Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (2023)


  • Take a walking tour of Antigua and hike Volcán Pacaya
  • Kayak Lake Atitlán and tour its waterfront villages
  • Explore the Maya ruins at Tikal and Yaxhá
  • Take a boat ride down the Río Dulce

Brief Itinerary

Day 1Arrive in Guatemala City, Transfer to Antigua & Walking TourAntigua
Day 2Cycling Antigua's Villages, Farms & RuinsAntigua
Day 3Day Hike to Pacaya Volcano, Transfer to Lake AtitlánLake Atitlán
Day 4Lake Atitlán Village TourLake Atitlán
Day 5Kayaking & Hiking at Lake Atitlán, Transfer to AntiguaAntigua
Day 6Fly to Flores, Tour Yaxhá RuinsFlores
Day 7Explore Tikal National ParkFlores
Day 8Transfer to Río Dulce, Visit Finca Paraiso Hot SpringsRío Dulce
Day 9Río Dulce Boat TourRío Dulce
Day 10Transfer to Guatemala City, Visit Quiriguá RuinsGuatemala City
Day 11Depart Guatemala City

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala City, Transfer to Antigua & Walking Tour

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (1)

Welcome to Guatemala! Rich in history, beauty, and Indigenous culture, this tropical country in Central America offers something for everyone. There are plenty of jungles, rivers, lakes, and volcanoes to explore, and if that's not enough you can always tour the well-preserved Spanish-colonial cities and ancient Maya ruins. During this itinerary, you'll do all of that and more.

Upon arrival at the airport in the capital of Guatemala City, a driver will meet you for the one-hour ride west to Antigua. Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is known for the Spanish colonial Old Town around its main plaza, Parque Central. It's also surrounded by three volcanoes, and the contrast between these imposing mountains and the city's colorful architecture is part of the reason Antigua has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

After checking in to your hotel, you'll head out and meet a local historian. The two of you will then embark on a walking tour of the city. During this excursion, you'll visit 18th-century landmarks like the Palacio del Ayuntamiento ("City Hall Palace"); Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent that is now a hotel and museum; the Palace of the Captain's General; and La Merced Church, whose canary-yellow Baroque facade is a hallmark of the city. As you stroll the Paseo de Los Museos ("Museum Path"), you'll delve into the roots of Maya archaeology and culture.

Day 2: Cycling Antigua's Villages, Farms & Ruins

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (2)

In the morning, you'll hop on a mountain bike and head out on a half-day ride. Today's route will take you around the villages, farms, and ruins of the Almolonga Valley, located just west of Antigua. It begins early in the morning when you meet your guide at the office in Antigua to pick up your bike and receive a quick safety orientation. Then you'll hit the road.

One of the main points of interest in the valley is Ciudad Vieja. This historic city was founded as the second capital of Guatemala (the first was on the site of present-day Iximché) but was abandoned after a devastating earthquake in 1541. Today it's a quiet place with a nice plaza, a restored colonial church, and a plaque commemorating the site of the first Catholic mass in the country.

Outside Ciudad Vieja, you'll ride south and explore the various towns and villages nestled in the valley. You and your guide will make plenty of stops along the way so you can tour colonial ruins and snap photos of historic churches. Other unique highlights include stops at a sustainable macadamia nut farm and textile and weaving co-ops in local villages. You'll return to Antigua around noon, in time to enjoy lunch around the main plaza. Then you'll have the remainder of the day free.

Day 3: Day Hike to Pacaya Volcano, Transfer to Lake Atitlán

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (3)

Get an early start and meet your group for a guided half-day hike up the 8,370-foot (2,552 m) Volcán Pacaya, whose slopes are home to some of the most impressive volcanic landscapes in Central America. Set in its own national park, Pacaya towers over its surroundings, with a continuous plume of smoke drifting from its summit and the massive lava field at the base of its caldera.

(Video) Exploring Guatemala’s Mayan Ruins

The trip up and back takes about six hours, but horses are an option for those who'd prefer a more relaxed ascent. Upon arrival at the summit, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch amid panoramic views (you can even roast marshmallows over volcanic vents). The hike down traverses more dried lava fields before descending through tropical forests and farmland on your way back to Antigua.

Then your driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour ride west from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, the most famous lake in the country, which is sacred to the Maya people. A section of this drive is on the Pan-American Highway, part of a network of roads stretching from one end of the Americas to the other, from Alaska to Argentina. As you get closer to Atitlán and round the mountain bends, keep an eye out for stunning views above the lake. Upon arrival, you'll check into your waterfront hotel.

Day 4: Lake Atitlán Village Tour

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(Video) Tikal - Ancient Mayan City of Guatemala - 4K | DEVINSUPERTRAMP

Start today with a boat tour of the villages around Atitlán. In the company of a local guide, you'll stop at villages like Santiago Atitlán and San Juan Laguna, which are far off the tourist trail and offer a truly authentic cultural experience. For example, you'll visit a local women's weaving co-op and see how they turn cotton into beautiful textiles by hand. You'll also visit a shrine to the infamous Maya saint Maximón, who was known for his depraved behavior. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 5: Kayaking & Hiking at Lake Atitlán, Transfer to Antigua

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Wake up to views of the lake and its towering volcanoes before meeting your guide for today's five-hour expedition. You'll start out in a kayak, paddling westward along the north shore of Lake Atitlán for roughly two hours. Pass by villages perched on lakeside cliffs, hop in the water for a swim, and even do some cliff jumping. Your destination is a spot between the villages of Tzununá and San Marcos La Laguna, where you'll leave your kayak behind and lace up your hiking boots.

