Epic Guatemala itinerary – Best nature and cool colonial hubs

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Are you planning to travel to central America? Include Guatemala in your travel plans! It is amazing! But beware, you might fall in love with its nature, people and cool backpacking hubs, just like we did!

This Guatemala itinerary takes you to the top spots in this fascinating country.

Check out our Guatemala backpacking guide for more profound info and make the most out of your time there.

Guatemala itinerary destinations:

Flores – El Remate – Poptun – Rio Dulce – Livingston – Semuc Champey – Antigua – Lago Atitlan – Xela/Quetzaltenango –  Monterrico – El Paredon

Watch the round-up of this itinerary in a short video:

Flores: The gateway to the Mayan world

After crossing the border from Belize into Guatemala our first stop was popular backpacking hub Flores. The most charming part of town is located on a small island on lake Peten Itza.

It is a cute little place where you can enjoy the backpacker vibe. Walk around town and take in the stunning views. Don’t forget to try out Jorge’s rope swing!

Flores is also called the gateway to the mayan world. From Flores it is easy to explore ancient mayan ruins like Tikal, Uaxactun and Yahxa.

It can get pretty crowded in Flores as it is so tiny and a lot of people want to visit it.

Where to stay in Flores?

Image courtesy Hostelworld

Hostel Peten Express Tikal

  • Awesome lake views
  • Swimming pool
Flores - Photo by Michiel Ton on Unsplash

El Remate - Get to the rural side of Guatemala

The last time we visited El Remate was on our first backpacking adventure in Guatemala. It was in 2012.

In my memory El Remate is nothing more than a deserted dirt road with a restaurant and a couple of houses. We arrived there in the pouring rain, discovering that our raincoats did a very lousy job at keeping us dry.

After crowded Flores we enjoyed the peace and quiet of El Remate a lot.

We went to the Ruins of Yaxha at sundown and that is most definitely the right time to go!!

El Remate is getting more popular and so there are some more activities than in 2012. Some of the offered activities include zip-lining and kayaking. 

Where to stay in El Remate?

Le casa de Don David

  • Beautiful Garden
  • Great location

Poptun - Enjoy nature at Finca Ixobel

We enjoyed the more rural life in El Remate so much that we decided we wanted some more of that quiet time. Thats why we made Finca Ixobel in Poptun our next stop.

Finca Ixobel had everything we were looking for! It is located in the middle of nature. If you like to swim in a natural pond and enjoy a good hike then this is the place for you! You can even go horseback riding here.

We felt so at home at the finca that we eventually stayed for more than 2 weeks. They have their own bakery and make fresh homemade meals every day!

We’ve met some pretty cool people staying here and even had the opportunity to fly over the area in a Cessna plane for free! Lucky bastards! 🙂

Poptun itself for us was less attractive than the finca. We only went there to do a little basic shopping and made a fun day out of it.

Where to stay in Poptun?

Lodge at Finca Ixobel

Finca Ixobel

  • Great Backpacker Vibe
  • Awesome Domain
  • Great Food

Rio Dulce & Livingston - Jungle and reggae vibe

Where the Rio Dulce flows into the Gulf of Honduras you can find Livingston, a laid-back town with a reggae vibe. An excellent destination to savor the Caribbean side of Guatemala.

We visited it as a day trip from our cool river side hostel Finca Tatin, but you can also spend the night in Livingston.

For us, the boat trip from Finca Tatin to Livingston was maybe even better than Livingston itself. The views of the wildlife and nature are simply amazing!

The finca is located in the middle of the jungle, only reachable by boat. We are both afraid of spiders but we (tried to) put that fear aside and enjoy our stay in the jungle. If your up for it you can take a jungle tour at night to spot some of the wildlife.

Want to know more about this part of the trip? Take a look at this article about Rio Dulce and Livingston.

Where to stay in Rio Dulce?

Finca Tatin

  • Great Backpacker Vibe
  • Awesome Domain
Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce

Semuc Champey in Lanquin - Swim in turquoise pools

A very bumpy and long ride took us to Lanquin. The place to be if you want to visit the natural wonder Semuc Champey!

