The Ultimate Guatemala Itinerary for a One- or Two-Week Trip [2021] Skip to Content
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The Ultimate One- or Two-Week Guatemala Itinerary

If there’s one thing you notice when you first arrive in Guatemala it’s how colour seems to bleed from every feature of life here.

In Antigua Guatemala, the 17th-century buildings are painted in vivid pastel shades, while in the villages surrounding nearby Lago de Atitlán, local people dress in vivid huipiles, with millennial-old symbols woven in bright threads.

Above, the sky is the bluest you’ve ever seen, while the lofty apexes of still-bubbling volcanoes rise out of the earth, surrounded by patchwork fields of crops.

A volcano rises out of the mist in Guatemala
Guatemala is home to magnificent volcanic landscapes.

Guatemala is the heartland of the ancient Maya people. A large proportion of Guatemalans are of Maya descent; with the culture survived the arrival of the Spanish and has since fostered a unique national identity that pervades every part of daily life.

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What’s more, a wealth of wildlife, dazzling volcanic landscapes dotted with ancient ruins and beautiful, crumbling cities grant it a charm that has long been overlooked by travellers who instead opt for Belize or Mexico.

But Guatemala’s beyond-the-beaten-path status is all part of the appeal and these one and two-week Guatemala itineraries are a great way of getting under the colourful skin of one of Central America’s most fascinating countries.

A woman weaves at a loom in Panajachel, an unmissable destination on a guatemala itinerary
Guatemala is home to a millennia-old weaving tradition, kept alive by the Maya people.

Guatemala travel itinerary: How to start planning your trip

Recommendations for how to use these itineraries and things to know when travelling in Guatemala:

  • Compared with many other Latin American countries, Guatemala is compact, spanning an area around the size of the state of Tennessee. However, poor infrastructure and even poorer quality transportation – including the now legendary “chicken buses” – mean that getting around Guatemala can be quite a trial. While chicken buses are a truly local experience (expect live chickens and blaring pop music for the duration of the ride), a more comfortable option are the more expensive Pullman public buses or the private shuttle services, the latter of which are aimed at tourists. These are by far the more expensive option but are considerably safer. Atitrans Panajachel operate shuttles to most destinations in this itinerary and can be booked in advance (note that their destinations list for their shuttles only makes sense in Spanish – the English version translates Antigua into old, among other entertaining errors).
The front of a chicken bus in Guatemala
Chicken buses are slow – if very local – means of getting around Guatemala.
  • Guatemala has a long and turbulent history and crime is still an issue in the country. For travelers, staying safe means taking sensible precautions to protect yourself. Guatemala City can be dangerous and it’s for this reason that tourists generally opt to stay in nearby Antigua. Armed robberies and muggings are common in Guatemala City, but can be avoided by taking Uber or radio taxis at night and by not flashing expensive jewellery, camera equipment or phones. ATMs can be tampered with, so always aim to use an ATM attached to a bank and don’t withdraw cash if anything seems wrong.
  • Guatemala is a very cheap destination to visit. Hostels and guesthouses cost from $30 USD for a double and even high-end hotels are a steal at upwards of $100 USD per night. Restaurants in Antigua are pricey compared with the rest of the country, but you can find comedores, cheap eateries frequented by locals and serving up tasty soups and corn tortillas accompanying everything from mashed beans to fried meat and guacamole from only a few dollars per meal.
Black maize tortillas in Guatemala
You can’t visit Guatemala without trying some delicious, freshly-made corn tortillas.
  • With a year-round spring climate found across most of the country, the best time to go to Guatemala is difficult to pin down. Much of the country is at altitude, with cities such as Antigua at 1,533 metres (5,029 feet) above sea level, making day time temperatures hover around the mid-20s (high 70s) most of the year. However, the rainy season, which runs from May through October, does impact travel, with heavy downpours are common in the late afternoon, however the rest of the day is generally cooler and more pleasant than during the dry season. Tropical storms in September and October are more serious, often bringing heavy rains and poor conditions for travel and it’s recommended to avoid this period if you’re looking to visit Tikal and the Petén region, where mud and humidity levels can be unpleasant.
  • Tap water isn’t safe to drink in Guatemala. Whenever I travel, I avoid spending lots of money on buying water (and polluting the environment with single-use plastic) by bringing my own portable water filter. I’ve personally found the Grayl Geopress and Steripen Adventurer to both quickly and reliably purify water, eliminating all viruses and bacteria to make any water safe to drink (and you can read how I came to this conclusion in this article comparing six of the most popular travel water purifiers.
  • It is possible to travel to Guatemala alone, however if you’re nervous about doing so, or are finding planning a trip to Guatemala difficult, there are other options. Purposeful Nomad, one of Worldly Adventurer’s recommended travel partners, runs a responsible, women-only, seven-day Guatemala tour with a focus on weaving and other craftsmanship. They visit Antigua, Lago de Atitlán and Tikal as part of their itinerary and offer a 10% discount to Worldly Adventurer readers through the code worldly. Find out more here.
  • I’ve only personally spent a few weeks in Guatemala, however his entire Guatemala travel guide has been checked by my friend who works for the UN in Guatemala. She has lived in Guatemala for the past 2.5 years – so you can rest assured that it’s up-to-date and informed by expert local knowledge.

