Perfect 10-Day Guatemala Itinerary
Here is our perfect 10-day Guatemala itinerary, including the best things to do, must-visit places, top attractions, tips on where to stay, how to get around, and safety advice. No matter if you travel by rental car or backpacking by public transport, this ten days Guatemala itinerary is the right for you.
Guatemala is not anymore a country which is better to avoid, rather the opposite - in the past few years Guatemala has been gaining its popularity among backpackers and holidaymakers alike, and nowadays this country is one of the best and most visited travel destinations in Central America.
It is quite easy to explain why Guatemala is so popular and why so many travelers add it to their bucket list of must-visit places. First, the safety situation improved drastically, and although some parts of Guatemala still have issues, no denying, the well-trodden tourist path is mostly safe. Second, Guatemala is a captivating and colorful country where in only a couple of days you can see the bustling and noisy cities, beautiful landscape, authentic small towns with indigenous Maya communities, waterfalls, perfectly-shaped volcanoes or crystal clear pools inviting you to take a dip.
It can seem that Guatemala has so many beautiful and interesting destinations that it is impossible to fit them all in only ten days itinerary, and it is true. However, we did our best to put together this perfect ten days itinerary for both backpackers and travelers getting around by rental car, which includes all those must-visit highlights you cannot miss, when in Guatemala.
Get inspired by 10-day Guatemala itinerary we followed on our journey around Central America.
HOW TO GET AROUND GUATEMALA
Before you start planning your perfect Guatemala itinerary, you should decide on what is the best (time and money-wise) way to get around for you. The easiest way how to get around Guatemala is by rental car, especially when you have ten days to explore the country, which is quite a limited period of time to see all the highlights, but no worries, with this travel itinerary you will witness the best things this Central American country has to offer.
If you are backpacking around Central America and want to explore Guatemala on a shoestring, it is still possible to do it within ten days, but here are several things you should know about the transport possibilities in the country.
First, you can travel by chicken buses, the most authentic, cheapest, but also the least comfortable and not always reliable way of transport used in Guatemala, especially by local people. We are definitely not saying you should not travel this way in this country, but in this case, we recommend you to add some extra days or leave out some places on this itinerary.
When in Guatemala, we traveled by tourist shuttle buses (it was the first country on our year-long trip where we did it). They were a bit more expensive, but we were able to get from one place to another easily, without any hassle and did not have to change buses. Thanks to it, we were able to follow this itinerary.
Travel Resources for Your First Day in Guatemala
This travel itinerary is designed for ten days, and it is doable for both, backpackers traveling on public transport or travelers road tripping the country with a rental car.
When flying in Guatemala City, the best and most straightforward option is to rent a car at the airport.
If you plan to get around Guatemala by bus, the easiest way how to get from the airport to either Guatemala city center or directly to Antigua is by pre-booking a shuttle.
DAY 1: GUATEMALA CITY
Most of the travel itineraries suggest skipping Guatemala City, but we think every capital city anywhere in the world is interesting in its way, and unless you arrive late at night, you can use one afternoon to explore highlights Guatemala City has to offer. The capital of Guatemala is considered dangerous, but if you stay in the center, explore the well-trodden path, do not wander around at night and do not show off your valuables, we think you should not experience any problems.
Pick up your rental car and head to the center to check-in in your hotel, be patient as the traffic is often heavy, especially on Sundays when local people head back to Guatemala City from Antigua.
What to see in Guatemala City?
You can visit Mercado Central, botanical garden, one of many museums, the National Library or Iglesia de Merced. In case you don't feel comfortable walking around the city on own and want to know more about history and architecture, you can book a guided tour.
DAY 2 - 3: ANTIGUA
It does not matter if you travel by car or by public transport, it will take you approximately an hour to get from Guatemala City to Antigua.
Antigua is the must-visit destination on every travel itinerary, and it is easy to see why. Antigua is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in Guatemala boasting with colonial houses, churches, cobblestone streets, and despite the fact Antigua is the most touristy city in Guatemala, it still keeps its authentic vibe and small-town feel.
Except for the architecture and volcanoes, travelers can get in touch here with the traditional indigenous way of life, because many descendants of native people still live in the city or in the communities nearby.
We traveled quite extensively in Central America, and Antigua was the place where we felt absolutely safe in comparison with other destinations and did not encounter any problem.
There are two main reasons why to visit Antigua: explore the historic center (there are quite many things to do to keep you busy), either on own or with a guided tour and get closer to one of many volcanoes nearby.
The nearest volcano to Antigua is Agua Volcano looming behind the city and creating the perfect photo opportunity, but travelers also often visit Pacaya Volcano (you can travel to the volcano by car or take a tour from Antigua) or the most popular tour among backpackers is an overnight climb to Acatenango Volcano.
DAY 4 - 5: LAKE ATITLAN
Lake Atitlan is one of the most mystical places in Guatemala, and again another must-stop on your itinerary.
Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, and the destination is incredibly photogenic thanks to green hills and perfectly shaped volcanoes around.
There are many things you can do near Lake Atitlan except for soaking in the views. You can do some water activities, hike to the top of San Pedro Volcano to get excellent views of the lake and its surroundings from the top or take a boat tour. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many indigenous Mayan communities, and it is possible to visit most of them, for example, San Pedro, Panajachel, Jaibalito or San Juan.
