A land of eternal spring with explosive volcanoes. Insanely blue lakes. Lush forests. Colorful villages. Ancient ruins. This, my friends, is Guatemala.
While a week is nowhere enough to take advantage of everything that this fascinating country has to offer, this Guatemala 7 day itinerary will allow you to see its highlights. Spending 1 week in Guatemala is just enough to help you fall in love.
Guatemala had never really been on my radar until fairly recently, until the photos of the stunning lakes, powerful volcanoes, and colonial architecture piqued my interest. When a few of my friends started planning a trip there, I casually invited myself along to see what it was all about.
After spending a week in Guatemala, I absolutely fell in love – to date, it’s one of my favorite countries that I’ve ever visited. There’s so much to be charmed by here, from the incredible natural landscapes, the vibrant Mayan culture, and the rich history. It’s truly a country like no other.
After following this 7 day Guatemala itinerary, I am convinced that you, too, will fall in love with this magical place. From hiking to the top of a volcano, experiencing the colonial wonders of Antigua, and soaking in the stunning natural beauty of Lake Atitlan, you will come home with so many unforgettable memories and experiences.
Keep on reading for a super detailed Guatemala travel itinerary, and everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip!
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Things to know before your 1 week in Guatemala
Guatemala 7 day itinerary overview
This 7 days in Guatemala itinerary covers the following:
- 3 days in Antigua
- An overnight hike to the Acatenango Volcano (I will also give alternate suggestions if you choose not to do the hike)
- 3 days in Lake Atitlan
This 1 week in Guatemala itinerary assumes that you have seven full days to spend in the county. You will already have to be in Guatemala City (or Antigua) on the morning of day 1. Depending on your arrival and departure times, you may need to add a night before and/or after you complete this itinerary.
If this is not possible and you only have seven days total including travel time, I would remove a night from Antigua and/or Lake Atitlan, or skip the Acatenango hike in order to complete this 7 day Guatemala itinerary.
But wait…what about Tikal and/or Semuc Champey?
While these two destinations are very high on my Guatemala bucket list, and some of the most well known in the country, I chose to skip them this time around. While some Guatemala itineraries add one (or even both if you’re feeling ambitious), it will make your trip feel super rushed.
While Guatemala is relatively small, the infrastructure and transportation is not great. Adding Tikal and/or Semuc Champey meant adding a whole bunch of travel time that I felt didn’t really make sense to cram in when I only had a week in Guatemala.
In the end, I decided I’d rather spend the time fully exploring Antigua and Lake Atitlan on my 1 week Guatemala itinerary. I also *really* wanted to hike Acatenango, so I placed a priority on that. I felt like Guatemala (especially Lake Atitlan) was a destination to be explored slowly – this is coming from a girl who usually loves fast-paced itineraries!
I suggest that if you want to add either Tikal or Semuc Champey, add an extra two days to this Guatemala travel itinerary; to add both, add four days. But, if you really want to add one (or even both) of these destinations to your 7 day itinerary for Guatemala, then by all means, go for it.
Is Guatemala worth visiting?
Guatemala is one of my favorite countries that I’ve ever visited. It has so much to offer, from powerful volcanoes, insanely blue lakes, lush rainforests, ancient ruins, a vibrant Mayan culture, rich history, colonial architecture, and many more unique experiences.
While there is much more to do and see than is possible in a week in Guatemala, it is enough time to see the highlights and to see what makes it so special. It is truly a fascinating country, and even if you only spend a week there, you will find it hard not to be charmed and to fall in love.
While there are many possible Guatemala itineraries to help you experience the best of the country, this specific one covers Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and an overnight hike to Acatenango, one of Central America’s famous volcanoes. I think this helps you experience a good mix of nature + culture in a limited amount of time.
When to visit Guatemala
There’s really not a bad time to visit Guatemala – the tourism board actually promotes it as the “land of eternal spring,” with much of the country enjoying warm temperatures and mild evenings all year long.
That said, that country does experience a dry season (November-April) and a rainy season (May-October). It is best that you complete this Guatemala travel itinerary during the dry season, as it does involve some outdoor activities (such as doing the Acatenango volcano hike) that are best done during the dry months.
However, accommodation prices tend to be highest during the dry season. Still, I found them to be *very* affordable in February – much cheaper than I’m used to!
Do note that the weeks surrounding Christmas and Holy Week (the week before Easter) are especially considered to be high season, as this is when locals travel as well. Expect to see higher crowds on the coast and in Lake Atitlan, and in Antigua as well.
If you visit during rainy season, it doesn’t mean you’ll find a torrential downpour at all times during your one week in Guatemala. Like many nearby destinations (such as Nosara, Costa Rica), you should expect it to rain a few hours each day, but the rest of the day should be dry.
I visited in late February and found it an excellent time to visit – there were warm days (but not uncomfortably hot), blue skies, and mild evenings every single day. It was an ideal time to do the Acatenango hike as well – and it was very clear at the summit! It was also an excellent time to enjoy Lake Atitlan as well.
On the other hand, a blogger friend of mine went over Memorial Day, and encountered rain almost every day she was there – even more so than you’d expect during rainy season. Still, she said that she still really enjoyed her time there.
Traveling to Guatemala
Most visitors to Guatemala arrive to La Aurora International Airport (GUA), the country’s main international airport, located in Guatemala City. It is served by many international airlines, and you’ll find flights to and from plenty of cities around the world.
I found that there were plenty of flight options coming from Southern California, and they were cheap! When I initially booked, I paid around $400, but it dropped to $200 the next day, so I ended up canceling and rebooking. My friends coming from Toronto paid around $500 CAD.
