Itinerary for 10 wonderful days in Guatemala

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
9
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
6
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
77 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
North America
country
Guatemala
Length of time
Around a week
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,200
Time of year visited
June
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
52nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 20% SUMMARY RATING: World Class

Summary

We were blown away by our 10 days in Guatemala.  Two of the most idyllic and beautiful places you can imagine with Lake Atitlan and Semuc Champey; a gorgeously preserved insight into former Spanish colonial times in the Old Town of Antigua; world-class ancient ruins with the #1 Mayan site of Tikal and the adventure into the jungle to see the mystic El Mirador; gorgeous jungles and mountains across the country; and all done so with the wonderful Guatemalan people

Really rated Guatemala and I’d place it as my favourite country for travelling in Central America

highlights

#1 Sitting in a hammock, soaking up the sensational volcanic views of the stunning Lake Atitlan

#2 Getting lost amongst the ruins of Mayan Tikal, and letting yourself drift into imagining what places like the Gran Plaza must have been like in their pomp

#3 Being surrounded by the lush green jungle, misty clouds coming over the mountains and the changing blues and greens of the clear water in Semuc Champey

#4 Exploring the ancient pre-Classical Mayan Ruins of El Mirador all to yourself as their true story becomes clearer with each new temple excavated

#5 Driving through beautiful central Guatemala mountains, with jaw-dropping vistas as seemingly every turn

#6 Taking the local boat transport from one beautiful spot on Lake Atitlan to the next

#7 Wandering through the well preserved streets of Antigua, soaking up the feel for the place and with the backdrop of the surrounding mountains

#8 Looking across the vast network of Tikal's ruins from one of the lookout points, with the tops of the temples poking out in the distance (and also the view that was used in the very first Star Wars movie)

#9 Trying high altitude scuba diving and exploring the now underwater hotel at Lake Atitlan

#10 Walking through some of the wonderful churches and other beautiful buildings in Antigua

#11 The hike up to the Pacaya Volcano just outside of Antigua that rewards you with being able to see the flowing lava just under the recently solidified rock. V cool

#12 The Helicopter ride over the dense Guatemalan jungle and a fantastic view over the other-worldly pyramids of the Tiger and the La Danta in El Mirador

The Route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1-2 – Soaking up Antigua.  Wander through the cobbled streets, restored churches and local markets as you soak up the former colonial vibe.  One the second day in the morning, if clear, hike up to Pacaya Volcano for views of the valleys below and to see the flowing lava.   In the afternoon head to Lake Atitlan
  • Day 3-5 – 3 days relaxing and diving by the beautiful Lake Atitlan.  Think Lake Como in Italy, but with volcanoes and indigenous villages dotting the side.  The most beautiful place I’ve seen in Central America and, quite possibly, the most beautifully idyllic place in the world.  Simply relax as you look over the lake, take boats from small town to small town and, if a diver, put aside a day for a high altitude dive course
  • Day 6 – travelling from Lake Atitlan to Semuc Champey.  A good 9 hours of driving, but the scenery is gorgeous
  • Day 7 –Sumuc Champey all to yourself.  The bright greens of the jungle mixed in with the whites of the mountain clouds and the turquoise blues of the water make Semuc Champey of the most beautiful spots in the country.  Make sure you get there when it opens! 2 hours is enough and then drive up to Tikal (around 7 hours)
  • Day 8-9 – Mayan ruins of Tikal.  The premier Mayan site and a wonderful place to get lost in the wonder of it all.  Stay the 2 nights in the park so that you can be flexible with timings and get the most out of your time there
  • OPTIONAL Day 10 –Helicopter trip to El Mirador in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle.  The largest cluster of buildings from any Mayan site, still being excavated to showcase its wonders and, because of its remoteness, you will have largely to yourself

Travel Tips

  • Rent a car – the above itinerary was done through renting a car from Antigua to Flores, via Semuc Champey.  You could easily do it through local transport, but would obviously need to plan a bit more.  You could also fly from Guatemala City to Flores which would bypass the 16 hours or so of driving, but you would miss out on Semuc Champey and the mountains you pass by as you drive through
  • Renting the car is a bit hit and miss – less so in the quality of the car, and more in the lack of clarity on what the total cost of the car is (ie including insurance, extra drop off points, and god knows what else they add on), the faff when having to first pick them and general incompetence between the rental company and the rental comparison site you will most likely go with.  All in, I think we spent around USD300 on the rental and insurance, and close to USD200 to drop off the car in Flores (rather than back in Antigua)
  • Costs – the costs include the renting of the car, and the various nice hotels we stayed in (both split between two people), but does not include the helicopter trip (which is US$800 per person).  Each hotel, for a double room per night, was around US$75 for Antigua, US$90 for Lake Atitlan; US$40 for Semuc Champey; US$100 for Tikal.  All places we stayed at really added to the experience
  • You could easily do for cheaper via taking local transport and staying in cheaper hotels
  • Books – if you have an interest in Mayan history or Pre-Columbian American civilisations in general, I’d recommend reading 1491 by Charles Mann. It gives an insight into what these civilisations were like before Europeans arrived and the level of their sophistication.  Great introductory read
  • Google maps link – for the link to the map shown in the itinerary, see this google maps – Guatemala

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone