Guatemala / Itineraries

Classic Guatemala

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This classic Guatemala itinerary starts in the Highland region, taking in Antigua, Chichicastenango & Lake Atitlan amongst others before heading north via Quirigua, Livingston & Rio Dulce to the vast flatlands of Peten, home to the great Mayan cities of Tikal & Yaxha.

  • Day 1 — Airport to Antigua

    On arrival in Guatemala City you will be transferred directly from the airport to the nearby town of Antigua. As flights arrive in the evening, after a long journey most clients will want to relax, perhaps have a bite to eat and then get a good night’s sleep.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada
    • — Antigua
  • Day 2 — Antigua (Day trips out)

    Originally Guatemala’s capital, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Antigua is one of the most beautiful towns in all of the America’s and is a must on any holiday to Guatemala. Having been almost destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes, Antigua is home to a large number of hugely atmospheric ruins, the vast majority of which can be visited on foot.

    Appropriately therefore, your day begins with a relaxed, morning walking tour of Antigua, taking in the main, historic sites including the large central square.

    On completion of your walking tour you will head to the nearby village of San Antonio Agua Calientes, famous for its textiles and handicrafts, before continuing to the indigenous village of Santiago Zamora. Here you will learn about the MayaKaqchiquel culture and have the opportunity to interact with a group of women artisans called Ixoki’ aj Quiema’, who make beautiful and elaborate textile products, using techniques passed down from generation to generation.

    After a traditional lunch you will return to Antigua where the rest of the day is at leisure.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch
    • — Antigua
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    • — Antigua, Iglesia La Merced
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  • Day 3 — Antigua

    As one of the most beautiful towns in the Americas, today is free for you to relax and explore Antigua’s many cobbled streets, squares, churches and ruins at your leisure. Pretty much the entire town can be covered on foot and there are numerous shops, cafes, bars and restaurants to break up your exploration.

    If you’re feeling fit, and don’t mind quite a few steps, walking up to the iconic Cerro de la Cruz will reward you with magnificent views over Antigua.

    Alternative: If all that sounds too relaxing, alternative options include visiting a nearby coffee plantation or, if you’re feeling really fit, trekking up Mt Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s numerous volcanoes.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Antigua, Cerro de la Cruz
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    • — Antigua
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    • — Mt Pacaya, near Antigua
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  • Day 4 — Antigua to Quetzaltenango via Chichicastenango

    After an early breakfast, you leave Antigua behind and head to Chichicastenango.

    A sleepy, unremarkable town for most of the week, Chichicastenango (often referred to simply as Chichi) comes alive on market days, Thursday and Sunday, when local, indigenous K’iche Mayans flood in from surrounding villages to sell their wares.

    In addition to the town’s permanent shops, almost every spare inch of pavement is taken up by colourfully dressed outsiders selling everything under the sun.

    In addition to the market, Chichi’s other prominent draw is the church of Santo Tomas. Over 400 years old, the church is built on top of an old Mayan temple and the set of 18 original steps that lead up the church are still venerated by local Mayan priests

    After taking time to explore the market, lunch will be taken in town. This can be either at the Hotel Santo Tomas or with a local family.

    After lunch, you will continue to the small town of San Andrés Xecul, home to a beautiful church with a yellow façade and adorned with technicolored saints, angels, flowers, tigers and monkeys. After a brief visit it’s back on the road to Quetzaltenango.

    The second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango (abbreviated to Xela) is located in the country’s Highlands and has a fresh, almost Alpine climate for most of the year. Far more relaxed than Guatemala City, and less touristy than Antigua, Xela is a popular stopping off point on holidays focussing on Guatemala’s natural and traditional attractions.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Pension Bonifaz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Chichicastenango
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    • — Chichicastenango
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    • — San Andres Xecul
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  • Day 5 — Quetzaltenango (Day trips out)

    Today begins with a visit to two traditional villages. First off, you will visit Zunil, one of Guatemala’s prettiest and most colourful villages, located in a lush valley, surrounded by steep hills and a towering volcano; and then Almolonga, a traditional, indigenous market town which is famous throughout Guatemala for its huge vegetables.

    You will then continue to San Francisco El Alto Market, where indigenous people from the surrounding villages come to shop and exchange goods. Considered to be the largest market in the country, it is perhaps slightly less touristy than Chichicastenango.