From Guatemala City, you will have to arrange transportation into your first destination. While different Guatemala itineraries have different starting points, this one will start off in Antigua. I will explain more about the different ways to get from Guatemala City to Antigua later on.
Getting around in Guatemala
While Guatemala is a relatively small country, its infrastructure and transportation is not the greatest. Keep in mind that it often takes longer than you think it will to get around between point A and point B, even if they look really close in distance.
Here are some of the transportation options for your 1 week Guatemala itinerary:
- Tourist shuttle: This might be the best and most affordable way to get around in Guatemala. You can find shuttles between Guatemala City and Antigua, and to and from Lake Atitlan from either of those cities. I recommend GuateGo and Atitrans to book shuttles.
- Uber: This is an option in Guatemala City and Antigua. You can also use Uber to get to Lake Atitlan, however, it is rare to find a car back, so I recommend another option to get back.
- Private transfer: Hiring a private driver or shuttle might be more cost-effective when traveling as a group. It is also the fastest way to get back to Guatemala City from Lake Atitlan, as most shared shuttles stop in Antigua and this will avoid that.
- Chicken buses: These buses, which utilize old school buses that are shipped over from the United States and then painted over in bright colors, travel all over the country and are what the locals use. They even transport live animals (hence the nickname “chicken bus”)! However, I would not recommend using them to cover long distances as the buses are uncomfortable and the journeys long, and not always the safest. They are a very unique experience that is part of the culture- so if you want to experience a chicken bus, you can try riding for a shorter distance or booking this tour.
- Pullman buses: These long-distance buses usually travel from cities to smaller towns. They are higher-end and much more comfortable than traveling via chicken bus.
- Water taxis (la lanchas): These water taxis will be your main mode of transportation when visiting Lake Atitlan.
- Tuktuks: Mostly used to travel within a town, or to neighboring towns. They are especially common to get around in the villages of Lake Atitlan.
But…is Guatemala safe?
I know, I know – Guatemala gets a bad rap and has a reputation for being unsafe. And, whenever you tell someone you’re going to Guatemala, they will look at you incredulously, gasp, and go, “But why in the world would you ever go to Guatemala?! Isn’t it *~*dangerous*~*?!?!?!” (I know I certainly got a lot of that.)
Look – I’m not going to pretend that Guatemala is the safest country in the world. And, truth be told, there are still many parts of the country that are not safe for tourists to visit. The country has had a complicated and turbulent history, and while things have improved, crime is still an issue.
I would avoid spending much time in Guatemala City as it is still considered dangerous for tourists and armed robberies and mugging are common. I suggest taking a shuttle or Uber to Antigua immediately after landing, or if you get in at night, stay near the airport.
That said, don’t believe everything you read and hear about Guatemala from people who have never been there! The areas frequented by tourists are considered to be relatively safe. On this 7 day Guatemala itinerary, I visited Antigua and Lake Atitlan, two of the top tourist destinations in the country, and never once did I feel unsafe.
I even spent part of my 1 week in Guatemala traveling solo and while I was initially a little bit nervous about it, it was completely fine once I was on my own.
That said, as with traveling to any other country, you should always take basic safety precautions when visiting Guatemala. NEVER let your guard down and ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings! Other precautions you should keep in mind include:
- Always let someone at home know where you’ll be at all times and give them a copy of your itinerary
- Keep a close watch on your belongings and don’t flash any valuables (jewelry, expensive electronics, etc)
- Avoid walking around at night
- Don’t consume too much alcohol
- Don’t go off with strangers
- Try to avoid being on the roads at night – if your flight into Guatemala City arrives at night, I’d stay in a hotel near the airport and then take a shuttle or Uber in the morning.
Other things to know before planning a trip to Guatemala
The official language of Guatemala is Spanish.
It is *highly* recommended that you know at least a few basic Spanish phrases when visiting Guatemala, as it will come in VERY handy. I found that while you’ll find a little bit of English spoken in touristy areas (particularly Antigua), it is not nearly as common as when visiting, say, Mexico (def unlike Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita).
Therefore, it will be VERY helpful if you speak at least a little bit of Spanish – brush up on Spanish on Duolingo before you go! I was thankful that I took Spanish in high school and my basic Spanish got me around just fine!
Guatemala is a fantastic place to brush up on your Spanish skills. If anything, spending 7 days in Guatemala made me want to improve my Spanish even more – so now I’ve accumulated a 270 day Duolingo streak (and counting!) since then!
There are also tons of Spanish schools in Antigua and Lake Atitlan – it’s a fantastic place to take some Spanish lessons, as they are also super affordable! A girl I met on the Acatenango hike actually did a Spanish immersion program for a week in Lake Atitlan and said it was an amazing experience and not only do your Spanish skills improve, you also get a unique immersion into the culture – I’d love to do it sometime!
Currency & Money
The official currency of Guatemala is the Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ). $1 USD is roughly ~8 GTQ (or 100 GTQ is roughly ~$13).
You will need cash during your 7 days in Guatemala. While I found that we could pay with credit cards at tourist-centric businesses in Antigua, there were also many instances where credit cards were not accepted. In the villages of Lake Atitlan, credit cards are not as accepted as in Antigua, so you will definitely need to carry some cash.
A few instances when you will need cash are for entrance fees, tuk-tuks and water taxis, souvenirs at the local markets, street food, and tips.
