Backpacking Guatemala – Ultimate Guide of Things to do in Guatemala in 2 weeks

Backpacking Guatemala – Ultimate Guide of Things to do in Guatemala in 2 weeks

The perfect 2 week itinerary for backpacking Guatemala. See ALL of the main highlights of Guatemala including Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan & Semuc Champey.

Table of Contents

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(Nov 2019 Update)

Once a major hub in the Mayan empire, situated smack-bam in the middle of Central America you’ll find Guatemala. If you’re thinking of backpacking Guatemala and time isn’t an issue, then you can cram in the highlights of Guatemala in 2 weeks. In reality, you could easily spend months or even years in exploring the country in depth.

Whatever your interests, Guatemala has something to offer everyone; jungle, ruins, colonial towns, mountains and more. You won’t be disappointed visiting Guatemala.

My addiction to ancient places and temples stemmed from a cartoon I used to watch as a kid. Set in South America, it followed the adventures of three children on a quest to find the Mysterious Cities of Gold. If you’re into vintage cartoons (it was made in the 1980’s) and anything ancient world, it’s certainly worth a watch. The Mayan ruins of Guatemala certainly brought back nostalgic memories!

Don’t have time to read the whole article? then why not check out some awesome pictures of Guatemala instead.

Why Visit Guatemala?

Whatever your interests are I guarantee you’ll find it here. If you are planning your own Backpacking Guatemala itinerary, or have a specific interest, I’ve summarised the best areas in Guatemala to visit.

Jungles in Guatemala – Head to the south-east of Guatemala to the area surrounding Rio Dulce. In the north, you’ll find organised Jungle multiple-day treks organised to visit El Mirador.

Ruins in Guatemala – The north is where Tikal and El Mirador are located which are Guatemala’s best archaeological sites. If you are in the south of Guatemala, then pop over the border to Honduras to visit Copan.

Colonial Towns in Guatemala – Antigua should be at the top of the list for any Guatemala travel itinerary. The iconic yellow arch of Santa Catalina, pretty cobbled streets, crumbling ruins and town squares all situated in a valley surrounded by volcanoes, what’s not to love! A second contender for colonial town lovers is Quetzaltenango.  

Mountains & Scenery in Guatemala – Head to the highland region of Panajachel, where you’ll find Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán) Expect breath-taking panoramic views! Volcan Pacaya near to Antigua makes for a quirky half-day hike to toast marshmallows in an active volcano, or for the more ambitious the overnight hike up Acatenango where you can and camp 2km from Fuego, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and watch lava spew out the top from a safe distance at sunrise. 

Adventure Sports in Guatemala – Take a trip out to Lake Atitlan, where you’ll find a range of sports on the lake including scuba diving. Lake Atitlan is situated 5100feet above sea level, so is classed as an altitude dive! For cave and river-based activities head to Lanquín and Semuc Champey. 

Wildlife in Guatemala – The Rio Dulce and surrounding mangrove swamps are one of the top areas for wildlife buffs, expect to see tons of birdlife and if you’re lucky manatees. The jungles surrounding Tikal are also home to a plethora of primate and birdlife and you can book a Tikal Tour that focuses especially on spotting these.  

Markets in Guatemala – Central Americas oldest and largest market happens to be in Guatemala. Chichicastenango (affectionately known as Chi is heaven for souvenir shopping for locally made handicrafts, textiles as well as delicious food. You will also find a multitude of markets scattered about Antigua, just be careful not to fall for the ones which sell non-authentic mass-produced tat with ‘made in china’ label stuck to them.

Beaches in Guatemala – If you are looking for laid back chill head to Livingstone on the south-east coast. The Garifuna people who reside here are of Caribbean decedent, so expect an island life chilled vibe here.  

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Beautiful columns of Tumbla de Don Pedro de Alvarado

Guatemala Map

So where is Guatemala? Guatemala makes up part of the Central American countries (which also include Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico and Nicaragua).

It has two coastlines, one on the Pacific Ocean side, and a small stretch along the Caribbean Sea coast. 

Because Guatemala neighbours El Salvador and Honduras on the south and Mexico and Belize to the north, this well-located country makes it perfect for backpacking Guatemala and beyond on a longer itinerary. 

