The itinerary I leave here today isn’t exactly what I did, once I integrated Guatemala in a trip from Mérida to Mexico City and I was just 7 days in the country. This is my suggestion for 10 days (aka I wish I had more time there!) to those who travel directly to Guatemala or for those who want to integrate this in a trip trough Central America.
Day 1 – Arrival fo Flores island, the best place to stay if you want to visit the mayan ruins of Tikal, where you find the biggest pyramid of this culture, with 72 meters. The visits to the ruins are usually made at dawn or at sunset, to avoid the hours of heat. To arrive to Flores you can take a bus in Guatemala City (about 8 hours drive), or a plane between the two cities. You can also cross from Belize, which capital is just at 3 hours and a half away, or even, as I did, to take a bus in Frontera Corozal, the border to Mexico, after visiting the ruins of Yaxchilan, next to the Usumacinta river. In any way negociate with local travel agents. Many times it is the only way to travel and if you know how to bargain, it can go to very low prices! We used the time we had in the evening to compare agencies and in Flores we booked all the transportation to the whole time in Guatemala and back to Mexico, which can also make your trip cheaper, as the travel agents can make you a “special deal”.
(sleep in Flores – we stayed at Hostel Yaxha, which I recommend. It also has a coffee shop in the ground floor with meals, though the restaurantt next door has more options and lower prices)
Day 2 – Visit Tikal at dawn. It is possible to visit the ruins all by yourself, but once the mayan city lies in the middle of the jungle, at about one hour from Flores, we booked a tour with a guide who drove us to the ruins, accompanied us while there (ina group of about 20 people) and brought us back to Flores. That way, we didn’t learn just about the mayan culture, the architecture and the rediscovery of the city centuries after, as he guided us through the fauna we can find in the park – monkeys, birds of all species and even tarantulas, that we carefully passed from hand to hand.
The arrival back in Flores is at around noon and Awe still have the rest of the day to visit the small island andto rest a rit, once we woke up very early. It is possible to swim in the lake, but we didn’t have this opportunity because it was raining – so much that parts of island were flooded. It is also possible to take a boat tour.
(sleep in Flores)
Day 3 – Unfortunately in Guatemala there aren’t night buses so we have to spend time traveling from one place to another. We had book our transportation to Lanquin early in the morning. As we booked it through an agency, one of the safest and cheapest ways to travel, the car was very comfortable and secure, a “very tourist” mean of transportation. The ride takes about six and a half hours so we arrived to Lanquin in the middle of the afternoon. The van left us in the main square and we were immediately “attacked” by guatemalans hoping we didn’t plan where to stay. It was not our case, we were staying at the amazing Zephyr River Lodge, that was suggested to me by my french roomies, who had been there some months before. The hotel sent a truck to get us, as it is a bit apart from the city. This hostel was too good to be true! It had a swimming pool onto the valley, where we spent the rest of our afternoon, several huts with a view to the jungle and a very nice price (~12€ per night in a dorm)! The worse part is just that we are in the middle of no where, so we were “forced” to eat in the hotel, which was more expensive than in the other days. And though we are in Guatemala most of the staff doesn’t speak spanish, because they are travelers who spend some months there working and saving money to continue the trip.
(sleep in Lanquin)
Day 4 – Visit to Semuc Champey, considered a Natural Monument. Semuc Champey means “Where the river hides in the mountain” and it is a rock formation which goes on top the Cahabón river, a kind of “natural stone bridge” which goes for 300 meters and forms natural pools and small waterfalls of turquoise water, coming from the mountains that close the valley. The access is payed (50 quetzales) and there are two trails, one directly to the “pools” and another one of 1,2km which goes up the mountain for the visitor to have an aerial view of one of the most beautiful places you will see in life! Because Lanquin lies 10km away we booked a tour in the hostel and so we had our personal guide. We were lucky because we were a small group, only four people, and our new friend Rafael took us from pool to pool, showed us the natural slides, the hidden caves and the best places to dive. The park has this wood boxes where you can leave your backpacks and clothes, take a locker with you. Driving back to Lanquin Rafael took us to an improvised restaurant in the middle of the mountain. Two ladies, some grillers, wood tables and amazing food. The food in Guatemala is very similar to the one in Mexico.
We arrived back in Lanquin and asked to stay in the village as we wanted to go to a Cyber Café – the hostel has no wifi. As we were there we also visited a bit, we entered the church, watch the locals and then we went back to the hostel to spend the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool and, after the sunset, we changed to the jacuzzi.
(sleep in Lanquin)
Day 5 – Going from Lanquin to Antigua. Usually the drive takes between 7 and 8 hours. We had bad luck and we were stuck in the mountains due to an accident and when we finally got through and we arrived to Guatemala City, where we were leaving some people, we were stuck in the traffic of the rush hour. Total, 10 hours drive… We arrived to Antigua already after sunset and it was raining cats and dogs! We stayed at hostel Tropicana, right at the city center, and we liked it very much, specially because we had book two beds in their super huge dorms and they put us in a private room because they were fully booked!
Note: we decided not to visit the capital city because a lot of people told us it wasn’t that safe and has almost nothing to see. And it is one of the most polluted cities in the world.
(sleep in Antigua)
Day 6 – Next to Antigua there are four volcanoes (Acatenango, Fogo, Água and Pacaya), two of them are still active (Fogo and Pacaya). As we didn’t have much time we decided to do just a half a day tour, going up Pacaya, from where we could see the other three, but there’s also a two day tour to go up Acatenango, you sleep on the top of the volcano and you go down the next day. In any hostel or travel agency you can ask for more info about these excursions.
On the afternoon we visited the beautiful Antigua, an obligatory stop to those who visit Guatemala. Typical colonial city of tiny and colorful houses full of Guatemalans who didn’t adhere to the globalized fashion tendencies and who add more color to the city with their cloaks and dresses. Antigua has many giant souvenir shops with very good prices, though in the next destination, the Atitlan Lake, you can find the same articles and even cheaper (later I found in Mexico the exactly same things I bought in the neighbor country). What I liked more in Antigua was its main square, the famous arch of 5ª Avenida Norte and the Parque Tanque la Unión, but it is worthy to walk all around the city without a proper destination.
(sleep in Antigua)
Santiago Atitlan was the destiny we decided to visit, once we just had half a day. In here you find the biggest community next to the lake and it is known for its cult to Moximón, an idol formed from the fusion of mayan deities, catholic saints and conquerors legends. It is also here where you can find the biggest handcraft market and being this our last day (but not yours) in Guatemala, we wanted to go there to buy some last souvenirs. To cross the lake in boat you take about 40min. Before getting dark we went back to Panajachel, where we had dinner.
(sleep at Lake Atitlán)
Days 8 and 9 – Unfortunately we had to go back to Mexico, on a van that took us directly to San Cristóbal de las Casas, but if we could we would stay two more days at the lake. Don’t miss Chichicastenango, a city known for having the most colorful market of the world, not very far away from Panajachel (just twice a week).
Day 10 – Return home through Guatemala City airport, or go to Mexico starting in the state of Chiapas, or even start your descent to Central America! It is up to you!