Guatemala is one of the least explored Central American countries with so much to offer to budget travelers. We had 2 weeks in Guatemala to explore the beautiful rainforests, ancient cities, Volcanos, and vibrant, colorful culture. In two weeks, you too will be able to explore many beautiful places in Guatemala, while leaving some for the next visit too! Let’s have a look at how we planned our 2-week Guatemala itinerary.
- 2 Weeks in Guatemala
- Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary
- Antigua Old City – 2 Days
- Lake Atitlan – 3 Days
- Chichicastenango Market – ½ Day
- Quetzaltenango – 2 Days
- Tajumulco Volcano – 1 Day
- Going Back to Antigua to Get to Semuc Champey – 1 Day
- Semuc Champey – 2 Days
- Flores and Tikal – 3 Days
- Guatemala City – ½ Day
- Getting Around Guatemala
- How Expensive is Guatemala?
- Food in Guatemala
- Transport Prices in Guatemala
- Costs of Activities in Guatemala
- Safety in Guatemala
- If You Have More Than 2 Weeks in Guatemala
2 Weeks in Guatemala
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary
We created a 2 week Guatemala backpacking itinerary which included the most well-known landmarks in Guatemala. With our itinerary’s help step by step visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango market, Quetzaltenango, Tajumulco Vulcano, Semuc Champey, Tikal, and Flores. As chaotic as the Guatemala map below seems right now, read through the post and it will make a complete sense to you!
Antigua Old City – 2 Days
Directly from the Guatemala City Airport, we headed to Antigua, which is an hour away. Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and is the main tourist destination within the country. Antigua offers beautiful architecture, rumbling volcanos and lively markets. One can spend several days here, soaking up the atmosphere and visiting all the beautiful places around Antigua. Santa Catalina Arch is not to be missed, as well as the Hill of the Cross, which provides a breathtaking panoramic view of Antigua. We did not do any of the volcano hikes offered (Acatenango, de Agua, or Pacaya) because we had our eyes set on the highest one – Tajumulco. However, if you have a bit more than 2 weeks in Guatemala, do one of the shorter treks in Antigua, the sunrise views are unbelievable. Treks can easily be arranged at any of the tour offices around the city, just remember to haggle about the price!
Lake Atitlan – 3 Days
Possibly the most magical place we have ever been to in our lives is Lake Atitlan. Indeed, as many you will meet on your way will tell you, “I came here for a couple of days and ended up spending years.” We spent our days around the lake in Panajachel, San Pedro, and San Marcos villages. Panajachel is the biggest village where all the buses arrive from all around Guatemala. From Panajachel you can take a boat to any of the smaller villages, depending on your interests. Those many little villages around Atitlan lake are charming. San Pedro is more of a backpackers’ destination with many bars, activities, and hostels. Meanwhile, San Marcos has yoga, meditation and healing sessions as its main point of interest. It’s easy to do a village hopping and get a taste of each of them in a couple of days. Choose your base village depending on your interests and visit each of the other villages throughout your days at Lake Atitlan.
Chichicastenango Market – ½ Day
The biggest market of its kind in Central America. Chichi is a bustling local market with very few tourists. It is open only on Thursdays and Sundays so plan your visit to make it on one of these days. You can buy literally everything here, starting with live animals and finishing with pottery. The market is huge and is a great attraction for half a day. It is a true cultural experience worth the long trip. Also, if you are planning on souvenir shopping or want to bring home some Guatemalan crafts or fabrics, this is the best place to go. Remember – always bargain!
Quetzaltenango – 2 Days
We arrived in Quetzaltenango (short: Xela) after visiting the Chichi market, late in the evening. Xela is the second largest city in Guatemala, surrounded by volcanoes, hot springs, and mountains. Our plan was to visit the Central Plaza and head out to Tajumulco the next day. We planned to arrive at Tajumulco in the midday and prepare for our night hike. However, I (Linda) caught a terrible food poisoning, which takes the prize of being the worst food poisoning in my life so I could not move, eat or drink for the next 30 hours. We did not lose our spirits and still made our way to Tajumulco the next day, needless to say, I still hiked the volcano without eating for 2 days and still being quite unwell. This was a crazy adventure that deserves a separate blog post. Probably also not the smartest move, but we had only 2 weeks in Guatemala so we had to make the most of it.
