How We Spent Our Two Amazing Weeks in Guatemala
During our recent adventures of hiking, eating, shopping and so many things to do, we felt that our 2-week Guatemala travel itinerary was the perfect amount of time. Knowing that we have a dog and two cats to come home to that we were missing desperately toward the end of our trip made two weeks of travel just about enough. However, when I return to Guatemala I will want to stay longer next time.
Travel Slowly in Guatemala
Two weeks in Guatemala will not be nearly enough time to see the entire country. Shuttling or busing from town to town can be a slow, windy trip and is enough to wear you out for the rest of that particular day. So, our number one tip on spending two weeks in Guatemala is to travel slow, and choose 2-3 destinations at the most. Traveling this way will allow you to really see and enjoy each location, and you'll be glad you did.
Here's how we spent our two weeks in Guatemala
Day 1: Travel. Flights, flights, and more flights to Guatemala
We boarded a red-eye flight from Portland to Mexico City and luckily our layover wasn't very long. Then, a flight to Guatemala City. I didn't sleep on any of these flights, despite taking a sedative that I was sure would knock me out. Adrenaline is a powerful thing, and traveling to a Central American country where I had never been, did not speak the language, and wasn't staying at a "gringo friendly" resort had my heart pumping in the best way!
Day 2: A Surprising Half-Day in Guatemala City
One of the things we were not looking forward to was our 6-hour layover in Guatemala City. Where would we go? Where would we leave our huge backpacks... or would we have to carry them around?
We hadn't read many positive things about the city itself. Lots of crime. Dirty. All the things you don't really want to experience on your 2 week escape from everyday life. I even had a friend tell me that Guatemala City was so terrible that we should just find a corner inside the airport and wait out the entire six hours without even leaving the building. Boy am I glad we did not take that advice!
Guatemala City is incredible. We only had 6 hours there, and really only saw a tiny corner of it, but what I did see makes me want to go back and spend a few days. The people are so friendly, the architecture is incredible, and the pace of the city is absolutely invigorating. Read more details about our 6-hours in Guatemala City here, and learn why we had such an unforgettable half-day in this amazing city.
Day 3: Our First Day in Flores, Guatemala
This beautiful island is breathtaking whether you're looking at it from across Lake Peten, or wandering it's cobblestone streets. We arrived in Flores on our tiny plane and were immediately scooped up by the Isla de Flores hotel's free shuttle. The sun was setting and a rainstorm was rolling in, so our arrival in Flores was very dramatic and beautiful. The shuttle ride to the hotel was really short - we were there in less than 10 minutes.
Since we arrived so late and were exhausted from a half day walking around Guatemala City followed by a flight on a tiny airplane where the flight attendant was literally stuffing the plane door with McDonald's napkins to keep the rain from coming into the plane, we grabbed some food at a waterfront restaurant called Captain Tortuga (excellent food!) in Flores, and went to sleep in our uber-comfortable rooms at the Isla de Flores Hotel. Read more about our stay at the best hotel in Flores, here.
Day 4: Our Second Day in Flores
On our first full day in Flores, the sun was shining and the streets were mellow. We ventured out in our shorts and flip flops after having a tasty breakfast at our hotel restaurant. The cobblestone streets, architecture and people of Flores are bright and friendly. In the morning hours, the waterfront is quiet and peaceful, besides the occasional passing tuk tuk. We stopped in to discuss options for tours of Tikal, and ended up purchasing a shuttle and guide package for the next day for about $50. This did not include entry fee into the park itself, which you have to pay for upon arrival. Read more about our sunset guided hike experience at Tikal here.
When you wander up to the waterfront in Flores, there will be rows of water taxis, or "La Lanchas" ready to compete with each other to give you the best price on a ride to several destinations around the lake. We decided to go to El Mirador, directly across from the island followed by a swim at the beach. It was a peaceful and magical day!
Day 5: Our Third day in Flores
After gulping down some of the most delicious pancakes, fresh bananas, and fresh-squeezed orange juice I've ever tasted in my LIFE, we returned to our hotel to meet our shuttle to Tikal National Park. Read more about our magical day in Tikal, here. If you're thinking of skipping a trip to Tikal because it sounds too touristy, DON'T. Yes, there are tourists there. And they're there for a reason. IT'S AWESOME. Read a detailed account of our guided sunset tour through Tikal here.
Day 6: Hopper flight from Flores to Guate, followed by a shuttle from Guate to Lake Atitlan
After our hopper flight from Flores to Guatemala City, we met with our pre-arranged shuttle to Lake Atitlan. This is a 3 hour drive through windy, and sometimes bumpy roads. You'll see beautiful Guatemalan countryside during this drive, and your driver will stop at a convenience store halfway through the trek so you can grab snacks, water and use the restroom. But hurry, he only waits 10 minutes!
