Belize, Guatemala

The ultimate itinerary for Guatemala (+ tips for Belize)

The land of volcanoes, coffee, Maya and colonial villages. Including lovely hotspots, historic ruins and deep blue lakes. Guatemala is a dream destination! We explored this magical country and collected the best tips and practical information for your trip. Our itinerary for Guatemala will guide you through all the highlights and some off the beaten track places.

Acatenango Fuego Vulcano | Old Town Outfitters | Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala
Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl

What does a flight ticket to Guatemala cost?

Guatemala has only one international airport where intercontinental flights land: Guatemala City. There are direct flights from Amsterdam to this airport, but these are not the cheapest tickets. We had a layover in the United States and that kept the price down. We paid around € 480, but flew back from Cancun, Mexico.

San Marcos de Atitlan Lago de Atitlan Guatemala | The Orange Backpack
Boatique | Rio Dulce TheOrangeBackpack
Acatenango Fuego Vulcano | Old Town Outfitters | Guatemala

How much time do you need?

You can explore Guatemala in one week. We spoke with travelers who travel throughout South and Central America in six months. They only visited Guatemala for a week and only explored the famous Mayan temples in Tikal, Lake Atitlan and Antigua. That means that you certainly have the three most popular destinations in the country, but you haven’t seen Guatemala. Take at least two or three weeks to get to know all sides of versatile Guatemala.

When planning, it is important to realize how close and how far apart the highlights of Guatemala are. The destinations in the southwest of the country are close together and so you can easily visit without spending a lot of time on travel days. But the famous Tikal is far in the north of the country and therefore it takes quite some time to get there from the southwest.

You might also like to make your trip complete by including some tropical beach in your schedule. Do you want to combine your trip to Guatemala with neighboring country Belize? A good choice and highly recommended! But make sure you have enough time, at least three weeks if Belize is included.

Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Antigua Guatemala | The Orange Backpack
Antigua Guatemala

This is how you travel between destinations

Guatemala is a country with countless forms of transportation. For the longer distances we recommend the comfortable tour buses. For smaller distances you have the choice between taxis, minibuses, Uber and the local chicken bus. A rental car is of course also possible and we personally always love the freedom of this transport. In Guatemala there are actually few travelers who chose this option because there are so many options for public transportation.

We made a mix ourselves between all these types of transport. We started our first trips with an Uber. What we noticed was that a private ride with an Uber is not expensive at all in Guatemala. For three or more people it can even be cheaper for some journeys than other forms of public transport and much cheaper than a taxi.

Tip: don’t have an Uber account yet? You can easily register via our link and receive a discount on your first ride.

We also traveled with minibuses for tourists. You can find them in almost all destinations that you would like to visit as a traveler and they often take you directly from A to B. The chicken bus, on the other hand, is not always the quickest way and you often have to switch buses. We also heard warnings about safety on the bus. They would not drive very safely in the busy traffic and the luggage on the roof would not always arrive at the destination. Though we thought the chicken bus was a great local experience and would definitely recommend it for a short distance.

Read more:  Honeymoon at Laguna Lodge at Lago Atitlan

Reading tip: do you want to know more about the costs of transport in Guatemala? And volcano bikes, Maya temples, places to sleep and food? We wrote this blog about the cost of traveling in Guatemala.

Chicken bus | Quetzaltenango Guatemala
Chicken bus | Quetzaltenango Guatemala
Panajachel | Atitlan Guatemala | The Orange Backpack

The ideal time to visit Guatemala

Guatemala is great to visit all year round. The country is close to the equator, so there are no major seasonal differences. The rainy season is a possible factor that you want to take into account. That runs roughly from April to September.

Also, for some travelers, experiencing a sunrise or sunset at a Mayan temple is an important highlight. Then take the times for that into account and check the daylight times. In June the sunrise is already around 5.30 am and then you can only visit Tikal with a fairly pricey sunrise ticket (100 quetzal). The sun also sets at 6.30 pm, so half an hour after closing time of the Yaxha temples, for example. During our trip in December the sunrise was around 6:20 am and sunset around 5:40 pm. This allowed us to see the sunrise in Tikal and a beautiful sunset from the sunset temple in Yaxha.

Reading tip: we wrote an extensive blog about the relatively unknown temple complex of Yaxha, including its magical sunset.

Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl

The perfect itinerary for 2 to 3 weeks

We already told you that in 2 to 3 weeks you will have time to visit not only the famous highlights, but much more from versatile Guatemala. We put together the ultimate itinerary for you and guide you past volcanoes, Mayan temples, colorful villages and the largest river in the country. We also give you tips to expand your itinerary to tropical Belize.

# 1 Guatemala City (1 day). You will undoubtedly fly to the capital of Guatemala, so we welcome you here. Undoubtedly, most itinerary’s will immediately lead you away from this raw gem to beautiful Antigua. But you might want to consider a night in the capital after reading our city guide for Guatemala City. Spoiler: for cool murals and hip hotspots you have to go to Zona 4.