When landing in Guatemala City, you won’t see any ATMs in the arrivals hall. There is an ATM in the parking garage across from the terminal where you can withdraw some Quetzales. There is supposed to be another ATM at the departures level near the ticketing counters, but I couldn’t find how to get there from arrivals (hence, I just asked someone who pointed me to the ATM in the parking garage).
The most common ATMs you will see around Guatemala are the yellow 5B machines. While other ATMs sometimes don’t accept foreign debit cards, you should have no problem with the 5B ones. However, note that the convenience charge is HIGH – I’m talking something like 60 Quetzales (~$8 USD) so be strategic about how much cash to pull out so you don’t have to use the ATM too often!
I’ve also heard that sometimes the ATMs run out of cash, especially in Lake Atitlan – so if you find yourself needing more cash, don’t wait until you are desperately low!
Don’t drink the water
The tap water in Guatemala is not safe to drink. I found that there was filtered water that is safe for drinking available at all my accommodations that I stayed at on this Guatemala 7 day itinerary.
The Perfect Guatemala 7 Day Itinerary
Guatemala Itinerary Days 1-3: Antigua
The first part of your 7 day Guatemala itinerary will explore the historic city of Antigua, once the capital of Guatemala. The entire historic center of Antigua was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and I guarantee you’ll be charmed! The city is filled with cobblestoned streets, colorful colonial architecture, and lots of character.
The city is also surrounded by three volcanoes, including one of Central America’s most active – Volcan Fuego. You’ll even see it go off in the distance, which is one of the coolest experiences! I highly recommend hiking to the top of the neighboring Volcan Acatenango to see it up close – it’s what will be next on this one week in Guatemala itinerary, on day 4. But, more on that later – first up, here’s everything you need to know about Antigua!
Some people recommend only staying 1-2 days in Antigua on their Guatemala one day itinerary, but I recommend staying three days. This will give you an introduction to the country, see all the city’s highlights, and really get a true sense of its vibe and culture without feeling rushed.
Where to stay in Antigua
- Hotel Aurora: We stayed here and loved it! It’s a lovely boutique hotel at a *very* affordable price point. The grounds are gorgeous, with a beautiful courtyard and garden. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the location is right in the center of town, so you are super close to all the best things to do in Antigua.
- Good Hotel Antigua: I’ve heard tons of amazing things about Good Hotel and would have stayed there if they had availability during my stay. I love Good Hotel’s concept – a boutique hotel that donates their profits to “ do good” in the community and supporting local initiatives (such as helping disadvantaged children attend school).
- Ojala: We stumbled upon the cafe at Ojala and stopped for a coffee here, and fell in love with the beautiful courtyard area. When I needed to spend a night in Antigua at the end of my one week in Guatemala, I decided to stay here. It’s a boutique hostel, but they have private rooms as well (where I stayed). The rooms are cute and comfortable, and even have a rain shower.
- Hotel Museo Spa Casa Santo Domingo: This five star hotel sits on the outskirts of the historic center of Antigua. Built on the site of the ruins of a former monastery, the property’s grounds are stunning and features a museum as well. While it’s the “fanciest” hotel in Antigua, the rates are still pretty affordable!
Getting around in Antigua
We mostly got around on foot during our time in Antigua. Most of the things to do in Antigua are located within the historic center, which is relatively compact and very walkable.
However, do note that the historic center has cobblestoned streets that are VERY uneven and bumpy (especially compared to Europe and even Mexico). Proper footwear is an absolute must – leave your heels and wedges at home and bring your sneakers and flat sandals.
Uber service is available in Antigua. We called an Uber to go to Hobbitenango on day 3 and it was a very easy experience. You can also take an Uber to/from Guatemala City, or to Lake Atitlan (although it is very hard to get one back).
DAY 1 (GUATEMALA CITY TO ANTIGUA)
Arrive to Antigua from Guatemala City
Many flights from the USA arrive in Guatemala late at night, or early in the morning (mine arrived around 8am).
In either case, you will make your way to Antigua in the morning. If your flight to Guatemala City arrives at night, it is advised to stay there the first night as it is not safe to be on the roads at night, then start this itinerary in the morning.
There are a few options to get from Guatemala City to Antigua:
- Uber: What I used and recommend. This is the fastest option and is relatively cheap (~$30 USD). I also prefer using Uber over a traditional taxi because of the tracking capabilities, and because it avoids any confusion because of language. It was easy to call for a ride right outside of the airport terminal, do note that you will have to use data the airport does not have WiFi (luckily, international data is included in my T-Mobile plan at no additional charge). The trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours – the traffic to get out of the city can be insane – for me, it took about an hour.
- Tourist Shuttle: This is an affordable and reliable way to get from the airport to Antigua (~$15 USD). I would’ve taken a shuttle, however, the departure times just didn’t work for me. Two recommended companies for shuttle transportation are GuateGo and Atitrans. Also one thing to note about shuttles in Guatemala is that they strap your luggage to the roof of the van – something to consider if you are visiting during the rainy season.
- Private transport: Hiring a private driver is also very affordable and an easy way to get to Antigua, for only a few dollars more than a shuttle.
- Chicken buses: While this is the cheapest (and most adventurous) way to travel between Guatemala City and Antigua, it is not recommended. The buses are often packed, uncomfortable for long distances, don’t offer space for your luggage (they often throw it on the top of the bus without strapping it down), and are not always safe.
Lunch at Los Tres Tiempos
After arriving in Antigua and settling into your hotel (or dropping off your bags), it’s time to head to lunch!
My recommendation for lunch is at Los Tres Tiempos, which is located right by the famous Santa Catarina Arch. They serve a variety of traditional dishes – this is where we had our first taste of Pepian, which is the official dish of Guatemala, and it was delicious!