On the map below, I’ve highlighted all the major points I talk about in this post. 

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Guatemalan Highlights

Guatemala Bucket List - Top 10 Guatemala Sites you cannot miss

Not sure what to see in Guatemala? Or want to plan your own Guatemala itinerary? Here’s a list of the 10 best places in Guatemala to visit

  • Tikal – the most famous of Mayan ruins and a Guatemala must-see on ANY itinerary is Tikal. A backdrop to numerous films, spend a day exploring this vast archaeological site. 
  • Antigua – the beautifully restored colonial town situated in the basin of a volcanic valley. Famed for countless churches, some in ruins, cobblestone pathways as well as the iconic yellow arch; Arco de Santa Catalina. 
  • Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) – the stunning lake surrounded by volcanoes and indigenous tribes. It’s home to a myriad of outdoor activities as well as a hub for self- healing.
  • Chichicastenango – affectionately known as ‘Chichi’ this little town is your one-stop-shop for everything. The markets here happen twice a week and is perfect for picking up locally made crafts, textiles, jewellery, toys and clothing. They also serve delicious locally sourced food. 
  • Volcanoes – with no less than 37 of them, it would be sacrilege to not visit at least one on your trip. Some of the more popular ones are Pacaya, to toast marshmallows inside the warm rocks of the volcano and Acatenango, a two-day hike, where you see the infamous Fuego spewing out lava. 
  • Rio Dulce & Livingstone – Where Guatemala meets the Caribbean. Rio Dulce (Sweet River) meanders from the mangroves, through the jungle and steep-walled valleys and eventually out to Livingstone. A perfect spot for wildlife buffs. Livingstone is home to the Garifuna people whose heritage is strongly linked to the Caribbean. 
  • Semuc Champey – you’ll get the feeling of ‘seen-before’ here. The iconic azure waterfalls of Semuc Champey are used in pretty much every piece of Guatemalan tourist board advertising. It’s easy to see why; they are stunning. 
  • Quetzaltenango – affectionately known as ‘Xela’ has mountain scenery and where traditional Guatemala meets urban living. It’s also where you’ll find the majority of the countries Spanish schools. Oh, and it’s also got natural hot springs
  • El Mirador – Of all the top Guatemala places to visit, if you have the time and you love your Mayan history, this is truly bucket list-worthy. This 6-day long trek goes through the vast Guatemala jungle to dig out the best in off-the-beaten-track vegetation clad Mayan ruins. Think Lara Croft and Indiana Jones! 
  • Flores – The picturesque UNESCO listed island town of Flores sits in the middle of Lago de Petén Ixtá. Colourful houses, cobbled streets, a ton of world-class eating and drinking establishments and a chilled vibe is on the cards here. 
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El Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua

Mayan Ruins in Guatemala

In brief, the Mayans were an ancient civilisation that inhabited the region, what was then known as Mesoamerica. Their ruins can be found all over Central America, stretching from El Salvador up to the Gulf of Mexico. The first accounts of the Mayan civilisation date back to 3114BC, although it wasn’t until 250BC that large cities started to flourish. The collapse of Maya civilisation started in 900AD leaving behind the stunning ruins we see today.

 Maya Ruins make up some of the top Guatemala tourist attractions with Tikal being the most visited. If you have the time, then El Mirador is an intense 6-day trek through the Guatemalan jungle. 

Other notable sites in the region, and if you fancy a trip to the Honduras border is Copán. 

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Grand Plaza in Tikal (aka 'The Star Wars Temple')

When is the Best Time to Visit Guatemala?

Before booking, your Guatemala Trip, you would probably be asking yourself when is the best time to visit Guatemala? In short, Guatemala is an all-year-round destination. 

The Dry Season generally runs from November to April, although at my time of visit (Jan/Feb), I did have quite a bit of rain. All of the locals I spoke to did say it was unusual weather and that it isn’t usually that wet. 

The highlands will have a cooler climate than the coastal regions. 

Inland areas, such as Tikal, will have decent (sometimes very hot) weather all year round with higher humidity levels from May.

