Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary)

Tripoto
7th Dec 2014
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Antigua

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Chicken buses of Guatemala

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Cemetary of Chichicastenango

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Lake view from San Pedro

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

My barber in Xela who charges 1 USD for a haircut

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Christmas celebration procession

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Main dock at San Pedro

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Given the importance of Guatemala to the Mayan civilization it's easy to get lost in the lush jungles uncovering new sites. For a break from the off beaten track head over to the colonial city of Antigua, soak in the culture and get pampered at any one of the boutique luxury hotel spas there. Once you're ready for more adventure make the short trip to Lake Atitlan easily the most beautiful in Central America. In between there are lively markets to fill your suitcases before heading back home. Whatever you're preference in travel is, whether adventure, relaxation, or historical and cultural sightings Guatemala has it all. Don't be fooled by the negative media and small size of this gorgeous country. 

After venturing in Africa for a couple of months, Camille and I went to Central America first landing in Guatemala to continue our year long honeymoon. Travel dates 162-191 would be a variety of experiences as we explored this tiny yet diverse country. We decided to skip Mexico as it was a huge country to be discovered on it's own in a separate trip. From Guatemala City we immediately went to Xela (Quetzaltenago) to study Spanish for a couple of weeks before setting of to backpack down through Central and South America. 

Xela was a great based to learn Spanish. There are tons of activities in the surrounding area including hikes, hot springs, and markets. The city itself is small enough to get to know but large enough to not be bored. From there we were able to take weekend trips to the beautiful colonial city of Antigua and the colorful market of Chichicastenango

After picking up some Spanish we made our way to Lake Atitlan for 10 days to explore it's lakeside villages. After falling in love with the lake we had to drag ourselves away to visit the gorgeous natural bridgestone of Semuc Champey and explore the Mayan ruins in Tikal

We wish we had spent more time in Guatemala specifically the Lake but are sure we'll be back to take a yoga and meditation course in San Marcos. 

Logistics

Guatemalan Quetzal is the currency of Guatemala. The exchange rate is 1 USD = 7 Q 

Sleep (Accommodations)

  • Budget 5-10 USD for a hostel bed or 10-15 USD for a private room
  • Moderate 15-60USD There's great value in this range 
  • Luxury 70 USD and up will get you boutique hotels and five star hotels

Move (Transportation)

Photo of Top 6 Places to Visit in Guatemala (One Month Itinerary) 1/1 by Mark-Anthony Villaflor

Photo credit TransportGuatemala

Given the relatively small distances buses and shuttles are frequently used. 

  • Budget- Chicken buses (local mode of transportation) cost $0.75-1 per hour so a bus ride from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan would cost between $3-4 dollars. *Tip look at what the locals are paying or ask a neighboring sitting next to you how much it would be to your destination. 
  • Moderate- Tourist shuttles run every morning and can be arranged at your hotel reception or through any tourist office. These are often cramped as operators try to put in as many passengers as possible.
  • Luxury- Hiring a private taxi or shuttle can easily be done but expect to pay upwards of $50-100 for a 3-4 hour ride.Flying is an option from Guatemala City to Flores and costs about $150 per one-way ticket. Prices will vary based on availability and the time of booking. 

Eat (Food)

  • Budget- street food is found in most places in Guatemala and snacks range from $0.25-2. Local restaurants serve menu del dia (a set lunch) that includes rice, beans, a small salad and fish, pork, chicken, or beef. These meals cost $2-4. 
  • Moderate- Restaurants in a mall and fast food franchises cost $3-8.
  • Luxury- In Antigua and Guatemala City there are many restaurants with per persons cost starting at $10. An example of one restaurant we went to was El Artesano at Lake Atitlan. We paid about $50 for a cheese platter (containing approximately 30 cheeses), an antipasta (containing approximately 25-30 curried meats), and had a glass of wine each. Needless to say we we're quite happy with the portion and amount of food we got at this boutique restaurant. 

Play (Tourist activities)