One-week Guatemala travel itinerary: Antigua – Lago de Atitlán – Tikal

With a one-week vacation in Guatemala, there’s time to appreciate the country’s prettiest colonial city, Antigua, head out to colourful communities around the volcano-fringed waters of Lago de Atitlán and stand in awe before the country’s flagship Maya ruins of Tikál in the Petén region.*

*You can visit many of these destinations on a Purposeful Nomad eight- or 11-day women’s only Guatemala tour. Find out more here (and get 10% discount with the code “worldly”).

Day one: Antigua

Fly into Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora and organise in advance a shuttle to take you directly to Antigua (around $10 USD, 50 mins to 1.5 hours).

It won’t take long for you to understand why this splendid city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and serving as the capital of what was effectively all of Central America for two centuries, Antigua is a remarkable example of colonial architecture at its finest.

The delicate facade of the Iglesia de la Merced in Antigua Guatemala, a must-see place on a Guatemala itinerary
You can’t miss the canary yellow facade of the Iglesia de la Merced.

Even those without religious leanings can’t fail to be dazzled by the city’s richness of churches and pastel-hued grand homes and the best way to appreciate its fine architecture is by spending your first day in Guatemala exploring the city’s cobbled streets.

Start in the main square, the Parque Central, at the spectacular Cathedral, which was only partly rebuilt after a devastating 18th-century earthquake attempted to raze it to the grounds. Head to the ruins at the back to see how splendid this building once was.

On the northern end of Avenida Cinco Norte, don’t miss the Iglesia de la Merced, with its striking canary yellow façade. This road is also home to the iconic 17th-century Arco de Santa Catalina, a yellow archway that, when faced from the north, seems to sit beneath the towering peak of Volcán de Agua in the distance.

Arco de Santa Catalina is a landmark in Antigua, Guatemala's most stunning city
The Arco de Santa Catalina provides the perfect foreground for Volcán de Agua.

Souvenir shops line this road, although you’ll want to save your money to buy directly from the artisans themselves to ensure the quality of your purchases and that they receive a fair wage for their work.

Finally, while away the afternoon in Santo Domingo, a former monastery turned luxury hotel and spa that is home to seven museums and a wealth of ruins, crypts and cultural exhibitions.

Where to stay in Antigua: In a spectacular setting, El Convento Boutique Hotel ($255 USD double) has just 26 rooms, all of which are decorated in a charming, historic style and many of which play host to their own private jacuzzi or terrace. A small pool and vine-slung courtyards make for perfect spots for relaxing, while its location, a few blocks north of the Parque Central, ensures an oasis of calm at the very centre of the city.