Our hostel was El Retiro Lodge and we loved our stay there! Situated next to the river Cahabon, these lodges are the perfect place to relax. We had a really fun day tubing the river whilst enjoying some beers.

There is a restaurant on site. You don’t have the opportunity to go shopping or anything else here. There is only nature surrounding you!

So make sure to bring some cash to pay your stay, day trips and food.

The hostel (just like any other hostel in Lanquin) organised a day trip to the natural pools of Semuc Champey. Don’t miss out on all the swimming fun and make sure to go on the cave tour.

Where to stay in Lanquin?

El Retiro Lodge

  • Great Backpacker Vibe
  • Fun Activities and tours
Semuc Champey view from above
Semuc Champey - Photo by Christopher Crouzet on Unsplash

Antigua - Colonial backpackers paradise

Antigua is the capital for backpackers in Guatemala. From time to time you see more backpackers than locals wandering the streets of this very charismatic city. In spite of this, we lost our hearts to Antigua and returned multiple times over the years.

There are so many amazing things to see and do here that we dedicated a whole post to top activities and sights in Antigua

Matiox Hostel Antigua

Matiox Hostel

  • Backpacker Vibe
  • Kitchen
  • Activities
Maya Papaya Hostel Antigua

Maya Papaya Hostel

  • Beautiful Hostel
  • On-Site Restaurant
  • Good Vibe
Antigua Guatemala
Antigua - Photo by Ale Gonzalez on Pixabay

Lago Atitlan - The most beautiful lake in South America

Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular places to visit in Guatemala. It has such a magical vibe that we visited it a couple of times and even decided to rent a studio there for a couple of months. It’s just that amazing!

This crater lake set in the Guatemalan highlands has views that make your jaw drop and some of the best sunsets I have ever seen.

It is surrounded by many towns which all have something different to offer their visitors. You get around the lake by water taxi which is an adventure on its own. If you are wondering what area is the best fit for your stay then check out our guide about the different towns surrounding Lake Atitlan.

Where to stay at Lake Atitlan?

Pasaj Cap at Lake Atitlan

Pasaj Cap

  • Best views on the lake
  • Quiet and beautiful
View over Lake Atitlan
View over Lake Atitlan

Quetzaltenango alias Xela - Discover authentic Guatemala

Mingle with locals and other travelers alike in this interesting Guatemalan city. A great place to shape up your Spanish or hike up a volcano.

Quetzaltenango has plenty of restaurants and cute little cafes where you can chill. There is a big local farmers market with fresh meat, veggies, fruits, etc.

On colder days I can recommend a swim in the hot springs Fuentes Georginas. Hitchhiking there and back is half the fun of the trip!

Hostels aren’t that luxurious as in Antigua, but you can find a decent bed at a good price. We stayed at the Kasa Kiwi Hostel in the center of Quetzaltenango. They operate also as a travel agency so you can book a lot of different tours via the hostel.  As well as transportation to your next destination. Casa Seibel is owned by the same people as Casa Kiwi and is also a very good option to stay.

Where to stay in Quetzaltenango?

Casa Seibel Quetzaltenango Guatemala
Image courtesy Hostelworld

Casa Seibel

  • Backpacker Vibe
  • Kitchen
  • Quiet hostel

Chichicastenango market: a Day trip to go souvenir shopping

The market of Chichicastenango is a must-do if you plan on taking or sending home some truly awesome Guatemalan travel gifts! It is the place to be to get fabrics, masks, belts, bracelets, paintings and much more.

The market is very big and you can easily spend a couple of hours wandering around. Even if you don’t have the intent to buy something it is worth a visit. Witness the vendors and tourists haggle over prices, breath in the atmosphere and be amazed about all these pieces of art created by human hands.

A day trip can be arranged from almost anywhere in Antigua, Quetzaltenango or Lake Atitlan

Masks at Chichicastenango market
Masks at Chichicastenango market

Monterrico and El Paredon - The best beaches in Guatemala

Monterrico and El Paredon are the only places on this list that we didn’t visit ourselves. But I include these beach towns on the Pacific side to make this Guatemala travel itinerary a little more diverse. 