    Returning to Quetzaltenango you will have the opportunity to visit a local textile cooperative and learn the traditional backstrap loom-weaving techniques used by indigenous people.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Pension Bonifaz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Outside Zunil
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    • — Vegetable market
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  • Day 6 — Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan

    Departing Quetzaltenango in the morning, it is an approximate 2-hour drive to Lake Atitlan.

    Throughout the ages, visitors to Lake Atitlan have been mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the lake, its surrounding countryside and the numerous indigenous Mayan villages dotted around its shores. Boat trips on the lake are the principal activity here but there are also opportunities for watersports and hiking.

    On arrival at your accommodation, the remainder of the day is free for you to relax and enjoy the views.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Atitlan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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  • Day 7 — Lake Atitlan

    After breakfast, you will be collected from your hotel for a private boat trip on Lake Atitlan enjoying the beautiful views, exploring local Mayan villages and just experiencing a slice of traditional life in Guatemala.

    Returning to your hotel, the rest of the afternoon is free for you to relax at your hotel or perhaps take in a spot of shopping in Panajachel.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Atitlan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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  • Day 8 — Lake Atitlan to Antigua via Iximche

    Today you will return to Antigua, stopping off en-route at Iximche.

    Iximche was the capital of Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 till 1524 when it was destroyed by the Spanish. Located on top of a high plateau with steep-sided ridges, the ruins of Iximche are still held to be sacred by local Mayan villagers and it is not uncommon to witness traditional ceremonies taking place. The entire site can normally be explored in little over an hour.

    Leaving Iximche, it is an hour or so’s drive to Antigua where you will be dropped off at your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure but we suggest an earlyish night because….

    Suggested Accommodation: Palacio De Dona Leonor Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Iximche
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    • — Iximche
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    • — Iximche
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  • Day 9 — Antigua to Livingston via Quirigua

    As your itinerary today requires that you pass through Guatemala City, we suggest a very early start to try and beat the worst off the rush-hour traffic.

    Having left the fumes and concrete of Guatemala City behind you, the road heads downhill as you drop from the highlands of Guatemala towards the coast.

    En-route to your final destination, you will stop at the small Mayan ruins of Quirigua, one of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guatemala.

    Set amidst a huge banana plantation, Quirigua takes around an hour or so to explore and is best known for its impressive and intricately carved stelae. The site was first inhabited around the 2nd century AD and, by the 8th century, during the reign of its most successful leader, Cauac Sky, had grown into an important state.

    The ruins that one sees today date mainly from this time and, in addition to the stelae, include sculpted calendars that provide historians with a valuable source of information about Mayan history.

    After exploring the ruins, and having lunch at the on-site restaurant, you will continue to the port of Puerto Barrios from where it is a thirty-minute boat ride to Livingston.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Villa Caribe Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Quirigua
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    • — Quirigua, stelae
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    • — Quirigua
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  • Day 10 — Livingston

    While the vast majority of Guatemala’s population can be described as indigenous Mayan, Spanish descent or mixed, Livingston is home to the Garifuna.

    The Garifuna, sometimes also referred to as Black Caribs, are the descendants of Carib Indians and black African slaves. In 1635, two Spanish slave ships were ship-wrecked near St Vincent in the Caribbean; the escaped slaves were welcomed by the island’s indigenous Carib Indian population and the resulting inter-marriage led to the creation of the Garifuna.

    Due to Livingston’s relative isolation – it is still only possible to access by boat – Garifuna culture there has been remarkably resilient if not quite as dominant as in years gone by.

    While there’s not a whole lot to see and do in Livingston (there are beaches nearby if you fancy a break from the travelling) it’s a charming, intriguing place to spend a day. It’s also the start point for the magnificent boat journey down the Rio Dulce.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Villa Caribe Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Livingston
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    • — Livingston
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    • — Livingston
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  • Day 11 — Livingston to Flores via Rio Dulce

    Leaving Livingston and heading inland, the two-hour plus boat journey from Livingston along the Rio Dulce is definitely the most memorable trip you will take in Guatemala and, for some, the highlight of their holiday.

    The first part of the journey is through a beautiful, steep sided gorge which is covered in dense, lush vegetation. After 30 minutes or so the sides of the river flatten out and you will begin to see the first evidence of human habitation.

    A short diversion up a side tributary eventually leads to a Mayan settlement where there is the opportunity to get out, stretch your legs with a scenic walk through the jungle and check out the handicrafts the villagers make.