Where to stay in Antigua on a budget: Modern décor is combined with plenty of outdoor patio and garden space for guests at the top-notch Adra Hostel ($100 USD double, $20 USD dorm), situated just a few blocks east of Parque Central. Rooms are spacious and there’s a fantastic bar and restaurant if you don’t want to leave your lodgings in the evening, while a rooftop terrace with outstanding views across the city is the cherry on the top of this excellent hostel.

Day two: Santo Domingo Xenacoj

Much of Guatemala’s unique heritage lies in its Maya people, who form the largest indigenous group in the country, accounting for around 40% of the population of Guatemala.

However, indigenous groups in Guatemala are disproportionately poor compared with the rest of the population and one means of addresses this inequality is through community-level tourism, which focuses on one of the many strengths of the Maya people: their textiles.

A young girl leans over a weaving in Santo Domingo Xenacoj, a town you can visit on a Guatemala itinerary
Learn about the Maya’s history of spectacular and intricate weaving at the Consejo de Tejedoras de Santo Domingo Xenacoj.

Beautifully woven, these include traditional huipiles (loose-fitting tunics) as well as religious garments, all of which reflect thousands of years of craftsmanship and even the beliefs and traditions of the Maya themselves.

Spend a day with the Consejo de Tejedoras de Santo Domingo Xenacoj (The Weaving Council of Santo Domingo Xenacoj) in Santa Domingo Xenacoj, which lies 30 kilometres north of Antigua. At their workshop, you can learn about how the patterns of the textiles reflect millennia-old religious symbols as you try your hand at weaving – with the help of the female artisans of course.

Take a day trip from Antigua with local operator Guate4You. A tour of the weaving community and other local groups in Santo Domingo Xenacoj, plus a local lunch costs from $125 USD per person (minimum of three) or $75 USD per person for a group of six or above.

Days three and four: Lago de Atitlán

Flanked by a picturesque collection of volcanoes, as well as traditional Maya villages, Lago de Atitlán is surely one of the most spectacular lakes in Central America and, as such, a must on any Guatemala itinerary.

Wherever you go on the lake, keep an eye out for local people dressed in traditional outfits, with the symbols and patterns of which denoting exactly which villages they hail from.

Lago de Atitland with volcanoes in the background
The beautiful Lago de Atitlán is a must-visit destination on any Guatemala itinerary.

While backpackers often head across the lake to the party hangout of San Pedro La Laguna, a more authentic Guatemalan experience is can be found in San Juan La Laguna, a small village known for its striking textiles and unique artistic style of painting.

There’s plenty to do in this small town. Spend a day visiting local weaving cooperatives and buying beautiful textiles as souvenirs, learning about traditional Maya medicine, or visiting one of the town’s clutch of art galleries.

Alternatively, organise a guide to hike up Rupalaj K’istalin, the mountain above the village, for glorious lake views. Be sure to catch the sunrise across the lake from the Sendero Nariz del Indio, an unguided hike which also leaves from the village.

A Guatemalan family in San Juan La Laguna
Stay with a local family in a homestay in San Juan La Laguna and learn all about life on Lago de Atitlán.

For tours within San Juan La Laguna, contact the Asociación de Guías de Ecoturismo Rupalaj K’istalin (+502 4772 2527/ +502 5930 4773, [email protected], or visit their office) in advance of your visit. 

You can also use San Juan La Laguna as a base from which to explore different towns. San Marcos La Laguna is the lake’s official hippie hangout, home to a beautiful nature, Cerro Tzankujil, as well as yoga studios and vegan cafés galore.