The beach of Montericco is made of black volcanic sand which gets pretty hot. The waves are strong and sometimes there might even be a severe undertow. Nonetheless, it can be a nice destination if you want to hear the waves crashing, eat some fresh seafood and see baby turtles hatching.

Monterrico also has mangroves where you can go wildlife spotting.

El Paredon is most famous for its surfing and has some killer waves! Therefore it is a backpackers and surfers paradise. 

Where to stay at the beach?

La Palma B&B Montericco

  • Swimming Pool
  • Awesome food!
Driftwood Surfer El Paredon

The Driftwood surfer El Paredon

  • Swimming Pool
  • Beach
  • Backpacker vibe

Conclusion Guatemala Itinerary

We’ve traveled a couple of times to Guatemala and we will probably go back there again. There is just so much to see. We’ve had a great time discovering this country and we wish the same for you!

I hope you like this Guatemala itinerary, and that it can be of help planning your trip.

Not convinced yet?

Here are 10 Reasons why Guatemala should be in your Central America itinerary.

And if you need some extra travel tips about Guatemala you can check out our post with interesting facts about Guatemala.

Let us know if you think there is anything we should add to this Guatemala itinerary and happy travels!

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Guatemala tinerary

13 Responses

  1. I love your photography. You have such vivid and diverse photos. I’ve been to Guatemala a couple of times but only on short border hops from Belize. I enjoyed Tikal and staying there overnight but you make Flores sound so beautiful that I would want to spend some time there as well.

  2. This is timely. Since we spend 3 months a year in Mazatlan it Cancun, we have started lining up other countries to visit from those bases. Belize is on it. Guatemala seems too outdoorsy for old folks like us.

    1. Hehe! It doesn’t sound old if you’re planning all these trips. And I believe you would enjoy Guatemala a lot. You don’t have to backpack it 😃 Just get a nice collectivo or shuttle… You can visit Tikal easily from Belize 😉

  3. I’ve never been to this area of Guatemala, but have been hearing more and more about it in recent years. I didn’t realize that Antigua was a popular hub for backpackers. I have never gone backpacking myself, but if I ever was to do it looks like visiting Antigua isn’t a bad place to start. Crazy that sometimes there are more backpackers here than actual locals!

  4. Guatemala is high on our list. We initially wanted to visit this summer along with Belize and Yucatan in Mexico but because we’re not sure how the weather is during the summer months (apparently very hot and humid) we’ll keep these destinations for another time. Both Antigua and Livingston seem like places to spend a few days. Thanks for this itinerary!

  5. I just love Guatemala! I travelled there a few years ago and your pictures and tips bring back a lot of memories. What a great post for travellers exploring Guatemala.

  6. VERY timely post as we are looking to visit Guatamala either this year or early next. We have Tikal for sure on our list to visit, as well as hopefully some jungle trekking. Lake Atitlan too of course, because, well, your photo! 😉

    1. Thanks 😄 you will fall in love with Atitlan, just like we did! Have a lot of fun and don’t hesitate to send us a message if you need specific information!

  7. I would love to visit Guatemala! Your post describes such a diverse range of activities and locales, it sounds like there is something for everyone. When I go, I would love to wander around to different areas of the country as it sounds like you did to experience all parts of it!

  8. Guatemala looks exceptional through your lens. Chichicastenango market would keep me busy for hours, plus the cave tour. Fun! If one were not a backpacker and had not been to Guatemala, what town would you recommend starting with?

    1. I’d recommend starting with Antigua. There are loads of nice hotels too. With Antigua as a hub, you can travel to most places on a day trip. Although spending the night in places like Atitlan, Flores, and Rio Dulce are a must 😄 Should write a non-backpacker guide!!

  9. I’ve heard so many great things about Guatemala but I didn’t realize there were Mayan ruins. We visited ruins in Mexico but would love to see those in Guatemala. A nighttime jungle tour would also be so cool!

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