How to Spend 9 Days in Guatemala

A view of a volcano on the water in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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If you’re thinking of visiting Guatemala, you’ve definitely made the right choice. Guatemala is culturally rich, outrageously beautiful, and super easy to navigate. If you’re wondering how many days to spend, 9 days in Guatemala is a great amount of time to explore the highlights without rushing.

This itinerary focuses on slower travel, with two main destinations: Antigua and Lake Atitlán (with a quick stint in Guatemala City). 

Of course, there’s plenty of room for adaptation in this itinerary for 9 days in Guatemala. Personally, with only 9 days, I’d rather stick to two main regions, allowing for some down time and relaxation. But you could definitely modify this itinerary or just add on extra days to visit other amazing regions like Semuc Champey, or Flores, where you can visit Tikal, Mayan ruins. You could also comfortably condense these suggested activities and cut down a couple of days for a 7-day trip.

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What to Know Before Your Trip

What’s the weather in Guatemala?

Guatemala has two seasons: wet season (May to October) and dry season (November to April). Dry season is definitely the more popular time to travel here, which can also mean higher prices. I visited at the end of May, and maybe I was just lucky, but there was hardly any rain. On the couple of days it rained, it was just for an hour or two in the late afternoon, so it didn’t interfere with any plans or my experience at all. 

What’s the currency in Guatemala?

The Guatemalan quetzal. At the time of writing (March 2024)  1 quetzal is 13 cents. I would keep cash on hand, as not everywhere will accept credit cards, especially in Lake Atitlán. Uber also doesn’t work in Lake Atitlán, so you’ll want cash for tuk tuks or taxis. 

Do I need a visa?

As of now, there are no visa requirements for U.S. citizens. But check the State Department for up-to-date information before your trip.

How do I get a SIM card in Guatemala?

To have data without being connected to WiFi, getting a SIM card is your best bet. While plans are available through your phone provider, they’re typically much more expensive. 

Before leaving on your trip, make sure your phone is unlocked. You can find SIM cards at the airport’s convenience stores (although these are more expensive) or at the Tigo and Claro stores in Antigua. 

However, depending on what kind of phone you have, you may have the option to go with an eSIM. This means you can bypass all the physical card stuff, and you can even keep using your US phone number. Airalo is the best option by far.  I paid $18 for 3 GB of data through Tikal Mobile, which lasted the 10 days of my trip. Try it out here.

What language is spoken in Guatemala?

Spanish is the official language, but there are 22 Mayan languages that are also spoken in Guatemala! Especially if you visit Chichicastenango Market (which we’ll get to later), you’ll definitely hear one or some of them at some point.

How do I get to Guatemala?

I’d recommend flying into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. But, Guatemala does have one other international airport in Flores (Mundo Maya International Airport). I flew directly from Los Angeles to Guatemala City through Volaris for under $500 round-trip. It was the best option at the time for the days I needed to travel, but you can most likely find flights for a better price for a similar route. 

What do I need to know about transportation in Guatemala?

As previously mentioned, this itinerary focuses on two main destinations, Antigua and Lake Atitlán. Shuttle buses are very easy to arrange either through your hotel or hostel. You can easily set this up the day before or even the day of, depending, and are typically $20 to $40 USD for this itinerary. While this is pricier than some alternatives like the chicken bus (a re-adapted school bus that’s super affordable, but also not the most organized or safe), it’s the safest, most convenient option. And with only 10 days here, convenience is important to consider. (Looking for more safety tips? Check out my solo travel safety guide here.)

Now, to the fun part!

9 day Guatemala Itinerary

Days 1 – 4: Antigua

Day 1- Arrive in Guatemala City and travel to Antigua

To start off your 9 days in Guatemala, try to find a flight that gets you to Guatemala City in the morning or early afternoon. If you do end up landing at night, for safety reasons I’d recommend finding a hostel close to the airport and then head for Antigua the next morning.  