Tajumulco Volcano – 1 Day
We arrived at Tajumulco base village from Xela via San Marcos. From San Marcos we took a “chicken bus” towards Tacana with getting dropped off at the base, it took roughly 3 hours and cost $2.40. Tajumulco is the highest point in Central America at 4220 m. We spent a night there, climbed up to the peak in 8 hours and climbed down in 4 hours. Without breaks, without having any food, as I just could not eat because of the food poisoning. The views are well worth the hike.
Tajumulco volcano hike is not a very popular tourist attraction. Thus, it might as well be that you will be the only one that day on the highest point in Central America. Let’s admit, it is quite cool to realize that. Our guesses to why Tajumulco hike is not that popular are that Guatemala is still an off the beaten path tourist destination. Also, because it’s not that easy to get to the base on your own (without any Spanish knowledge) and many people just do not know about the hike.
Going Back to Antigua to Get to Semuc Champey – 1 Day
On our way back from Tajumulco we had to stop in Antiqua to get to Semuc Champey. The direct way from Tajumulco would have taken 2 days with a night in Coban and cost the same as a direct bus from Antigua. That is why the map you saw at the beginning of the post has the top route crossed out and goes back to Antigua. We arrived late in the night from Tajumulco, spent the night and departed early the next morning.
Note: On this leg, we took the ONLY shuttle bus of our entire trip and it turned out to be even worse than public buses. It was two hours late with 12 people packed in a 10 seater and took 8 hours until we got to Semuc Champey. I got sick on the way and had a mini panic attack, who knows, maybe the 2-day chicken bus journey would have been better. Make sure to ask around before you book a shuttle and get a reputable one.
Semuc Champey – 2 Days
Semuc Champney is a must if you visit Guatemala. It is quite difficult to get there as Semuc Champey is in the middle of the lush mountainous jungle but this wonder of nature is worth every single bump on the road. The best hostel we highly recommend is Zephyr Lodge in Lanquin. Secluded wooden houses, hammocks, infinity pool, daily happy hours and games in the evening as well as food served directly at the hostel.
Semuc Champey is a true paradise in the middle of Guatemala’s rainforests. You can go trekking and swim in the pools. There are different routes you can choose from. Also, you do not need a guide. Getting to Semuc Champey is quite straight forward, just jump on one of the trucks going to Semuc Champey from the village main street. Try to share the truck with others, as it is cheaper.
Flores and Tikal – 3 Days
Flores is a very beautiful tiny island city on a lake. You can walk around the Flores island in 30 minutes. It is worth spending a whole day exploring the city and surroundings and another day visiting the main tourist attraction nearby Tikal which is a city of ancient Mayan ruins (An episode of Star Wars was filmed there, we are such nerds, I know). It totally looks like Star Wars in there. So if you are not into ancient civilizations, you have to be into movies!
What to Do Around Flores Guatemala
You can spend a day kayaking ($10) on the lake and visit Jorge’s Rope Swing which is only accessible by boat. Of course, we rented a kayak and went on our own, through the storm, across the lake. Classic us! Jorge’s Rope Swing is a great place, where for a small entrance fee ($1.40) you get to enjoy the rope swing and can indulge in some snacks or beers, which are sold by the family running the place.
When it comes where we would recommend staying in Flores – Hotel La Casa De La Cadon is a great place. It has an amazing German owner and a couple of sweet puppies. During the happy hour, you can get a unique blended mojito for $2 and they serve great food as well.
Guatemala City – ½ Day
We arrived in Guatemala City from Flores early in the morning and we had about 7 hours to kill. You will not find many amazing landmarks in Guatemala City. However, there are some nice cathedrals and museums to visit. We tried to avoid Guatemala City for the whole trip because of the city’s notorious reputation, however, we ended up walking around and sampling some nice street foods until we had to catch a taxi to the airport. Public transportation in Guatemala City is not recommended, as well as wandering away from the central areas.
Getting Around Guatemala
Traveling around with chicken buses (Spanish: camioneta) was our way to go. Those are the yellow old American school buses “slightly” pimped up. By now, you have probably heard so much controversy about this way of traveling, but it was one of the most unforgettable and authentic experiences of our lives. Chicken bus schedules are not set, the process is somewhat chaotic and most of the time the vehicles are stuffed with people, chickens and luggage close to bursting. It is fun!
Cheapest Way to Get Around Guatemala
However, chicken buses the cheapest way to get around Guatemala, because it is the local transport and buses go to every single destination around Guatemala. While a four-hour chicken bus ride cost us a maximum of $3 an organized shuttle would have set us back $14 – $20. The price really varies, but we can assure you, local transport will be at least ten times cheaper. Just watch the locals, ask around for your destination and go with the flow pretending you know what you are doing. As well, watch how much others pay so you pay the fair price avoiding “gringo tax”. It purely means that often foreigners will be overcharged for everything if they do not speak Spanish and cannot ask locals what the price for the goods or services is.
