Backpacking Guatemala is one of my favorite adventures to date! I spent 2 weeks in Guatemala and honestly had no idea what to expect before I arrived, though after the first day, I was already in complete awe of this incredible country in Central America!
From the diverse volcanic landscapes to the rich Mayan culture and everything in between, I knew right away that my Guatemala backpacking adventure would be one for the books!
In this Guatemala Travel Guide, you will find my recommendations for the best Guatemala backpacking route, places to visit in Guatemala, how to get around, where to stay in each location and what to expect!
Have you got travel insurance for Guatemala? I know that nobody likes to talk about this stuff but accidents can happen and having World Nomads Insurance can save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong.
BACKPACKING GUATEMALA OVERVIEW
Guatemala is a relatively small country in Central America and there are so many epic things to do in Guatemala that you could easily spend months here and not get bored.
For the majority of travelers that are on a time constraint, 2 weeks backpacking in Guatemala is enough time to visit all of the top Guatemala attractions!
2 Week Guatemala Itinerary:
• Arrive in Guatemala City and bus to Antigua (1 day)
• Antigua (1 day)
• Acatenango volcano hike (2 days)
• Lake Atitlan (4 days)
• Semuc Champey (3 days including travel days)
• Flores (2 days)
• Depart to Belize (1 day)
Another common route that travelers take is a shuttle bus that departs from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and arrives at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. This is a very loooong and tiring journey, but it’s definitely doable.
I personally traveled from Mexico across the border to Guatemala and firstly arrived in Lake Atitlan, then moved onwards to Antigua, Semuc Champey, Flores and eventually departed to Belize.
GUATEMALA BACKPACKING ROUTE
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BACKPACKING GUATEMALA – DAY 1:
GUATEMALA CITY TO ANTIGUA
The majority of travelers begin their Guatemala backpacking adventure in Guatemala City when arriving by plane. I didn’t personally arrive in nor visit Guatemala City as I heard it’s a pretty unsafe place and the city didn’t appeal to me whatsoever.
Though if you have an extra day or so up your sleeve and you’d like to explore Guatemala City, then by all means do so, otherwise, I recommend jumping on a bus that is headed directly to Antigua.
HOW TO GET FROM GUATEMALA CITY TO ANTIGUA
The best way to get from Guatemala City to Antigua is by bus and journey time takes around 1-hour, depending on traffic. The cost of a shuttle bus is around $8 – $10 USD.
Alternatively, you can jump on the local bus, commonly known as a Chicken bus, and the cost is much cheaper at around $1 – $2 USD.
ARRIVING IN ANTIGUA
If you didn’t already know, Antigua is one of the most popular and most beautiful colonial towns in the world! Boasting narrow cobblestone streets, colorful European architecture, a lively cafe scene and nearby active volcanoes.
I think it’s safe to say that Antigua is not to be missed when backpacking Guatemala!
You are most likely going to arrive in Antigua in the afternoon and I am sure you’ll be eager to start exploring. Conveniently, the small town of Antigua Guatemala can easily be explored on foot and I guarantee it won’t take you long to get your bearings.
Antigua – Backpacking Guatemala
WHERE TO STAY IN ANTIGUA
There are hundreds of accommodations in Antigua Guatemala, so I have narrowed it down to a few of the best places to stay in Antigua to suit the needs of luxury travelers and budget backpackers. See the list of accommodations below that I personally recommend:
LUXURY: EL CONVENTO BOUTIQUE HOTEL
MID RANGE: SELINA ANTIGUA
BUDGET: HOTEL CASA EL CALVARIO
FOR ALL OTHER PLACES TO STAY IN ANTIGUA, SEARCH ON AGODA OR SEARCH ON BOOKING.COM
BACKPACKING GUATEMALA – DAY 2:
On day 2 of backpacking Guatemala, spend a full day exploring the colorful streets of Antigua!
See below for a list of the 5 best things to do in Antigua that are worthy of adding to your Guatemala itinerary:
- Arco de Santa Catalina (Antigua’s famous arch)
- Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint
- Ruins of Antigua
- Parque Central
- Antigua’s artesian market
Antigua’s famous arch – Things to do in Guatemala
Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint – Guatemala Backpacking
Ruins of Antigua – Guatemala Itinerary
Parque Central in Antigua
Aerial shot of Parque Central – Backpacking Guatemala
Colorful streets of Antigua – Backpacking Guatemala
An artesian market in Antigua
BACKPACKING GUATEMALA – DAY 3 & 4:
ACATENANGO VOLCANO HIKE
Next up on this Guatemala backpacking guide is the epic 2-day hiking expedition to Acatenango Volcano which is located on the outskirts of Antigua.