If you’re in need of accommodation, check out Hostal Donde Regina. Within walking distance from the airport, this place is super cute and includes a delicious breakfast as well. Book here.

If your timing allows, grab a quick meal before heading off to Antigua. Shucos y Chelas is a small casual restaurant close to the airport that’s affordable and hits the spot.

Although Antigua isn’t particularly far (about ~25ish miles/40 km), thanks to traffic it can usually take a couple of hours to get there from Guatemala City. Like previously mentioned, get a shuttle either from the airport or your hostel — it should be around $20 to $40 to get you to Antigua.

After arriving in Antigua, it’s time to start getting a feel for the city. In case you’re unfamiliar, Antigua was founded in the early 16th century, and is full of breathtaking colonial buildings, cobblestone roads, and stunning volcano views. 

Antigua is pretty small and easy to navigate, so just have fun exploring. Because today was a travel day and we’re not in a rush, there are no specific recommendations for the rest of your first day. Personally, I wandered around until I found a little square with some food vendors near Iglesia de la Merced (a gorgeous yellow and white church). I got some delicious street food for just a few quetzales, sat and people watched, walked around some more, and called it a night. Would 10 out of 10 recommend.

Day 2 – Santa Catalina Arch, Cerro de la Cruz

If you didn’t stumble this way yesterday, it’s time to check out the iconic Santa Catalina Arch. If you’re aiming to get some people-free photos, I’d definitely advise getting here earlier rather than later. It gets pretty crowded pretty quickly. Around here you’ll find a bunch of cool stores with interesting art and other souvenirs to peruse.

Next, it’s time for some exercise. By that, I mean about a 2-mile hike up Cerro de la Cruz. Don’t worry, it’s a pretty moderate hike and doable even if you’re not the most athletic hiker (speaking from experience), especially considering there are a couple of different viewpoints and rest areas you can stop at throughout. Once you get to the top, you’ll be greeted with an awesome view of the city. So, this is best done on a sunny day. 

Spend the evening relaxing — it would be a great day to head to Antigua Brewing for dinner and drinks. This rooftop bar has yet another breathtaking view of Antigua, which just doesn’t get old.

Cars drive down a road leading towards a volcano, which can be seen when hiking Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua.
One of the viewpoints from Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua

Day 3 – Cultural Center, Parque Central, Museo Santiago de los Caballeros

The Cooperación Española, a cultural center in Antigua, wasn’t something I planned on visiting, but more stumbled upon, and I’m glad I did. Its architecture, like everywhere in the historic area, is so beautiful, and it has some cool exhibits to check out. It was also free to visit. Within the cultural center is the Museo Nacional de Arte de Guatemala. It covers 3,000 years of history, and was super interesting as well. (H757+6Q6, 6a Avenida Norte, Antigua.)

Next, head to Parque Central (or Plaza Mayor), which is another picturesque gathering spot where you’ll typically find plenty of vendors selling snacks, food, or other trinkets. 

To wrap up your day, head to the Museo Santiago de los Caballeros to check out some more art and history. You have an early morning tomorrow, so I’d recommend making it an early night after dinner! (Palacio de los Capitanes, 5a Calle Poniente, Antigua)

Day 3 – Pacaya Volcano

Big day today! We’re going to hike Pacaya Volcano. Now, there are some more intense hikes you could choose instead, especially since we have some time to spare in Antigua. The Acatenango volcano can be seen through either full-day hikes or even overnight hikes if that’s your thing. I wasn’t feeling that ambitious, so I stuck with Pacaya. The whole excursion came out to five or so hours, while the actual hike itself was just a couple of hours. At the end, you can even roast marshmallows due to the heat coming from the ground, which is pretty cool.

This hike leaves at either 6 a.m. or 2 p.m. Because I was traveling during rainy season, I went with the 6 a.m. choice to not risk getting any rain. Not going to lie, getting up that early was a bit brutal, but (after our tour bus made a quick coffee stop), it was 100% worth it. 