To get to San Juan La Laguna, boats for all villages depart from regional hub Panajachel, a two-hour, 45-minute bus journey from Antigua (again, I recommend Atitrans Panajachel (2.5 hours, from around $15 USD) for the shuttle). The pier at the end of Calle del Embarcadero has boats to San Pedro La Laguna from where you can connect with vessels to San Juan La Laguna.

In Panajachel

If you’ve got a few hours to spare when you get to Panajachel, make sure you jump on a local bus (from Calle El Amate, the main road heading south out of town) for Santa Catarina Palopó.

Murals in Santa Catarina Palopo, a village on Lago de Atitlan
Don’t miss the street art in Santa Catarina Palopó, which is designed using traditional Maya patterns more commonly seen on textiles.

This shoreside settlement home to the project Pintando Santa Catarina, where bold patterns and colours taken from the designs of local textiles have been painted onto houses. The project’s aim is to preserve Maya culture, using art as a tool to bring sustainable tourism to a place where 80% of the inhabitants live in poverty.

You can take a tour of the artwork (which is highly recommended if you want to better understand better the designs) from the project’s headquarters (in the Plaza Central) at a cost of $95 Q ($12 USD).

Where to stay in San Juan La Laguna: Stay overnight in a homestay with a local family, where you’ll dine on a traditional meal cooked by your hosts, and have the opportunity to chat with them and learn more about their lives. Facilities are basic, but your contribution is vital to these families, many of whom use the money to send their children to school.

For more information or to book a homestay, contact the Asociación de Guías de Ecoturismo Rupalaj K’istalin (+502 4772 2527/ +502 5930 4773, [email protected]).

Days five and six: Flores and Tikal

For Lago de Atitlán, return to Antigua and then take a shuttle to the airport in Guatemala City.

Catch a flight to Mundo Maya International Airport (1 hour, $100 USD one-way) with Avianca or TAG – although be sure to turn up on time to the airport, as flights can often be overbooked, while departures can also often be delayed.

Perched on an island in the middle of Lago Petén Itzá and connected to the mainland by a 500-metre causeway, Flores is a tiny, picture-perfect village of cobbled streets flanked by grand old colonial buildings painted in primary shades.

An aerial shot of the island of Flores in the Peten department of Guatemala
Flores in the Petén department of Guatemala is a charming little town that sits on an island in Lago Petén Itzá. Adobe Stock/ ©Ingo Bartussek – stock.adobe.com

There’s not an awful lot to do here – although taking a dip in the water or hiring a kayak from your hotel and heading out onto the lake is a great way to pass a few hours – but it’s the perfect spot for exploring the nearby archaeological site of Tikal.

The region of Petén was at the centre of the Maya culture, which blossomed here from 1,000 BC until around 150 AD, when the culture moved to Yucatán in modern-day Mexico. One of their legacies was Tikal, Guatemala’s most iconic Maya archaeological site, which lies just an hour away from Flores.

Tikal is believed to have been one of the most important Maya city states. 1,600 hectares of barely cut back jungle within Parque Nacional Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is still packed full of temples, ceremonial platforms, squares and roads, some of which date as far back as 500 BC and measure over 60 metres high.

Excavations have sought to understand more about Tikal and, after you’ve wandered around the ruins themselves, you can discover what archaeologists have learned by visiting the two on-site museums which contain many of the treasures unearthed at Tikal.

A temple at Tikal, Guatemala's most famous Maya archaeological site and a must-visit destination on a Guatemala itinerary
Tikal is Guatemala’s most impressive Maya archaeological site – and one you must visit on your Guatemala vacation.

The ruins are best explored with a guide, and it’s a good to arrive here for sunrise (for an additional Q 100 ($13 USD)) to avoid the heat of the afternoon. To get here, take a tourist shuttle from your hotel for around 100 GTQ ($13 USD, includes cost of guide), and pay the entrance fee to the site of  Q 150 ($20 USD).

Useful information about the park is available here, while if you choose to go without a guide, you can download the free Tikal audio guide before you arrive. You can also stay overnight at a hotel right inside the national park, allowing you to see sunrise at the temples without having to wake up too early.