Hiking to the summit of Volcán Acatenango near Antigua was hands-down the highlight of my Guatemala backpacking trip and it’s definitely not to be missed on your list of what to do in Guatemala!
The Acatenango hike is a 2-days and 1-night adventure which isn’t an easy feat but it’s 110% worth it.
Not only will you be rewarded with an incredible 360-degree view of the region at the Acatenango summit (which, by the way, sits at 3,976 meters above sea level) but you will also get to experience a close encounter with the neighboring and erupting Volcán de Fuego.
Acatenango Volcano – Backpacking Guatemala
ACATENANGO HIKE OVERVIEW
Day One is approximately a 5 – 6 hour hike from the starting point to base camp, on Day Two it’s a further 1-hour hike to the summit of Acatenango for sunrise and followed by a 3 – 4 hour hike back down again.
These hiking times vary depending on your level of fitness and previous hiking experience. In saying that, the Acatenango hike is suitable for the common traveler with a sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors. I even saw people walking their dogs along the trail, so you’ve honestly got nothing to worry about!
WHERE TO BOOK YOUR ACATENANGO HIKE
There are countless tour agencies in Antigua that offer overnight tours to Acatenango, though it can be quite overwhelming trying to decide where to book.
I recommend booking your Acatenango hike online in advance on the Get Your Guide website to avoid the unnecessary hassle when you arrive in Antigua.
Book Now → Acatenango Hike
Acatenango Hike – Guatemala Backpacking
Summit of Volcan Acatenango – What to do in Guatemala
WHAT TO EXPECT AT VOLCAN ACATENANGO
As I mentioned earlier, the Acatenango hike was the highlight of my backpacking in Guatemala trip and unlike any other adventure I have been on. Camping on the side of a volcano, overlooking another volcano that frequently erupts is something you don’t get to experience every day!
Volcan de Acatenango is an impressive mountain in itself, though the main attraction on this hike is being able to get up close and personal with the nearby Volcan de Fuego.
Witnessing a volcano spewing lava, rocks and smoke from its vent is a very unique experience that I am sure you will never forget. So pack your bags and get ready to hike Acatenango!
Full Blog Post → Acatenango Volcano Hike
Acatenango Volcano – Things to do in Guatemala
The nearby erupting Volcano Fuego
BACKPACKING GUATEMALA – DAY 5,6,7 & 8:
Lake Atitlan is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the world that sits inside a massive volcanic crater and it’s not to be missed when backpacking Guatemala!
Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan) is surrounded by several cone-like volcanoes and verdant cliff faces that look too good to be true. Seriously, the landscape here is other-worldly and it has some magic about it, which is why I have included Lake Atitlan on my Guatemala travel blog.
HOW TO GET FROM ANTIGUA TO LAKE ATITLAN
There are daily buses and shuttles departing from Antigua bound for Lake Atitlan and the journey time is around 2.5 hours to 3 hours depending on traffic.
You can jump on a chicken bus (public bus) which is the cheapest way to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, costing only 30 Quetzal. Do note that if you take a chicken bus, they tend to do a lot of pick-ups and drop-offs along the way which makes the journey to Lake Atitlan a lot longer.
The other option is to book a shuttle bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlan which is a more direct route in a minivan and the cost is 60 Quetzal. I recommend this option as it’s much more comfortable and reliable.
Lake Atitlan – Guatemala Backpacking
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE ATITLAN
Lake Atitlan has hundreds of accommodations to choose from which are spread across the many different villages dotted around the lake.
As the majority of travelers typically stay in the village of San Pedro, I have listed a few accommodations from this area to suit the needs of luxury travelers and budget backpackers.
Luxury: Sababa Resort
Mid Range: Mikaso Hotel
Budget: Hotel Peneleu
FOR ALL OTHER PLACES TO STAY IN LAKE ATITLAN, SEARCH ON AGODA OR SEARCH ON BOOKING.COM
THINGS TO DO IN LAKE ATITLAN
There are so many great things to do in Lake Atitlan and I guarantee once you arrive you won’t want to leave!
See below for a list of 11 Awesome Things To Do In Lake Atitlan:
- Go kayaking on Lake Atitlan
- Have lunch at Sababa Restaurant
- Hike to the Indian Nose viewpoint
- Take a boat to the Lake Atitlan villages
- Rent a stand-up paddleboard
- Spend the day at Sababa Resort
- Walk around Lake Atitlan
- Watersports on Lake Atitlan
- Spend 1 night in Santa Cruz
- Take Spanish classes
- Visit the woman weavers
Full Blog Post → Things To Do In Lake Atitlan
Kayaking on Lake Atitlan
Sababa Resort – Places to visit in Guatemala
Santa Cruz in Lake Atitlan
Indian Nose viewpoint – Backpacking Guatemala
Woman weavers in San Pedro – Backpacking Guatemala
Stand-up paddleboarding – Guatemala Attractions
Lake Atitlan – Backpacking Guatemala
BACKPACKING IN GUATEMALA – DAY 9, 10 & 11:
Semuc Champey is one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations, tucked away in the depths of the Northern Guatemalan jungle and it’s rated as one of the best things to do in Guatemala!
