I’m very much the type of traveller who likes to leave my plans open and flexible, especially when travelling solo as you never know who you are going to meet on your or what your plans will turn into. In my case, I had made a rough itinerary for my time in Guatemala based on this guy’s post, and I found it extremely helpful to have a timeline and insight to plan my trip. It completely changed once I made some friends but I still managed to see all the places I wanted to go, with maximal fun benefits of a social group. Here I want to share my experiences and thoughts about my route in Guatemala so that it can hopefully help you with your trip and travel plans!
Note: I am giving links for your convenience, not for profit! Links are provided in the spirit of friendly backpackers around the world.
Length of time
I travelled in Guatemala for 2 weeks after backpacking Belize for about 10 days. I found 2 weeks to be a great amount of time to see most of the country, however, keep in mind that I am a very “go go go” type of person, who doesn’t like or need very much downtime. If you are someone who likes to chill, I would suggest either a bit more total time in Guatemala or cutting a location or two off your itinerary for maximal enjoyment! I will describe each place on my route below so you can have an idea of potential itineraries.
My itinerary for 2 weeks in Guatemala as a solo female traveller:
Flores: 2 nights
Semuc Champey: 2 nights
Antigua: 1 night
El Peradon: 3 nights
Lake Atitlan: 3 nights (2 in Santa Cruz, 1 in San Marcos)
Antigua: 3 nights (but 1 night spent hiking Acatenango Volcano)
Keep in mind I caught a flight out of Guatemala City to end my trip, but I just stayed in Antigua that night and caught a shuttle to the airport for 75q from my hostel (the shuttle is supposed to take 2 hours during the day but only took 1 hour at 3am). I recommend doing this as there is a lot in Antigua to see and do and you don’t want to spend or waste time worrying about getting to and staying in Guatemala City.
Alex and I were completely delighted by Flores and all it had to offer. We arrived from Belize around noon, and spent the first day exploring the town and having coffee. We stayed at an amazing hostel called Los Amigos that was beautiful inside and conveniently had dorms with A/C which we were happy to book after sweating our faces off in Belize. Note that this hostel isn’t found on Hostelworld, it just comes highly recommended from other travellers which is why we booked it! It was a giant hostel so I’m not sure I would recommend it if you were heading there completely solo, however we made friends with a solo traveller in our room right away and hung out with him during our time there so meeting people isn’t completely off the table. This hostel also had an excellent booking office where we booked our Tikal tour and I booked my shuttle to Semuc Champey.
On the second day in Flores we did the 4:30am Tikal tour to be there in the morning, and we had seen enough by 10:30 so we got back to the hostel around noon. We spent the afternoon at Jorge’s rope swing and ate delicious street food for dinner both nights.
I would say 2 nights is a great amount of time in Flores, but you could definitely stay an extra day if the weather is nice or wanted to chill.
I stayed in Semuc Champey for 2 nights and given my time and schedule I definitely could have stayed another night here, just to chill. If I wasn’t set to meet friends I would have definitely done so, but it wasn’t in the cards for me this trip! I stayed at Greengo’s which was a very neat hostel where you fell asleep in huts to jungle noises and the wifi is only on from 6am-12pm and 4pm-7pm so that people can socialize (and even then the Wifi is of jungle quality – not good). Most hostels in Semuc are of similar vibes to this so don’t come to this area if you have an important business call to make and you’re relying on a good Wifi connection. This hostel had really cool staff and I particularly enjoyed how close it was to the tourist attractions of Semuc Champey – the caves and the pools were a 10 minute walk away. The other popular hostel in Lanquin, Zephyr Lodge, is 45 mins from anything which in my opinion is way more inconvenient from what I heard from fellow travellers that stayed there.
I did it all in a day but again, I am a very “go go go” type of person. You could easily stay at Greengo’s for 4 or 5 days as there is a scheduled activity every night!
Another note – the journey here from where you’re coming from is long. We left Flores around 8:20 am and we got to Lanquin at 6:30pm. From Lanquin to Greengo’s was another 45 min on a gravel road in a pickup truck provided by the hostel so we didn’t arrive until 7:30 pm – an 11 hour travel day. The long day was due to the comfort stops our shuttle made and I honestly would have lost my mind hadn’t I made friends on the bus ride. In the words of the fellow I linked above and his comments about this, pick a good spot on the bus and pray you make some friends.
From Lanquin to Antigua was another long day, We left Greengo’s around 6:30am, got on the shuttle in Lanquin that left at 8am and arrived in Antigua at 6pm. The actual drive isn’t that long but the traffic in Guatemala City that we had to drive through held us back about 3 hours.