During the wetter months (May – October) the rain only usually lasts for a couple of hours, although if you are purely looking for beach time, the rainfall can be slightly higher in coastal regions. The temperature is still warm, although the general humidity raises. 

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Ruins & Markets, Antigua, Guatemala

Getting around Guatemala

  • Getting to Guatemala – the main airport for international flights is La Aurora International Airport situated in the south of the country, 6.4km from Guatemala city and 25km from Antigua. Alternatively, Mundo Maya International Airport services the north part of the country (nearest to Tikal). There are also numerous other smaller airports all around the country. 
  • You can also easily get to Guatemala by land. National bus services, as well as the tourist bus, make the journey from neighbouring countries San Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. 
  • Once inside Guatemala, thankfully you’ll find it’s very well connected and overall an easy country to get around. The country has a decent network of top-class fast tourist shuttles with the top tourist attractions being well serviced by these. The local buses are a mix of collectivo minivans or the awesomely brightly coloured ‘chicken bus’. These can be slow but certainly offer a more authentic experience. 
  • With transport easily available, there is something to suit every budget and timescale. To cover all the highlights of Guatemala in this itinerary, using the chicken bus only is tough going. I opted to use tourist bus and shuttles for the long distances, purely because they are more efficient; although considerably more expensive than the local chicken bus the pay off in time saved was well worth it. 
Backpacking Guatemala – Ultimate Guide of Things to do in Guatemala in 2 weeks 1
Chicken Bus in Guatemlala Image by Makalu via Pixabay

Is Guatemala safe?

You’re probably thinking is it safe to travel to Guatemala? Nowhere is 100% safe, and the same goes for Guatemala. Overall Guatemala isn’t a dangerous country, the most likely incidents that would happen are pickpocketing, bag-snatching or slashing or theft from places like bus stations.

 

Avoid travel or arriving somewhere after dark, especially outside of main tourist areas.

Guatemala City does have a reputation for being one of the seedier places in Guatemala and although I didn’t feel in danger at all while I was here, like with any city, just take some extra caution. 

 

The most likely form of annoyance rather than crime, are scams. In particular, for buying multi-day passes for travel and attractions from unofficial touts. I met a few people backpacking through Guatemala who had been a victim of this. Just remember, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Pay the few extra bucks and buy tickets from official outlets only. Better safe than sorry. 

 

The top advice I would give for Guatemala travel safety if you are worried is to just use your common sense; don’t flash expensive items about (clothes, electronics, jewellery), keep your important stuff locked up at your accommodation and do not walk the streets alone after late at night. 

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Loving how the Antiguans take their wine!

Guatemala Tours

Want someone else to do all the hard work for you? You can book a fully guided tour of Guatemala which covers all the highlights similar to this itinerary here.

Volcán de Pacaya Sunset Hike, Guatemala
View from Volcán de Pacaya Sunset Hike

Backpacking in Guatemala Itinerary - 2 weeks in Guatemala Backpacking Guide

You could spend months, even years in Guatemala to REALLY get under the skin of the country, so this two-week backpacking Guatemala itinerary only does scratch the surface – This little taster of the country will leave you wanting more. 

There is plenty of leeway on this suggested 2 week Guatemala itinerary. I’ve suggested extra things you can add in if you have the time.

If you only have 1 week in Guatemala backpacking, then I would suggest sticking to just Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Flores/ Tikal region.

If you have only 10 days in Guatemala and wondering where to go in Guatemala then like with the 1 week itinerary, certainly visit Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Flores/Tikal and make the choice between Semuc Champey (outdoorsy) or Rio Dulce/ Livingstone (wildlife and Garifuna town) – depending what you own personal preferences are. 

What to do in Guatemala in 2 weeks

I’ve started this itinerary from Guatemala City, as this is where most of the major international flights will fly into. Depending on how you arrive in Guatemala, tweak the itinerary to suit. 

The map below was my Guatemala Backpacking Route I did.

