Guatemala is a melting pot of rich native culture, ancient civilisations and a whole lot of nature. Virtually everywhere you go a towering silhouetted volcano looms in the background. You are sure to be left with your jaw on the ground relishing the scenery virtually everywhere you go.
This itinerary can be done in as little as 21 days, but as always the more time the better.
Antigua is like stepping into a classical novel where you are surrounded by charming cobblestone roads, timeworn Spanish buildings, colonial churches, cathedrals and museums. Here, the buildings streak the narrow rocky streets in pastel colors. Here you can experience rich Guatemalan culture framed by volcanos in every direction. Furthermore, the food here is divine. Head to the markets for all things cheap and delicious, but if you’re particular about what you eat, make sure you ask what it is first. One time I accidentally ordered pig ears and brain.
One of the more popular activities is the volcano hiking which caters to people of all fitness levels, including short hikes, like Pacaya volcano to the overnight hike, Acatenango. Be warned, it gets pretty cold up the top. Other popular activities include visiting indigenous pueblos, coffee plantations, shopping, nightclubbing and taking classes. The rich culture woven with a city buzz makes Antigua a very popular stop for those wanting to stay long term and learn Spanish or take part in cooking or salsa class. For visiting religious monuments cathedral, Convento de Santa Clara, Iglesia La Merced are some of the more popular.
Tropicana hostel (90Q/USD$12) is boasts a social and tidy atmosphere. Although the dorm rooms are huge with three story bunks, they have their own shelves and a curtains. The hostel also has great chill out areas including a tv room, pool and balcony. Great people and great vibes.
Immersed between three volcanos is a bountiful body of water. On the lake you’ll see 50 shades of blue interlaced from the water into boundless skies. Here, you can watch from a dock as an elderly fisherman catches his next meal on a small wooden dingy or listen to the gossiping women decorated in a kaleidoscope of colours wringing their clothing in the reeds and balancing swollen baskets on their heads.
Pueblitos dot the lake, so you can walk from town to town all of which boast different flavours of local life, including Indigenous Guatemalan culture. The two most popular towns for tourists are the San Marcos and San Pedro La Laguna depending on what you want.
San Marcos is prolific with New Age culture including yoga, health foods, natural medicine and retreats.
San Pedro is a great place for a fiesta with happy hours, live music and the popular Buddha Bar (amongst others). For a party, look no further than Hostel Fe (50Q/ USD$7) which has beautiful lake views, friendly staff and Friday Trivia.
In between drinking evenings, or yoga relaxations, you can fill your days at the Thermal Baths in San Pedro, Volcano climbs, visiting the towns, shopping and kayaking.
Chichicastenango is a areat place to polish off your bargaining skills with a huge craft market which opens every Thursday and Sunday. Inside you’ll find beautiful woven fabrics, bags, blankets, foods, textiles, trinkets, and so much more. If you’re waning souvenirs, look no further.
Many tourists only come for the day trip to the market, but Chichicastenago is buzzing with vibrant culture and industrious people. Another popular attraction is the Museo Regional (10Q/ $1.40) which boats all kinds of ancient artifacts.
Pascual Abaj is a shrine featuring an ancient stone idol that’s hundreds of years old. It’s located on the top of a hill just outside of town. Here, many locals come to pay their respects.
Or, for more colonial Spanish culture there’s a bunch of churches and plazas to while away the time.
The most popular reason to go to Flores is the famous Mayan ruins, Tikal. But Flores is a beautiful little island animated by a tourist bustling tourist industry with scores of nooks to be explored.
It’s a small island on an expansive blue lake dotted by ferries which ripple to and fro across the body of water. In Flores, you can walk around the whole island in less than an hour which provides 360 degrees of panoramic landscapes.
On the lake you can enjoy canoeing or boating, rope swinging (which is a short boat ride away), swimming, shopping and eating an eclectic mix of traditional Guatemala food from street vendors. With a bunch of tourists, you’ll also find a bunch of souvenir shops, bars, yoga classes and Spanish classes. Whatever you’re into.
Hostel Los Amigos (80Q/ USD$11) has tidy rooms and a great relaxation area complete with plants and fairy lights.
From Flores, getting to Tikal is a short and easy trip done by hundreds every day. Tikal is the expansive ruins of one of the most powerful ancient Mayan cities. Tucked away in the luscious Guatemalan jungle, Tikal offers stunning views of the magnificent ancient structures away from civilisation imploring for you to explore them. There’s so much to see here that for many people, one day just isn’t enough. You’re also able to camp in the park overnight, and if you do there’s a delightful sunrise and sunset which shins through the clouds and mist of the canopy and dances off the lithic ruins to a symphony of monkeys and birds, including Guatemala’s famous Quetzal.
30 minute drive through windy roads with stunning jungle views to it’s main site, Semuc Champey. But Lanquin in itself is stunningly beautiful, situated out in the Guatemala jungle, you’ll see a few funny creatures here and there next to an extensive river system. Here you can relax in the midst of unadulterated nature.
We stayed in El Retiro hostel (50Q/ USD$7 dorms) which little cabins spread out over a large piece of land. It has a beautiful lake slicing through the with a steaming hot Sauna to ease your muscles after a hard days caving, trekking or tubing. We did a tour booked through our hostel which included all three.
Natural limestone pools in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. After you enter the park you’ll make your way up a step hike through slippery jungle terrain and at the top, there is an opening in the trees where you’ll see the mirador. From the lookout you see the famous vista of Semuc Champey and it’s cascading turquoise water which carves it’s way through the luscious green canopy.
Close by, you’ll find a cave system (Grutas de Lanquin) to explore complete with natural pools, slides, stalactites, stalagmites, weird spiders and bats. I went with a tour during high season and the cave was packed. There was a 15 person tour in front and another behind us which made the pace slow and the experience a little more drab. But none the less it was a cool experience. We all were given a candle which was the only light and waded through waist deep water, sometimes having to swim, climb ropes, or slide through tight crevices. If you are scared of the dark or suffer from claustrophobia, these Grutas probably aren’t for you.
Lastly, close by there is also a huge river with mild rapids which you can tube down. It was cold, actually it was freezing which kind of took some of the relaxation out of it. But if you can brave the cold, there are vendors selling beers or soft drinks which you can sip at for the (approximately) 15-20 minute ride.
There’s a bunch of cool places we missed, such as: