ended up paying more for a room. During my trip in February, many of the nice and affordable options were fully booked several weeks in advance. Finding a place to sleep was never a big problem in the end, but it did cost a little more.
Best time to travel Guatemala itinerary
The best time to travel for this itinerary through Guatemala is from November through April, in the dry season. There is not as much rain during this time and it’s usually sunny during the day and cool at night.
The rainy season in Guatemala runs from May through October. It can definitely be more difficult to travel around and do outdoor activities during that time. What is an advantage of the rainy season, however, is that the landscape is even greener and there are generally fewer tourists.