A One-Week Itinerary to Guatemala

The view from the terrace at Casa Palopo, Guatemala
The view from the terrace at Casa Palopo, Guatemala | © Aurimas / Flickr
Jack Guy

So you want to visit Guatemala but you can’t spend longer than a week. What should you see and do on a short itinerary?

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua Guatemala

Don’t miss out on the capital

Assuming you’re starting in Guatemala City, take a day to explore the central districts of Zone 1 and Zone 4. The former is home to the presidential palace, historic bars including El Portalito, and great galleries such as the 9.99, while the latter is the beating heart of Guatemalan hipsterism. You can’t move for innovative restaurants such as Mercado 24, and boundary-pushing coffee shops including Paradigma and Rojo Cerezo.

Next up is the colonial city of Antigua, the former capital. Take two days here to look around the picturesque cobbled streets, enjoy a meal in the market, and have a night out at Café No Se, Cantina Royal or The Londoner. Everything in the town is within easy walking distance, so you can visit all three bars and more if the feeling takes you.

Lake Atitlan

Visit Guatemala’s mystical lake

From here head to the amazing Lake Atitlan, a mystical body of water ringed by volcanoes. Visit the villages around the edge, including San Marcos and San Pedro, and hike up the Indian’s Nose in San Juan to get a great view over the lake.

Time your trip for market day in Chichicastenango, a traditional town in the highlands an hour or so from Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. Here you can stock up on handicrafts for amazing souvenirs, or take photos of the incredible traditional dress of the indigenous locals.

On your last day, explore the second city of Quetzaltenango. It’s home to some interesting architecture and a large student population, so the bars and clubs can get raucous. Now that your week is over, continue north to Mexico or head back to Guatemala City for your flight.

Tikal, Guatemala

Alternative “routes” available

An alternative route for those traveling on to Belize and the Yucatan peninsula is to head east from Antigua to Rio Dulce, make a day trip to the Garifuna town at Livingston, and then head north to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal. Take a look around Flores before continuing your journey.

Those of you with some knowledge of Guatemala might be wondering why there is no mention of the incredible rock pools of Semuc Champey in this itinerary. Simply put, the journey takes too long for it to be viable on such a short trip. After all, you wouldn’t want to spend two days out of seven getting to the site and back, with one to explore.

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