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Guatemalan Highlights

Day 1 – Backpacking Guatemala – Guatemala City (Optional)

If you don’t have the time, skip Guatemala City. I arrived late in the evening; at nearly 10 pm and nearly 14 hours in transit I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of taking a bus out of the city at that hour, so I stayed one night here, before moving on the following afternoon. Most people head straight across to nearby Antigua which lies about 40kms (approx. 25mies) to the west of Guatemala City

Things to do in Guatemala City

I had a couple of hours to kill before my transfer to Antigua. This gave me time to check out the Palacio Nacional De La Cultura de Guatemala (National Palace of Culture) in Zone 1 – the ‘Avocado Palace’ that the staff at my hotel affectionately called it – yes, it is a muggy green colour! Is located in the town square filled with Guatemalan artwork, culture and history. 

I also heard good things about Nacional Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) in Zone 13 although I didn’t have time to visit.

Where to stay in Guatemala City

Booking.com
Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Palacio Nacional De La Cultura de Guatemala – the ‘Avocado Palace’ in Guatemala City

Day 2 and 3 – Backpacking Guatemala – Antigua

By skipping Guatemala City and coming straight to Antigua, you’ll be able to see the sights of this stunning colonial city at a much more leisurely pace

If Disney Land ‘made’ Guatemala, then this is what it would look like! Antigua feels like a totally different world to Guatemala City – it’s vibrant (check out its infamous yellow arch, El Arco de Santa Catalina) and bustling with tourists and locals alike; it’s clear to see why everyone flocks here when they arrive in Guatemala. It’s also the biggest hub of hostels, bars and eateries in the country; perfect for all your Guatemala backpacking needs! 

What to do in Antigua, Guatemala

Hike a Volcano Antigua is nestled between several volcanoes therefore, being close to so many volcanoes it would be just plain rude not to take a hike up one. The main two on offer are Acatenango which can be undertaken as either a full-on one day or a more ‘leisurely’ (it’s still tough!) overnight hike. If the weather is clear at the top, then this hike is where you can see Fuego churning out red glowing lava in the distance.

Alternatively, the ‘fun’ volcano hike (the one where you get to toast marshmallows at the top – all the tour operators know this one) is up Volcan Pacaya

Walk around the pretty centre & up Cerro de le Cruz – I used a suggested walk in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Antigua is a small city laid out on an easy-to-navigate grid system. A short walk out of the city you will find Cerro de le Cruz. This short walk up a hill and gives a stunning panoramic view of the pretty low-lying city with the volcanos as a backdrop. The walk is frequented by locals and tourists and patrolled by police during the day.

Check out the ruins – If you’re a bit of a ruin junkie like me then Antigua is home to some stunning specimens Tumbla de Don Pedro de Alvarado and Convento de Santa Clara were two of my favourites and for the cost of a coffee is a must-do if you have the time. 

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Convento de Santa Clara, Antigua, Guatemala
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Colourful Streets & El Arco de Santa Catalina, Antigua

Where to stay in Antigua

Booking.com

Getting to Antigua from Guatemala City

There are several ways to get from Guatemala City (or the International Airport) to Antigua but the easiest and quickest is the shuttle which takes about 90 minutes’ door to door. Prices vary but expect to pay around 75-115 Quetzals (approx. $10-$15) for the service.

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
The 'Marshmallow Hike' up Volcan Pacaya

Day 4 and 5 – Backpacking Guatemala – Lake Atitlán and Chichicastenango Market

Your backpacking Guatemala itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lake Atitlán, a lake in a volcanic crater in the highlands of southwest Guatemala. The lake is surrounded by steep mountains which leads to a very scenic descent into the crater, dotted with towns on the shores. Each town with its own very distinctive feel. 

One of the busier hubs is Panajachel (aka Pana) which is a decent base in the area which is all connected with speedboats.

Things to do in Lake Atitlán

Pick up authentic souvenirs at Chichicastenango Market – Twice a week (on Thursday and Sunday), this town situated in the highlands northeast of Pana holds a huge craft market. It’s the oldest and largest market in Central Americal. Full of colourful textiles, wooden carvings, traditional clothing, leather products, a multitude of food vendors selling a mixture of sweet and savoury goods as well as your obligatory general tourist tat.

