The perfect 10-day Guatemala itinerary for seeing the highlights

A land of bold colours, mysterious ruins, colonial cities and volcanoeslots of volcanoes – Guatemala is hands down one of my favourite countries.

You could spend weeks exploring the many beautiful places that this Central American country offers visitors. Unfortunately, however, we had just 10 days in Guatemala. Despite the relatively short amount of time, however, 10 days was enough time to see the country’s highlights. 

The following Guatemala itinerary is the one that we followed travelling with two young children but it’s one that can easily be enjoyed if you’re travelling to Guatemala solo, with friends or even on a multi-generational trip.

It’s also an itinerary that is easy to replicate whether you choose to self-drive, join a group or navigate public transport on board the country’s infamous, colourful chicken buses. Tourist shuttles also run between the main towns giving another transport option. 

This 10-day Guatemala itinerary can also be adapted if you happen to have more time. So, if you have two weeks in Guatemala or even three weeks in Guatemala, you can follow and customise this itinerary, spending longer in places or adding in new destinations. 

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10-day Guatemala Itinerary
Exploring Lake Atitlan by boat

Guatemala is a welcoming, colourful country with incredibly friendly and proud locals in spite of – or perhaps because of – a tumultuous and often bloody history.

It’s a great place for adventure and for doing “stuff”, really fun stuff such as zip-lining, kayaking, swimming in caves and diving from cliffs. Or, for the non adrenaline junkies among you, it’s a wonderful destination to learn about the country’s incredible arts and crafts and even how to cook. Guatemala also wildlife-rich with tapirs, lemurs, macaws, crocodiles and more calling the country home. 

It’s a relatively small country meaning that its easy to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. Nevertheless, as with all travels, it pays to do some planning before you set off particularly if you are visiting Guatemala with kids.  

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
Antigua, Guatemala

10-day Guatemala Itinerary

Day 1:Arrive Guatemala City, transfer to AntiguaStay in Antigua
Days 2 – 4:Explore AntiguaStay in Antigua
Day 4: Travel to Lake Atitlan, with a possible stop at ChichicastenangoStay in Lake Atitlan
Days 4 – 7: Explore Lake AtitlanStay in Lake Atitlan
Day 7: Overland Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City, fly to FloresStay near Flores
Days 7 – 10: Explore TikalStay near Flores
Day 10:Return Guatemala City
10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The most beautiful lake in the world according to Aldous Huxley

Two-Week Guatemala Itinerary 

If you have more time, then I would recommend the following two-week itinerary. Contrary to the 10-day itinerary, which includes flying from Guatemala City to Flores, this two-week itinerary involves all overland travel. If you are visiting Guatemala with kids then I would recommend this itinerary if your children are older and happy to do long car or bus journeys. 

Day 1:Arrive Guatemala City, transfer to AntiguaStay Antigua
Days 2 – 3:Explore AntiguaStay Antigua
Day 4: Antigua to Lake Atitlan, with a possible stop at ChichicastenangoStay Lake Atitlan
Days 4 – 6: Explore Lake AtitlanStay Lake Atitlan
Day 7:Travel Lake Atitlan to Xela Stay Xela
Day 8: XelaStay Xela
Day 9:Travel Xela to Semuc ChampeyStay in Lanquin,
near Semuc Champey
Day 10:Explore Semuc ChampeyStay in Lanquin
Day 11: Travel Semuc Champey to Flores and Tikal National ParkStay near Flores
Day 12 – 14: Tikal National Park Stay near Flores
Day 14: Return to Guatemala City.

Guatemala Itineraries

Guatemala itinerary
The colourful cobbled streets of Antigua in Guatemala

Below are brief introductions to each destination listed on the itineraries, I have more detailed blog posts on Guatemala’s highlights here.

Guatemala City

If you fly into Guatemala it’s highly likely that you’ll land in La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. This is a big city with a justified reputation for violent crime. If you’ve only got 10 days in Guatemala then I would recommend bypassing the capital and heading straight to Antigua. The country’s highlights lie elsewhere so there’s no need to spend time in the city. 

