Day 1: Antigua
On the first day of your unforgettable journey, you’ll arrive in Antigua via the Guatemala City International Airport and private ground transfer because there are direct flights from the United States directly to Antigua. Your private driver will deliver you to El Convento Boutique Hotel in the heart of the city’s old world center.
With its melancholy ruins, iconic Colonial architecture, winding cobblestone lanes and colorful stucco homes, Antigua feels like time stood still in the 1700s, but it also is a very cosmopolitan metropolis of nearly 35,000 Antiguenos that is overflowing with boutique shops, fine dining and luxe hotels. Once the capital of Guatemala, as well as one of the most important Spanish colonies in the Americas, Antigua, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its magical ruins and timeless appeal.
At El Convento, you’ll be transfixed by the quiet sanctuary, gracious service, traditional simplicity, modern convenience and thoughtful amenities that repeatedly have garnered the 26-suite hotel numerous accolades, including a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice award and a Condé Nast Johansen Best Hotel in Central America nod. The boutique lodging is nestled at the end of a charming cobblestone lane near the famed Capuchinas Convent and features the delectable Elu Restaurant and Lounge. Rooms are extremely spacious and finely appointed with some also featuring Jacuzzis, fireplaces, private gardens and cedar-beamed ceilings.
Day 2: Antigua
Today, you’ll start with a private half-day tour into the countryside surrounding Antigua to visit local villages and learn about local history and culture. You’ll start the morning at the mountain town of Santa Maria, where you’ll be amazed by the women still wearing traditional Mayan dress. Then, you’ll head down into the villages of Ciudad Vieja and San Pedro to experience village life and see many vestiges of Colonial rule. Finally, you’ll reach the town of San Antonio to visit a local women’s textile co-op to get an up-close lesson on how the intricate and beautiful Guatemalan textiles are crafted. You’ll also stop at a macadamia nut farm along the way and have an opportunity to sample a number of products made from the harvested nuts.
Once back in Antigua, you’ll meet your afternoon guide for a private half-day tour of the city’s street food hot spots. We hope you’re hungry because you’re going to get a taste of some of Guatemala’s most authentic food on this afternoon tour. These are the eateries that garner long lines of locals every single day— and with good reason. Get adventurous while you’re learning about the cultural and historic significance of the local fare and try the delicious and well-prepared cuisine at each stop! Some of the items you might try include pupusas (cheese-filled tortillas), chuchitos (think Guatemalan tamale), rellenitas (fried plantain dough filled with beans) and maybe even pigs’ feet. You’ll finish the day with a visit to Antigua’s busy market to experience the vibrant array of ingredients used in Guatemalan fare.
Both of today’s tours are flexible, and we encourage you to let your guides know if there’s someplace specific you’d like to stop. Morning tour includes private guide, transfers and donations to the women’s co-op and macadamia nut farm. Afternoon tour includes private guide, street food and use of tuc tucs where appropriate.
Day 3: Antigua
After a scrumptious American breakfast at El Convento on day three of your dream Guatemala vacation, you’ll head out into Antigua for the last time to experience firsthand the country’s coffee culture and artistic heritage.
You’ll begin the day by meeting your private driver for our De La Gente (DLG) Fairly Traded Coffee Tour. DLG is a local charity that supports independent coffee farmers and promotes sustainable agriculture. In conjunction with DLG, you’ll be able to visit small family farmers who are supported by the organization to work alongside them as they perform their daily work. Help farmers with their processing, sorting, grading then sit back and be amazed as they roast it over an open fire and hand grind the coffee for you to taste. Coffee season runs from November to March. This tour includes a donation to DLG.
But, your excitement for the day isn’t over yet, as you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy a traditional meal with a local family at home before heading to the nearby village of San Juan El Obispo to meet local artisan, Carlos.
Carlos hosts visitors in his workshop to teach the fine art of ironwork, transforming steel into unique yard art and wall hangings. Whether you decide to make some sort of critter (like an owl, iguana or butterfly) or decide to keep it a bit more simple with a leaf or candleholder, you’ll leave Carlos’ studio with a truly one-of-a-kind handmade piece of art. While you’re working, Carlos will share the story of how he turned his family history of metalworking into art, and he’ll demonstrate the skills your need to ensure your own piece of art is a true centerpiece of your collection.
Day 4: Quetzaltenango
On day four of your tour, it’s time to leave the magic of Antigua behind in search of even more enchantment in the misty Guatemalan Highlands. Over the next few days, you’ll experience several Highland towns and markets, each with its own distinct style. We hope you brought your sweater because the Highland region does get chilly at night due to its high altitude.
