#1 Lake Atitlan Tour: San Marcos, San Juan & Santiago
Our best-selling Lake Atitlan tour, this private boat trip allows you to explore the Mayan v...
Don’t worry about having bored kids on your family vacation to Guatemala — this vibrant country is unlike anything they have ever seen before. We've compiled the perfect one-week itinerary to make planning an action-packed family vacation easy and simple.
If you have more time on your hands, check out our 3-week Guatemala backpacking itinerary.
With only one week in Guatemala, you'll see the jungle, visit colorful markets, and hike around Maya ruins. Guatemala is a safe place for an unforgettable adventure with its rich culture, delicious cuisine, and stunning natural scenery. You will experience a mix of adventure, history, and relaxation.
With over 20 years of planning family tours and holidays in this beautiful country, we're here to share our insider tips with you. Here are the best places to visit in Guatemala for a one-week family vacation that will excite both kids and parents, plus our tips for getting around safely and smoothly.
To enter Guatemala, U.S. and Canadian citizens, EU countries, as well as a few other countries need a valid passport with at least 6 months of validity before expiration. After completing immigration and customs forms on arrival, visitors are permitted to remain in the country for up to 90 days.
Travelers from the US may visit the US State Department website for current information on travel requirements and regulations.
To simplify the entry of travelers into the country, in Guatemala the electronic Regional Traveler Affidavit was presented. This digital form eliminates the physical one, reducing time and speeding up the movement of passengers at the airport. This Affidavit can be made from any electronic device with internet access 24 hours a day, prior to the arrival of each flight. Guatemala is the third country in Central America that applies this automation process, it is an effort that promotes tourism and economic development in the country.
So, if you are going to enter Guatemalan territory soon, click the following link Regional Traveler Affidavit, select the language, confirm your email and nationality, share your passport number, and follow all the steps of the system.
Day 1: Arrival in Antigua
Day 2: Day in Antigua
Day 3: Travel to Lake Atitlan and afternoon in San Juan
Day 4: Indian Nose Hike & Afternoon in Santa Cruz
Day 5: Morning in Atitlan, then to Guatemala City
Day 6: Tikal in one day
Day 7: Guatemala City & Return Home
La Aurora International Airport, located close to downtown Guatemala City, is the entry point for your Guatemala vacation. Head straight to Antigua when arriving in Guatemala, which is less than an hour from the airport by taxi. An Uber will cost around 350Q (roughly $45)- just book using the Uber app upon arrival.
Most of the restaurants inside the airport are on the outbound side, but you can find a couple of small cafes as you exit the customs area if your family needs a quick snack or refreshment. Restrooms can also be found on both sides of the customs area.
Depending on the time of your arrival, you will have time to explore the charming streets of Antigua. This colonial city located in the central highlands of Guatemala is known for its beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and vibrant markets. Families can explore the town's many museums, churches, and ancient ruins, the most photographed are the Yellow Arch or Arco de Santa Catarina, and the Merced Church or Iglesia de la Merced.
A good option for excellent authentic Guatemalan food is Rincon Tipico. It’s popular with locals and the courtyard is nearly always packed. Come for the roasted chicken, cooked over coals with garlic potatoes, the pork adobado (pork marinated with paprika and pepper), delicious, freshly made tortillas, and their enormous breakfasts.
The Best Hotel in Antigua Guatemala is Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo. With an outdoor pool and sauna as well as a BBQ and picnic area, this comfortable hotel is a great choice for families. Each room is beautifully decorated with a restaurant and bar on-site so you can have an easy meal at the start of the day or a drink at the end of it.
There are plenty of day trips you can take from Antigua. Step away from the colonial charm and take a day trip to nearby volcanoes, coffee farms, and hot springs. The Pacaya volcano is the easiest volcano hike and is about an hour from Antigua; and has the option of going on horseback. Alternatively, a short hike near Antigua is the Cerro de la Cruz Park, which offers a great overview of the entire city below.
Families can indulge in a wide variety of enriching classes tailored to all ages and interests. From interactive chocolate-making workshops to traditional Mayan weaving sessions, the city offers an array of cultural and artistic experiences that captivate both children and adults. Other popular activities for families are Spanish language lessons, immersing in the local tongue, or even pottery classes, allowing everyone to unleash their creativity.
This fun-filled attraction is high in the mountains above the colonial city of Antigua. Located just a short drive from the city, a day out here is popular with backpackers, digital nomads, and ex-pats alike.
Enjoy a wide selection of activities that are all included in the entrance price. Axe throwing, archery, mini-golf, a giant tree swing, and the famous Hobbitenango hand are all popular at Guatemala’s Hobbiton.
There’s something for everyone here. Including incredible volcano views, photo spots, walking trails, bars, and even giant Jenga. What’s more, you can even stay a night in one of the Hobbit houses!
Lake Atitlán is a breathtakingly beautiful lake surrounded by towering volcanoes and lush forests. Families can take a boat tour of the lake, visit local markets, hike to nearby waterfalls, take a cooking class, zipline, take a bicycle tour, go kayaking or paddleboarding, or just enjoy a day of swimming and relaxing. There are many small villages around the lake where you can experience the local Mayan culture and traditions.