They have a really pretty terrace upstairs, and I recommend sitting there if you can! The view isn’t the greatest (there are other rooftops for that, which I’ll cover later), but it’s a nice place to sit and soak up the sun while enjoying your lunch.
If you don’t want to sit outside, the interior space of the restaurant is really cute too!
Explore Antigua’s historic center
It’s hard not to fall in love with the historic center of Antigua – you’ll be charmed by the cobblestoned streets, the colorful facades, historic ruins, and volcano views. For an introduction to the city and to your Guatemala 7 day itinerary, I suggest starting here and exploring all its colonial gems.
The historic center is pretty compact and can easily be explored in an afternoon. To learn more about the city’s unique history and geography, I recommend taking a walking tour.
Here.are all the highlights to visit in Antigua’s historic center:
- Santa Catalina Arch: *THE* most recognizable landmark in the city, and one of the most iconic symbols of Guatemala itself. It also frames the majestic Volcan Agua perfectly! The arch was initially built to connect two convents on either side of it. Nuns, who took an oath of seclusion, used it to travel between the sides.
- Iglesia de la Merced: I loved the ornate yellow facade in front of this church, which has withstood two major earthquakes since it was last rebuilt in the 18th century. The inside of the church is worth checking out as well, with a beautiful cloister area.
- Convento de las Capuchinas: Once home to a thriving community of nuns, the covent was abandoned after the great earthquake of 1773. Today, it is one of the finest examples of an 18th century convent, and features tranquil gardens, colonial architecture, and rooftop views.
- Catedral San Jose (Antigua Guatemala Cathedral): This church has stood here since the 1500s, but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then, thanks to the earthquakes that have shook the city. It was only partially rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in the 18th century – however, you can still explore the ruins here and they are both fascinating and beautiful.
- Parque Central: This lush park is also one of the central gathering spots in the city. You’ll find a beautiful fountain, street vendors, excellent people watching opportunities, and volcano views.
Dinner + Drinks at Antigua Brewing Company
After spending your afternoon exploring all the colonial gems of Antigua, end your day with dinner and drinks at the Antigua Brewing Company.
Perhaps the best thing about the Antigua Brewing Company is the outdoor patio, from where you can see the entire city! You can also see Fuego go off in the distance and it was so cool to be able to see the lava flowing from here (it also made us super excited slash nervous about our upcoming volcano hike, haha)!
There is also a secret speakeasy downstairs within the Antigua Brewing Company – I’m so bummed that I didn’t find out about it until after I’d left Antigua! It’s called Ulew Cocktail Bar, and they will whip up a creative concoction after you tell them what you’re in the mood for. You can access it from the British phone booth inside the brewery.
DAY 2 (ANTIGUA)
Breakfast at Cafe Sky
Antigua’s got plenty of awesome rooftops, but Cafe Sky is one of the best. You’ll find the most picture-perfect view of Volcan Agua from here, which makes the perfect backdrop as you enjoy your breakfast.
They have an extensive all-day menu as well, so you can choose to come for lunch or dinner instead. However, I recommend it for breakfast as it tends to be the clearest in the morning so the view is the best. It was so cool to see Fuego spew out puffs of smoke in the distance, you can really see how powerful it is even from here!
Hike to Cerro de la Cruz
After getting some energy for the day, it’s time to go on a little hike to Antigua’s best viewpoint! From Cerro de la Cruz, you get a stunning view of the entire city, as well as the volcanoes surrounding it. There’s also a large cross standing here, which is how it gets its name.
The hike is only about a mile, but it is a relatively steep climb. However, it is not a hard hike by any means. It’s a great way to get your bearings and sorta “train” yourself in preparation for a volcano hike – although, not gonna lie, I was a bit concerned when I found myself huffing and puffing to the top here (don’t worry, I made it through the Acatenango hike just fine).
Some people will suggest coming to Cerro de la Cruz for sunset on their 7 day Guatemala itinerary, but I recommend hiking in the morning instead, as the clouds tend to roll in and cover Volcan Agua later in the afternoon. It’s also not as hot.
If you really don’t want to hike, you can also take a tuk-tuk to the top – but what’s the fun in that?
Lunch at Rincon Tipico
I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite after hiking, so head over to Rincon Tipico for a delicious lunch!
We walked in and saw them roasting a bunch of chickens over the fire and immediately knew we’d have to order that – it did not disappoint! You will get a plate of chicken, potatoes, and salad for 35 GTQ – less than $5 USD. The tortillas here are also THE BEST.
There’s usually a giant line out the door here, so expect to wait a bit before eating. So worth it!
Guatemala is famous for its chocolate, and it is one of the country’s main exports. Chocolate lovers will love this small museum and boutique in the center of town. Here, you can sample some chocolates, sip on some hot chocolate, and learn about how it’s made.
For a unique experience, I recommend this bean-to-bar workshop, which will allow you to learn about the entire chocolate production process and make your very own chocolate bar!
Hotel Casa Santo Domingo
Standing on the site of a former monastery, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is one of the most luxurious hotels in town – however, it is much more than a hotel.
Dating back to the 1500s, the monastery was one of the largest in North America until the Santa Maria earthquake destroyed it in 1773. You’ll get to see the ruins here, which are fascinating, as well as a collection of artifacts and relics on display.
I suggest taking some time to wander around the ground here, as you’ll find plenty to discover. In addition to the ruins, there’s also art museums, lush gardens, crypts, a restaurant, and more.