Featuring a natural bridge of limestone around 300 meters long and cascading turquoise-colored swimming pools, Semuc Champey is a must-see on your Guatemala backpacking adventure!
HOW TO GET FROM LAKE ATITLAN TO SEMUC CHAMPEY
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to reach Semuc Champey other than sitting on a bus for an entire day to get there and then another entire day when departing to your next destination.
Firstly, you will have to make your way back to Antigua from Lake Atitlan the day before you intend to travel to Semuc Champey.
The cost of the shuttle bus from Antigua to Lanquin is around 150 Quetzals and the journey from door to door takes between 10 and 12 hours. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way to get there.
Shuttle buses from Antigua to Semuc Champey depart only once per day typically around 8:00 am and arriving at 6:00 pm in Lanquin which is the closest town to Semuc Champey.
The easiest way to book the bus from Antigua to Semuc Champey is at the reception of your accommodation.
Semuc Champey – Backpacking Guatemala
Shuttle bus to Semuc Champey
HOW MANY DAYS DO I NEED AT SEMUC CHAMPEY?
This is a question that gets asked quite often and there are a few things to consider when planning your trip to Semuc Champey Guatemala.
To start with, you will need to spend a minimum of 2 nights when visiting Semuc Champey. The reason for this is because you’ll arrive in Lanquin at nighttime and the only time you can leave again for your next destination is on the morning bus. This will give you one full day in between to explore Semuc Champey.
Full Blog Post → Semuc Champey Travel Guide
Semuc Champey – Backpacking Guatemala
WHERE TO STAY IN SEMUC CHAMPEY
Semuc Champey has dozens of hotels and hostels to choose from and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which one is best.
The majority of the nicer hotels are situated in the town of Lanquin and from here it’s approximately a 45-minute drive to reach Semuc Champey. Whereas most hostels and eco-lodges are located much closer to the park and are within walking distance to the entrance of Semuc Champey.
See my recommendations of places to stay in Semuc Champey below and book online ahead of time.
Mid Range: El Retiro Lanquin
Mid Range: Utopia Eco Hotel
Budget: Pachamaya Eco Lodge
FOR ALL OTHER PLACES TO STAY IN SEMUC CHAMPEY, SEARCH ON AGODA OR SEARCH ON BOOKING.COM
SEMUC CHAMPEY TOUR
The best way to experience Semuc Champey is to book an all-inclusive tour which I recommend booking online in advance.
The Semuc Champey tour is a full-day adventure that includes all entrance fees and transport, a visit to Kanba Cave, river tubing down Kahabon River and swimming in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey. All this for $30 USD.
Book Now → Semuc Champey Tour
Semuc Champey viewpoint
Turquoise pools at Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey – Backpacking Guatemala
BACKPACKING IN GUATEMALA – DAY 12 & 13:
Last but not least on this Guatemala backpacking itinerary is the enchanting town of Flores which is most famous for playing home to the ancient Mayan ruins known as Tikal.
HOW TO GET FROM SEMUC CHAMPEY TO FLORES
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a full day’s bus ride from Semuc Champey to reach Flores which takes anywhere between 10 – 12 hours.
You’ll arrive in Flores late at night and most likely be too exhausted to do anything other than grabbing a quick bite to eat and heading straight to bed.
Tikal ruins in Flores – Things to do in Guatemala
WHERE TO STAY IN FLORES
Flores has hundreds of accommodations to choose from so I have narrowed it down to a few of the best places to stay in Flores to suit the needs of luxury travelers and budget backpackers. See the list of accommodations below that I personally recommend:
Luxury: HOTEL ISLA DE FLORES
Mid Range: HOTEL CASAZUL
Budget: CIAO CACAO HOSTEL
FOR ALL OTHER PLACES TO STAY IN FLORES, SEARCH ON AGODA OR SEARCH ON BOOKING.COM
THINGS TO DO IN FLORES
Up until now, this Guatemala itinerary has been quite full-on, so I recommend having a relaxing first day in Flores. You can go for an easy wander around the main town, eat some delicious food at one of the many restaurants and simply admire the lake that surrounds Flores.
On your second day in Flores, it’s an obvious choice to book a tour to Tikal and spend the day exploring this ancient Mayan citadel in North Guatemala.
Rooftop bar in Flores – Backpacking Guatemala
Tikal is truly one of the most fascinating man-made creations on Earth. Hidden deep in the lush rainforests, a visit to these remarkable ruins in Flores is one of the best things to do in Guatemala!
