PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 3-6 (I was able to only use 3 vacation days because I centered this trip around a holiday weekend!)
Exchange Rate: 1 Quetzale = $0.13 USD (as of June 2018)
6-Day Guatemala Itinerary
Day 1-2: Antigua
Day 3-5: Lake Atitlan (San Pedro and San Marcos)
Day 6: Guatemala City
Flights to Guatemala
Fly into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City (GUA).
I was able to get a round-trip direct flight on Delta from LAX for free using my Chase Reserve points!
6 Day Guatemala Itinerary
Day 1-2: Antigua
The first stop on your 6-day Guatemala backpacking itinerary should be Antigua. Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua is known for Spanish Colonial style buildings, cobblestone streets and volcano views!
Day 1 of your Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary: Arriving and Exploring Antigua
Getting There: Antigua is about 38 miles (1 hour) from the airport in Guatemala City.Your options for getting to Antigua from the airport are:
Private Transfer- You can pre-arrange a private transfer from the place you are staying for about $30-40
Uber (recommended option) The easiest and cheapest option is to take an Uber. It will cost around $20-30. Just make sure that you have an international phone plan so that you have no issues calling the Uber once you land!
Taxi- Taxis are available, however, it will be about the same price as a private transfer so I recommend doing that instead.
Lodging: There are several hotels, hostels and Airbnbs in the area. I highly recommend Adra Hostel– we loved it there! Not only is it centrally located, but it is also has super comfy beds, friendly staff, local beer on tap and the cutest common areas!
What To Do On Day One in Antigua, Guatemala
1. Plaza Mayor
After you get checked in, start your first day in Antigua by walking over to the main city square- Plaza Mayor (Central Park). This cute, clean park is in the heart of Antigua. Not only is this a great reference point, but it’s also next to the beautiful San Jose Catedral. It’s also near a few ATMs if you need to get some cash out (Most places in Guatemala don’t accept credit cards).
2. Santa Catalina Arch
This famous, picturesque arch is a short walk from Plaza Mayor, and is surrounded by cute shops and restaurants!
3. Cerro de la Cruz
Walk to the outskirts of town up a short trail to the Cerro de la Cruz lookout point for a great view of the city!
Best places to eat and drink in Antigua
Looking for the best restaurants and bars in Antigua? Check out my Antigua blog post for more details on all of my favorite spots
Day 2 of your Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary: Hiking the Pacaya Volcano
Hiking a volcano should definitely be on your list of things to do during your 6 days in Guatemala! It is such a cool experience. There are 4 main volcanoes in close proximity to Antigua: Pacaya Volcano, Volcan Fuego , Volcan Acatenago and Volcan Agua. If you don’t have much time in the area or aren’t prepared for a long or overnight hike, Pacaya Volcano is your best bet for a day trip. The only way to do the hike is by guided tour, which you can easily book through your hostel/hotel for about $15 USD. I don’t recommend booking online beforehand- it’s cheaper to book your Pacaya Volcano hike through your hotel once you get to Guatemala.
Pacaya Volcano is about an hour drive from Antigua. A bus will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the trail head where you will start your ~2 mile uphill hike. You’ll see views of surrounding volcanoes and even get to hike down to the base of the volcano and roast marshmallows on the hot lava rocks! You can read more about the Pacaya Hike in my detailed blog post about Antigua, here.
You’ll return to Antigua around 3:00, leaving plenty of time to relax, go to happy hour and eat dinner on your last night in town!
6-Day Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary-
Day 3-5: Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is truly a magical place, and a must-see if you are in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan, located in the Western highlands of Guatemala, is home to over a dozen different Mayan villages and towns around the lake – each one with a very different vibe. After extensive research, we decided to spend our time in the towns of San Pedro and San Marcos Las Laguna.
Getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
Getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan will take you about 2.5 hours. There are three ways to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan:
1. Chicken Bus- you will see these throughout Guatemala – they look like painted school buses and are the cheapest mode of transportation. They are normally filled with locals and you are packed in pretty tight. I don’t recommend taking a chicken bus all the way from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, as it is bumpy 2.5 hour ride with lots of twists and turns through the mountains.