Once you arrive and settle into your hotel, consider heading straight to San Juan la Laguna for the remainder of the day. Known for its colorful street art and bustling markets, San Juan is a vibrant village in Lake Atitlan home to many famous artists. The village has over 40 public murals depicting important elements of Guatemalan culture and your guide will explain the meaning behind each one, including the Mayan story of creation, the development of mathematics, and the 5000-year-old calendar.
This San Juan walking tour takes you to art galleries, a woman’s weaving cooperative with demonstrations of how the beautiful fabrics are made, a coffee farm, a local Guatemalan school and library, and a medicinal plant garden operated by the midwives of San Juan – natural soaps, teas, and shampoos are made on the premises. You’ll be given samples of each plant and an explanation of its curative powers.
With travel time between 2.5-3 hours, taking a shared shuttle bus is the most economical way to travel from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. Shuttles regularly leave Antigua with the same schedule every day.
Tourist shuttle services can be found with almost all tour companies in Antigua and often offer hotel pickup for your convenience. Shuttle service can be found through hotels or tour agencies and they are a safe, quick, and cost-effective mode of transportation from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. The shared shuttle service between Antigua and Lake Atitlán typically costs about $20 or Q150 one-way.
Alternatively, scheduling a private transfer between Antigua and Lake Atitlán will be the fastest, most efficient, and most comfortable mode of transport - and the best part is that you can schedule this direct journey at a time most convenient to you with maximum flexibility.
We recommend that you anchor yourself in Panajachel during your stay. Panajachel (otherwise known as "Pana") is the entry point to Lake Atitlan, your shuttle from Antigua will bring you straight here, and you can easily access every village around the lake from here. The town's streets are lined with charming shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars, catering to the diverse tastes of its visitors.
Getting around from one place to the other is relatively easy. Don't be tempted by the colorful chicken buses, except for short rides. Small open-bed pickups are a frequent sight for short trips between villages.
For traveling from one village to the next whilst at Lake Atitlan, the best option is the water taxis, locally known as lanchas.
Among the mountains that tower over Lake Atitlan lies one of the best sunrise viewpoints in Guatemala. The Indian Nose hike, also known as “Nariz del Indio” or “Mayan Face”, is only a 3km (2 miles) hike in total and crosses lush cloud forest and terraced agriculture. Once at the summit, you’ll observe magnificent views of the lake and its surrounding villages. It’s considered one of the most beautiful vistas in Guatemala.
Tourists tend to hike the Indian Nose at sunrise to appreciate its full beauty. As the sun comes up, the rapidly changing colors of the sky are beautifully reflected by the water’s surface. The atmosphere is truly magical. It’s considered one of the most beautiful vistas in Guatemala and is perfect for families thanks to the short and relatively flat walking route.
In the afternoon, head over to the village of Santa Cruz and visit the NGO Amigos De Santa Cruz which provides crucial support to the people of Lake Atitlan. They offer subsidized training courses in textile production, the culinary arts, tourism, and woodwork to help local people get into jobs or make products to sell. You can visit the CECAP building where these training courses take place.
Whilst there, enjoy dinner with a view at Cafe Sabor Cruceño. Not just the best restaurant in Santa Cruz la Laguna, but maybe even the entire Lake Atitlán area. While at the restaurant, ask for a tour of Amigos de Santa Cruz, a non-profit that provides education and vocational training for the local youth.
Alternatively, take a cooking class and savor authentic Guatemalan cuisine while learning the art of traditional dishes. These diverse and engaging classes ensure that families can bond over shared experiences while delving into the rich tapestry of Guatemala's culture and heritage.
You can Prepare Pepian de Pollo, a traditional chicken stew declared “Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation” in 2007. With a characteristically bitter flavor, this dish incorporates cinnamon, coriander, and sesame, and is borne from the fusion of Mayan and Spanish cultures. No recipe is more representative of Lake Atitlan and Guatemalan cooking than Pepian de Pollo.
For your final morning in Lake Atitlan, make sure you get out onto the water. Rent A Kayak Or Stand-Up Paddleboard and glide through the calm waters, reveling in the tranquillity of this magical place and taking in its natural beauty. It's advisable to wake up early in the morning - that's when the water is most calm. Don't forget a waterproof camera too, you'll want to remember the beautiful views forever. Rent a kayak at only $10 per hour with Kayak Guatemala.
For even more fun, this 2 in 1 kayak & extreme zipline excursion will get you whizzing through the tree canopy after an hour of kayaking. The zipline trail at Atitlan Nature Reserve is the perfect activity to get your heart racing. Home to two impressive 1,290m and 2,381m long zipline courses, the beautiful Atitlan Nature Reserve is nestled within the cloud forest. Whilst whizzing through the canopy 60m in the air, you'll have views of the surrounding waterfalls, volcanoes, and the lake itself.
In the afternoon, travel to Guatemala City via private transfer or shuttle bus. You will be able to arrange transport the same way you traveled from Antigua to Atitlan.