Arriving at Lake Atitlan
The descent down the huge windy hill into Panajachel is unforgettable. You'll get your first views of Lake Atitlan, known as one of the world's 10 most beautiful lakes, and for good reason. Surrounded by several astoundingly dramatic volcanoes, this shimmering lake will stay in your mind long after you come back home. I think of this place, still, daily.
Panajachel is one of the few villages around the lake that will have all the major necessities for your stay at the lake. We rented a home in Jaibalito, which is two villages away from "Pana." So, before leaving Pana we stocked up on groceries (about $75 US to feed 4 people for 4 days) and then made our way to the dock and hopped into a water taxi that took us to the main dock in Jaibalito. From there, it was a short 30-second walk to our front door. Here are some photos of the little house, "Casa de Juan" that we found on AirBnB.
Day 7: Hiking from Jaibalito to Santa Cruz la Laguna
After a good sleep and delicious breakfast that we made from the groceries we purchased in Pana, we decided to take a hike to Santa Cruz, a village about 3.5 miles away. Read more about this hike in detail, here. After we returned, we had a late lunch at Posada de Jaibalito, the village's only hostel and then enjoyed the sunset from our porch at Casa de Juan.
Day 8: Hiking from Jaibalito to San Marcos La Laguna
After a good night's sleep we took our hiking game to the next level and trekked 7.5 miles to San Marcos La Laguna. It's an intense hike, and well worth it. Read more about our hike from Jaibalito to San Marcos, and the amazing lunch we ate when we got there, here.
Day 9: A Sunny Day in San Pedro La Laguna - Our Favorite Village at Lake Atitlan
San Pedro via water taxi from our dock in Jaibalito takes about 15 minutes in a private water taxi. San Pedro is, like Santa Cruz, and almost vertical village so you'll get a great workout while hiking the cobblestone streets of this pretty little town.
There's a big backpacker community in this Lake Atitlan village, along with lots of bars and great places to eat, barefooted white people and lots of dreadlocks. San Pedro is a great place to shop for local art, jewelry, and it even has an amazing health food store with gluten free products and lots of stuff imported from Bob's Red Mill.
Day 10: Visiting Panajachel
During our last full day at Lake Atitlan, we decided to visit the busy village of Panajachel, the hub of all things coming and going at Lake Atitlan. Panajachel, or "Pana," as the locals call it, is not what you'd call a sleepy village. Pana is packed with stall after stall of local artisans selling their crafts, restaurants catering to tourists, and a loud, crowded waterfront. While it sounds like a "tourist trap," it still retains an authentic feel and you'll spend hours just wandering up and down the main drag, shopping for handmade jewelry, textiles, clothing, and chocolate. Make sure to visit the free Choc Museo, where you can sample all sorts of chocolate, cacao, and even buy chocolate-flavored condoms. No joke.
Day 11: Shuttle from Lake Atitlan to Antigua Guatemala
Regrettably, this is the day we had to leave Lake Atitlan. I still think about this place, daily. But it was time to wrap up our adventure in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, so we hopped aboard our last water taxi and met our pre-arranged shuttle in Panajachel.
Our shuttle driver dropped us just a block or two from our rented apartment which we found on AirBnB. After dropping our things there, we set out with our cameras to go take-in some of the local sights in Antigua.
Much like Flores, every building and street is beautiful in this city. The Central Park is absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by restaurants and small shops, and featuring a striking fountain in the center. At night, the square lights up with children playing with lighted toys and breakdancers practicing their craft.
Day 12: The Streets of Antigua, Central Park and Cerro de la Cruz
This was our last full day in Guatemala, sadly. We decided to keep it mellow and just wander the streets in our flip flops. After a great breakfast of coffee and pastries at the Rainbow Cafe, we hiked to Cerro de la Cruz where we enjoyed a relaxing view of the entire city and the surrounding volcanoes.
Day 13: Heading Home to the Pacific Northwest from Guatemala
On day 13 we headed home, via a stopover in Mexico City again. We stayed just one day short of 2 weeks in Guatemala. If we had stayed one extra day, I definitely would spend it at Lake Atitlan in any one of the beautiful villages there.
Want to Learn More About Travling Guatemala?
We have an extensive library of travel information about Guatemala that goes into more detail about our activities including hiking from Jaibalito to Santa Cruz, hiking to San Marcos La Laguna, Things to do in Flores, Safely traveling in Guatemala, and more.
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