2. Shuttle- there are shuttles several times per day from Antigua to Lake Atitlan that take you to Panajachel (the most accessible town at the lake to get to by car). You can easily book through your hotel/hostel for about $15/person.
3. Uber- If you aren’t on a strict budget (or are traveling with a friend or two to split the cost), you can take an Uber from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. You can get from Antigua to Panajachel for about $85 total, which really isn’t bad for a 2.5 hour journey.
Once you arrive to Panajachel, you can take a ferry (la lancha) to any of the lake towns. The ferry ride to San Pedro is about 20 minutes and costs about $3 USD. They run about every 30 minutes, however the boat captain will normally wait until the boat is full before departing. While waiting for the public ferry, someone may approach you and ask if you want a private boat ride to your destination. I recommend sticking to the public dock as it is much cheaper. The super quick boat ride doesn’t really warrant the cost of a private boat.
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary Day 3: San Pedro, Lake Atitlan
San Pedro is known as the "party town", although even if you are not looking to party it can still be quite nice! Our main reason for staying in San Pedro for a night was to be close to the Indian Nose sunrise hike that we wanted to do the next morning (more details coming up below). There are lots of shops, restaurants and bars along the main road, many with a beautiful lake view.
Lodging in San Pedro: We stayed in Hostel Zoola and loved it! While the rooms were definitely nothing special (the beds are pretty much slabs of concrete with a mattress on top), the common areas make up for it and are great for hanging out and meeting people! It is also somewhat off the beaten path. It was nice to be separated from the main part of town, but still close enough to be a 5-10 minute walk from the bars and restaurants. We found ourselves spending a lot of time in the "rainbow room" as we called it – chilling out on the floor pillows and eating delicious Israeli food – some of the best Falafel I’ve ever had! They also serve the "tipico" Guatemalan breakfast- tortillas, eggs, avocado, cheese, black beans and plantains. So good!
They have a beautiful pool deck and bar, which is a great spot to hang out and soak in the lake views. There’s great happy hour deals at the bar and lounge chairs by the pool if you’re looking to relax. If you’re there on a Saturday, they host a pool party!
What to Do For One Day in San Pedro
There is really not a ton of things to do in San Pedro beyond walking around and exploring the town – there are lots of bars, restaurants, and cute souvenir shops. You can also rent kayaks from the main dock area to explore the lake!
We went to a bar/restaurant called Sublime that was really good – they have deck seating overlooking the beautiful lake view, and great happy hour deals! Make sure you order the cheese plate. You won’t regret it. They also have a pool table and live music at night!
Other than that, I recommend taking it easy as you’ll have a 4am wake-up call for your Day 4 activity – the Indian Nose Sunrise Hike!
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary Day 4: Indian Nose Sunrise Hike + San Marcos
The Indian Nose hike is one of the most popular hikes in Lake Atitlan and offers a breathtaking view of the sun rising above the lake and surrounding volcanoes. You can book this guided hike from your hotel/hostel for about $10-15 USD.
You’ll get picked up from your hotel in San Pedro at 4:00am and drive for about 1 hour to a small, sleepy town near the trail head. Not gonna lie – the drive up will probably send you into a slight panic as the car twists and turns through switchbacks up a mountain in pitch-black darkness while bumping up and down through massive potholes, but believe me – it’s worth it! You’ll start the hike with your guide around 5am when it’s still dark outside – so pack a headlamp if you have one. The hike is steep but short – you’ll arrive at the top right as the sun is rising for a beautiful view!
You’ll arrive back to your hotel around 9am. I recommend getting some breakfast, packing up your belongings, and heading to the ferry dock to catch a la lancha to your next destination (and my favorite place)- San Marcos La Laguna.
6 Day Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary:
Day 4-5: San Marcos La Laguna
San Marcos is my favorite place I went to during my 6 days in Guatemala. This hippie town in Lake Atitlan is full of adventure, relaxation and good vibes. I could spend weeks there!
Where to Stay in San Marcos La Laguna:
There are many hotels/hostels and Airbnbs in the area. We stayed in a private room at Hostel de Lago and loved it! Although the rooms weren’t noteworthy, the common area definitely exceeded expectations. They have an open-air lounge area with great food and drinks, a sauna, a picturesque dock and a platform overlooking the lake where they host yoga classes in the morning.
