During February and March of 2023, I asked you on social media (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter) to choose where I should go between Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. It was fun to have people give me reasons for why they chose which country. Guatemala came out victorious multiple times. So I bought a ticket and off I went with very little planning. I wanted to cover a lot of ground so here is my extreme one week itinerary for Guatemala with lists of things to do, places to visit, and how I got around.
This itinerary is not for the light hearted, so if you have more than one week available I’d suggest you give yourself more time. Honestly if I had more time I would have done it differently, but I hope it’ll be helpful for anyone with limited time as well. You do NOT need to do it like I did. Take it as a reference and add/delete any spots not relevant for you.
Currency used– Guatemalan Quetzales
Exchange rate– 7.80 Quetzales at the time of this post. Banco Azteca will get you the best rate.
Outlets– same as the US, no adapters needed.
Safe for solo female travelers?– Yes, only two instances where I felt uncomfortable. Both in the dark when I don’t advise you to be out by yourself as a precaution. I would return to Guatemala in a heartbeat with more time.
Level of language needed– Spanish definitely comes in handy and goes a long way with the Guatemalans. Areas like Antigua and Lake Atitlán will have more English speakers.
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One Week Guatemala Itinerary
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Day 1: Guatemala City
If your plane arrives early like mine did, take advantage of the day and explore Guatemala City. Take a taxi, Uber, bus or private transfer to the city center. Have lunch at Mercado Central after walking around the different levels of the market which include fruits and vegetable stands, souvenirs, clothes, and lots of food stalls.
Exchange money at Banco Azteca if you can for the best exchange rate, otherwise head to Banco Industrial since it’s closer to the Constitution Plaza where you’ll head next. To cool down on a hot day, grab a granizado and people watch.
Looking for a quiet/relaxing place? Head to the Natural History Museum (50 Quetzales cash). They have lockers to put your things at no additional charge. Great place to escape the heat and learn more about Guatemala’s history. Do be warned that this museum collection starts around the arrival of the Spaniards so there isn’t too much before this time period.
Amore Cafe is a great place to grab a bite to eat before heading to the Cristobal Colon bus station and taking the night bus to Flores, your next destination. A first class ticket costs $39 one way.
Day 2: Isla de Flores and Tikal
After a 9 hour bus ride, arrive in Flores in the morning. Walk, take a moto taxi or a regular taxi to the island or wherever you plan to stay. Shower and rest for a bit before your tour to Tikal which can be done during sunrise, the day or for sunset.
Going off this itinerary you can either do the day or sunset tour options. It takes approximately 5 hours and the entrance to the Tikal National Park (150 Quetzales) is not included in what you pay for transportation. Drones are not allowed to be flown to protect the wildlife in the area. Bathrooms and food are available. Please take out what you bring in.
Get back to la isla de Flores and wander around. Go to the west end of the island if you’re there for sunset. Due to the proximity to the Flores airport, you may not be able to fly your drone. Walk on the boardwalk surrounding the island as long as it’s not high tide.
Grab dinner at one of the many restaurants. I opted for tacos near the entrance of the island. It was 4 tacos al pastor for 50 Quetzales. Head to Los Amigos Hostel in the evening to meet other travelers.
Hostel I stayed at for the night was Maya Pan Hostel located two blocks from the entrance of the island. It has a rooftop where you can see the sunrise or meet other travelers and enjoy a meal or drink. Look over a lot more hostel options on Hostel World.
Day 3: Isla de Flores and Rio Dulce
Wake up around sunrise and view it from your hotel/hostel rooftop if it has one! For breakfast I recommend Maple y Tocino on the northern part of the island. It has amazing views and hummingbirds frequent the outside bushes. Wander around the many shops and stores before making your way to the bus station.
Be aware there are about 4 different bus stations depending on where you’re planning on going next. To get to Rio Dulce you’ll need to go to the main one which is the furthest one away. In a moto taxi it’ll cost you 10 Quetzales. A ticket from Flores to Rio Dulce is 150 Quetzales ($19.25). It’s a four hour bus ride with AC.
Rio Dulce is a small town located between Lago de Izabal and Rio Dulce (name of river as well). Of all the towns/cities I visited in Guatemala this was the least touristy. Most people stay at the lodges on the actual river instead of the town. Definitely recommend eating seafood due to the proximity to water. I had ceviche mixto and it was so good.
The main pier under the bridge and the San Felipe of Lara Castle should be on your list in this town. Rio Dulce is used as a stopover on the way to Livingston which is also what I did. Livingston is on the Amatique Bay and only accessible by boat.