If you want to go with a guide, Gem Trips and local archaeologist Roxy Ortiz are a good bet.

Where to stay in Flores: A short drive from the airport and with a dazzling location on Laguna Exequil, just a few kilometres east of Flores, Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel ($300 USD double) is a true paradise. Bungalows built on stilts overlook the lake and each has enjoy a balcony, from which you can enjoy a sundowner. Try out their kayaks for a gentle paddle on the water, join their guides for an early-morning monkey tour or take a dip in their freshwater pool ; whatever you choose,there’s plenty of love here. They can arrange tours of Tikal, as well as airport transfers.

Where to stay in Flores on a budget: Rooms are dated at Zapote Tree Inn ($40 USD), but that doesn’t matter when you’ve got a view of Lago de Peten Itzá and Flores quite like this. The swimming pool and terrace have the vest views in the house, while close proximity to hiking trails and a nearby beach give this guesthouse an excellent location. It’s situated a short boat ride from Flores, but the owners can help you organise tours of Tikal, transport and practically anything you need.

Alternatively, you can stay within Parque Nacional Tikal, a short walk from the entrance to Tikal.

Where to stay near Tikal: Right inside the national park, Jungle Lodge ($100 USD double) is a remarkably up-scale hotel right in the middle of the jungle. Individual cabins are hidden away into the undergrowth, with beds made up with crisp white sheets and silky mosquito nets. A series of patios and a swimming pool allow you to while away the afternoon absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle, while a bar and restaurant provide decent dining options. They organise direct shuttles to the airport to connect with flights and lead sunrise and day tours of Tikal.

Where to stay near Tikal on a budget: The more affordable Jaguar Inn ($70 USD double, $30 USD two-person tent) is also situated right in the heart of Parque Nacional Tikal. Private bungalows are clean and comfortable and surrounded by the forest, while you can also book a campsite or a campsite and tent if you’re on more of a budget – although the humidity can make camping a fairly uncomfortable experience.

Day seven: Guatemala City and home

Catch a flight back to Guatemala City and head home.

Two week-Guatemala travel itinerary: Antigua – Lago de Atitlán – Chichicastenango – Tikal and Yahxá – Río Dulce

Visiting Guatemala for two weeks gives you more space to slow down and delve into the country and its unique culture. You can explore some of the country’s most picturesque natural spots, spend longer appreciating ancient Maya ruins deep in the jungle and even climb to the crater of an active volcano. *

*You can visit many of these destinations on a Purposeful Nomad eight or 11-day women’s only Guatemala tour. Find out more here (and get 10% discount with the code “worldly”).

A girl leans over textiles at a stall in Panajachel, a village on the shores of Lago de Atitlan, a must-visit destination on any Guatemala itinerary
Keep your eyes out for Guatemala’s peerless Maya textiles, which you can found being sold in each and every village around Lago de Atitlán.

Days one to three: Antigua

Follow the itinerary above but on your third day set up an adventure tour to hike up one of the nearby volcanoes.

Many of the volcanoes can be visited as part of a day trip from Antigua, although, as some are still active, it’s a good idea to check the governmental website INSIMUVEH for up-to-date information before you decide to climb any.

The crater of Volcan Pacaya rises out of the landscape of cooled lava
A volcano ascent is part and parcel of any itinerary and an unmissable thing to do in Guatemala.

An hour’s drive from Antigua lies Volcán Pacaya, an active complex volcano that last erupted in 2014 – but only showered nearby cities with ash.

There’s a moderate climb to reach the crater, where you can see molten lava glowing against blackened ash and even toast marshmallows. You’ll want hiking boots and to go with a licensed tour operator based out of Antigua (from $15 USD including transport to the volcano).