  • Tikal entrance- $20-22 USD
  • Coffee tour in Antigua- $18-30
  • 3 day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan- $100-120
  • Rock-climbing- $40-50
  • Semuc Champey entrance- $8-10 
  • 25 hour Spanish course for one week with homestay and meals - $200
For those of you looking to backpack through Central and South America you're going to be needing to brush up on the Spanish skills you may or may not have. Guatemala is known for having the cheapest Spanish language schools with two main hubs, Xela (short for Quetzaltenango) and Antigua. Xela is the more authentic, much less touristy city between the two. Prices for Xela will range from 150-300 and typically include accommodation at a homestay, 2-3 meals a day, and 4-5 hours of one-to-one Spanish lessons with a trained local. Given its highland location it's the chilliest city in Guatemala. During our stay night time lows were around 2 °C while noontime highs would hit around 25-28 °C. So if you we're planning on only seeing the humid tropical Central America shown in most brochures you might want to rethink your packing. There are an abundance of volunteer opportunities, dance classes, and hikes around the area. Chicken buses (or tour van shuttles) can take you into Antigua or Lake Atitlan for a weekend visit.
Photo of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Antigua, once a colonial capital is rich in history, cultural and natural disasters. After a large earthquaked hit the capital the King of Spain moved the capital to Guatemala City. The town is surrounded by three active volcanoes. The last larger eruption came out of Volcano Fuego in September 2012. Most days you can see smoke coming out of this volcano. For those brave enough to go in for a closer look, tourist offices can arrange day hikes up the volcanoes. A walk through the city displays historical colonial monuments, vibrant markets and street vendors, a diverse mix of Catholic churches (both modern and from the Spanish colonial era), and a an array of restaurants catering to locals and foreigners. Of course with this boom in tourism here, prices are more expensive in Antigua than the rest of Guatemala. For those wanting to stay longer there are many options including volunteering, working at chocolate or coffee farms, dance classes, Spanish language centers, and cooking courses.
Photo of Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
If you're going to Guatemala or Central America a trip to a Mayan ruin is almost obligatory. In Guatemala there are tons of sites with the majority of ruins still buried and eaten by mother nature. However, for the most spectacular of sites Tikal is the most recommended. This can be done over one day but can be extended to longer trips especially if you are into archaeology. During a tour you're likely to see and hear howler monkeys, spot spider monkey and come across coatis (a raccoon like animal). The area is also great for birders as toucans can be seen. Of course the best time to see these animals is early morning before the sun, heat and humidity start. Tours start in the town of Flores and offer sunrise tours. Given the hostility of the jungles that the Mayan civilization put themselves in most sites are still covered up by the trees and the vegetation that grows in the area. Excavations are an on-going process but the maintenance for the main sites is already overwhelming. While experts have different opinions on the numbers it's said that 80-90% of the Mayan structures has yet to be uncovered. If you are adventurous enough to go deeper in the jungle guides can easily organize this for you.
Photo of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Lake Atitlan might just be the highlight of your trip whether your looking to party of relaxing lake side and do yoga and meditation everyday. With over 10 small lakeside villages it's easy to base yourself in one village or town and take a lancha (small boat) to the others. We choose to stay in San Pedro as it was where our chicken bus dropped us off. There were tons of hostels and guesthouses and the further out you went the cheaper the accommodation was. We ended up finding a place to stay for a week for $15 a night- private room with bathroom, good wifi, a shared kitchen, hammocks to lay in and the best part was it was lake side. For a splurge in food visit San Juan Wine and Cheese Restaurant. It has a solid 5 star rating on Tripadvisor and serves huge anti-pasta, curried meats, and cheese platters. We spent our anniversary here! Walk around the town of San Pedro and you'll see hippies and artisans lined up selling their hand made jewelries, clothes, and smoking paraphernalia. There are tons of cheap eats and if you have a particular craving you're likely to find it. This place is also a haven for great vegetarian options given the huge new age scene. At night there are tons of places to drink and party including some amazing open mics. Ask around and you'll find something going on each night of the week. For shopping there's a huge market in Panajachel but these will be items similar to Antigua. If you're looking for some peace and quiet considering staying in San Marcos. While it's a bit more expensive the hotels have incredible value. This side of the lake is the cleanest and there tons of docks you can jump off and go for a swim. San Marcos is also a haven for yoga and meditation. You can find certification courses with a duration of a couple of weeks to a few months. There are tai-chi, reiki, and other "spirtual" centers and courses that can be done at very affordable prices.
Photo of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Each week there's an explosion of colors, fabrics and carried and put together by the Mayan women that come from all over Guatemala to sell their goods in the tiny town of Chichicastenango. This little villages stays very quiet 5 days a week but on Sunday and Thursday locals and foreigners come to get lost in the Central America's largest market. We ended up spending 3 hours in town. There are a few must visit spots in the area including the town's main church (Iglesia de Santo Tomas), of course the market itself (which is in front of the church), and lastly the very colorful cemetery located 5 minutes from the market. If you're staying at Lake Atitlan, Antigua, or Xela it's an easy day trip and can be done via chicken bus or tour shuttles.
Photo of Chichicastenango Market, Chichicastenango, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Chichicastenango Market, Chichicastenango, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
To visit the natural limestone bridge of Semuc Champey one must take long bus from Antigua or Guatemala City to Lanquin. This spot is an outdoor paradise. We spent our time hiking, swimming, tubing down the river, jumping off swings into the river, caving and discovering the beauty of Semuc Champey's natural monument. One can easily spend weeks discovering more off-beaten tracks here but we found 3 days to be sufficient to get our outdoor fix.
Photo of Semuc Champey, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
Photo of Semuc Champey, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala by Mark-Anthony Villaflor
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