I went through Viator, which included round-trip transportation (there are a number of pickup locations in Antigua). It was a great experience, and you can book it here. Keep in mind that there’s a separate entrance fee to the volcano of 100 quetzales, which at the time of writing comes out to $12.81 USD.

Pacaya Volcano
One of the views during the Pacaya Volcano hike

Day 4 – Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, take a salsa class

For our final full day in Antigua, let’s head to one of the most gorgeous spots in the city, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. While yes, it is a hotel, it was initially a convent, up until when it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1770s. Today, it’s home to a number of several small museums and art galleries. There is even a crypt onsite. I didn’t get to check out everything here, but the Museo de Arte Precolombino Y Vidrio Moderno and the Museo de Farmacia were interesting and worth stopping by.

The last activity in Antigua is one of my favorites, I have to admit — It’s a salsa class. It was free (just be sure to tip your teacher at the end), and was super low stakes, which is the best kind of dance class, in my opinion. It was really fun, and everyone switches dance partners throughout the class, so it’s a fun way to get out of your comfort zone whether you’re traveling alone, with a friend or partner.

There are a number of different places you can try out a salsa class (I believe Antigua Brewing also hosts a weekly free class), but I went to a little studio called Salsa Y Más, at 6a Avenida Sur 11C, Antigua, Guatemala. 

If you prefer a more jam-packed itinerary, there are plenty more activities you could find to fill your days in Antigua. Some popular options include a chocolate-making workshop, a coffee tour, or a Guatemalan cooking class. 

Where to stay in Antigua

Hotel Casa Antigua

This cost $331.23 for 5 nights, and included a large private room with a private bathroom. For full disclosure, this was paid for with credit card travel points through my Chase Sapphire card. (By the way, Chase is currently offering 60,000 welcome bonus points to sign up for a Chase Sapphire card. If you choose to apply through this link and are approved, I’ll receive an award at no extra cost to you!).

This hotel was gorgeous! I’m obsessed with the architecture, art and overall style in Antigua, and this hotel was no exception. While it didn’t have any food available onsite, you were steps away from tons of places to eat, and they offered a discount for a nearby restaurant, El Viejo Cafe, for breakfast. Book here.

Where to eat in Antigua

There is no shortage of good food in Antigua — I seriously loved everything I ate. Here are a few places in particular that you should try; just don’t forget to also try some street food from a market while you’re here!

El Viejo Cafe (3a Calle Poniente y 6 Avenida Norte #12, Antigua)

Mexico Lindo (Primera Calle Poniente, local 9A, Antigua)

Antigua Brewing (7a Calle Poniente 15, Antigua)

Restaurant Monoloco (5a Avenida Sur.6 Antigua)

Ta’Cool Taco Shop (6a Avenida Norte 1, Antigua)

Restaurante Del Arco (5 Avenida Norte, Antigua)

Days 5 – 8: Lake Atitlán

Day 5 – Head to Lake Atitlán

After your time in the amazing Antigua, it’s time to get to the next region, Lake Atitlán. This is the deepest lake in Central America, and has out-of-this-world volcano views. Like Antigua, it feels super safe here. (So safe in fact, that I think this would be an amazing place to travel solo, or just if you’re newer to travel.)

While there are a number of colorful lakeside towns you could choose to stay in (each have their own personality and style) Panajachel is the most popular choice. It’s conveniently located, has lots of tourist services, and is most easily accessible, making it the best home base to easily travel between other cities around the lake.

To get here, take a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, which takes 2 to 3 hours driving. There are many options for companies you can use, we just went with one that we booked through the hotel.

After arriving, spend the afternoon or evening exploring Panajachel. There are lots of street markets to explore, with a good number of restaurants to pick from, both with a gorgeous view of the lake and along the main street, Calle Santander.

Day 6 – San Pedro and San Marcos

I’d recommend keeping it to two lakeside towns a day, to make sure you have enough time to explore without being too rushed, but you can definitely modify this as you see fit, and even spend the whole day at each town you’re interested in. 