You’ll begin with a private transfer to Guatemala’s second-largest city, Quetzaltenango. Called simply Xela by locals, the city is home to a number of universities and Spanish language schools, so the vibe here is more college town and less bustling metropolis. As with many areas of Guatemala, you’ll find a Colonial-modern melding of street markets, cobblestone lanes and pastel homes combined with upscale restaurants, malls, bars and shops. The historic zone, with its stately buildings and impressive park, is worth a visit while here.
Outside the city proper, you’ll be able to explore a rugged agriculturally-rich valley dotted with Quechua Maya villages, hot springs and volcanoes. If you’d like to see a working livestock market, we also recommend San Francisco El Alto’s Friday market.
Also near to Xela is the internationally-recognized town of Comalapa known for its local naif painting style tradition. A remote haven for art and culture, you’ll meet local painters and view the renowned Comapala mural that area school children painted to depict Guatemala’s rich history While here, we also recommend a visit to the museum built to honor a local native and the composer of Guatemala’s national anthem before stopping by the local market to watch residents buy goods and produce for the week ahead.
After a full and enriching day exploring the area, your driver will drop you at Hotel Pension Bonifaz, which will be your home base for the next two nights. Hotel Bonifaz is a comfortable, off-the-beaten-path B&B style hotel that is family-owned and prides itself on helping visitors enjoy the road less traveled. It’s conveniently located just across from Xela’s main park but because the city doesn’t usually make the tourist list, it still feels low-key and intimate. We recommend the suites to VIP guests, which are more well-appointed and boast fireplaces, sitting areas and some even have spacious balconies overlooking the city. While you’re here, be sure to take a refreshing dip in the indoor pool, grab a cocktail at the rooftop bar and enjoy dinner at the on-site restaurant.
Includes private transfers, driver, entrances, donations to painters and lunch.
Day 5: Quetzaltenango
You’ll awake to rolling Highland mists that create a sense of calm and enjoy an American-style breakfast at Hotel Bonifaz before embarking on a private guided full-day excursion to the Fuentes Georginas natural hot spring and the nearby villages of Zunil and Almolonga.
Known as the “garden of Central America,” Almolonga is famous for its amazing vegetables, including cabbages, radishes and carrots among others. Although much of its produce is exported to El Salvador, you’ll be able to visit the local market to experience the fresh veggies and vibrantly colored ropa tipica (traditional dress).
After you spend some time admiring agricultural life in Almolonga, you’ll head out to Zunil. Nestled in a gorgeous valley just a short drive away, Zunil is one of only a handful of towns that still worships Maximón, offering the idol gifts of colorful candles, alcohol and cigarettes. His likeness is housed by a different member of the religious brotherhood (or cofradia) each year, and you’ll get to visit this home, as well as the haunting local cemetery, striking Catholic church and a weaving co-op to see many elaborately embroidered items being handmade. Through it all, you’ll enjoy the picturesque scenery of fertile, green valley flanked by mountains.
After a stop for lunch, you’ll take the scenic pass along the Zunil volcano to Fuentes Georgina. Be sure to keep an eye out for the truly amazing views of Santa Maria volcano along the way. End your day by relaxing in the thermal waters of the hot sulfur springs natural pools before heading by to Xela and Hotel Bonifaz.
Includes private transfers, driver, entrance fees and lunch.
Day 6: Quetzaltenango
Today, you’ll venture out on a private half-day tour to the scenic town of San Andrés Xecul, where you’ll be blown away by the spectacular view of the surrounding pine forests and valley. This small, traditional hamlet is about an hour drive from Xela, but its unusual vibrant yellow church with a facade painted to depict animals, flowers and saints, is truly a one-of-a-kind sight. When you’re ready, you’ll stroll through town to a smaller, less ornate church flanked by Maya ceremonial grounds were locals still perform ancient Mayan rituals.
In the afternoon, you’ll venture deeper still into the heart of the beautiful Mayan Highland region after a local lunch with traditional dance and marimba. This flexible leg of your tour will pair you with a local guide who will help you discover the wide variety of artisanal handicraft for which this region is famous. Whether you stop for a visit to a ceramics workshop that hand crafts clay pottery and lead-free paint made from crushed glass, watch a local family make boxes for sweets sold in markets, or pay a visit to Don Miguel Hernandez to watch as he uses giant wooden looms to make gorgeous textiles, you’ll be wowed by the artistry and talent of the local people.
As the day winds to a close, you’ll spend the evening on a family homestay and be their guest for breakfast and dinner. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the magic of the region!
Includes private driver, transfers and guides, homestay with family, lunch, breakfast and dinner, visits to workshops.
