Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (2023)


  • Tour Antigua and take a cooking class
  • Hike up Volcán Pacaya and cycle to coffee plantations
  • Take a boat tour of Lake Atitlán and visit local villages
  • Discover the ancient Maya ruins at Tikal and Yaxhá

Brief Itinerary

Day 1Arrive in Guatemala City, Transfer to AntiguaAntigua
Day 2Antigua Walking Tour, Guatemalan Cooking ClassAntigua
Day 3Hike to Pacaya Volcano, Spa Day at Santa TeresitaAntigua
Day 4Bike Ride & Coffee TourAntigua
Day 5Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Village TourLake Atitlán
Day 6Kayaking & Hiking at Lake AtitlánLake Atitlán
Day 7Transfer to Antigua, Visit the Iximché RuinsAntigua
Day 8Transfer to Tikal National Park via Guatemala CityTikal National Park
Day 9Explore Tikal National ParkTikal National Park
Day 10Tour Yaxhá RuinsTikal National Park
Day 11Transfer to Guatemala City & Depart

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Guatemala City, Transfer to Antigua

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (1)

Welcome to Guatemala! This relatively small country in Central America has become a popular tourist destination in recent years as travelers discover its abundant natural beauty, rich Indigenous culture, well-preserved Spanish colonial heritage, and delicious food. During your stay, you'll enjoy all the great sights, adventures, smells, and tastes that Guatemala has to offer.

Upon arrival at the airport in Guatemala City, a driver will be waiting to transfer you an hour west to the historic city of Antigua. Once the capital of the nation, Antigua is known for the Spanish colonial Old Town around its main plaza, Central Park. 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, spend the remainder of the day walking Antigua's cobbled streets and enjoying local cuisine at cafés. Or, head to the food markets for quick eats like tostadas and empanadas (called dobladas in Guatemala). Tomorrow you'll explore the city on a more in-depth guided tour, so for now, simply hit a few of the main attractions. These include the Santa Catalina Arch and the ruins of the 16th-century Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and the 18th-century Convento Santa Clara.

Day 2: Antigua Walking Tour, Guatemalan Cooking Class

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (2)

In the morning, meet your local guide (who's also an expert historian) to explore Antigua. Guatemala's former capital boasts an impressive array of Baroque buildings and colonial homes painted in bright pastels. Many old religious and civic structures have been beautifully renovated after major earthquakes while others retain a tumbledown charm.

On this three-hour tour, you'll visit 18th-century landmarks like the Palacio del Ayuntamiento ("City Hall Palace"), which houses the town offices and a museum of ancient books; the Palace of the Captain's General, home to the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism; the Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent that is now a hotel and museum; and La Merced Church, whose canary-yellow Baroque facade is a hallmark of the city.

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Afterward, you'll participate in a local cooking class where you'll learn to prepare traditional Guatemalan cuisine. This food is an exotic mixture of traditional colonial Spanish and Indigenous Maya cooking that is both delicious and fun to make. Even better, the four-hour workshop is taught by local chefs who belong to the Sacatepéquez Indigenous community. Besides the main dishes, you'll also prepare handmade tortillas and a dessert. At the end of the class, you'll sit down with your fellow chefs and enjoy your delicious creations.

Day 3: Hike to Pacaya Volcano, Spa Day at Santa Teresita

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (3)

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Get an early start for a guided climb up the 8,370-foot (2,552 m) Volcán Pacaya. These slopes are home to some of the most impressive volcanic landscapes in Central America. Set in its own national park, Pacaya cuts an imposing figure with a continuous plume of smoke drifting from its summit and the massive dried lava field at the base of its caldera.

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 and even roast marshmallows over the volcano's natural heat. The hike down traverses more dried lava fields before descending through tropical forest and farmland.

Then, you'll transfer by vehicle to nearby Santa Teresita, home to volcanic hot springs. Here, you'll enjoy well-deserved spa treatments that begin with hot and cold therapy. Next, move on to a combined steam and hydrotherapy bath before finishing with a relaxing 25-minute massage. Afterward, you can take a dip in the thermal pools and enjoy a snack and fruit smoothie—it's a great way to relax after the long hike. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Antigua.

Day 4: Bike Ride & Coffee Tour

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (4)

After breakfast, your guide will pick you up for today's combined mountain bike excursion/coffee tour. When your bikes are ready, you'll ride outside Antigua to the De la Gente coffee cooperative. On this half-day tour, you'll visit DLG's large-scale production farm. The site itself is a community on the flank of Volcán de Agua, where local farmers work together to grow, pick, and process their own coffee. DLG works with these farmers to help them brand their coffee and export it to global markets.

Upon arrival, your personal guide will lead you on a short hike around the fields, where you can meet some of the farmers. Then, you'll visit the roasting house to see how they toast the beans, one small batch at a time. A real treat is when you sit down to lunch with one of the farming families, sample their coffee, and learn a bit about life on a working coffee farm. After the meal, you'll ride back to Antigua.