Rooftop dinner + drinks
Another day, another rooftop – if you think I ever got sick of the views in Antigua, the answer is – NO, absolutely not! You really cannot go wrong with the views, so I recommend ending day 2 of your Guatemala 7 day itinerary by rooftop hopping for dinner and drinks.
There’s plenty of rooftops around town, but here are a few that I suggest for dinner + drinks:
- Rooftop Antigua: You’ll get excellent views of Volcan Agua and Fuego (both of which started to peek out around sunset), as well as the church ruins. We loved the cocktails here.
- Cafe Boheme: This cozy spot has a French vibe, with sandwiches, salads, and more, with a distant view of the volcanoes.
- Cafe Estudio: You’ll find one of the best views in the city here. The string lights give it a particularly romantic vibe.
DAY 3 (ANTIGUA)
Morning: Explore the markets of Antigua
The Mercado Central of Antigua is the city’s central marketplace. It’s where the locals shop and you’ll find hundreds of vendors selling literally anything and everything – I’m talking produce, meats, housewares, spices, flowers, clothing, medications, and much more. You name it, they sell it here!
It’s a labyrinth of stalls here, and it can be a bit overwhelming; however, it’s a must on your 7 day Guatemala itinerary as you’ll get a unique look into a slice of local life!
If you get hungry, it’s also a fantastic place to try some street food, as there are plenty of food vendors as well.
Be sure to also check out the Mercado de Artesanias, right across the street. This is where you can pick up local handicrafts, which are perfect as souvenirs! You’ll find pompoms, beautifully woven textiles, handmade dolls, paintings, jewelry, and much more. (It’s also a bit calmer than the main market).
Afternoon: Explore Hobbitenango
Spend your afternoon visiting Hobbitenango, a Hobbit-themed eco theme park located in the hills above Antigua. Even if you’re not a big Hobbit fan, it’s well worth visiting for its photo-worthy backdrops, stunning mountain views, and the chance to disconnect for a bit.
Hobbitenango is famous for the giant troll hand overlooking the volcanoes and valley that is perfect for your Instagram photos (that is how I found out about it), but it offers visitors much more beyond that.
The park also has a tree swing, archery and axe throwing, trails, mini golfing, an artisan market, a restaurant, a bar, and more. They even have hobbit houses that you can stay in overnight for a truly unique accommodation experience for your Guatemala travel itinerary.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied for a full day, but even if you only have half a day, it’s well worth visiting!
Shuttles are available from Antigua, or you can Uber there as well (although we had trouble finding one back). This will get you to the main parking lot, where you will pay a 50Q entrance fee, then take a 4×4 to the park entrance.
Dinner and drinks at Frida
After returning from Hobbitenango, end your third day enjoying some Mexican food at Frida’s.
I loved the vibe of the restaurant, with colorful Frida-themed decor. It was quite lively as well, which made for a fun evening!
This hip restaurant has some amazing tacos (order a sampler) and margaritas! They have a menu full of Mexican classics as well, from fajitas, tostadas, enchiladas, and more. It was such a perfect way to end our days in Antigua.
Guatemala Itinerary Day 4: Overnight Hike to Acatenango Volcano
Doing the Acatenango volcano hike is a thrilling experience that should not be missed on your 1 week in Guatemala itinerary. During this adventure, you will hike to the top of Volcan Acatenango, which towers over 13,000 feet above the city. From here, you will get an up-close view of the explosive Volcan Fuego, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.
It is an experience of a lifetime to be able to feel and hear the thunderous explosions, and get an up-close view of the sparks of lava spilling down the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it. To date, it is still one of my all-time favorite travel experiences!
I’m not going to lie – the hike is no walk in the park. It is a steep, relentless, 4,000 foot climb to base camp, which stands at around 12,000 feet in elevation. You will be questioning yourself and asking yourself “WTF AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!” all throughout the hike. You’ll encounter volcanic sand (which makes you slide back two steps backward for every one step forward), meander through rainforests, and eventually end up above the clouds.
Then once you get to base camp and get your first glimpse of Fuego – it will all be worth it, I swear!
You can choose to climb to the summit right after arriving at base camp to watch the sunset, or early the next morning for sunrise. Or you can do neither and just stay at base camp, hang out around the fire, and sip on hot chocolate with your newfound friends – that’s what I ended up doing, and I have no regrets.
Here are some answers to some FAQs about the Acatenango hike:
- What company should I go with? I went with Wicho & Charlie’s after reading rave reviews and 10000% recommend them. The best part is that they have A-frames built on the side of the mountain, which is way more comfortable (and sturdy!) than sleeping in a tent. The guides are fantastic, super encouraging and helpful – and they get paid a living wage. The food (which is all vegan, by the way) was nutritious, filling, and delicious.
- How much does it cost? This will depend on which expedition company you go with. For Wicho & Charlie’s, we paid $97 USD per person for a shared cabin. They have private cabins for two as well. You’ll also have to pay the 50Q park fee at the entrance (paid in cash).
- OK, but like, how hard is it, really?! I’m not going to lie – it’s a hard hike for sure. But any average person can complete it, I swear! I was pretty out of shape when I did it, and I made it to the top. You can also hire a porter to make it easier.
- How long does the hike take? It takes the average person 4-5 hours to get to base camp. I was one of the slowest in the group and completed it in just under five hours. Coming down takes about two hours.
- Can you do the entire Acatenango hike in one day? Yes – but it will be a looong day. We met some guys who had done the one day hike on the shuttle to Atitland and they said it was exhausting. You also miss seeing Fuego go off after dark, which I also think is the best part of the experience.
