Guatemala is one of the most inexpensive and wonderful destinations in Central America. Nature lovers and history buffs will surely love to explore the country’s ancient Mayan ruins, lush living landscapes, traditional markets and colonial city, and tropical forests. Our suggested itinerary is designed to show you the best the country has to offer and what are the things you can accomplish in 7 days. Depending on your interests and travel priorities, you can certainly mix and match destinations, activities, and attractions to create your own itinerary.
Things to know before traveling to Guatemala:
Language – Being a Spanish colony for almost three centuries, Guatemalan Spanish has become the nation’s language. However, Guatemalans still use their own Mayan language and other indigenous languages. Although some locals understand basic English, it is still recommended to learn some basic Spanish words and phrases. Just like in other countries, speaking at least some Spanish or Mayan phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Currency exchange – The official currency used in Guatemala is the quetzal (plural is quetzales). ATMs can be found in Airport, most tourist centers and shopping malls across the country. Exchanging money in Guatemala is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Central America. International credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses, especially stores and restaurants may not accept them.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Guatemala. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Every traveler, especially solo female travelers, should take safety precautions because there has been an increase in reported armed robberies, sexual assault and violent crime targeting tourists. Driving on your own is not recommended because some roads are poorly maintained and street crime is a problem.
Getting around – Getting around Guatemala and taking public transportation might be a shocking experience to foreign visitors. Transportation options include local buses (chicken bus), express or deluxe buses, shuttles, taxis and rental cars. Domestic flights are often limited between Guatemala City and Tikal.
Accommodation – There are many types of holiday accommodation in Guatemala, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like bed and breakfasts and inns. There are also plenty of apartment rentals if you prefer the comfort and convenience of having your own place with cooking facilities. For budget travelers, there are plenty of youth hostels most especially in Guatemala City and other main tourist destinations. Home-stay is also a great option to immerse yourself in the culture of the country and to experience living with a local family.
Day by Day Itinerary: Best of Guatemala in 7 Days
Day 1: Guatemala City
Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Guatemala City or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. After your arrival at La Aurora International Airport (GUA), check into your preferred hotel/guest house. The airport is conveniently located within the city center, more precisely in Zona 13. Travel time is approximately 5 minutes, depending on traffic situation. Rest and settle in before you start the tour. Assuming you arrived in the morning, you will probably arrive at your accommodation just before lunch time.
Where to stay in Guatemala City:
Don’t get out of Guatemala City like most tourists do (and head straight to Antigua) because the capital boast a few wonderful attractions. Your first destination is National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Guatemala’s history and cultural heritage. Next is Catedral Metropolitana (The Cathedral of Guatemala City), a 19th-century Neo-classical church which houses some extraordinary historic and artistic relics. Then, go to Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture), the former seat of the Guatemalan president. In the afternoon, make your way to Paseo Calaya, one of the newest shopping malls in Guatemala. It’s a great place for strolling, shopping and dining.
Day 2: Antigua
On your second day, leave the concrete jungle for Antigua, a small colonial city surrounded by mountains in the southern part of Guatemala. Founded in the 1500s by Spanish colonials, this beautiful city is famous for its charming colonial buildings, Baroque-style architecture, welcoming atmosphere, and vibrant culture. Antigua was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Where to stay in Antigua:
To get to Antigua from Guatemala City, ask your hotel receptionist or any tour agency about booking a minivan shuttle to Antigua. You may also take a taxi straight to Antigua, but that would cost a more. You may try Uber, which recently launched its service in the country. Travel time is approximately 50 minutes and one way fare is between 100 GTQ to 150 GTQ (13.50 to 20 USD) . Upon arrival in Antigua, check in to your preferred hotel/hostel, take it easy and soak up the atmosphere on this day. You can spend the afternoon at the Plaza Central Park and have dinner at Hector’s Bistro.
Day 3: Antigua
Wake up to a delicious breakfast on your private room or get a slice of authentic Guatemalan life in one of its popular local restaurants like Panaderia y Café Santa Clara. Then, start your day in Antigua the way the locals do by heading over to the street market near the public bus station. This market is ideal for getting fresh produce from the mountains surrounding Antigua. Head to your next destination, Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent and now a hotel/museum. After lunch, visit the Iglesia de La Merced, an 18th century Baroque church. Another church you should not miss is Cathedral de Santiago. In the afternoon, make sure you explore some of Antigua’s beautiful natural surroundings like Cerro de la Cruz, which showcases some truly stunning scenery.
Day 4: Chichicastenango
On day 4, embark on one of the most exciting day trips out of Antigua by heading to Chichicastenango, located just 1.5 hours away from the colonial city. Known as a large Mayan trading center, Chichicastenango boasts several cultural attractions. This day tour can certainly be done on a DIY-style, but we recommend a guided tour so you can appreciate its cultural and historical relevance. Full day tours normally include a visit to the open-air market, churches and local villages. Wear a comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking for today.
Day 5: Lago de Atitlán or Tikal
About two-hour drive west of Antigua is Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán), an idyllic lake surrounded by ancient Mayan villages. Just like your full day tour in Chichicastenango, we also recommend taking a guided tour. A day tour will not allow you to visit all the Mayan villages, but you must visit San Pedro la Laguna, San Juan La Laguna or Santiago Atitlan.
You may also scratch off Lago de Atitlán in your itinerary and make your way back to Guatemala City to catch a short domestic flight to Tikal, home to the largest excavated Mayan site. The nearest airport is Flores Airport (FRS) and TAG airlines flies 4 times a day between Guatemala City and Flores Airport (one-way tickets start at 140 USD). The route is also served by Avianca and Hahn Air Systems. (both of them fly the route twice daily and you can check up-to-date prices here) It’s best to stay in one of the hotels near the archaeological site, so you can have the place all to yourself when the tour groups leave.
Where to stay in Tikal:
Day 6: Tikal
Undoubtedly one of the best travel experiences in Central America is a visit to the Tikal National Park, one of the major sites of ancient Mayan civilization. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the ruins were discovered by a Guatemalan expedition in the early 19th century. Make sure to join a guided tour to appreciate the site. By joining a guided tour, you will learn about how this great civilization developed some of the most complex architectural buildings, astronomical observatory structures and impressive stone monoliths among other things. The two highlights of this ancient site is the Temple of the Grand Jaguar (Temple I) and the Temple of the Masks (Temple II).
Day 7: Guatemala City
Start early in the morning in order to be transferred to the airport in time for your flight back to Guatemala City. You may schedule your flight back home in the evening so you can rest a little or go souvenir shopping.
This is the end of our 7-day suggested itinerary. You may extend your holiday for as long as you prefer or until you get to see all attractions that interest you. Take time to meet the locals, sample the best Guatemalan dishes and learn more about the history of the country. If the pace gets too hectic, then reorder your sightseeing priorities. Happy travel!
Have you been to Guatemala? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Twilight in Antigua, Guatemala (Luis Eduardo Cordon / Shutterstock.com)