Day 7: Huehuetenango
You’re a week into your experiential Guatemalan dream vacation, but there’s still much more to see and do! Today, you’ll get an early start with your private guide for the two- to three-hour journey to Huehuetenango.
Along the way, you’ll stop at the brisk highland village of San Francisco El Alto. We recommend a visit to the town church before braving the local market, which takes place each Friday. This is one of the biggest and most genuine markets in all of Guatemala, making it a wonderful place to buy souvenirs and check out colorful textiles, giant bolts of fabric and baskets of full thread. It also is known for its wide array of livestock being sold, including chickens, mules, horses, sheep, cows and pigs, but be warned that animals often are not cared for according to Western standards, and this can be troubling to some people.
Once you’ve had your fill of the market and San Francisco El Alto, you’ll continue on to Huehuetenango, where you’ll spend two nights at Unicornio Azul.
Huehuetenango is one of Guatemala’s westernmost departments and is home to rolling coffee-covered hillsides, steep ravines and enormous mountain ranges. In fact, this is the region where you’ll see the highest peaks of the tallest range in all of Central America— Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Nicknamed Huehue, this region is renowned for its natural attractions, unique villages and its coffee, which is widely believed to be Guatemala’s best. Its eponymous capital also boasts imposing mountain vistas and a bustling indigenous market. But, most visitors are keen to get out into the countryside to spots like Todos Santos, an isolated Mam Maya village known for its colorful clothing and customs, and the Laguna Magdalena, a remote lake noted for its mesmerizing emerald water.
When you’re ready to retire for the evening, your guide will begin the hour-long drive to Unicornio Azul, a remote ranch-style lodge situated in the rural Cuchumatanes Mountains. The lodge offers five rooms with a cozy, family-style atmosphere, but not all rooms have private baths. We always recommend VIP guests book into rooms with an en suite bathroom. You’ll be treated to home cooking with the lodge owners and, if you choose, horse trekking with an on-site French Federation guide. Walking, biking, birding and botany tours also are available at Unicornio Azul, but whatever you choose, this lovely lodge is a perfect home base to explore the deep Guatemala Highlands.
Day 8: Huehuetenango
After a home cooked breakfast at the lodge, you and your private guide will set out on a spectacularly scenic three-hour drive deep into the heart of the mountains to visit Todos Santos. This Mam Maya hamlet is situated approximately 8,100 feet above sea level, and its relative isolation and inaccessibility have contributed to its ability to maintain traditional customs. Here, rope tipica is completely normal. Women where bright purple embroidered tunics called huipiles, while men don striped shirts with embroidered collars, red-and-white striped pants and straw hats.
Visitors love Todos Santos not only for its traditional flair, but also for its events. Each Saturday, you can enjoy a lively market filled with regional handicraft and produce, but it is the town’s All Saint’s Day festivities that bring in the crowds, which isn’t surprising since Todos Santos translates to “all saints.” The highpoint of these festivities is the horse race on November 1, where you’ll see todosanteros, who are very friendly but do not allow photographs. You’ll return to Unicornio Azul for a home cooked dinner with the lodge owners and staff.
Day 9: Nebaj
Also in the Cuchumatanes Mountains but in the neighboring department of Quiché, the village of Nebaj is part of the isolated but stunning Ixil Triangle. Other towns in the Triangle include Chajul, San Juan Cotzal and a handful of other outlying settlements. Although this region once buckled under the weight of the Guatemalan Civil War, it is, today, a quiet destination where the people still believe in and practice traditional ways of life. Most women weave, and most men farm, and all residents still speak the local Mayan dialect of Ixil as their primary language. Set in a stunning valley with towering mountains as a backdrop, Nebaj is the largest town in the Ixil Triangle. It is home to amazing views, fascinating hiking incredible textiles like no other. Stroll through its cobblestone lanes to see the pretty, whitewashed church and quaint homes before checking out the stalls near the church for local weavings.
Rustic, simple and charming, Hacienda Mil Amores takes cultural immersion to a whole new level at this off-the-grid locale near to Nebaj in the remote village of Acul. The lodge is a working diary farm founded in the 1930s by immigrant brothers (and cheesemakers) from the Italian Alps. Today, Hacienda Mil Amores is renowned for its excellent hard cheeses and spectacular views. You’ll find a spattering of basic, but comfortable, cottages, each with private baths, wood burning fireplaces for those cool evenings and spacious front porches to breathe in the amazing scenery. Guests are served three meals a day, including wine and the fine Chancel cheese made right on-site, and you’ll love exploring the region from this breathtaking home base.
Includes private driver, transfers and lunch.