- What equipment do I need? You’ll be able to rent most of your equipment from your trekking company – some are included in your fee, some are at an additional cost. Do note that what they have is a mishmash of stuff, so they might not have your exact size or preferences. I brought my own hiking shoes (highly recommended), base layers, fleece zip-up, wool socks, gloves, beanie, scarf, and backpack. I rented a thick outer jacket (included) and hiking poles (additional cost + HIGHLY recommended).
Want to learn more about the Acatenango trek? Read my complete guide to hiking Acatenango!
Alternate options for Day 4
Best alternative: Hike the Pacaya Volcano
I’d pick the Pacaya Volcano hike as the best alternative to the Acatenango hike, as you also get the thrilling experience of hiking to a volcano with much less effort.
Located about an hour and a half outside of Antigua, Volcan Pacaya is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the area. It is roughly 5 kilometers (~3 miles) to the top with a 1500 foot elevation gain. It takes roughly two hours, and is rated as medium difficulty.
There’s a sunset hike, a sunrise hike, and an overnight hike option to choose from. One unique experience that the Pacaya volcano hikes offer is that you get to roast marshmallows on the volcanic rocks – so cool!
Other options for day 4
If you don’t feel like hiking, I suggest spending day 4 of your Guatemala travel itinerary with a tour or two in and around Antigua. Here are some suggestions:
- Coffee tour: Aside from chocolate, Guatemala is known for its coffee. In this tour, you will go to a coffee plantation right outside Antigua in an ATV, learn about coffee production, and try local coffee.
- Foodie tour: Perfect for foodies! This tour takes you to some of Antigua’s top eateries so you can experience the best of the city’s food scene.
- Chicken bus & schools tour: Ride in Guatemala’s iconic chicken buses to visit a local school, giving you a unique look into local life. All proceeds from this tour get donated to children in need.
- Cooking class: Learn to make authentic Guatemalan dishes in this cooking class.
Guatemala Itinerary Days 5-7: Lake Atitlan
The next part of this Guatemala 7 day itinerary goes to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful and fascinating areas in the county. Surrounded by volcanoes and known for its blue waters, Lake Atitlan is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Surrounding the lake are 11 villages, each offering a different personality and vibe. While you won’t have time to visit all of Lake Atitlan’s villages (and some of them are not touristic), I recommend visiting at least a few to experience the culture here.
Life slows down in Lake Atitlan; this is definitely a slow travel destination. While you should definitely do some exploring, be sure to allot plenty of time to take in those lake views and appreciate its beauty.
Where to stay in Lake Atitlan
While several towns around Lake Atitlan have accommodation options, for the sake of this itinerary, I recommend staying in Panajachel or Santa Cruz la Laguna. I ended up staying in both, so I will go over the pros and cons of each, and some recommended places to stay for both.
Staying in Panajachel
Panajachel (or is the main town on the lake, and where you will get dropped off when arriving in Lake Atitlan. It has the most in terms of amenities and services – shops, restaurants, etc. It is the most convenient; however, it is the busiest and it doesn’t have that peaceful vibe that the lake is known for.
Some recommended places to stay in Panajachel:
- Selina Atitlan: This is technically a hostel, but Selina always has a super hip design. The private rooms here rival any boutique hotel, and at a really affordable price. Their common spaces are awesome, so if you’re traveling solo, staying here is also a fantastic way to meet new, like-minded travelers.
- Portas Hotel del Lago: This beautiful boutique hotel sits steps away from the lake, with each room featuring volcano views from the balcony. The pool area here is gorgeous as well and perfect for relaxing.
- Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan: This lush property sits about a 5 minute drive out of the center of Panajachel, which offers you a bit of peace and quiet while being relatively close to the action. There’s a private beach, a topical garden, and an outdoor pool area.
Santa Cruz la Laguna
Santa Cruz la Laguna is the next town away from Panajachel, but feels a world away from the hustle and bustle. It is super quiet and tranquil here, and the views of the lake are unmatched. I loved staying here because it allowed me to truly appreciate the slower pace of life here – savoring my morning coffee, enjoying the sunset over a glass of wine, hanging out in the hot tub.
On the flip side, Santa Cruz does not have much in terms of amenities – there are only a handful of places to eat, and you will have to travel to Panajachel to pick up supplies. It is not nearly as convenient, but overall, I preferred staying here.
When choosing accommodations in Santa Cruz, try to pick a place that is right on the lake – you’ll find the best views that way. If the accommodations are further inland in town, you will also have to climb up a giant hill to get to them.
Some recommended places to stay in Santa Cruz la Laguna:
- Sacred Tree Atitlan: We stayed at this Airbnb and loved it sooo much! The property is right on the lake and the views are insane – I loved waking up each morning and seeing the view of the lake and volcanoes right outside the window. There’s also a hot tub and Guatemalan sauna, perfect for relaxing. Miguel, the host, was super hospitable and helpful throughout the entire stay.
- Casa Prana: Our friends stayed here and the entire property was insanely gorgeous, with lush gardens, a furnished terrace, a pool area with lake views, and elegantly decorated rooms. The rooms are expensive – even by US standards – but it is super luxurious here.
- Casa del Mundo: Technically, Casa del Mundo is in Jaibalitio, which is a tiny town right next to Santa Cruz. It’s one of the most beautiful and secluded hotels in the area, and stands atop a cliff, which offers some insane views of the lake. One of the girls I met on the Acatenango hike stayed here and absolutely raved about it!
