Moon Guatemala (Moon Handbooks) - Al Argueta (2015)
The Best of Guatemala
If you have 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 Archaeology Museum 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 of Tikal, 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 jungle chic 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.
La Lancha, an ecolodge on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá
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 one of the groups making the Pacaya Volcano climb to see the lava light show. 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. If possible, plan for Day 7 to fall upon 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.
colorful dolls for sale in Chichicastenango
It’s up to you. Head to the other side of Lake Atitlán to San Pedro, San Marcos, or Santiago 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 make day trips to the other villages. 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 offered 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.
Guatemala’s Top Ten
✵ La Antigua Guatemala (click here): This fascinating colonial town flanked by volcanoes is just an hour from the Guatemala City airport. Among the ruins of old convents destroyed by an 18th-century earthquake are brightly colored restored colonial structures housing some of the country’s best restaurants and fanciest hotels. Explore the cobblestone streets on foot, on Segway, or by horse-drawn carriage.
✵ Volcano Climbs (click here): Much of Guatemala’s highland region is dotted with majestic volcanic guardians. Active Pacaya Volcano is a fairly easy climb that most anyone in reasonable shape can do. Acatenango Volcano is extremely difficult, but you’ll get an unparalleled view of Guatemala’s amazing scenery, complete with an unobstructed view of lava-spewing Fuego Volcano right next to it.
✵ Lake Atitlán (click here): Compared by writer Aldous Huxley to Italy’s Lake Como but with the added embellishment of three conical volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is spectacular. Its fringes are populated by small towns quickly gaining popularity with foreign travelers and residents, each with its own vibe.
✵ Chichicastenango’s Market (click here): This twice-weekly affair is Latin America’s largest outdoor market. Much of it is local trade among Mayan people, but there is also considerable trade in handicrafts.
✵ Iztapa and Monterrico (click here and click here): Guatemala’s Pacific Coast offers warm weather year-round in addition to black-sand beaches. Iztapa is well known by anglers for its impressive yields of sailfish and billfish. In season (Dec.-Feb.) it also serves as the gateway for whale-watching tours. Monterrico (and the village of Hawaii to the east) is the site of sea turtle conservation efforts but also has become popular with travelers seeking sun, sand, and surf.
✵ Río Dulce National Park (click here): This waterway connects Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast to its largest lake. Its impressive canyon is lined with jungle scenery. There are numerous lodges from which to enjoy outdoor activities and the eponymous town at the mouth of the river’s confluence is a popular boat marina. Also at the confluence with the Caribbean Sea is the charming Garífuna enclave of Lívingston.
✵ Semuc Champey Natural Monument (click here): Slowly gaining more popularity (but still not mainstream due to its remote location and difficult access), the emerald green limestone pools and waterfalls of Semuc Champey are a huge hit with those who make it here.
✵ Tikal National Park (click here): This impressive archaeological site is among the finest in the Mayan world and the exuberant tropical forest all around (full of wildlife) only adds to the allure.
✵ Yaxhá (click here): This archaeological site has its own unique feel because it overlooks not only verdant forests but two large lagoons. The sunsets viewed from its tallest structures are amazing.
✵ El Mirador (click here): Many people come to Guatemala just to see the Mayan ruins, so it’s not surprising that three of the country’s Top Ten must-sees are archaeological sites. Accessible only by helicopter or a two-day mule trek, the pyramids here are among the largest ancient structures in the world. The largest, La Danta Complex, is bigger (in volume) than Egypt’s Great Pyramid.