Visit the lakeside villages of San Pedro and San Marcos – To sum them up if you are looking for a vibrant nightlife then head to San Pedro where the revellers chill by day on the shoreline sun terraces and party by night. If you prefer the chilled new age hippy vibe then San Marcos will be your calling where the narrow street is full of holistic therapy centres, yoga retreats and vegan/ raw food places.

Head to the nature reserve – Just outside of Pana if you’re up for the walk up the steep hill there is a cute little Nature Reserve (The Reserva Natural Atitlán), complete with private beach, jungle walk, a mob of spider monkeys, butterfly house and zip-lining. Just watch out for no-see-ums, those horrid little biting flies – unless you fancy being on the menu for the nasty critters, cover-up.

Go Scuba Diving in the lake – For high altitude diving in the Lake Atitlán, you must have an open water certificate. You’ll get to see sunken houses and feel warmer water where there is a fissure in the lake bed. Find out more about diving in Lake Atitlan.

EXTRA OPTION:

If you have the time book a trip to Quetzaltenango, where ancient Guatemala meets the modern world. If you have an extended time in Guatemala, this is a great place to learn Spanish! Also check out the hot springs in this volcanic region

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Glorious Sunshine at Lake Atitlan

Where to stay in Lake Atitlán

Booking.com

Getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlán

The cheapest option is the chicken bus, there are a few daily buses, however only one is the direct bus. It departs early in the morning from the main bus station (the one near to the market). It leaves at 7 am and arrive in Panajachel around about 4hours later. The cost is 40Quetzel (approx. $5). 

Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus which takes around 2-2.5 hours at the price of 154Quetzel (approx. $20).

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Dusk Over Lake Atitlán

Top time-saving tip – If you plan to transfer to Lake Atitlán from Antigua then try and go on either a Sunday or a Thursday to kill two birds with one stone. Get the shuttle transfer that goes via Chichicastenango; make sure you go with a company that will hold your luggage -you WILL NOT want to carry big backpacks around with you! This transfer gives you a good few hours at the market which is ample time to pick up souvenirs without having to spend a whole day to do the excursion out here from either Pana or Antigua. This option costs around 230Quetzel (approx. $30) but because of the time it saves, is the most efficient.

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Colourful bags at chichicastenango Market

Day 6, 7 and 8 – Backpacking Guatemala - Lanquin & Semuc Champey

Lanquín lies 275km (approx. 170miles) northeast of Guatemala City but you’ll realise that Lanquín REALLY is in the middle of nowhere! So of all the places to visit in Guatemala, why bother to take this slog of a journey to get here? It’s certainly not for the town, as charming and as local feeling as Lanquín is, there isn’t much here and in all honesty, it’s a bit of a dive BUT Lanquín does happen to be the hub of every-thing Semuc Champey related.

Semuc Champey is a naturally formed limestone bridge, which passes over the Cahabón River. It’s about 300m long and made up of tons of cascading blue pools.

Things to do in Lanquin & Semuc Champey

Go swim in the sapphire blue waters of Semuc Champey – Semuc Champey is about 10km (just over 6miles) from Lanquín, accessible only by 4×4 along a very bumpy road through jungle and farmland. It can be done as independently, as a half-day or full-day trip. If you have the time and all you want to see is the river/waterfalls then go independently; this is the cheapest option, it’s also fairly straightforward. You just need to arrange your transport to get the 4×4 to Semuc Champey yourself which can be arranged in town with the locals, it will cost around 25 Quetzal (approx. $3.50) for the return journey. 

Hike to the look-out point and look down over Semuc Champey The half-day option gives you the 4×4 transfer and a ‘guide’ for Semuc Champey. Although in all honesty when you are in the park you don’t actually need a guide. There is one path that loops around, so you’d be hard pushed to get lost here. The path leads up to the viewing platform where you’ll get a grasp of just how big the limestone ‘bridge’ is. 

Also as a tip, if the guide allows, do the walk up to the viewpoint first, it’s a steep climb up ladders and steps and because of the humidity you get quite hot, the pools are a welcome treat after the climb. 