Day 5: Transfer to Lake Atitlán, Village Tour

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (5)

Your driver will pick you up this morning 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.

Once you've settled into your hotel on the lakeshore, you'll board a boat for a private 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 Maximón, a Maya saint known for his depraved behavior. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel.

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Day 6: Kayaking & Hiking at Lake Atitlán

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (6)

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, or 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 have the remainder of the afternoon free.

Day 7: Transfer to Antigua, Visit the Iximché Ruins

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (7)

In the morning, you'll board a boat for a ride to the eastern shore of Lake Atitlán. Then, take a private shuttle through the beautiful highlands of the region on your way to the ruins of Iximché. Back in the 15th century, this archeological site was a great capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom. Its ruins sit in the western highlands of Guatemala and include pyramid temples, palaces, and two Mesoamerican ball courts. Take a personal guided tour through the site, which was declared a Guatemalan National Monument in the 1960s. After the ruins, you'll hit the road back to Antigua and check in to your hotel.

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Day 8: Transfer to Tikal National Park via Guatemala City

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (8)

Transfer to the airport in Guatemala City this morning and fly north to the town of Flores. Here a driver will be waiting to take you on the hour's journey to Tikal National Park. Tikal was once the capital of one of the ancient Mayas' most powerful kingdoms, and the ruins around this archeological site date to at least the first century CE. They feature sprawling citadels and towering pyramids, including the most impressive of all, Temple IV. At 230 feet (70 m), it is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in Central America. You'll visit this temple and more on a guided tour tomorrow.

Day 9: Explore Tikal National Park

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (9)

In the morning, join your guide for a four-hour tour of Tikal, an 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.

Day 10: Tour Yaxhá Ruins

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (10)

Meet your guide after breakfast and transfer southeast of Tikal for 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). After the tour, you'll return to your hotel in Tikal.

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Day 11: Transfer to Guatemala City & Depart

Introduction to Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlán, & Tikal National Park - 11 Days (11)

After all those unforgettable adventures, it's time to say adiós to Guatemala. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport in Guatemala City, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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.


Is 10 days in Guatemala enough? ›

In 10 days, you can visit many regions of Guatemala, embark on active tours, and see the major highlights. It's also enough time to enjoy off-the-beaten-path trips to indigenous villages, coffee plantations, and natural wonders hidden in highland rainforests.

What is special about Antigua Guatemala? ›

Antigua Guatemala is noted chiefly for the ruins of colonial edifices that make it a museum of Spanish colonial history.

How do I get from Lake Atitlan to Tikal? ›

There are 4 ways to get from Lago de Atitlán to Tikal by bus, shuttle or plane
  1. Take the bus from Panajachel to Antigua Guatemala.
  2. Take the bus from Guatemala to Santa Elena.
  3. Take the Public Minibus from Santa Elena to Tikal.

Why is it called Antigua Guatemala? ›

Antigua Guatemala means "Old Guatemala" and was the third capital of Guatemala.

What should I avoid in Guatemala? ›

Country Summary: Violent crime such as extortion, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, narcotics trafficking and gang activity are common in Guatemala. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to criminal incidents resulting in a low arrest and conviction rate.

How many days can a US citizen stay in Guatemala? ›

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements

U.S. citizens do not need a visa and are admitted to Guatemala for 90 days. For COVID-19-related entry requirements, please see the Health section below. If your passport is lost or stolen while you are in Guatemala, please obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible.

What are the best months to go to Guatemala? ›

The best time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. However, the country has a pleasant climate that lends itself to year-round trips, with temperatures between 72°F and 90°F.

How much do you tip a tour guide in Guatemala? ›

The magic number for tipping in Guatemala is 10%. In this case, it is a great idea to carry coins or small bills with you each day for tips. If you are unsure if you should tip or how much you should tip, you may ask your tour guide and they will guide you in the right direction.

Can you visit Tikal without a tour? ›

Can you visit Tikal without a tour? Yes, you can definitely visit Tikal without booking a tour! However, you will have to arrange your own transport and purchase your tickets in advance. You can go via a rental car or another good option is by shuttle.

How many days should you stay in Tikal? ›

The Tikal Mayan ruins are a vast archeological site. Although you can see the main temples and structures in one day, ideally, you will need two days to enjoy the hiking trails and Mayan temples without rushing. There are also many other things to do in the area, including visiting other Mayan cities.

Is Tikal worth the trip? ›

Tikal is the greatest of the Mayan ruins in not only all of Guatemala, but all of the Mayan world. It's a MUST SEE on any Guatemala backpacking itinerary and below I've created the ultimate guide to visiting the Tikal Mayan ruins.

What is Guatemala known for? ›

Guatemala is best known for its volcanic landscape, fascinating Mayan culture and the colorful colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this small Central American country has a wealth of homegrown produce and talent.

How long to spend in Antigua Guatemala? ›

Three to five days is the ideal time to spend in Antigua; wandering the streets, climbing the volcanoes, soaking up the traditions and brushing up on your Spanish. Out of all the Latin American countries, I found Guatemala to have the most surprises and unknown places to discover.