Getting Around in Lake Atitlan
When arriving in Lake Atitlan, you will likely get dropped off in Panajachel or San Pedro la Laguna, the two largest towns around the lake.
There are no roads that connect the villages around the lake; while there are roads connecting a few of the individual towns, it is generally advised to avoid driving on them.
The main way to get around Lake Atitlan is via lancha, or water taxi. Nearly all the towns around the lake are connected by boat, and it is the easiest way to get around.
A few things to know about traveling via lancha:
- The boats don’t really have a regular schedule, but generally run from around 8am to 6pm. Simply wait at the docks and wait for one to show up.
- Each of the towns have a main dock, but you can also try to wave one down from a dock right in front of your accommodations (although it’s sometimes hard to catch their attention to flag one down).
- The fares depend on the distance traveled; tourists pay more than locals. As a reference, Panajachel to Santa Cruz is around 15Q; Panajachel to San Marcos is around 25Q; Panajachel to San Pedro is around 30Q. Although, there were instances when I got charged more than this.
- You can also hire a private boat. This is the only option to get a boat at night. The rate will depend on distance traveled and time of day. For reference, we paid 150Q to go from Pana to Santa Cruz; and 500Q to go from Santa Catarina del Palopo to Santa Cruz.
- The waters are much calmer earlier in the day. Late afternoon and evenings tend to be choppy. Plan accordingly or carry medication/bands for motion sickness.
Other methods of transport around Lake Atitlan include tuktuks (best for traveling within villages or to a neighboring town) and pickup truck, or collectivos.
A few other things to know about traveling to Lake Atitlan:
- Know that while Lake Atitlan is quite touristy, you are still in a relatively rural area. Therefore, you’ll encounter spiders, bugs, and other critters.
- Do not leave your shoes outside at night. There are scorpions that can crawl into them, although they are not considered any more dangerous than a bee.
- The power company sometimes does maintenance, and the power can be out for a few hours a day. There was even one day during my stay when the power was out all evening.
- While the lake is beautiful to gaze at, the water is quite polluted and it is generally not recommended to swim here.
- While Lake Atitlan is considered to be very safe, there unfortunately have been muggings that occur on the hiking trails between villages. It is to hire a guide if you wish to hike on the trails.
DAY 5 (ANTIGUA TO LAKE ATITLAN)
Arriving to Lake Atitlan
Regardless of whether you did the Acatenango hike or one of the alternate activities, you will have to make your way from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. The trip takes about three hours.
Here are some options for getting to Lake Atitlan from Antigua:
- Tourist shuttle: We took a shuttle that was run by Wicho & Charlie’s, our trekking company for the Acatenango hike . We returned from the hike around noon, and the shuttle left at 1pm, so it was timed perfectly and super easy as well (they also gave us a small discount as we did the hike with them). Otherwise, you can take a shuttle from Atitrans.
- Uber: This is an option when traveling from Antigua to Lake Atitlan; however, there are rarely any cars available when trying to get back to Antigua and/or Guatemala City, so you’ll have to rely on a different option.
- Private transport: Depending on your group size, hiring a private driver or shuttle may be more cost-effective than taking a regular tourist shuttle. This is also usually the fastest and most efficient way.
- Chicken bus: If you’re *really* on a budget, this is an option, but it is not recommended as it is often uncomfortable and not the safest.
Enjoy sunset on the lake
You should arrive in Lake Atitlan in the late afternoon. After settling into your accommodations, it’s time to take some time to soak in the incredible beauty of Lake Atitlan at sunset.
We loved staying in Santa Cruz la Laguna for this reason – we were treated to an incredible view of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes, and were able to witness the majestic sunset right from our lakeside accommodations. It was the perfect introduction to Lake Atitlan.
If you stay in Panajachel, walk out to the boardwalk at the end of Calle Santander to watch the sunset. Some accommodations offer a balcony view as well.
Dinner in Lake Atitlan
After soaking in the sunset, it is time to enjoy dinner to end your first day in Lake Atitlan.
If you stay in Santa Cruz, keep in mind that most of the restaurants in town offer dinner on a reservation only basis. You must call/email/WhatsApp the restaurant you want to eat at that morning in order to reserve your spot. It is then usually a set menu.
On our first night, we did not know this, and we were only limited to one place that did not require a reservation (Holy Tortilla, which is actually pretty good).
If you stay in Panajachel, you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from so you will not have to worry about making reservations.
Day 6-7: Explore the villages of Lake Atitlan
Spend the next two days of your 1 week in Guatemala itinerary exploring some of the villages around Lake Atitlan. While you won’t have time to visit them all, you should visit at least a few different ones.
Realistically, you should be able to visit 1-2 villages each day (which means you should be able to visit 3-4 during your 1 week Guatemala itinerary).
Each of the towns has its own distinct personality and culture, and I will go over each below so you can choose which ones interest you the most.
Panajachel (or Pana for short) is the gateway to Lake Atitlan, and the main town on the lake. It has the most going on, and the most in terms of amenities. However, it is by far the busiest of the towns, so if you are craving more of a tranquil vibe away from the hustle and bustle, I would skip Pana.
Things to do in Panajachel:
- Go shopping on Calle Santander, lined with tons of vendors selling souvenirs, handicrafts, textiles, and much, much more. (the prices here tend to also be the cheapest as well).
- If conditions allow, go paragliding high above the lake – this was high on the list, but the conditions did not allow for it my entire stay.
- Visit the Museo Lacustre de Atitlan – you’ll learn more about the lake’s geology and history. One interesting exhibit here is artifacts that were discovered from Samabaj, a submerged Mayan archaeological site in the lake.