It’s also possible to get to/from Semuc Champey and Lake Atitlan (town of Panajachel) which from my understanding is also a long day. Plan wisely and know what you’re signing up for!
In my opinion the uniqueness of the caves and the beauty of the pools was worth it but it may not be if you have limited time. My vote is spend 3 nights here or skip it!
El Peradon is a very unique beach town that is slow and fun at the same time. We spent 3 nights here (I arrived at 12pm after catching a 9:30am shuttle from Antigua) which we felt was enough time, though I could have stayed longer! There isn’t much to do here besides surf and socialize, and depending on the season where you travel, weather can be a bit of a liability. The hostel I stayed at was The Driftwood Surfer which was a very unique hostel where the staff were so cool and every day and night is a great time. As a solo traveller I think you would have a great time here, though my fun was definitely heightened by the company of previously made friends. It was fun to make it from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast in one trip and the surfing is quite cheap (about $20 USD for a 1 hour surf lesson) so if that sounds like your idea of fun you should put this place on your list!
After getting out of Semuc Champey, the triangle of El Peradon, Lake Atitlan and Antigua are all pretty easy to get to and from each other. Our shuttle from El Peradon to Lake Atitlan took about 4 hours so we arrived at our hostel in Santa Cruz around 1pm. All the shuttles take you the town of Panajachel and from there you take a boat for around $3usd to wherever you are staying on the lake.
We stayed for 2 nights in Santa Cruz and then the 3rd night in San Marcos. Both were great but I would recommend making your choices based on what you like to do and who you are travelling with. Alex, Carlie and I needed a rest so we got a private room at La Iguanas Perdida for 2 nights in Santa Cruz, then I stayed with them for one night at The Eagle’s Nest in San Marcos. If you are solo travelling I don’t recommend this plan at all but if you are with people and looking for a quieter time, go for it. If you are going solo I recommend Free Cerveza in Santa Cruz. My two friends stayed there and we visited one night and it was a really fun atmosphere! I would suggest just staying there for three nights and moving around day by day as you please, or staying for two nights then finding one of the hostels in town in San Marcos for a quieter third night.
If you really like to chill and it’s not the rainy season, you could stay on Lake Atitlan for 4-5 days. It was definitely the most expensive part of Guatemala for my travels so keep that in mind when booking. If you are vegan or vegetarian, San Marcos will be your paradise.
I spent 3 days in Antigua, which included my trip up and down the Acatenango Volcano, and I could have spent 2 or 3 more days here. There is a lot to do, especially if you are around on the weekend and like to go dancing! I stayed in two different hostels which were fine but nothing to recommend, though some of my friends stayed in Tropicana and it had a very lively and fun social scene. I’m not sure how much sleep you would get there but you would definitely have a great time! I hiked Acatenango through Wicho and Charlie’s which was an awesome company and great value. I also heard good things about the company that the Tropicana hostel uses.
Travel times (total travel time is from start point to end point as indicated)
Flores to Semuc Champey (Shuttle): ~ 10h total travel time to Lanquin, 125ish q
Semuc Champey to Antigua (Shuttle): ~ 10h total travel time from Lanquin, 100ish q
Antigua to El Peradon (Shuttle): 2.5h total travel time, 75-100q
El Peradon to Panajachel (Shuttle): 3.5h total travel time, 170q
Panajachel to Antigua (Shuttle): ~2.25h total travel time with an efficient company, I paid 115q but you could probably get it for cheaper. I was really happy with this shuttle company and I recommend it! Keep in mind you have to email them back and forth a bit during business hours to book. Alex and I also used this company to get a roundtrip shuttle to the market in Chichicastenango (leave Panajachel at 8am and leave Chichicastenango at 2pm) for 115q.
Panajachel to Santa Cruz (boat): ~30 min, 20q
Panajachel to San Marcos (boat): ~40 min, 25q
Santa Cruz to San Juan (boat): ~30 min, 25q
San Pedro to Santa Cruz (boat): ~35 min, 20q
San Ignacio to Guatemala border (taxi): ~25 min, $5bze per person
Guatemala border to Flores: ~2h, 30q then 5q per person from Peten to Flores by tuktuk
Some words of wisdom:
Know your Spanish so you can travel your best in Guatemala! It really helps.
Don’t worry too much about booking tours or shuttles in advance. They want your money, there will always be space for a price (unless it’s the middle of high season), so you’re mostly good for just booking the day before.
Always book through a hostel or trusted agency when possible, it helps protect you as the buyer. I never had any problems but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.
Hopefully that was helpful! I could have used a few more itineraries and descriptions of experience for help when I was figuring out my trip on the fly. Happy travels and enjoy – you will love it.