To navigate between towns, you’ll have to take a boat, which is easier than it sounds. From Panajachel, just head to the dock, where you’ll be able to select tickets based on your route. Boats typically leave every 30 minutes or so, from 6:30 a.m. until around 7:30 p.m. Tickets generally cost anywhere from Q10 to Q25 (around $2 or $3 USD).

San Pedro is considered a hub for backpackers, but it’s also a colorful community with plenty to do. I wandered through the art galleries and check out the street art. I wanted to visit the heated springs that are here and it just didn’t work out timing-wise, but if you’re looking for some relaxation, this would be a good option. There’s also a beautiful viewpoint, Mirador Plaza Maravilla that you can check out, either by hiking or taking a tuk-tuk. It costs a few quetzales to enter, but the view is worth it.

San Marcos has the reputation of being a “hippie” town, and you’ll quickly realize why. As soon as you get off the boat and start exploring, you’ll see flyers for spiritual services, crystal shops, and other mystical offerings. San Marcos is also where you can find some of the cleanest water around Lake Atitlán, making it great for swimming, which isn’t the case everywhere you go. Hike through the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil (it’s an easy hike, I promise), and you can even find a platform to jump off of into the water if you’re feeling brave.

Day 7 – Chichicastenango Market (or whichever day of your trip falls on a Thursday or a Sunday) 

This famous market, known as the largest in Central America, is both an amazing cultural experience and the perfect chance to stock up on souvenirs. It’s colorful, it’s busy, and packed full of vendors selling everything from artwork, from jewelry, clothing, textiles, food, and even animals. About 99% of the people who live in this town are Indigenous K’iche’ Maya, and at the head of the market is the only Catholic church in Guatemala where Maya rituals can be performed.  

A woman dressed in traditional Maya clothing, surrounded by painted masks in Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala.

If you want the full experience, take a guided tour with Viator, which includes a visit to the town’s museums, cemetery, and murals, and you’ll even get to experience a Mayan ritual ceremony. Get more information and book here.

However, for a more low-cost option, forgo the guided tour and arrange a shuttle service from any of the main transportation and tourism agencies scattered throughout Panajachel or through your hostel. It’s about a one to two hour trip from Panajachel, and expect to spend around three hours or so at the market.

A woman holding an umbrella and standing behind flower bouquets in the Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala.
Women in Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala.

Day 8 – San Juan La Laguna and Santa Catarina Palopó

This artsy town is decked in murals and colors everywhere you look. San Juan La Laguna is also right next to San Pedro, so you could rearrange your itinerary to whatever fits best for you. If you’re in the mood for hiking, there’s an entranceway to the Indian Nose Summit, or check out the art galleries, shops, and textiles, and wander through the colorful streets.

If you have time, head over to Santa Catarina Palopó. Sadly I didn’t get time to visit on my trip, but it looks beautiful, so check it out for me!

Where to stay in Panajachel

Posada Don Miguel

This was $211.05 USD for 5 nights. This hotel was solid for its price point, which included a large private room with a private bathroom.There was an issue with the plumbing in our first room, but the hotel employees were super helpful and quickly switched us to a new room the next day. This place is pretty no-frills, and you do have to walk through a relatively narrow street to find the hotel, which is often inundated with motorcycle and tuk tuk drivers. Book here.

Where to eat in Panajachel

Valentinos Pizza Y Steak House

As previously mentioned, a good chunk of time in this region will be spent visiting other lakeside towns. But since Panajachel will be your home base for these few days, here are some food recommendations for you:

Valentinos, Pizza Y Steak House (PRRR+F9M, Panajachel)

Pizzeria Florencia (PRRR+RPW, Panajachel)

Restaurante Las Palmeras (PRRR+VQJ, Calle Santander, Panajachel)

Felipe’s Restaurante (Calle Santander 3-45, Panajachel)

Doña Ana Restaurant (Calle Santander 5-95, Panajachel)

Day 9: Guatemala City

Day 9 – Head back to Guatemala City and visit Paseo Cayalá

For our last full day in Guatemala, it’s time to head back to Guatemala City. Since it’s about three hours give-or-take depending on traffic, I’d recommend getting back to Guatemala City the day before your flight, to make things less stressful (does that technically make this itinerary 10 days then?). Plus, it gives you a bit of time to enjoy Guatemala City as well.