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Antigua


The drive from La Aurora airport to Antigua, Guatemala is by no means pretty but this lacklustre stretch of scenery pales into insignificance when you arrive in the beautiful colonial town and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Antigua. Filled with brightly painted homes, cobblestone streets and graceful churches, monasteries and convents, Antigua is a joy to explore.

It’s a really popular town for language students and novice Spanish speakers arrive here by the dozen to take advantage of the myriad language schools that pepper the streets. Not to mention the great weather, delicious food and laidback lifestyle.

Surrounding Antigua are a handful of dormant and active volcanoes including the Acatenango Volcano and Volcán de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire” which last erupted in June 2018. Check what the travel situation is like before you visit. Get a view of the volcanoes and the town itself from the top of Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), which stands just north of Antigua. 

There is lots to see and do in Antigua from walking tours and chocolate-making-workshops to markets overflowing with colourful textiles. At the heart of town is a lively main square where you can watch local life go by. One popular activity is to hike up Pacaya Volcano another is to explore the town’s streets on a guided tour. 

It’s a great place to spend a couple of days or even longer depending on how much time you have. It’s also a wonderful place to explore with children. This post shares some of my favourite things to do in Antigua with kids.

For ideas on places to stay in Antigua, the map below will help. 

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The colours of Chichicastenango


The drive from Antigua to Lake Atitlan is beautiful but if you have time it’s worth taking a detour to Chichicastenango. You can also take a day trip to Chichicastenango from Antigua.

Located in the Guatemalan highlands at an altitude of nearly 2,000 metres, this wonderfully-named small town is famous for its local market, one of the largest and busiest in Central America. It’s home to the K’iche Mayan tribe and has long been an important trading centre. 

Every Thursday and Sunday, Chichi transform from a sleepy hillside town into a riot of colour with traders – both local and those who descend from surrounding K’iche villages – selling everything you could possibly imagine including a huge array of locally made textiles, handicrafts and pottery.

Colourful wooden masks, traditionally used in dances such as the Baile de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest), can also be found. This traditional folkloric dance reenacts the invasion of the Spanish conquistador Pedro De Alvarado and his battle with the ruler of the K’iche kingdom, Tecun Uman. 

At the heart of the market is the 400 year old church of Santo Tomas, which was built on the site of a much older Mayan temple – the stairs leading up to the church are part of the original temple. The steps are still considered holy and you’ll often spot Mayan priests burning incense and candles here. 

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The most beautiful lake in the world

Lake Atitlan 

From Chichicastenango, head to Panajachel, the biggest town on Lake Atitlan.

This lake, the deepest in Central America, was once described by Aldous Huxley as “the most beautiful lake in the world” and it’s easy to see why. Surrounded by steep, green hills, cone-topped volcanoes and characterful Mayan villages, the deep blue lake is simply stunning.

A steady stream of lanchas, wooden fishing boats and public boats criss-cross the cobalt blue waters of the lake daily, ferrying passengers between the dozens of small villages and little towns that line its shores.

Each village has a distinct personality and it’s fun to hop from one to the other visiting weaving cooperatives, art galleries, taking part in cooking classes and simply wandering the streets. Boat is really the best way to explore Lake Atitlan and we took an excellent day tour of the lake with a great guide

The most popular lake villages to visit are: 

  • Panajachel: This is the main lakeside town and the one that is easiest to reach by road. If arriving from Antigua or Chichicastenango, you’ll land in Panajachel Guatemala. 
  • San Pedro La Laguna: San Pedro might be popular with backpackers and long-term travellers but it retains a very Mayan feel. We did an excellent cooking class here.
  • Santa Cruz: Most of Lake Atitlán’s villages are built so that they climb up the hills and Santa Cruz is the steepest; you can hail a tuk tuk to get up and down the narrow roads.
  • San Marcos La Laguna: Thought to possess spiritual energy, San Marcos is a haven of meditation and massage studios, retreat centres, holistic therapies and other new age activities. 
  • Santiago: This is the biggest town on the lake with a population of some 60,000 people. 
  • San Juan la Laguna: A really pretty little town that is famous for its weaving cooperatives.

