A land of bold colours, mysterious ruins, colonial cities and volcanoes –lots of volcanoes – the Central American country of Guatemala is one of my favourite countries.
You could spend weeks in Guatemala if not months exploring all that the country has to offer. Unfortunately, however, we just had 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 and can easily be done whether you choose to self-drive, join a group or navigate the infamous chicken buses. Tourist shuttles also run between the main towns. Choosing how you’re going to travel around Guatemala is important when planning your trip.
Updated for 2021. Disclosure: This post contains affiliate and commercial links. For more information see our disclosure policy.
There are a lot of things to see in Guatemala and it’s an excellent good destination 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. The distances between the most popular destinations are relatively short, meaning that it’s easy to travel in Guatemala with kids.
Guatemala 10 day itinerary
[author] [author_info]Guatemala itinerary 10 days
Day 1: Arrive Guatemala City, transfer to Antigua
Day 2 – 4: Antigua
Day 4: Antigua to Lake Atitlan, with a possible stop at Chichicastenango
Day 4 – 7: Lake Atitlan
Day 7: Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City to Flores
Day 7 – 10: Flores & Tikal National Park
Day 10: Return Guatemala City[/author_info] [/author]
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.
Days 2 – 4: Antigua
The drive from La Aurora airport to Antigua is by no means pretty but this lacklustre stretch of scenery pales into insignificance when you arrive in the beautiful colonial town of Antigua. Filled with brightly painted homes, cobblestone streets and graceful churches, monasteries and convents, the town is a joy to explore.
Surrounding Antigua are a handful of dormant and active volcanoes including the Volcán de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire” which last erupted in June 2018. Check what the travel situation is like before you visit.
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.
Antigua is also a great destination for kids of all ages. This post shares my favourite things to do in Antigua with kids.
Day 4: Chichicastenango
The drive from Antigua to Lake Atitlan is beautiful but if you have time it’s worth taking a detour to Chichicastenango.
Located in the Guatemalan highlands, this wonderfully-named small town is famous for its market, one of the largest and busiest in Central America.
Every Thursday and Sunday, Chichi transform from a sleepy hillside town into a riot of colour with locals selling everything you could possibly imagine, including a huge array of beautiful textiles and handicrafts.
Days 4/5 – 7: 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 cobalt blue lake is simply stunning.
A steady stream of lanchas and wooden fishing boats criss-cross the cobalt blue waters of the lake daily, ferrying passengers between the dozens of villages 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.
We stayed at Hotel Atitlan, which is a good option if you’re travelling with kids. It has amazing lake views and a great swimming pool. For more hotel recommendations on Lake Atitlan, take a look at these on TripAdvisor and these on Booking.com.
For more information on visiting Lake Atitlan with kids, including organising a private tour of the lake with an excellent family-friendly guide, take a look at this post.
This post details our cooking class, which was one of the best things we did during our 10 day itinerary of Guatemala.
One option from Lake Atitlan is to travel to Xela, a mountain town set at an altitude of almost 8000ft that is one of the off-the-beaten-track cities to visit in Guatemala.
The official name of Guatemala’s second biggest 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.
Days 7 – 10: The ruins of Tikal
If you’re feeling truly adventurous (and have a lot of time!) you can try and tackle the trip from Guatemala City to Flores, the gateway to Tikal, by car. 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.
The ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal are simply extraordinary. Imposing pyramid structures pierce the jungle canopy where Howler monkeys scramble and Technicolor birds roost. It’s an huge site, 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.
It is well worth planning a visit to Tikal with a guide. We recommend Get Your Guide, 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
- High Season: December to April are Guatemala’s busiest months; expect high hotel prices.
- Rainy Season: April to September can see daily afternoon showers. The good news is that prices drop and crowds are fewer during these months but it can be wet.
- Shoulder Season: 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.