    Returning to the main river, you then enter Lake Golfete, home to a series of natural hot-springs alongside the bank. Make sure you bring your swimming stuff as the water is clean and paddling about in the cool lake with sudden blasts of hot water is a fun experience; a small restaurant is on hand if you feel thirsty or peckish.

    As the boat continues inland, usually via the aptly named Bird Island, look out for possible sightings of crocodiles; and keep your hands in the boat!

    As the journey comes to an end, your final option is a visit to an old Spanish castle, Castillo de San Felipe, which guards access to Guatemala’s largest lake, Lago de Izabal.

    From here, you will be picked up and continue your journey by road to Flores.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Rio Dulce
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    • — Rio Dulce
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  • Day 12 — Flores (Day trip to Tikal)

    After an early breakfast, you will depart for Tikal, aiming to be there before 9am.

    Together with Lake Atitlan and the colonial town of Antigua, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal is undoubtedly one of Guatemala’s ‘Big Three’ tourist draws as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Located in an almost entirely flat and jungle covered region, Tikal was inhabited from as far as back as the 6th century BC although it only really came to prominence from around 200 to 900 AD, an era known in Mayan history as the Classic Period. At its height, Tikal is thought to have had a population not far short of 100,000 – a staggering thought when you consider how remote it feels today.

    Although the largest and most powerful of the Mayan lowland cities, Tikal was by no means alone. It was frequently at war with neighbouring Mayan cities such as Yaxha & Calakmul (the latter located across the border in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula). Quite why the city went into such speedy and total decline is still a source of mystery and disagreement.

    It takes a good 3 to 4 hours to explore Tikal although, if one wanted, you could spend a day or two there without any problem.

    After lunch at one of Tikal’s onsite restaurants, you will return to Flores. En-route, there will be a stop-over at Las Lagunas hotel where you will take a boat trip to Monkey Island.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tikal
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    • — Tikal
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    • — Tikal
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  • Day 13 — Flores (Day trip to Yaxha)

    Another day, another great Mayan city to visit. After another early breakfast you will be collected from your hotel and transferred by road to Yaxha.

    Yaxha (pronounced Yasha) was the third largest Mayan city in the Peten region and, with its origins dating as far back as 1000 BC, was at its height during the Early Classic Period, circa 250 – 600 AD. At its peak it would have covered some 92 square miles and had a population of over 40,000.

    The name Yaxha comes from the Mayan for ‘Green-Water’, explainable by the fact that the city was built on a ridge overlooking a large lake. Very few Mayan sites are located near a lake and this is one of Yaxha’s most appealing attributes.

    For many visitors, the relative lack of restoration (compared to Tikal for example) is half the appeal of a visit to Yaxha. Numerous buildings have been cleared and restored but most of the city remains buried under dense jungle.

    This same jungle, untouched by large scale tour groups, also means that wildlife is more prevalent at Yaxha, including large groups of howler monkeys. Sat on the top of a pyramid, looking out over a sea of green and listening to their cacophonous howls, is one of the great experiences of a holiday to Guatemala.

    You will then return to Flores where the remainder of your day is at leisure.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Yaxha
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    • — Yaxha
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    • — Yaxha
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  • Day 14 — Flores to Guatemala City

    Your last full day in Guatemala is one for you to kick back and relax in beautiful Flores.

    For those who like messing about on the water, there are numerous water taxis that can be booked for an informal but highly enjoyable pootle around Lake Peten.

    In the late afternoon you will be transferred back to Flores airport for the return flight to Guatemala City. On arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel for a final night.

    (Alternatively, Antigua is close enough to spend your final night there).

    Suggested Accommodation: La Inmaculda Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Flores
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    • — Flores
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    • — Lake Peten
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  • Day 15 — Guatemala City & Home

    Depending on flight times, today is for you to relax at your hotel or, if there is time, explore something of Guatemala City before your transfer to the airport and your flight back home.

    Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Guatemala City
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    • — Guatemala City, Casa Mima
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    • — Guatemala City
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Please Note

This itinerary is no more than a sample idea which can be tailor made to your exact requirements.

The 'From price' is for travel in September and is based on two adults sharing the same room throughout. Supplements apply for sole occupancy / transport.

The quoted price does not include international flights.

Suggested Accommodation

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