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary Day 4: San Marcos, Lake Atitlan
What to do on your first day in San Marcos
After you check in and get settled, you should go walk around and explore the town! There are lots of great places to get food, drinks and massages. I had one of the best massages of my life at East West Medical Clinic in town. You can get an hour-long massage for about $40 USD.
If you’re looking for drinks with a view, head to Tul y Sol on the water. Also – Moonfish Cafe has great Mediterranean food!
One thing to note is that the town of San Marcos pretty much shuts down after 9:00pm. This wasn’t an issue for us, since we were staying at Hostel de Lago and they had events every night (live music one night and a movie night the next). We ended up making friends and socializing at Hostel de Lago both nights and had a great time!
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary Day 5: San Marcos, Lake Atitlan
What To Do on Day 2 in San Marcos:
I recommend kicking off your last day in San Marcos with some morning yoga! If you’re staying at Hostel del Lago, they have two classes in the morning on their platform overlooking the lake. If you aren’t staying there, there are still many other places around town that offer yoga classes.
2. Jump off the platform at Cerro Tzankujil
One of my favorite things we did in San Marcos was jumping off the platform into the lake at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. You can walk here from town- it’s just a few minutes walk past the ferry dock. It costs 15Q (~$2) entrance fee to enter the nature reserve. Follow the main trail for about a quarter-mile and you’ll come upon a wooden platform- "trampolin"as they call it – about 8 meters high which you can jump off into the lake. Definitely take the leap and do this during your 6 days in Guatemala! The adrenaline rush mixed with the refreshing swim in the lake makes for the perfect morning activity.
3. Cacao Ceremony
Guatemala is known for their Cacao – it’s even considered "the birthplace of chocolate". If you really want to immerse yourself in the San Marcos hippie culture, consider taking part in Keith’s Cacao Ceremony. Also known as the "chocolate shaman", Keith will guide you through a meditation-like ceremony on his front porch every Sunday and Wednesday at 12:30, where you drink cacao hot chocolate, sit on floor pillows and feel the effects of the cacao while you discuss various topics. His house is just a few minutes walk from Hostel de Lago. No need to reserve your spot in advance – you can just show up! The ceremony lasts about 5-6 hours, but you can leave early if you need. If you’re looking to really "find yourself" and try something new and different during your 6 days in Guatemala, this is the place to be!
Guatemala Backpacking Itinerary Day 6: Guatemala City
Guatemala City pales in comparison to Lake Atitlan and Antigua, but the proximity to the airport draws most people to stay at least one night here. We had a 7:00am flight to catch the next morning, which is why we decided to stay in Guatemala City for our last night.
Getting to Guatemala City from Lake Atitlan:
Guatemala City is about 3.5 hours from San Marcos La Laguna in Lake Atitlan. You can book your shuttle from Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City from one of the several travel agents in town. See below for two options:
1. Shared Shuttle- $30-40 per person
There are about 4 or 5 shared shuttles per day to Guatemala City, however they all stop first in Antigua which makes your trip 1.5 hours longer than going directly to Guatemala City
2. Private Shuttle- $100 per car
I recommend taking a private shuttle if you have at least one other friend to split the cost with, as you can go directly to Guatemala City without stopping in Antigua.
Note- if you are trying to catch an evening flight the same day, definitely give yourself ample amount of extra time. Guatemala is known to have crazy traffic – which we experienced on our way to Guatemala City from Lake Atitlan. It was standstill traffic for miles!
Where to Stay:
There are several hotels and Airbnbs in the area. We stayed in an Airbnb about 10 minutes away from the airport, which was really nice and convenient.
What to do in Guatemala City:
You’ll probably arrive to Guatemala City around 2 or 3 pm, so you won’t have a full day to explore. But one thing you can do in your short amount of time is to check out The National Palace, also known as Palacio Nacional de la Cultura. They have tours every hour for Q40 ($5), but the only English-speaking tours are at 11:00 and 3:00. We didn’t get there until 4:00, so we took the tour in Spanish. The tours last around 45 minutes, and you get to walk through various rooms and areas of the palace. It’s really a beautiful building!