Go Caving up the underground river – All of the accommodations in the area will arrange a full day excursion which consists of a morning at Semuc Champey, and then the afternoon doing adventure sports. The cave system nearby features a river flowing through, you’ll be given a candle to light the way (water and candles – yeah, that’s a good idea) and have to swim through little ravines, climb up waterfalls and scramble up facades and slide down smooth rock faces into little plunge pools – all while trying to keep your candle dry!  

Float along the river on the giant rubber tube – If the caving is too energetic, then opt for the chillax option of floating down the river on a giant car inner tube. They will also serve you a Gallo (the local beer) to drink along the way! Watch out for the ‘floating bars’ basically local kids with a cool box tied to another giant inner tube which will follow you down the river. 

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Semuc Champey, a totally natural spa

Where to stay in Semuc Champey

Booking.com

Getting to Lanquin

Lanquin is actually in the middle of nowhere, make a very early start and go by shuttle. You’re going to lose most of this day just getting to the area BUT IT’S WORTH IT! 

Ideally, if you’ve fully read this guide, then it will be easier to come back to Antigua from Pana for one night before taking the journey to Lanquin. The journey to Lanquin is loooonnnggg. It will take around 8-10 hours. It will start on decent roads and then eventually drop down into long and windy, often mud roads. Take lots of snacks, water, pack of cards and be prepared for a bumpy journey. The shuttle is approx. 160 Quetzal (approx. $21) for a single journey.

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
View of the surrounding valleys around Lanquín

Day 9, 10 and 11 – Backpacking Guatemala - Rio Dulce & Livingstone

Located in the southeastern part of the country, the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) is just that. Surrounded by mangrove swamps which is a haven for wildlife, stay on one of the mangrove islands for a real getaway feeling. Take the boat down the river to the Caribbean vibe of Livingstone and the Garifuna people.

Things to do in Rio Dulce & Livingstone

Swim in the Agua Caliente waterfall – Just outside of the main town of Rio Dulce, take the collectivo van along the 7E highway to ‘Finca el Paraiso’. You’ll get dropped in what looks like the middle of farmland. There is a tiny sign near the road, look out for this, otherwise, look for the entrance into farmland (you have to pay a tiny fee to walk along the path to get there) – so even if you can’t see anyone to pay, they will have seen you 😉. Facilities here are minimal, at my time of visit, I was unable to go in due to excess rain and a surge in water flow, basically, the area was flooded! I was gutted to have missed swimming in the natral hot springs

Visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara – Just on the outskirts of Rio Dulce (3km), you’ll find an old fortress. It’s tiny but well restored and gives some great panoramic views over the River Dulce and the mangroves. 

Hire a canoe and paddle around the mangroves looking for wildlife – If you are staying on one of the islands in Rio Dulce, they are only accessible by boat. You cannot take the canoe back to the mainland, it’s too far, BUT you can paddle around the mangroves and estuary’s leading to the main river. This is a great way to try and spot birdlife and if you’re lucky, manatees.

Take the speed board down the Rio Dulce – This leaves from the main pier at Rio Dulce, both locals and tourists use the speed boats. The boat is set up for tourists and stops or slows down at lots of points of interest along the way; hot springs, water lilies, a bird colony on the route down to Livingstone.

Chill with the Garifuna in Livingstone – Livingstone is a little part of Guatemala cut off from the rest of the country. Its main access route is the river. If you have the time it’s certainly worthwhile stopping off here for a night or so. It’s got a real Caribbean feel to the place and is mostly inhabited by the Garifuna people. The Garifuna are Guatemalans but of Caribbean descent. The area is relaxed, with street art and colourful buildings. Look out for things like pigs wandering about the street and chickens on the beach.

Find the Seven Alters – The Siete Altares (Seven Alters) is a little bit off the beaten track in Livingstone but are cascades of freshwater in the middle of the jungle. To walk there catch a local tuk-tuk from Livingstone town to the swing bridge (there is only one swing bridge, the locals will all know it, then cross over by foot and walk, walk and walk some more (it takes about an hour) I guarantee it’s worth it! Just remember if you are doing this as a day trip to allow enough time to do the return trip back to Livingstone town. You can get a small powerboat here too – ask at the pier where the main ferry drops you off. 