To be honest, Guatemala City doesn’t have the safest reputation, which can feel jarring after visiting Antigua and Lake Atitlán, both of which feel suuper safe. So just be alert and don’t carry around any valuables, and take Ubers when possible. With that said, Paseo Cayalá is a super pretty shopping center-slash-kind of its own town. It feels safe and protected, has really nice architecture, and tons of shopping and food options to occupy you for the last few hours of your 9 days in Guatemala.

Where to stay in Guatemala City

Hostal Donde Regina

Prices range from $45 to $60 per night, and as I mentioned earlier, this place was cute, comfortable, and had a great breakfast. Book here.

OH ESPAÑA!

I spent $61.77 USD for 1 night. Despite only initially planning to stay in Guatemala City for the final night, I ended up checking out two places during the last leg of the trip, since my stay was extended for an additional night due to some flight issues (a story for another day). This place had a spacious private room and bathroom and included breakfast. The room at OH ESPAÑA! was large, clean, and it was in an attractive house in a gated neighborhood. Book here.

Good Hotel

On my impromptu bonus night, I ended up staying here, which is a hotel I’d heard about. I spent $84.90 USD for my one night. They’re mission-focused, and while they’re on the pricier end compared to a hostel, their profits support Niños de Guatemala, a foundation that provides local kids with schooling. I unfortunately was only able to spend a few hours there, but the room and bathroom were stylish and upscale. A night’s stay also included breakfast. Book here.

Now that you’re ready for your 9 days in Guatemala, check out my 10 travel must-haves that I bring on every trip. And what else would you like to know about visiting Guatemala? Let me know!

Happy traveling,

Tess

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10 Comments

  1. Sonia
    May 22, 2024 / 7:27 pm

    The volcano hike with roasting marshmallows at the end sounds like a great choice, along with the free low key salsa class.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 23, 2024 / 3:41 pm

      definitely some of my all-time favorite experiences!

  2. May 23, 2024 / 1:11 pm

    I’ve never really considered visiting Guatemala, but it looks incredible! I’d love to spend time exploring Chichicastenango Market – it looks so lively and vibrant! Taking a tour sounds like a brilliant way to get the most out of a day there. The volcano hike sounds wonderful too. The views look amazing! Thanks for the great guide!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 23, 2024 / 3:42 pm

      Guatemala is amazing! you’d love it 🙂 thanks for reading!

  3. May 23, 2024 / 1:47 pm

    Guatemala sounds like so much fun. I’m impressed with your itinerary and feel really inspired to take a trip out there now. Beautiful photos and very informative blog. Thanks!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 23, 2024 / 3:43 pm

      ah thanks so much, Jazmarae! I really appreciate that 🥰 I hope you get to visit soon!

  4. Meghan
    May 24, 2024 / 12:04 pm

    There’s so much to see and do in Guatemala! This looks like a super fun trip and a great way to spend 9 days in Guatemala. I’m hoping to combine El Salvador and Guatemala on a future trip soon.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 24, 2024 / 11:36 pm

      El Salvador and Guatemala would be amazing!

  5. May 25, 2024 / 5:44 pm

    I’m so interested in travelling to Guatemala! The destination looks beautiful. Are your prices in USD? I’m Canadian and I’ve heard Guatemala can be expensive. Thanks for the itinerary.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 27, 2024 / 2:14 am

      Yes, USD! I think it’s definitely possible to visit affordably! And Guatemala is so worth it 🙂 hope you get to visit soon!

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