After your tour, you should treat yourself to dinner at Saul L’osteria for your last night in Guatemala. They have the cutest garden terrace patio seating, and delicious Italian food!
I don’t recommend staying out late in Guatemala City, as the city doesn’t have a reputation of being the safest place. We ended up going back to our Airbnb after dinner since we had a super early flight the next morning. Also – Uber is the best way to get to the airport from your hotel in Guatemala City. We had no problem finding one at 4:30am!
If you are lucky enough to have more than 6 days in Guatemala, I recommend adding the below to your Guatemala backpacking itinerary:
Tikal is the ancient Mayan temple in the northern part of Guatemala. You can take a quick (but not necessarily cheap) flight there out of Guatemala City. Some people try to squeeze this in on their 6-day Guatemala itinerary, but I personally recommend not rushing it and giving yourself enough time to actually enjoy Lake Atitlan. I ended up visiting Tikal a few months after this trip when I went to Belize, as it’s super close to the border. You can check out my one-week Belize itinerary to see details of Tikal!
Semuc ChampeySemuc Champey looks beautiful – it’s a series of turquoise pools among rocks and trees in the middle of Guatemala. However – it is very remote and the only way to get there is by bus. It’s 7.5 hours from Antigua!
ChichicastenangoThis open-air market on Thursdays and Sundays has tons of colorful stalls filled with hand-made Mayan goods, and is only about 1.5 hours out of the way from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. Some shuttles from Antigua to Lake Atitlan will stop by here on the way for a slightly higher price.
Things to Know for your 6-day Guatemala Trip:
1. Get Cash:
There are not many ATMs in Lake Atitlan, and I didn’t even see one in the Guatemala City airport when I arrived ( I know there is one somewhere in the airport though). Make sure you take enough cash out when you are in Antigua! Most places in Guatemala do not accept credit card so you will be using cash a lot.
2. Brush up on your Spanish:
While my friend and I are by no means fluent, our Spanish we learned in school definitely came in handy quite a few times on our trip.
3. Don’t Drink the Water
This should be a given, but definitely buy bottled water the whole time for drinking water, make sure no water gets in your mouth when you shower or brush your teeth and make sure your mouth is closed if you swim in Lake Atitlan! Although the lake is beautiful and clear, I have heard of people getting sick from getting water in their mouth while swimming (this did not happen to me, but I was extra careful the whole time, even when jumping off the platform in San Marcos).
4. Don’t Stress about Booking Before Your Trip:
I’m normally the kind of person who books most of my lodging and tours before I start my trip, however in Guatemala you definitely don’t need to do that. For both of the hostels we stayed in at Lake Atitlan, it is encouraged to just show up and book a room once you are there (there’s not even an option to book online!). All guided hikes are easier (and cheaper) to book through your hotel once you get there.
As long as you are smart, Guatemala is a safe place to travel. While you are not advised to go out late-night, I never felt in danger while walking around during the day. Just make sure you stay on the main roads, always hike with a guide and be aware of your surroundings!
6. When to Go to Guatemala- I went at the end of May. Even though it was technically "rainy season", I had read beforehand that Guatemala’s rainy season isn’t that bad compared to other countries in Central America. This was true in my experience there as well – it really only rained a few times, and only in the evening/night. It was a little overcast at times, but overall was great weather and no crowds since it was shoulder season! I’ve also read that December and January are the best months to visit Guatemala, as everything will be green from the rain and the skies will be clear!
6 Days in Guatemala- Backpacking Packing List
A few essentials you will need for your 6 days in Guatemala are:
Backpack- since you’ll be moving around from place to place, I highly recommend packing in a backpack. I use this Deuter backpackand love it.
Headlamp- I bought this one off Amazon for my 6-day Guatemala trip and it worked perfectly for the Indian Nose hike
Hiking Boots-I wear these Ahnu Sugarpinewaterproof hiking boots and love them!
Polarized sunglasses– to really get the most out of the gorgeous lake views!
Rain jacket– We went during the rainy season in May, but it really only rained in the evening. It’s always a good idea to be prepared – pack your rain jacket!
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Thank you to Adra Hostel for hosting me during my stay. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.