If you have only 10 days, you can enjoy the best that Guatemala has to offer. The following itinerary will help you see as much as you can in a short amount of time without running ragged. After all, it’s a vacation.
Fly in to Guatemala City around lunchtime. Take the afternoon to visit the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología or the Museo Popol Vuh and Museo Ixchel (next door to each other) for a crash course on the Mayan civilization. Enjoy dinner in one of Guatemala City’s excellent restaurants.
Take an early-morning flight out of Guatemala City to Flores, the gateway to the Mayan ruins in Tikal National Park, in the northern Petén department. Tikal is the most famous of Guatemala’s Mayan sites and boasts impressive temple pyramids. Spend all day exploring the ruins and enjoying the sublime jungle environment.
You have the option of staying at the park and seeing the sunrise over the rainforest from the top of Temple IV or heading back south to Lake Petén Itzá, where you can stay at the ultrachic La Lancha. The lake, with its turquoise waters and tropical forest ecosystem, makes a good alternative to staying at the ruins.
Fly back to Guatemala City on the afternoon of the second day. Upon arrival, grab a shuttle bus or taxi from the airport to Antigua, Guatemala’s old colonial capital, and check in at any of the city’s fine accommodations.
Grab breakfast or coffee from any of the coffee shops along the plaza. Café Condesa makes a fine choice for breakfast. Take some time to see Antigua’s major sights. Return to your comfortable hotel room for some chill-out time before heading out to dinner. On the second day, head out to Finca Filadelfia for breakfast and take a tour of the coffee farm.
Lunch is at your leisure and you can also use the time to do some shopping. In the afternoon, head out with a group making one of the several Pacaya Volcano climb. The hike up Pacaya Volcano is a favorite way to see the fire on the mountain. The trip returns late at night.
Take a shuttle bus sometime around noon for Panajachel, on the shores of spectacular Lake Atitlán. You also have the option of continuing to nearby Santa Catarina Palopó or Santa Cruz La Laguna if Panajachel doesn’t suit your style. The afternoon is yours to explore or simply relax. Plan on Day 7’s being a Sunday or Thursday so you can grab a shuttle bus from Panajachel to Chichicastenango to see the colorful Chichicastenango Market. Return to Panajachel in the afternoon.
It’s up to you. Head to the other side of the lake to San Pedro La Laguna or Santiago Atitlán for some more highland Mayan culture amid splendid settings or any of the other Mayan villages around the lake. You can also stay right where you are and do the other villages as day trips. This will give you time to really enjoy the lake, as the pace of your visit to Atitlán thus far will have been a bit hurried.
Take a shuttle bus back to Guatemala City on the afternoon of Day 9 and check in to your hotel. Savor the culinary delights at another one of the city’s excellent restaurants before packing your purchases for the flight home the next day and turning in for the night. Be sure to leave room in your carry-on for the excellent duty-free shopping at La Aurora Airport.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.