How best to spend two weeks in Guatemala + Belize
Home to ancient Mayan cities, rainforests, labyrinthine caves, lakes, smouldering volcanoes and a glorious Caribbean coastline, these enchanting Central American countries are the perfect destination if you’re looking for adventure, culture and beach.
Home to ancient Mayan cities, rainforests, labyrinthine caves, lakes, smouldering volcanoes and a glorious Caribbean coastline, these enchanting Central American countries are the perfect destination if you’re looking for adventure, culture and beach. Our Destination Experts can design any number of extraordinary tailor-made trips in Guatemala and Belize. The following two-week itinerary may only be the tip of the iceberg but will hopefully whet your appetite:
Days 1-3: Antigua, Guatemala
You will fly into Guatemala City Airport, where you will be whisked away to The San Rafael Hotel in Antigua, a 45-minute drive away. This charming, seven-room property is a peaceful base from which to explore this beautiful city, with its winding, cobbled streets and historical sites. Alternatively, MesÃ³n Panza Verde is a lovely place to stay if you’re on a tighter budget.
Antigua was formerly the capital of Guatemala under Spanish rule, but in 1773, much of the town was destroyed by an earthquake so the capital moved to where Guatemala City stands today. Antigua, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an enticing mix of the untouched and the restored, and remains one of the best examples of an original colonial town that survives anywhere in the Americas.
On your first morning here, explore Antigua with your private guide, who will enlighten you on the city’s cultural, architectural and social history. You will also enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at some of Antigua’s ornately decorated churches, Spanish colonial-era ruins and the tomb of the first Guatemalan saint. Everything is entirely flexible, depending on your interests. Later, you could go for a bicycle ride, explore the nearby coffee plantations or just watch the world go by from a cafe. It’s fascinating to observe the local people going about their daily life, as traditional dress and culture are still very much in evidence here. Indeed, the indigenous population is the largest of any Latin nation.
On your second day, we can arrange for you to climb the active Pacaya Volcano. It is exhilarating to hike through the lush pine forest of Pacaya’s foothills towards the smoking summit. As you ascend, there are breathtaking views of the northern volcanoes and the Pacific lowlands – all the way to El Salvador. At the base of the peak itself, a barren moonscape of loose rock and pebbles greets you. Scorching steam rises from numerous vents, which sometimes yield a sight of the bright-orange magma inside.
Days 4-6: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
After three nights in Antigua, you will be driven to Lake Atitlán, another of Guatemala’s highlights, just two to three hours’ drive away. One of the most picturesque and colourful lakes in the world, Atitlán has been luring travellers to its shores since the earliest days of the hippy movement. There are now several excellent small lodges on the lakeshore, from which to explore the dozen or so villages that encircle the lake. Our favourite is Casa PalopÃ³, a low-key lakeside inn with a swimming pool and incredible views. The lake’s hues shift constantly from lapis lazuli to emerald, and the landscape is made more impressive still by the imposing shadows of the Atitlán and San Pedro volcanoes.
The following morning, you will head to the dock and set out on a kayak. As you glide along the mirror-like water, you may encounter local fishermen who are usually happy to share a glimpse of their daily life with you. After landing at the intriguing Cerro de Oro (Hill of Gold), your guide will take you on a hike through the eponymous village, known for its creativity in turning plastic waste into recycled art, and on up the hill. The trek culminates at the 1,636m summit, where you’ll be rewarded with some refreshing drinks and impressive vistas of the lake and its dramatic backdrop.
Once back at the dock, you will be driven to the small town of Santiago for lunch, after which you will wander around the town and visit Guatemala’s favourite indigenous saint, MaximÃ³n. The day is entirely flexible and you can return to the hotel whenever you like. We will ensure you are back in time for a sundowner or a revitalising dip in the pool as the lake is stained orange before your eyes.
The next day, you can either laze beside the pool or explore the gentle walking trails and colourful villages that border the lake. Solola’s authentic and vibrant daily market is well worth a look. One memorable experience we love to arrange for our clients is to take part in an art project in Santa Catarina PalopÃ³. Here, in order to boost tourism and generate an income for the local community, they are transforming the town into a gigantic masterpiece. Creative types can even get involved with the painting.
Days 7-9: Flores, Guatemala
Your next stop will be the jungles of northern Guatemala, home to the hidden Mayan ruins of Tikal. To get there, you will return to Guatemala City Airport, from where you will fly to Flores. Despite the crowds, Tikal’s timeworn temples, buried deep in the rainforest, are truly awe-inspiring. In the past, we have arranged surprise drinks in these unforgettable surroundings at sunset, a very special experience.
However, it is also well worth exploring the region’s lesser-known ruins, such as Uaxactun, where you can escape the crowds. Our fantastic local guide here is simply brilliant and his life story is as mesmerising as it is heart-rending. For younger couples or more adventurous characters, we would definitely recommend spending one night camping at Uaxactun, with a night either side at La Lancha, a romantic rainforest retreat on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá.
Days 10-14: Placencia Peninsula, Belize
For the final chapter of your journey, head to one of Belize’s best beach destinations: Placencia Peninsula. The tiny country’s eastern side consists of palm-fringed white-sand shores softly lapped by the Caribbean Sea, one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world and the longest barrier reef of all the Americas. There are numerous cayes and atolls off the coast, but in our opinion, Placencia’s beaches are second to none.
The peninsula is a short flight from Flores, but on arrival, you will find yourself in a laid-back, Caribbean paradise. Turtle Inn, a wonderful, 25-room seaside bolthole owned by the Coppola family, provides the perfect spot for some R&R at the end of your trip. You can kick back, relax and spend your days reading on the beach, swimming in the warm, turquoise waters, snorkelling or diving. We suggest spending at least four nights here, although beach lovers or divers may well wish to stay longer – possibly even forever.