Day 4: Livingston and bus to Guatemala City
There is one public boat that goes to Livingston from Rio Dulce at 9:30am and then returns at 2pm. Unless you take a private boat this is your only option. The roundtrip costs 200 Quetzales in cash. Double check when you are there as this is accurate of the day of posting but may change over time.
Livingston is one of the biggest Afro Guatemalan communities. The people here were brought over from Africa to be slaves but were shipwrecked on St Vincent. Over time they ended up in Livingston and still hold onto their culture, music, gastronomy, and language. They are called the Garifuna and there’s Garifuna communities in Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua in addition to Guatemala. In the 1970s, Livingston’s Garifuna population was around 10,000 and has since gone down to around 4,000. The remaining Garifuna have continued to preserve their history and heritage.
In Latin America being dark is looked down on. So much so that people tend to use phrases like “mejorar la raza” (better/whiten the race), completely ignoring that Latinos are a mix and blend of everything. I had no idea there was a whole community of Afro Guatemalans and that is what drew me to visit Livingston. It’s a part of history that tends to be overlooked and I wasn’t going to ignore it.
You can stay in Livingston or the surrounding areas as there are plenty of accommodations. If I had more time, I would have spent at least a night here.
After a day in Livingston it was back on the boat for the two hour ride back to Rio Dulce. I grabbed some pupusas which were close to where I was staying at Hostal Blood Moon. This was a bit out of the way so I don’t fully recommend it for solo female travelers. For couples or a group of friends it will be fine.
At night the city really does go to sleep and since my bus to Guatemala City was at midnight, I had to find a taxi that would pick me up and take me to the bus station. Uber doesn’t exist in this town and I didn’t have a number to call. I found a taxi driver that drives at night, since some only drive during the day, to come get me at 11:15pm. It was all word of mouth so he easily could have not picked me up. Thankfully he showed up and I made it to my bus.
Day 5: Antigua Guatemala
The bus arrived in Guatemala City around 6am, but I didn’t have a set way of getting to Antigua. Since we arrived at a station I knew I would be able to catch a bus heading there.
Just as I expected, I stepped off the bus and someone was shouting “Antigua” and “Lago Atitlán”. I walked over to the guy and asked him how much it cost to go to Antigua. He said 150 Quetzales. Looking back I could have found something for less, but I was tired and didn’t feel like shopping around. I agreed and 5 minutes later was on my way.
First thing I did was head to my hostel: Yes Please! Hostel and take a shower. Overnight travel has been a theme this trip and it was definitely time effective.
Anyone who has ever seen a picture of Antigua has seen a photo of the beautiful yellow Santa Catalina arch. So I headed there after a short walk around the municipal park. There’s a restaurant located right next to it called Restaurante del Arco where I grabbed breakfast. The restaurant is the site of what used to be the Santa Catalina Convent so even if you don’t eat here, definitely take a walk around. The arch actually connected the convent with a school so that the cloistered nuns didn’t even need to go on the street.
With a full belly I was off to explore. A block away from the arch is the Merced church and park. As I entered the church, a wedding happened to be wrapping up. It seemed to be a traditional Mayan wedding as all the women were wearing clothes with colorful patterns. It was beautiful to witness this even if for a few moments.
On the southeast end of the city are a few churches and museums that I visited first. Museo del Hermano Pedro is adjacent to San Francisco, the Great Sanctuary. The museum has an entrance fee of 30 Quetzales for foreigners or 10 Quetzales for Central Americans.
Across the street is Convento Santa Clara. Definitely worth a visit. Most of it is in ruins, but you could tell it was beautiful in its day. It’s also the location of the second wedding I stumbled upon this day. This was more of a traditional western wedding with the bride in white.
Trying street food is a must when I travel so for an early dinner I head back to the Merced park where many food stands were located and got a churrasqueira de chorizo for 25 Quetzales paid in cash. I ate at the fountain along with guests to what looked to be another wedding. A great place to people-watch while having delicious food.
The next morning will be an early morning so I left everything ready and went to bed early.
Day 6: Pacaya Volcano and Antigua Guatemala
Rise and shine before the sun does and get ready to hike towards a volcano! The Pacaya Volcano to be precise, but if you prefer another volcano then check out these options. I did this experience with Get Your Guide and had an amazing time. I talked more about it on this reel and in this post.
You get picked up around 6-6:15 am and don’t get back until around 2pm. Bring snacks and enough water for this time period. I also recommend sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat if you’re more sensitive to the sun. You have two guides so do not feel pressured to walk fast, just take your time.