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Castillo de San Felipe de Lara

EXTRA OPTION:

If you have the time stay at least a night in Livingstone, to really get a feel for the chilled vibes of the place. Despite it being part of Guatemala, the Garifuna people have a very different way of life compared to the rest of the Guatemalans, from the drinks, cuisine and even how much more chilled everything this. Make the most of the Caribbean vibes with an extended stay here.

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Street Art, Livingstone

Where to stay in Rio Dulce & Livingstone

Booking.com

Getting to Rio Dulce

You remember how difficult I said it was to get into Lanquin, well the easiest route from Lanquin to Rio Dulce is to take the shuttle bus. The journey should take around 5 hours and picks up at the main transport hub in Lanquin – the crossroads just over the bridge. The shuttle drops you at the main pier in Rio Dulce. It will cost about 270 Quetzal (approx. $35) 

Day 12 and 14 – Backpacking Guatemala – Flores and Tikal

The quaint colourful houses of UNESCO listed Flores, set on an island is situated in the north of Guatemala. This is the last destination on the backpacking Guatemala itinerary and the best place to base yourself for visiting the Mayan ruins of Tikal

Things to do in Flores, Guatemala

Watch the sunrise over Tikal Ruins – Of all the Guatemala things to do, a visit to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal are a must! Grin and bear the early start (3.30 am – ouch) and watch the sunrise over the jungle and the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal with the Sunrise Tour. The park is massive, so you could spend the entire day here exploring every crevice of the park. The ruins are situated in a jungle, and being in the park for sunrise means that you’ll be there just as the jungle is coming to life. Look out for various birds and listen out for the eerie call of the howler monkey while you wander through this important piece of Mayan history. The best way to get from Flores to Tikal is by booking one of the Tikal Tours that includeds pick up at your hotel. A tour and shuttle can be booked from one of the many tour agencies in the town. I guarantee you will not be spoilt for choice, be sure to shop around to get the best prices and take note of exactly what you are paying for. 

View the island of Flores from the viewpoint Catch a boat back over to the mainland and take the hike up the hill to the lookout point to photograph Flores from the land. 

Stoll around the cute and colourful houses – take the camera and the selfie stick. Flores is super colourful, as well as being pretty much car-free. Wander around the quiet cobbled streets. The houses are painted in a myriad of bright colours along with the pretty patterned doors. They make a great backdrop for some serious Insta pics. 

Try out some adventure sport – There are plenty of kayak hire places to take out and paddle around the island to see it from a different perspective. You can also try out the rope swings and zip lines in Flores.

One thing you’ll notice in Flores is that there are A LOT of different tour prices for visiting Tikal. For the same tour there was a 150quetzal (approx $20) difference between cheapest and most expensive one. It's important to shop around to get the best deal.

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Early Morning Sun from Temple IV, Tikal
Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Early Morning Jungle Mist, Tikal, Guatemala

Where to Stay in Flores

Booking.com

How to get to Flores

From the previous destination in Rio Dulce, catch a bus to Santa Elena – Santa Elena isn’t on the island of Flores – however, you can see the island of Flores pretty much from the bus station (once in Santa Elena, if you’re up for it then just walk across the bridge to the island, that’s one option. If not, then hail a cab for the short journey.  

Guatemala in 2 weeks. The best bits of Guatemala. Guatemala Itinerary to see all the best things. How to see the highlights of Guatemala in just two weeks. What to see in 14 days in Guatemala, temples, forests, rivers, colonial towns, UNESCO sites. #GuatemalaHighlights #VisitGuatemala #Tikal #MayanRuins #UNESCOGuatemala #BackpackingCentralAmerica #BackpackingInGuatemala #UNESCOGuatemala #SoloFemalTravel #GuatemalaItinerary #BackpackBecki
Colourful Houses of Flores

Onwards Travel from Guatemala

Then where??

Flores is well connected to both Guatemala City and Antigua so at the end of your two-week jaunt it’s easy to get back to either city. You could also continue north into Mexico or over to neighbouring Belize via bus to embark on a whole new adventure. But that’s for another story! 

Visiting Guatemala or Central America you might be interested in these articles…

Pin it

If you found this post useful, or know someone that will, then please like and share. Don’t forget to pin it for future reference. 