Are there beaches in Antigua Guatemala? ›

Dickenson Bay is located in the far northwest of Antigua. It is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Antigua. You find everything you need for a relaxing or invigorating day by the sea. The sea resorts and restaurants line this mile-long stretch of white sand.

Do I need malaria pills for Guatemala? ›

CDC recommends that travelers going to certain areas of Guatemala take prescription medicine to prevent malaria. Depending on the medicine you take, you will need to start taking this medicine multiple days before your trip, as well as during and after your trip.

Do they accept US dollars in Guatemala? ›

The US dollar is by far the most widely accepted foreign currency in Guatemala; that said, it is not a semi-official one, and you can't get by with a fistful of greenbacks and no quetzals. Euros and other foreign currencies are tricky to cash; try foreign-owned hotels or stores.

Can you drink tap water in Guatemala? ›

It is not safe to drink the tap water in Guatemala. To avoid traveler's diarrhea and other water-borne diseases, drink bottled water and only eat peeled fruits like oranges and bananas. Bottled water (agua pura) is widely available in grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels.

What does a US citizen need to travel to Guatemala? ›

  • You'll need to purchase a tourist card at the airport. This permits you to visit Guatemala for up to 90 days. Entry and exit conditions can change at short notice. ...
  • You no longer need to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter Guatemala.
Jan 11, 2023

Does US resident need visa to Guatemala? ›

Visa Exempt

A visa is not required for this destination for a stay of up to 90 days. Please keep in mind that while a visa is not required, you must: Hold a passport valid for at least six months beyond your date of country exit and with one blank visa page.

Do I need a negative Covid test to go to Guatemala? ›

Entry and Exit Requirements

Are there COVID-related entry requirements for U.S. citizens? No. Is a negative COVID-19 test (PCR and/or serology) required for entry? No.

What is the rainiest month in Guatemala? ›

The rain is heaviest during September and October. In general, the Pacific Slope and Western Highlands are the wettest parts of Guatemala — they receive around 30–60 inches (76–150 cm) of rain a year.

What is the best time to visit Antigua Guatemala? ›

The Best Time to Visit Antigua Guatemala

The dry season between November and April is the most popular for tourists to Antigua. Though temperatures in the area don't vary much, this is the coolest time of year.

How many days are needed in Guatemala? ›

To get the most out of your Guatemala experience, plan on spending 10 days here. This will give you enough time to travel around the lakes, volcanoes, and ruins without having to rush. Having such ample time also reveals much of the local culture.

How to spend 10 days in Guatemala? ›

10 Days Backpacking Guatemala Itinerary
  1. Arrive in Guatemala city, drive to Antigua – Days 1-2.
  2. San Pedro La Laguna, Lago de Atitlan – Days 3-4.
  3. Semuc Champey (near Lanquin) – Day 5.
  4. Flores & Tikal – Day 6-7.
  5. Livingston – Day 8.
  6. Rio Dulce – Day 9.
  7. Back to Guatemala City, fly home – Day 10.
Oct 24, 2018

How much time do you need to travel Guatemala? ›

For a well-rounded Guatemala trip, plan on spending 10 days. This gives you enough time to experience Guatemala's towns, lakes, volcanoes, ruins, food, and culture. Of course, if you have more time, spending 2 weeks (or more!) will give you an even more in-depth experience.

Is Guatemala 2 weeks enough? ›

Two weeks in Guatemala is the perfect amount of time to start exploring this fascinating country: you won't see everything, but it's enough time to move through several different destinations, and get a taste of what different regions have to offer.

What is the best month to visit Guatemala? ›

In summary, we can say that the best time to travel to Guatemala is as follows: The best months to visit Guatemala are January, February, March, April, November and December. In general, the warm months are February, March, April, May, July and August. The wettest months are May, June, August and September.

Should I spend more time in Antigua or Lake Atitlan? ›

While you can technically visit Lake Atitlan as a day trip from Antigua, I would recommend spending more time there. Either way, Antigua serves as the best jumping off point to reach this volcanic lake and it should be part of your Guatemala travel itinerary.

How much cash should I bring to Guatemala? ›

The amount of cash you should carry depends on what you plan to do. If you envision a day of eating at better restaurants and buying souvenirs, you'll want $75-150 per person. However, if you'll be eating brakfast at your hotel and don't plan on doing much, $50-75 should be sufficient.

Should I bring cash to Guatemala? ›

It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, debit cards, and, occasionally, traveler's checks. The unit of currency in Guatemala is the quetzal.

Is Antigua Guatemala worth visiting? ›

Is Antigua, Guatemala worth visiting? Yes, Antigua is definitely worth visiting! Not only is the city filled with incredible colonial architecture and a rich history, but the food, nightlife, and atmosphere are also top-notch. You could easily spend a few days or even weeks in Antigua and never get bored.


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