Once you’re back in Antigua head to Los Tres Tiempos for lunch. This was a great place to try Pepian, a Guatemalan dish, for the first time. You can choose from a vegetarian, chicken, or meat option. It is a bit pricier than other places, but service and food were really great. It’s located between the Arch and Merced church.
After almost a week I had not bought a single souvenir. With only a little bit of time left, I decided it was now or never. A couple stores down from Los Tres Tiempos is a market with a lot of handmade goods. There are also a lot of women on the streets selling their own. I bought a few things from a lady on the street and some from the store.
As I wandered around I came across a procession in progress. If you’ve never been to one of these I recommend it. I went to many in New Jersey growing up, but they’re much more intricate in Latin America. Antigua does ‘alfombras’ (carpets) which are colorful mural designs created on the street for the procession to pass over. I had seen an alfombra being made when I returned from the hike, but had been unaware that a procession had been scheduled for that afternoon.
For me this time was a peculiar one because I had only ever seen men carrying the Saint, Virgin Mary or Jesus before. This time women were carrying it. The rain started coming down hard around this time and I escaped to find some shelter.
This time of the year (March) isn’t known for being too rainy, but apparently this month was an exception. At least that’s what the barista at Ojala Cafe + Bar told me. That’s where I ended up as I watched the rain fall. We talked about how things were in Antigua during COVID and it reminded me of why I love solo travel. These moments are rare to happen when you’re with friends or family. You’re more distracted and occupied, you can’t just fully be.
Day 7: Antigua Guatemala and airport
Another early morning to get photos and videos in forn the Arch without any people. To my surprise there was a singer there with a whole camera crew! I did not expect that on a Monday morning. I still got what I went for without getting in their way.
After taking way more photos than I’ll ever use I headed to Starbucks because I heard the aesthetics were on point. It did not disappoint. I’m not much of a Starbies girl so I headed to el Viejo Cafe and grabbed a latte and croissant for breakfast.
Next on the list was the Hill of the Cross. You get an amazing panoramic view of the city with the volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango in the back. The earlier you go, the less people there will be.
Heading down I visited the Convento Capuchinas. A beautiful convent with a museum. I don’t recommend visiting on a Monday as the museum and second floor are closed. Entrance can only be paid in cash, 40 Quetzales.
Finally, time for a proper breakfast, I made my way to Patio de la Primavera near my hostel. I had what’s considered a typical breakfast which includes eggs, bacon, frijoles, cheese, bread, and fruit.
Then it was off to explore more. The Cathedral has ruins behind it which you can enter for 20 Quetzales cash. Compared to the convents and other places to visit, this one wasn’t as intriguing, but definitely still beautiful.
This was my last day, but I had the opportunity to spend part of the afternoon with a GreetHer. GreetHer is this awesome platform that connects female travelers with local female travelers around the world! It’s a great service for female travelers in search of safety, wanting to learn from a local or looking for a friend to do activities with. I used the service in Dublin and had an amazing time.
Beverly, my GreetHer, is based in Guatemala City and was telling me about all the amazing things most people miss out on. She’s bilingual in English and Spanish so would be a great resource when visiting the city!
Before heading to the airport, I grabbed dinner at La Cuevita de los Urquizu. It’s located close to Convent las Capuchinas and, according to Beverly, very typical in terms of Guatemalan food, but pricey compared to what things usually cost. You choose a soup between 6 different options and then two meat options and 2 sides as your plate for about 120 Quetzales (roughly $15.50).
Originally I was planning to take the local bus back to the city because I found out it costs 20 Quetzales from Antigua to the center of Guatemala City. Apparently the last bus leaves at 6pm and I hadn’t been planning to leave until around 8pm. Thankfully Uber is very popular and used between the two. I was able to get one from my hostel in Antigua to the airport for about $28. Way more than I would have spent taking the tourist transportation, but it was direct, comfortable and left at the time I wanted to leave.
Would you do this itinerary?
This extreme one week itinerary for Guatemala covers a lot. And as I mentioned it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. If you’re limited on time then it would make sure you cover most of the country with a few exceptions. Originally I had wanted to visit Lake Atitlán and even considered doing a day trip there, but I saw it would take too long and I wouldn’t get to fully enjoy it so I skipped it for more time in Antigua. I will eventually be going back with more time to spend there and visit a few other spots that I didn’t have time to see during this trip.
If you’ve been to Guatemala before, which of these spots did you visit? Let me know if you would do part of or this whole itinerary in the comments!
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Viaja more y live más,
This was amazing to read; I know very little about Guatemala but this has inspired me to learn more about it. It seems like from the itinerary you shared there is a lot to experience, learn about and enjoy. What a great experience to have!