So as a seasoned Temple and Ruin junkie, Tikal was one of my highlights along with exploring Antigua. I also loved the adventure sports that Guatemala had to offer. So, where should I visit next? I’d love to hear where you’ve been, just drop me a message below.

A perfect 2 week itinerary for backpacking Guatemala. ALL of the main highlights of Guatemala including Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan & Semuc Champey. Where to go in Guatemala to see the best ruins, where to spot wildlife in Guatemala and the best adventure sport areas in Guatemala #Guatemala #CentralAmerica #Tikal #TravelCentralAmerica
A perfect 2 week itinerary for backpacking Guatemala. ALL of the main highlights of Guatemala including Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan & Semuc Champey. Where to go in Guatemala to see the best ruins, where to spot wildlife in Guatemala and the best adventure sport areas in Guatemala #Guatemala #CentralAmerica #Tikal #TravelCentralAmerica
A perfect 2 week itinerary for backpacking Guatemala. ALL of the main highlights of Guatemala including Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan & Semuc Champey. Where to go in Guatemala to see the best ruins, where to spot wildlife in Guatemala and the best adventure sport areas in Guatemala #Guatemala #CentralAmerica #Tikal #TravelCentralAmerica

Backpacking Guatemala – Ultimate Guide of Things to do in Guatemala in 2 weeks 3

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Becki from Meet Me In Departures

Adventure travel blogger with a big addiction to the World. An ex-rat-racer who was fed up with sleep-work-eat-repeat materialistic mentality that plagues modern living. I love anything to do with off-beat travel, abandoned places, temples & ruins, street art, wildlife in its natural habitat, adventure sport.....basically anything but the 9-5!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. What an extensive travel guide, thank you Becki! I’ve only been to Lake Atitlan 3 years ago, need to come back to see the rest 😉

    1. Thank you Christina, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. Lake Atitlan is certainly somewhere you could spend months, my few days at that location didn’t do it justice. I’ll go back one day 🙂

  2. Semuc Champi looks super pretty! Now Guatemala’s on my list…

    1. Semuc Champey is stunning 🙂 I’m glad Guatemala is on your list

  3. What month did you go to this country? GREAT BLOG! LOVE IT

    1. Hi Justyna, thank-you for the great feedback 🙂 I visited Guatemala in January although it was wet. Every local I had spoekn too told me it was unusual weather and that there was more rain than usual.

  4. Superb article, exactly what one needs to planning an awesome trip in Guatemala.

    The pictures are nice too – so funny that the chicken bus exist in so many Latin American countries with a different name! In Panama they are called “diablo rojo”, the red devil 😀

    1. The red devil name sounds much cooler than chicken bus.

      1. I really wonder where these names come from, they are so different. I guess the drive is the same crazy in all of them though 😀

  5. Wow! Guatemala looks so beautiful. I love the charm of the colorful houses and the cobblestone streets. Thanks for some great tips. I’ll be saving your post for future reference.

  6. Guatemala has been on my travel bucketlist for so long now and you make me want to see it even more!

  7. I didn’t realize how large of a country it is! There are so many neat place to see! If you could only pick one area for a shorter trip, what would you recommend? I am guessing the ruins rank high, but which area has the most to see without a lot of travel once you’re there?

    1. That’s such a tough question. The two MUST SEE have to be Antigua and Tikal, however, they aren’t close to each other. So perhaps if you only have a week, fly into La Aurora International Airport near Guatemala City, and do Antigua for a few days (there’s plenty in the region to spend ages here), then transfer via shuttle to Flores/Tikal and spend a couple of days there, catch a flight from the airport in the north of the country, Mundo Maya International Airport which is close to Tikal to avoid tracking back on yourself.

  8. Guatemala is on our bucket list and I am glad I came across this comprehensive guide that will surely help us with our trip planning. The columns at Tumbla de Don Pedro and the Mayan Ruins look incredible. Sounds like the perfect trip to plan early next year during the drier months.

    1. I’m really glad you found this guide useful. Everyone who has visited Guatemala absolutely loves it there, so no doubt you will too.

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