Worldly Adventurer stands with a marshmallow on Volcan Pacaya, a must-visit destination on a Guatemala itinerary
Toasting marshmallows above the cooled lava of Volcán Pacaya is the reward for climbing to the crater in the first place!

Another option is Volcán Acatenango, although only if you’re in good shape as it’s a challenging climb to the summit.

A seven-hour hike up to the 3,975-metre peak promises outstanding views across Antigua Guatemala in the distance, as well as many of the nearby volcanoes including the smoke-puffing Volcán Fuego. Again, you’ll want to organise a tour with a company in Antigua (from $90 USD pp). 

Where to stay in Antigua: In a spectacular setting, El Convento Boutique Hotel ($255 USD double) has just 26 rooms, all of which are decorated in a charming, historic style and many of which play host to their own private jacuzzi or terrace. A small pool and vine-slung courtyards make for perfect spots for relaxing, while its location, a few blocks north of the Parque Central, ensures an oasis of calm at the very centre of the city.

Where to stay in Antigua on a budget: Modern décor is combined with plenty of outdoor patio and garden space for guests at the top-notch Adra Hostel ($100 USD double, $20 USD dorm), situated just a few blocks east of Parque Central. Rooms are spacious and there’s a fantastic bar and restaurant if you don’t want to leave your lodgings in the evening, while a rooftop terrace with outstanding views across the city is just the cherry on the top of this excellent hostel.

Days four to seven: Lago de Atitlán and Chichicastenango

Follow the previous itinerary but on day seven, hop on either a tourist shuttle from Panajachel ($14 USD) or for a considerably cheaper option, catch a series of local buses ($11 Q) to Chichicastenango (known as Chichi by the locals), a pretty highland town home to mostly Maya people of the K’iche culture. 

The town’s main attraction is its local market, with Chichicastenango taking the riotous colour and chaos of the traditional Latin American market to the next level.

Every Thursday and Sunday the town comes alive, with stalls offering everything from high-quality huipiles and other beautiful traditional textiles to pottery, ceremonial wooden masks and every fruit and vegetable you could ever find in Guatemala.

Wooden masks on display at a Guatemalan market
Admire the incredible craftsmanship of the local people at the Chichicastenango market.

While you’re in town, be sure to pop into the church, Santo Tomás, which has been the site of a curious mix of Catholic and Maya religious beliefs for the past few centuries.

Inside (enter through the side door and don’t take photos – it’s strictly forbidden) you’ll find local people praying for their ancestors and making offerings of maize, flowers and bottles of alcohol.

Return to Antigua in the evening and stay overnight.

Days eight to ten: Petén – Tikal and Yaxha

Follow the previous itinerary but on day ten organise a tour to visit the Maya site of Yaxhá ($30 USD entrance), which lies just 30 kilometres away from Tikal.

Although it is smaller in size than its better-known brother, Yaxhá is home to around 500 structures including nine mighty temples that tower over the jungle landscapes of this remote part of Guatemala.

A temple at Yaxha rises out of the jungle at one of Guatemala's most impressive Maya sites
Yaxhá is smaller than Tikal but its ruined temples are still impressive. Adobe Stock/©David Bugg – stock.adobe.com

Visited by far fewer tourists than Tikal, Yaxhá is a place to get under the skin of the Maya, in a site that has still barely been excavated from the jungle. It’s thought that the first structures here were built around the same period as Tikal and it similarly found itself abandoned sometime around the 9th century AD.

Spend a couple of hours exploring the site and be sure to climb up Structure 216, a restored pyramid that has outstanding views of the surrounding landscapes and Laguna Yaxhá that lies nearby. Sunset is particularly spectacular.

While it’s possible to get here under your own steam, it’s far easier to take a tour from Flores. These start from $45 USD per person and local operators Mayan Adventure and Gem Trips run excellent English-language tours.