Guatemala City | Guatemala
Grafitti Guatemala City | Guatemala
Guatemala City | Guatemala

# 2 Antigua (2 to 4 days). The low-rise buildings, colorful facades, bumpy streets and beautiful volcanoes as a background give Antigua a wonderful atmosphere. We completely understand why this city is one of the most visited places in Guatemala. This is the perfect base for impressive volcano hikes and the town itself is wonderfully relaxed. We ended up staying there for a week. If you want to visit one or more volcanoes, we recommend you stay in Antigua for at least 4 days.

Reading tips: we wrote extensive blogs about the overnight hikes from Antigua to the peaks of the Acatenango volcano and the active Pacaya volcano.

Antigua Guatemala
Acatenango Fuego Vulcano | Old Town Outfitters | Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala

# 3 Lake Atitlan (2 days). The clear blue lake against a backdrop of volcanoes and mountains is a beautiful sight! There are all kinds of villages around the lake, each with its own vibe. Panajachel, for example, is the largest town and much busier, the tiny San Marcos is the place for a yoga class and a buddhabowl, and you have to be in San Pedro for the cheap hostels and parties. Though we found hippie hotspot San Marcos the best place to stay the night.

Read more:  The Santiaguito: hike to the most dangerous volcano in Guatemala

Reading tip: we told exactly what we liked about this hippie village in an extensive blog about San Marcos.

Panajachel | Atitlan Guatemala | The Orange Backpack
Lake atitlan | Guatemala

# 4 Quetzaltenango (2 days). This city – also known as Xela – is rarely included in itinerary’s for Guatemala. And we think that’s a shame. Of course we understand that in the event of a lack of time you put the big highlights Antigua, Lago di Atitlan and Tikal first. But do you have enough time? Then stay in Guatemala for at least two days to discover the most typical Guatemalan city in the country. This place is also a paradise for hikers. You can go here for multi-day volcano tours and hikes through the beautiful surroundings or to Lake Atitlan. We wrote a blog with the seven reasons why we definitely recommend Quetzaltenango.

Main square | Quetzaltenango Guatemala
Cemetery | Quetzaltenango Guatemala
Santiaguito lookout hike | Monte Verde Quetzaltenango | Guatemala

Extra: make a stopover in Champey. From both Lake Atitlan and Xela it is quite a bus ride to Tikal in the north. Champey is right in the middle and offers beautiful lakes to make this a fantastic stopover.

# 5 Flores and Tikal (3 days). The Flores peninsula – located in a beautiful lake – is inextricably linked to Tikal. No matter how relaxed the atmosphere and how beautiful the sunsets in Flores are, travelers come here for the Mayan city of Tikal. It was once the largest city in the region and impressive ruins are still proof of that. We spent five hours in the huge temple complex, so definitely take the time out.

Maya site sunrise | Tikal | Guatemala
Sunset in Flores | Sunset in Flores Guatemala | The Orange Backpack
Flores Special beer Specialty beer | Guatemala | The Orange Backpack

Extra: the temples of Yaxha. While all travelers go to the famous Tikal, neighboring Yaxha is still wonderfully undiscovered. Prepare for crocodiles and howler monkeys, jungle and temples, off the grid cottages and sunsets.

Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Maya site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | Guatemala | TheOrangeBackpack.nl

Tips for Belize: this is your moment to add another week in tropical Belize to your itinerary! From Flores or Yaxha you can easily take a bus to the border with Belize. There are even direct buses to Belize City from Flores. Which stops you should definitely make in Belize? First go to jungle city San Ignacio near the border for more Mayan temples, waterfalls and nature. Then it’s time for the Caribbean beach and the popular Caye Caulker or Hopkins are a two amazing options. The island of Caye Caulker is beautiful, but bursting at the seams of tourists. Hopkins has the same beautiful beach, impressive coral reefs and tropical vibe, but also a cool jaguar reserve nearby. Travel further to the very south, where you can catch a boat to Guatemala from Punta Gorda.

Reading tip: we wrote numerous blogs about Belize, including Caye Caulker, Hopkins and cool jungle cottages at Punta Gorda.

Snorkling Hopkins | Belize The Orange Backpack
Coconut Row | Hopkins | TheOrangeBackpack.nl
Plane wreck | Cockscomb Basin | TheOrangeBackpack.nl

# 6 Rio Dulce (2 days). From Flores you will arrive in Belize after a long bus trip or from Punta Gorda after a short boat trip in the Rio Dulce area. There you have two tiny places: Rio Dulce with a bus station and Livingston on the coast where the boats from Belize arrive. Find a place to sleep on the river, take a canoe trip through the jungle and definitely don’t skip a boat trip between Rio Dulce and Livingston.

Reading tip: we wrote an extensive travel guide for the Rio Dulce area, including hotel tips and a map of the region.

Rio Dulce Guatemala The Orange Backpack
Boatique | Rio Dulce TheOrangeBackpack
Boatique | Rio Dulce TheOrangeBackpack