Vista Real is located on a hillside overlooking the city and is probably the most grandiose hotel in Guatemala City. Although a modern hotel, it is built in a faux colonial style and is certainly worth considering for families.
Tikal is an ancient Mayan city located in the northern region of Guatemala. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in Central America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Families can explore the towering pyramids, temples, plazas, and Mayan ruins, and learn about the Mayan civilization that once thrived here.
The spider monkeys and howler monkeys are quite common and will entertain your family. Tikal National Park can be visited in one day, but a two-day trip is recommended if you want to see the entire city. Sunrise or sunset tours are a great way to visit the park when there are fewer people.
Booking a Tikal tour in advance is recommended to secure a seamless experience and ensure access to this iconic archaeological site, allowing backpackers to fully immerse themselves in its historical significance. This is more important if you don't speak Spanish and want an English, German, or French-speaking guide. The best bilingual guides are in high demand and book up well in advance.
We recommend flying with TAG airlines between Guatemala City and Flores when visiting Tikal. There are about 5 flights a day (both ways) and you can easily depart and return on the same day. The flight is only one hour, then you'll need to Uber to Tikal from the airport which is an additional hour.
Helicopter transfers are another option for fast and easy travel between locations, and can provide an extra adventure.
Alternatively, you might choose to head directly to Tikal from Atitlan and skip Guatemala City entirely. If that's the case, Tikal The Jungle Lodge is our preferred place to stay within Tikal National Park. Its swimming pool offers a refreshing break from the heat of the day.
Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala and the largest city in Central America. It is a bustling metropolis with many museums, parks, and cultural attractions. When it comes to exploring Guatemala City, there are numerous tours and activities that offer unique and memorable experiences, with key landmarks like the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
The magnificent Presidential Palace was built between 1936 and 1943 by prisoners on the orders of the infamous dictator General Jorge Ubico, and today this palatial building is a museum and cultural center. Take a couple of hours to explore its quirks; the grand banquet hall, with its ornate stained-glass panels, ironically represents the virtues of good government.
Next to the Palace is the Cathedral of Guatemala City - also called the Metropolitan Cathedral - boasting an interior design that stands as a shining example of colonial art and architecture. The layout mirrors the form of the Latin cross, while in front of the cathedral are 12 pillars – a tribute to the murders and disappearances of thousands of people during the Guatemalan civil war during the 1960s. Inside the cathedral are 14 paintings by revered 17th-century Mexican artist Pedro Ramirez.
The Guatemala City Zoo is well-maintained and organized, and if you’re an animal lover it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. The zoo has several exhibit areas, including the African savanna, the Asian subcontinent, the Mesoamerican tropics, and a farm. The zoo’s proximity to the nearby Children’s Museum makes this a convenient day out if you’re traveling with kids.
Many families wish they had organized their trip to Guatemala differently. Some wish they had more time in Antigua while others could easily fill another day at Lake Atitlan. If you prefer a slower paced holiday, consider skipping Tikal for more time in Antigua.
This vibrant country in Central America has comfortable temperatures all year round which is why we call it "the land of the eternal spring". Like most of Central America, Guatemala has a tropical climate with only two seasons: rainy and dry.
The heaviest rainfall aka the rainy season takes place from May to October, with a whopping average annual precipitation of 97 inches (2464 mm). Since many tourists prefer to avoid the rain, the wet season is a quieter time of year to visit Guatemala.
Guatemala's dry season is from November to April and takes place during the "winter" of the United States and Europe. This is considered the best time of the year to visit due to the season's clear skies, low humidity, and sunny, warm days. The greenery is still quite lush throughout the country after its six months of nourishing rain.
Packing essentials for a trip to Guatemala, including lightweight clothing, sturdy footwear, insect repellent, and travel documents, ensures that backpackers are well-prepared for the country's diverse environments and activities. For more guidance read our guide "Guatemala Packing List Items for 2023 & What Clothes To Wear".
Guatemala's top tourist destinations offer a diverse array of family-friendly hotels and holiday rentals, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay for all. Whether seeking a cozy vacation rental with ample space for the family or a full-service resort with kid-friendly amenities, Guatemala's tourist destinations cater to a wide range of preferences. Budget hotels, hostels, and holiday rentals can be found for under $100 per night. Most of the higher-budget hotels and holiday rentals feature a swimming pool and hot tub, and can be around $400 per night.
Whilst there are no required travel vaccinations for entry to Guatemala, some vaccinations are advisable for travelers to protect against various diseases present in the region. Recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and routine influenza vaccines. It's wise to consult with a healthcare professional or travel clinic before your trip to get personalized recommendations.
Kayak Guatemala is Lake Atitlan’s #1 base camp for exploration and adventure, offering activities like epic volcano hikes, family kayak tours, cooking classes, and village-to-village boat and walking tours. We employ and upskill underprivileged local people, plus a portion of our profits goes towards an NGO that works hard to alleviate poverty in Lake Atitlan.
For more help with planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, check out our "Top Tours & Things To Do In Lake Atitlan" guide.