Where to stay in Flores: A short drive from the airport and with a dazzling location on Laguna Exequil, just a few kilometres east of Flores, Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel ($300 USD double) is a true paradise, with bungalows built on stilts overlooking the lake. Try out their kayaks for a gentle paddle on the water, join their guides for an early-morning monkey tour, enjoy a sundowner on your balcony or take a dip in their freshwater pool – there’s plenty of love here. They can arrange tours of Tikal, as well as airport transfers.

Where to stay in Flores on a budget: Rooms are dated at Zapote Tree Inn ($40 USD), but that doesn’t matter when you’ve got a view of Lago de Peten Itzá and Flores quite like this. A swimming pool and terrace have the vest views in the house, while proximity to hiking trails and access to a nearby beach give this guesthouse an excellent location. It’s situated a short boat ride from Flores, but the owners can help you organise tours of Tikal, transport and practically anything you need.

Alternatively, you can stay in Parque Nacional Tikal, a short walk from the entrance to Tikal.

Where to stay near Tikal: Right inside the national park, Jungle Lodge ($100 USD double) is a remarkably up-scale hotel right in the middle of the jungle. Individual cabins are hidden away into the undergrowth, with beds made up with crisp white sheets slung with mosquito nets. A series of patios and a swimming pool allow you to while away the afternoon absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle, while a bar and restaurant provide decent dining options. They organise direct shuttles to the airport to connect with flights and lead sunrise and day tours of Tikal.

Where to stay near Tikal on a budget: The more affordable Jaguar Inn ($70 USD double, $30 USD two-person tent) is also situated right in the heart of Parque Nacional Tikal. Private bungalows are clean and comfortable and surrounded by the jungle, while you can also book a campsite or a campsite and tent if you’re on more of a budget – although the humidity can make camping a fairly uncomfortable experience.

Days eleven to thirteen: Río Dulce and Livingston

From Flores, hop on a bus bound for Río Dulce Town (four hours), a non-descript community with access to the sparklingly beautiful Río Dulce gorge. A vast river that winds through a towering canyon, stunning tropical vegetation and a rich array of jungle wildlife await.  

Get picked up from Río Dulce by boat and head out to your jungle lodge tucked deep into the gorge. Spend at least one day relaxing in a hammock or paddling up the tributaries of the river with a kayak, keeping your eyes peeled for howler monkeys and toucans in the canopy above. 

During your time here, you can take a day trip out to Lago de Izabal, a vast lake that feeds into the Río Dulce and whose shores are lined by dense jungle. Notable places to visit include the remarkable Finca Paraíso, a hot spring waterfall where the scorching spray mixes with the icy water of a secondary river that feeds into the pool beneath the falls.

A boat on the shore of the Rio Dulce near Livinston in Guatemala
The Río Dulce is a wonderful place to kick back, relax and enjoy the lazy atmosphere. Adobe Stock/© Lucy Brown – stock.adobe.com.

Make sure you carve out a day to truly appreciate the canyon, with a day trip out to Livingston. Accessed only by boat, this shabby town bridges the gap between Guatemala and the Caribbean, lying as it does on the Caribbean Sea.

There’s not much to do in Livingston – and the beaches aren’t much to write home about – but it’s the journey there that’s unforgettable.

The most spectacular part of the gorge known is located in the final few kilometres of the 30-kilometre stretch of river to Livingston, with the walls reaching up to 100-metres high at points and, if you’re lucky, the chance to spot manatees in the water.

When you get to Livingston, make sure to try the local delicacy, tapado (a spicy fish stew).

Where to stay in Río Dulce: Situated on the shores of the Río Dulce between Río Dulce Town and Livingston, El Hotelito Perdido ($30 USD double) is a rustic but charming eco lodge, with cosy thatched cabins, each with hammocks on their private terraces. It’s a great place for a bout of relaxation; hire a kayak, arrange a tour by boat or just enjoy a refreshing drip in the river. Delicious dinners are served for guests in the evening around a large family table, making this the ideal place to get chatting to other travellers.