I booked my Tikal tour with Tikal Go and can’t recommend them enough. The entire day was incredible from start to finish, not to mention their tour guides are the most top-ranked in the country and full of knowledge when it comes to Mayan history. Ask them anything!
Tikal Go has a few different Tikal tour packages to choose from such as the Exclusive Tour, Sunrise Tour, Sunset Tour and Bird Tour.
All tours include private transport from your hotel in Flores, Tikal entrance fee, a tour of Tikal with an experienced guide and a hearty lunch with beverages.
I personally went on a private Tikal Exclusive Tour which is a full-day guided tour of Tikal from 6:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Full Blog Post → Tikal Tour
Ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal
More ruins at Tikal – Places to visit Guatemala
Tikal Flores – Backpacking Guatemala
Tikal Tour in Flores
GUATEMALA ITINERARY – DAY 14:
DEPART FROM FLORES TO BELIZE
I personally took a bus from Flores to Belize on day 14 of my Guatemala backpacking adventure and the journey time is around 4 to 5 hours including the border crossing.
There are many tour agencies in Flores to book the bus from Flores to Belize or simply ask the reception at your accommodation and they will be able to help organize this for you.
If Belize isn’t your next stop after backpacking Guatemala, you can also depart by plane to your next destination of choice from Flores Airport.
Caye Caulker Island in Belize
VISA FOR GUATEMALA
Guatemala is doors open to all sorts of travelers who can come and enjoy the places to visit in Guatemala for a maximum of up to 9o days FREE of charge.
You don’t need to apply online for the 90 days Guatemala Visa, simply fill in some forms at the border crossings and you’ll be on your way.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT GUATEMALA
The best time to go backpacking Guatemala is in the dry season which is between the months of December and May. Temperatures are moderate and there is minimal rainfall.
The wet season in Guatemala is from June to November and it can get quite chilly during these months, especially at high altitudes when hiking volcanoes. The upside to traveling Guatemala in the wet season is that things are generally quite cheaper as it’s their low season.
BACKPACKING GUATEMALA – THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The currency in Guatemala is Quetzal (Q) and the exchange rate is approximately $1 USD = 7 Q.
Guatemalans prefer to receive cash for goods rather than a credit or debit card payment. For any online bookings such as tours, accommodations or private shuttles, using your bank card is fine.
There are plenty of ATMs in Guatemala Airport and City, Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Flores where you can easily withdraw cash to have with you when backpacking Guatemala. To be on the safe side, I recommend purchasing a Hidden Money Belt to keep your cash out of sight.
Another great option when searching for accommodation in Guatemala is to stay in an Airbnb which generally has some great deals in Guatemala!
FINAL THOUGHTS OF BACKPACKING IN GUATEMALA
Having only done only a little bit of research before backpacking Guatemala, I can honestly say this incredible country exceeded expectations. The epic landscapes, kind people, delicious food and perfect weather were just some of the reasons that made this a trip to remember!
If you have any questions at all about backpacking Guatemala or wanting help with your Guatemala itinerary, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can!
MORE CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA TRAVEL GUIDES
Mexico Travel Guide: Things To Do In Mexico
Cuba Travel Guide: 10 Day Cuba Itinerary
Peru Travel Guide: Backpacking Peru – 3 Week Itinerary
Bolivia Travel Guide: Things To Do In Bolivia
Brazil Travel Guide: 2 Day Rio De Janeiro Itinerary
Argentina Travel Guide: Things To Do In Argentina
Chile Travel Guide: Things To Do In Chile
WHAT TO PACK FOR BACKPACKING GUATEMALA?
• Waterproof Phone Case: Universal Waterproof Case
• Reusable Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Water Bottle
• Rain Jacket: North Face Rain Jacket
• Water Shoes: Slip-on Water Shoes
• Day Bag: Nomatic 20L Day Bag
• Power Adapter: Universal Power Adapter
• Packing Cubes: 4 Set Packing Cubes
• Microfibre Towel: Quick Dry Travel Towel
• Travel Insurance: World Nomads Travel Insurance
• Money Belt: Hidden Money Belt
MY CAMERA GEAR
• DSLR Mirrorless Camera: Sony A7ii
• Drone Camera: DJI Mavic Pro 2
• GoPro: GoPro Hero 8 Black
• Everyday Lens: Sony F2.8 24/70mm
• Camera Bag: Lowepro Protactic 31L
• Selfie Stick: Sandmarc Metal Edition 1.2m
• Tripod: Joby Flexible GorillaPod
• GoPro Dome: Underwater GoPro Dome
• Power Bank: Anker Powerbank
• External Hardrive: WD Elements 4TB