When traveling by public transport, you might have to spend by Lake Atitlan only one day, because you will need the second day for transport from Semuc Champey to Flores, as you won't be able to make it in one day as those traveling by car.
Another option for those of you getting around Guatemala by public transport or by shuttles is to stay one more night in Antigua and take a one-day tour to Lake Atitlan.
DAY 6: DRIVE TO SEMUC CHAMPEY VIA COBAN
In order to get to another Guatemala's highlight, Semuc Champey, you need to spend all day on the road.
Ideally, the drive should take you around seven hours or eight to nine hours when traveling by shuttle bus.
The landscape on the way between Lake Atitlan and Semuc Champey is picturesque, but overall the drive was quite annoying because of many restrainers on the road - thanks to them the drive was not fluent at all.
When traveling by car, you can break the journey in the city of Coban where you can have lunch and stretch your legs.
The last section of the road is narrow, unpaved, and there are no crash barriers, so drive safely.
DAY 7: SEMUC CHAMPEY - DRIVE TO FLORES
Semuc Champey is an isolated place in the central part of Guatemala and hadn't it been for turquoise limestone pools, the village would still have been quiet and forgotten by the outside world. But those beautiful crystal clear and blue pools put Semuc Champey firmly on every traveler's itinerary, and the original Mayan village of Lanquin quickly turned to a busy tourist center.
Either way, Semuc Champey is a place you can't miss when in Guatemala, and it is worth it to undergo the long journey. You can visit Semuc Champey on own - it is much easier with a car though as the pools are 10 kilometers from Lanquin, or with a tour which includes transport, entrance fee, and a guide.
Apart from swimming in the pools, you can go inside a dark cave and swim only with a candle in your hand, hike to the famous viewpoint, jump to the river from a waterfall or do tubing. The adventure takes approximately half-day, so when traveling by car, you will still have time to get to Flores, your base for visiting Tikal Ruins, but when using shuttle buses, you will have to take a morning shuttle next day. In that case, you will spend all the next day on the road (this is the extra day you should have from Lake Atitlan where you had only one day instead of two when following this ten-day itinerary strictly).
DAY 8: TIKAL RUINS - RIO DULCE
This day is going to start early as we recommend you to arrive in Tikal around 6 AM to enjoy the ruins in the jungle when everything around you is waking up. It is possible to get inside the archeological site even earlier if you want to catch the sunrise, but it is possible only with a tour, not independently.
Tikal is approximately one-hour drive from Flores, so it is easy to get there. If you do not have your own transport, it is much better to take a shuttle from Flores (it is possible to solely book a transport or transport with a guide as well) as getting there by public transport is a bit complicated and it takes time as well.
Tikal Ruins are one of the most beautiful and most fascinating Mayan ruins we've ever seen, and we think it means something, as we saw our share of ruins in Mexico, so take your time and explore the structures hidden in the jungle thoroughly. It is usually enough to spend half-day (four to five hours) in Tikal, so you will have plenty of time to get to Rio Dulce, even when traveling by bus.
DAY 9: RIO DULCE
Rio Dulce is an idyllic town sitting under a towering bridge and offering its visitors plenty of things to see and do, so be ready that your last day in Guatemala will be pretty busy (or of course it can be lazy, depending on your mood).
One of the main reasons why to travel to Rio Dulce is the river itself, so one of the options on how to spend your time is kayaking, but you can also admire the river from a distance, and visit fortress Castillo de San Felipe or Quirigua Ruins or waterfall Finca el Paraiso which is a lovely spot to jump into the water.
DAY 10: GUATEMALA CITY
On your last day, you need to get back to Guatemala City, drop off the rental car and wait at the airport for your flight back home. If you were all the time-traveling by public transport, you can either take a direct bus which takes approximately five hours or take a tourist shuttle bus.
HOW TO EXTEND THIS GUATEMALA ITINERARY
People rarely travel only to Guatemala, but they often combine this trip with other Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras or Belize.
We crossed borders from all those three countries and can confirm it is easy to get from one country to another, in case you have your documents trim and neat. In case you don't have own transport, the best way how to get to Belize is from Flores, where you can book a direct shuttle to the boat which will take you to Caye Caulker island.
From El Salvador, take a shuttle bus from Santa Ana city to either Guatemala City or directly to Antigua.
WHEN TO VISIT GUATEMALA
Guatemala has two distinct seasons, dry from November to April and rainy from May to October, but it is not that easy to say what is the absolute best time to visit as generally, you can experience in Guatemala pleasant climate as days are usually warm with lower temperatures later in the evening, and you can experience showers later in the afternoon closer to the rainy season you travel.
When climbing up the volcanoes you can expect low temperatures which can even hit zero degrees, Antigua has spring-like weather and Tikal is often hot, humid and hot.
Although the rainy season is usually not that bad, we recommend travel during this time of the year mostly to travelers not on a strict itinerary, because rain can cause road or trek closures.
Here are essential things you should pack with you for your Guatemala adventure.
Moneybelt | Fleece Jacket for Him & for Her | Waterproof Jacket for Him & for Her | Filtered Water Bottle | Sunscreen | Canon M50 | Shorts for Him & for Her | Hiking Pants for Him & for Her | Bandana | Rucksack 30-40L for Him & for Her
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
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