Day 10: Ixil Triangle
After a hearty breakfast at the lodge, you’ll head out on a private full-day tour to discover the handful of villages that comprise the Ixil Triangle, including Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, Chajul and several outlying towns. Get ready to be inspired by picturesque vistas that feature a backdrop of the towering Cuchumatanes Mountains, as you explore markets, plazas, churches and more. You’ll experience the traditional ways of life and get an up-close view of what it means to live in this remote and isolated region. Moderate walking may be included.
Includes private driver, transfers and lunch.
Day 11: Lake Atitlan
No trip to Guatemala is complete without a stay in the Lake Atitlan region of the Highlands, and, today, you’re heading to the charming lakefront village of Solola near Panajachel. Surrounded by three dormant (and towering) volcanoes, rough hills and about a dozen diverse Maya towns, Lake Atitlan has been compared to Italy’s Lake Cuomo and called the most beautiful lake in the world. Often wrongly described as one large, cohesive region, Lake Atitlan actually is a collection of individual hamlets each with its own distinct personality. This unique quality means you’ll experience something brand new on each stop of a journey in this area with its authentic native towns where people still don vibrant traditional attire and practice ancient Maya rituals.
When you arrive, via private transfer, to the Lake Atitlan region, you’ll check into Hotel Atitlán Hotel & Gardens, where you’re sure to feel like you’re peering through a window into paradise. Once a family-owned estate home and coffee plantation, the hotel, today, is a Colonial-style gem housed in three wings that afford dramatic views of the hotel’s landscaped grounds or the enchanting lake and its three volcanoes.
Enjoy your afternoon around the hotel, whether you’d like to take a dip in the Infinity pool, grab a bit at the restaurant and bar, lounge at the private lakefront beach or soothe your bones in the hot tub. If you’d like to fit in some adventure, Hotel Atitlán backs up to the Reserva Atitlán, where you can take in moderate hiking or zip lining in the cloud forest or delight in a birding or butterfly farm tour. Nearby Panajachel also boasts some interesting nightlife spots, should you so choose.
Day 12: Lake Atitlan
Remember the collection of individual hamlets situated along the banks of Lake Atitlan? Today is the day to get acquainted with some of them up close. After an American-style breakfast at the hotel, your guide will pick you and transfer you to San Juan La Laguna Village for a visit to a local textile co-op, where you’ll see a traditional back strap loom being used and learn about the use of natural dye. Once you’ve experienced firsthand look at the vibrant hand-made indigenous textiles, you’ll visit the home and workshop of local naive painters before boarding a boat to Santiago.
You’ll take a break for a genuine Guatemalan lunch in Santiago Village, before setting off on a walking your with your guide in search of the Mayan god, Maximon. Each year, the effigy of Maximon is moved as part of an ancient ceremony and a new member of the “brotherhood” is given the privilege of caring for him throughout the year. Although it can’t be booked or guaranteed, you may even get lucky and see a local shaman performing ancient Mayan rites near this area.
After witnessing the rites of Maximon, we suggest a trip to the local church to learn about this traditional town’s history, as well as a trip to the market to learn about the primitive art and textiles of the area. Your guide will take you back to Hotel Atitlán at your leisure, where you are free to spend the evening exploring the quiet streets of the nearby village or relaxing on the hotel grounds.
Private guide, boat transfer, entrances and lunch are included.
Day 13: Antigua & Chichicastenango
No one is ever quite ready to leave the shores of Lake Atitlán, but there’s still more of this amazing country to see, so get ready to hit the road on a private transfer through the Central Highland region to the Chichicastenango Market and then onward to Antigua. On the journey, be sure to keep a look out for locals going about their day, whether working in the fields, peddling their wares, traveling between markets, or simply collecting firewood. Upon arrival at Chichi Market, your guide will take you to discover this renowned market where you’ll see everything from intricate handmade crafts and textiles, to locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays throughout the year. We also suggest you visit the Pre-Colombian Santo Tomás Catholic Church, which is a highlight of the area where local Quiche priests still practice ancient Maya rituals. The unexpected dichotomy of Catholicism combined with primitive Maya traditions illustrates the unique way the different faiths have blended in the region.
While in Chichi, don’t forget to make the simple hike to the community cemetery on the outskirts of town or up to Pascaul Abaj. At both places, you sometimes will see a shaman performing rites for the local people. There is enough time to see at least one place (maybe both if moving quickly) and still make lunch at a community eatery before moving on for the last leg of your dream Guatemalan vacation. You’ll arrive back in Antigua this evening, and check back into a suite at El Convento Boutique Hotel.
Private guide, transfer, minibus and lunch is included.
Day 14: Departure from Antigua
After your breakfast and your last morning in Antigua, you’ll take a private ground transfer to the Guatemala City Airport for the return flight home.