- Check out the views of the lake from the boardwalk.
San Pedro la Laguna
San Pedro la Laguna is the backpacker’s hub of the lake, and is always buzzing with life and activity. If you look beyond that surface, however, the town offers a unique Mayan culture and breathtaking nature.
Things to do in San Marcos la Laguna:
- Go for a soak at Los Termales, heated thermal baths that overlook the lake. It’s one of the most relaxing things to do in Lake Atitlan!
- Hike up Volcan San Pedro, one of the volcanoes that surround the lake.
- Take Spanish lessons at one of the town’s Spanish schools.
- Hang out in Parque Puerta Hermosa – it’s an ideal place to observe the local culture. There’s also a pretty white church here.
San Marcos la Laguna
This is the spiritual hub of the lake – you’ll find yoga studios, meditation classes, vegan restaurants, and more. It’s also home to some of the cleanest water in the lake (which is generally polluted), so if you want to go for a swim, this is the best place to do it.
Things to do in San Pedro la Laguna:
- Take a yoga class or try meditation.
- Get a chakra reading, participate in a unity circle, get your taro cards read…you get the idea.
- Participate in a traditional Mayan chocolate ceremony.
- Jump into the lake from a platform 12 meters up at the Cerro Tzankujil preserve.
San Juan la Laguna
This was my absolute favorite town around the lake! I loved this colorful, charming town, and all of the Mayan culture here. There’s tons of colorfully painted murals, art galleries, and even an umbrella street. It’s also the starting place for the Indian Nose hike, which is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Atitlan.
Things to do in San Juan la Laguna:
- Visit the Casa Flor Ixaco weaving collective. These collectives support the indigenous women in the community, who tend to be disproportionately poor. They are happy to give you a weaving demonstration, or you can even take a class (something I wish I had more time for). Shop for some hand-woven textiles – you’ll be directly supporting the women here.
- Hike to the top of Indian Nose, preferably at sunset – you’ll need a guide for this. I really wanted to do this, but I was wayyy too sore from Acatenango.
- Snap tons of photos of all the colorful murals (you’ll find tons on 5ta Avenida) and of the umbrella street.
- Visit the Liccor Marron chocolate factory for a chocolate demonstration, and sip on some hot (or iced) chocolate.
- Stroll through the many galleries in town.
Santa Catarina Palopo
This is a smaller and less visited town, but one of my favorites! The buildings in the entire town are painted in vibrant shades of blue, with traditional Mayan emblems, part of an initiative to promote tourism in the town and support the community. You’ll learn a lot about Mayan culture when visiting Santa Catarina.
Things to do in Santa Catarina Palopo:
- Take photos with the brightly painted houses – they are such unique backdrops, and highly Instagrammable!
- Visit Pintado el Cambio, which explains the different colors, shapes, and symbols that you find represented all around town.
- Visit the Central Culturo, where you can learn more about the town and the Kaqchikel Mayan people that inhabit it. We learned so much about the Mayan culture here – from traditional textiles to fortune telling. The tour is free, but donations are very much appreciated, as they go directly to supporting the indigenous community here. They sell handicrafts, and also have a cafe upstairs.
Santa Cruz la Laguna
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Santa Cruz, but it has the most beautiful views of the lake, in my opinion! While there’s a beautiful lakeshore, the main part of town is actually up in the hills and offers a different slice of local life.
Things to do in Santa Cruz la Laguna:
- Take in the stunning views of the lake from the lakeshore – you can see all three volcanoes here! On a clear day, you can even see Fuego puffing out smoke way off in the distance.
- Go kayaking or SUPing in the lake.
- Have a meal at Café Sabor Cruceño – not only is the food absolutely delicious (some of the best around the entire lake), it is made by students that are part of Amigos de Santa Cruz, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the indigenous population by giving them on-the-job training. The views here are amazing as well!
Other towns around Lake Atitlan
Here are a few other towns you may consider visiting in Lake Atitlan on your 1 week Guatemala itinerary:
- Santiago Atitlan: The largest and most traditional of the lake’s villages, you’ll get to experience a unique slice of traditional Mayan culture in Santiago Atitlan. This is a town that is much more frequently visited by national tourists rather than international ones.
- Jaibalito: Jaibalito is tiny but uber charming, and known as one of the best kept secrets of Lake Atitlan. There’s a day club (Club Ven Aca) here, along with a German restaurant, and one of the best hotels in the area in Casa del Mundo.
- San Antonio Palopo: This quaint, colorful town is about 30 minutes away from Santa Catarina and is best known for its pottery.
Traveling back to Guatemala City
After completing this 7 day Guatemala itinerary, you will need to get back to Guatemala City for your return flight home.
The two main ways to get back to Guatemala City are via tourist shuttle and private transfer.
The most direct way to travel from Lake Atitlan is via private transfer. This usually costs about $100-150, so it might not be the most cost effective if you are traveling solo.
Do note that the tourist shuttles usually make a stop in Antigua before heading onto Guatemala City. This means that the travel time can be as long as 4-6 hours.
Depending on your flight time, it might make more sense to spend the night in Antigua and then head to Guatemala City the next day. This is what I did, as I was traveling solo at this point in my itinerary, and I felt safer being in Antigua by myself than I did in Guatemala City.
Have you ever been to Guatemala? What would you include on your 7 day Guatemala itinerary?
More Guatemala content you may enjoy:
A Complete Guide to the Villages of Lake Atitlan
Everything You Need to Know About the Acatenango Volcano Hike
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