Follow the lake trail that runs between the villages, taking in views of the San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán volcanoes. Hike along the shoreline and through small villages for about 1.5 hours, and eventually, the route will return you to your lodge. You'll then transfer back to Antigua and check in to your hotel.

Day 6: Fly to Flores, Tour Yaxhá Ruins

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In the morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport in Guatemala City, where you'll catch a one-hour flight to the Petén region and the lakeside town of Flores. This will be your base for exploring the region's ancient Maya ruins over the next couple of days. Upon arrival in Flores, a driver will take you to your hotel for check-in.

Afterward, a guide will meet you in the lobby and you'll head out on a four-hour tour of Yaxhá National Park. This archaeological site comprises the ruins of an ancient Maya city and ceremonial center that reached its height of power during the Classic Period (200-900 CE) when it was the third-largest city in the region. There are over 500 structures here, and your guide will lead you to various pyramids, altars, plazas, ball courts, and a network of sacbeob (ancient roads). One major highlight is a hike up Temple 216, which is the site's tallest temple at 98 feet (30 m).

Day 7: Explore Tikal National Park

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (7)

Join your guide for another exciting tour of Maya ruins today. This time you'll visit Tikal, a famous archaeological site that covers 222 square miles (576 sq km). Dating to around 400 BCE, Tikal was a powerhouse during the Classic Maya period (250-900 CE) but fell into disrepair after it was abandoned around the 10th century. It was engulfed by the rainforest and remained hidden until it was discovered and excavated in the 20th century.

Not only will you explore the ruins of this ancient Maya city, but the rainforest surrounding it is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. It's home to exotic animals like monkeys, toucans, parakeets, and other tropical birds, so keep your eyes peeled and your camera close as you explore the ruins. Throughout the tour, you'll visit the major points of interest including Temples I, II, III, IV, and V, the Lost World, Complex Q, the Great Plaza, the Window Palace, and more. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Flores.

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Day 8: Transfer to Río Dulce, Visit Finca Paraiso Hot Springs

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In the morning, you'll transfer south about 3.5 hours to the Caribbean side of Guatemala and Río Dulce National Park, home to the river of the same name. The "Sweet River" is located near the country's eastern border with Belize and connects to Lago Izabal. Upon arrival, you'll settle into your accommodation in a waterfront lodge and enjoy lunch.

Then you'll make your way to Finca Paraiso, a beautiful river and waterfall fed by natural hot springs. You'll have the entire afternoon to relax. One of the most enjoyable ways to spend your time here is to take a dip in the cool river and then stand under the thermally heated waterfall to warm up. After lunch on the banks, you'll hike up to a river cave and go for a swim in the cavern. At the end of the adventure, you'll return to your hotel for dinner.

Day 9: Río Dulce Boat Tour

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (9)

After a leisurely breakfast, you'll meet your guide for a boat tour on the Río Dulce. As you travel north along the tranquil jade waters, keep your camera at the ready, as the banks are lined with stunning rainforest scenery and quaint villages. Waterbirds like herons are constantly flitting overhead or resting on the lily pads, and you're sure to see blooming flowers like orchids and white water lilies.

The ride will take you to Livingston, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Along the way, you'll stop at the famous 17th-century Castle of San Felipe. You'll also visit a protected island home to exotic birds and a natural hot spring. Once in Livingston, you'll experience a different side of Guatemala.

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This Afro-Guatemalan community is defined by its distinctive Garifuna culture, which has its own language, cuisine, and customs. You can take a dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean, do some bird-watching, and try tapado, a seafood stew that's the community's most popular dish. Or learn to dance punta, a traditional Garifuna dance. Afterward, you'll return to the Río Dulce and your accommodation.

Day 10: Transfer to Guatemala City, Visit Quiriguá Ruins

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (10)

After a morning in Livingston, you'll hop on a boat for the ride back up the Río Dulce to Lago Izabal. Along the way, there's a detour to the Quiriguá Ruins, an ancient Maya archaeological site in southeastern Guatemala. The site covers about 2 square miles (3 sq km) along the Río Motagua. During its heyday around 800 CE, it was an administrative center at the junction of several important trade routes. Today, it's famous for its 17 impressive sandstone stelae (monuments), which you'll see up close.

When the tour of Quiriguá is over, continue to Lago Izabal and then transfer by vehicle for about 5.5 hours to Guatemala City. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and enjoy your final evening in the capital at your leisure.

Day 11: Depart Guatemala City

Highlights of Guatemala: Natural Wonders & Maya Ruins - 11 Days (11)

Today, you must bid farewell to Guatemala. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to the airport where you'll catch your flight home. Adiós!

More Great Guatemala Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Guatemala? Check out these other Guatemala itineraries, or learn about the best time to visit Guatemala.

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