Where to stay in Río Dulce on a budget: Reached by boat up a tributary of the Río Dulce, Finca Tatin ($25 USD double, $10 USD dorm) is a true jungle paradise, with basic cabins, many of which overlook the river, making up the lodgings here. Private doubles and dorms provide a range of accommodations for different budgets, while you can organise a hiking trip or hire a kayak to keep you busy during the day.

Day fourteen: Guatemala City

Take the bus back to Guatemala City (6 hours) and then head home.

Alternative destinations to add into your Guatemala travel itinerary

If you’ve got a little more time for your Guatemala vacation or fancy switching out some of the cultural destinations for more nature-focussed activities, these following places will be right up your street.

El Paredón (two to three days)

If you want to chill out in a hammock, learn about local environmental projects or do some surfing, the scruffy beach village of El Paredón is a great option for a couple of days, and is located a two-hour shuttle from Antigua.

A beach at El Paredon, a surf community in Guatemala
The beach is beautiful – and deserted – at El Paredón.

Lying on Gutaemala’s Pacific Coast (where the water is far warmer than what you find further south), El Paredón is a relaxed little village known for its turtle population and surfing.   

The best place to see them is with a tour of the nearby mangroves and river – one of only seven sea turtle feeding grounds in the world.

The fantastic La Choza Chula, a social enterprise and tour operator who run a series of social and environmental projects in the community, run tours ($25 USD).  They can also arrange homestays ($13 USD) if you fancy staying with a local family.

Pelicans on a beach at El Paredon in Guatemala
There is plenty of bird life to see on a tour of the mangroves at El Paredón.

On the beach, you’ll find a turtle hatchery where, if you’re in luck and visiting between June and November, you might get to see baby turtles being released across the beach to the sea.

Where to stay in El Paredón: There aren’t many options in El Paredón, but for surfers, there’s no better choice than Surf House El Paredón ($85 USD double, $30 USD dorm), which supports the work of local social enterpriseLa Choza Chula. All of the bungalows have spectacular beach views, with more rustic dormitory-style bungalows and smarter double cabins with terraces and comfy seating offering a range of options depending on your budget. Breakfast and dinner are included in room rates and they have surf boards to rent and operate surf classes.

Semuc Champey (one to two days)

If you’re got a couple of extra days or instead of visiting Río Dulce, you can head out to Guatemala’s most photographed natural landform: Semuc Champey.

A series of six turquoise pools are stepped into the river bed on a natural limestone bridge over the Río Cahabón. It’s the ultimate place to spend a day wallowing in the refreshing water and admiring the picture-perfect location, which is set within an idyllic valley thick with jungle.

Semuc Champey, a series of tiered pools of water deep into the Guatemalan jungle and a must-visit destination on a Guatemala itinerary
Semuc Champey : Guatemala’s most idyllic natural landform? Adobe Stock/©underworld – stock.adobe.com.

Semuc Champey is difficult to include on a short itinerary because of the difficulty in getting to the destination.

You can either get here by an eight-hour shuttle from Flores or Antigua to the town of Lanquin, from where it’s easiest to take a tour (around $30 USD) or catch a local pick-up truck (just be aware that you’ll need to leave early to catch the final one back).

Where to stay near Semuc Champey: Down river from Semuc Champey, Utopia Eco Hotel ($35 USD double, $11 USD dorm) doesn’t quite live up to its name, but it tries its best, with its clutch of basic rooms boasting large open terraces with views across the jungle and the river beyond. Yoga classes, plenty of communal space and a great on-site restaurant serving up tasty local dishes almost makes up for the cold showers.


The article was written in partnership with Purposeful Nomad, who operate women’s-only tours of Guatemala that aim to have a positive social impact on the communities that they visit. Which this is a sponsored partnership, I never promote companies whose values don’t 100% mirror my own! Find out more here and get a 10% discount on their tours with the code “worldly”.

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