How Expensive is Guatemala?
Accommodation in Guatemala
We usually stay at basic private rooms wherever we go and tend to spend less than $15 per night for both of us. It is easily doable if you follow our guide on how to travel on a budget. Guatemala was no exception and we paid an average of $10 per night. You can expect somewhat higher prices in Antigua and lover places in the rest of Guatemala. Remember to haggle for everything, even a hotel room, if you are walking in. You do not have to book anything in advance. Thus, you do not have to stress about the exact itinerary planning. However, if you want to be sure you will have the room that you want, book your accommodation in advance!
Food in Guatemala
We usually eat street food and at cheap restaurants. Corn on cob from a street vendor was $0.60 and a beer $1.70. All kinds of tortillas and tacos were usually 0.70 $ for one. Meals at cheap restaurants were around 3$ and a drink 1$. Breakfast with coffee would cost around 3$ as well. You have to try their coffee, you are in a coffee making heaven after all.
Transport Prices in Guatemala
As already discussed above, chicken buses are very, very cheap while shuttle buses and private transfers are quite expensive. We got around only by chicken buses except for one 12-hour night bus ride from Flores to Guatemala City which was around $17. However, it still was a public bus, just a trusted direct night bus from Flores to Guatemala City. Private shuttles would be three times the price. Transportation costs really depend on how you want to travel and if you are up for an adventure, also, if you allocate some extra cash for a beer or not.
Costs of Activities in Guatemala
Entrance fee in Tikal ancient Mayan city was $20. Transportation there was another $7. You can always negotiate the prices. Entrance in Semuc Champey was $6. Our Tajumulco volcano hike was free of charge as we did everything ourselves, thus saving loads of money. Kayak rent in Flores was $10 a day, for example. Thus, this gives you an insight into how much tourist activities cost in Guatemala.
Safety in Guatemala
We bought our flights to Guatemala and did the research after. Not so thoughtful, yet adventurous! Quite obviously, we were surprised to learn that Guatemala City holds the title of homicide capital of the world. Guatemala City ranks right after El Salvador in San Salvador. We were not aware of that when we planned our 2 weeks in Guatemala. In the end, the fear turned out to be unfounded and you shall be alright too if you follow your common sense. As everywhere in the world, there are dangerous neighborhoods which should not be visited or passed through. The same applies to travel in the night, avoid that as well as per usual avoid being flashy with all your belongings.
Our Experiences of Safety in Guatemala
Due to our careless behavior, Kris’s sunglasses were stolen. We left the case on top of our backpack and our backpack on top of a pile of bags unattended. Stupid as that. We also got greeted by 2 motorcyclists on both sides of an empty street and a man walking in between them. That is a common scene in Guatemala right before you will get robbed. Fortunately, we had nothing with us and the gentlemen kindly asked what time it is in Spanish. When we replied that we do not know as we just left to buy some water and go back home. The gentlemen just greeted us and passed by.
We would highly recommend getting travel insurance if you are coming to Guatemala. The common travelers’ upset belly might attack you unexpectedly, so it is smart move to have GOOD travel insurance when traveling. Better safe than sorry. Also, buy insurance for your belongings, in case they get stolen, so you can travel worry free!
If You Have More Than 2 Weeks in Guatemala
We would suggest 3 weeks as the perfect time to spend traveling around Guatemala. There were some places we did not see but could have seen if we had more than 2 weeks in Guatemala. Here are some of them:
➳ Visit beaches by the Pacific Ocean in Guatelama, if you love surfing. These beaches go by names Monterrico and El Parredon. Those will not be typical beach resort places but rather places to enjoy a good surf. Also, you will escape the typical gringo trail.
➳ Other places we wish we could have visited are Livingston and Rio Dulce. Famous for their boat trips and the mangrove jungle. Only if we would have gone to that region.
➳ Apart from that, if we had 3 weeks in Guatemala we would have spent more time around Lake Atitlan. It is such a magical place. Also, we would have spent some more time in the Flores region as we did not manage to see all the beautiful places.
If you have not yet bought your flight tickets to Guatemala have a look at our guide on how to find cheap flight deals to Guatemala. Plan your 2 weeks in Guatemala with this budget travel guide in mind and we are sure you will have an amazing time! Remember to visit the highlights of Guatemala, such as Semuc Champey, Lake Atitlan, and Flores. The adventure of a lifetime awaits!