We stayed at Hotel Atitlan in Panajachel, which is one of the best places to stay if you’re travelling with kids. It’s easy to reach, has amazing lake views and a great swimming pool overlooking the lake. I would recommend eating outside the hotel, however, and there are plenty of places to choose from in Panajachel. 

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The lesser visited town of Xela


One option from Lake Atitlan is to travel to Xela, a mountain town set at an altitude of almost 2,500 metres. It’s less popular with tourists but only because they haven’t quite discovered it yet! If you have time during your 10 day Guatemala itinerary then it’s worth stopping here if you can. 

The official name of Guatemala’s second largest city is Quetzaltenango but locals call it Xela in reference to its’ ancient Mayan name of Xelajú. It’s a vibrant town that has largely resisted outsider influence, maintaining its own customs and traditions.

The drive up to the Guatemala highlands involves a lot of climbing and breathtaking views over Lake Atitlan as you drive out of Panajachel. Once you’re away from the lake the drive takes in some of the country’s prettiest scenery with views over emerald green mountains and volcanoes.

This post has lots more suggestions on things to do in Xela.

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
The natural pools at Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey

If you really want to get off the beaten track – and you have two weeks in Guatemala or more – then plan to visit Semuc Champey, a nature reserve and beautiful limestone phenomenon that sits deep within the forested mountains of Alta Verapaz

The name translates as “where the river hides under the stones” in K’iche Mayan reflects the six stepped natural pools that were formed by collapsing rocks from the surrounding hills. The Cahabón River runs below this natural limestone formation and the turquoise pools have become a popular swimming spot. The areas is also peppered with caves, waterfalls and beautiful views (take the easy hike to El Mirador trail for the best views).

Located near the small Mayan village of Lanquin, it’s a three hour drive from the nearest major town of Coban (a good idea is to visit on a guided tour from here). It’s not easy to get to – which means the visitor numbers are far fewer than they could be – but it’s well worth a visit if you have time. 

There is no entry fee to enter Semuc Champey although tips are encouraged by the local community who look after the site. 

10-day Guatemala Itinerary
Magnificent Tikal

Tikal Ruins

If you only have time to visit one destination in Guatemala make sure it’s Tikal. Hidden deep in dense jungle to the north of the country, the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal are simply extraordinary. A visit to this mysterious site is one of the best things that you can do in Guatemala. 

Imposing pyramid structures pierce the jungle canopy where Howler monkeys scramble and Technicolor birds roost. The Tikal ruins cover a huge area, made all the more mysterious by the fact that only 20% of the 3,000-4,000 buildings hidden within the dense foliage have been uncovered.

Time your visit for early morning before the park gets busy or late in the afternoon and allow yourself plenty of time to explore. 

If you’re feeling truly adventurous you can try and tackle the trip from Guatemala City to Flores, the gateway to Tikal, by car or bus. This route takes in some of the country’s most impressive scenery as well as plenty of off-the-beaten-path attractions that few visitors see. Alternatively, you can fly from Guatemala City to Flores, which is what we did.

It is well worth planning a visit to Tikal with a guide. We recommend Viator, who offer a number of excellent guided tours.

We stayed at the amazing La Lancha Lodge, part of the Coppola family luxury hotels. It’s a beautiful location and well worth the splurge!

The best time to visit Guatemala

Guatemala Itinerary
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Guatemala enjoys largely good weather year-round. The dry season (and high season) is November to April. If you visit during these months expect hotel prices to be higher. The rainy season runs from April to September and can see daily afternoon showers. Prices, however, are lower. 

The shoulder months of October and November bring mild temperatures and clear days although you may still experience the odd shower or two.

National Holidays: Christmas, New Year and Easter are busy in Guatemala with hordes of people heading to Antigua in particular. Make sure to book accommodation well in advance if travelling during these periods.

Some photos courtesy of

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