The best of Guatemala and Belize by backpack

Trip description

A totally possible holiday idea for backpackers who prefer to travel by public bus (no need to rent a car or go through an agency), ideal for small budgets and truly immerse themselves in local culture. This idea of a itinerary begins with a few days of idleness on a paradise island from the Caribbean to Belize, then continues in Guatemala to discover its Mayan heritage and tropical nature. You can easily integrate this itinerary into a trip across Central America: connection from Caye Caulker to Mexico via the city of Chetumal, and the possibility of leaving for Mexico from Quetzaltenango in Guatemala.

Day 1: Arrival in the capital of Belize

Day 2: On the island of Caye Caulker

Day 3: Like on the postcards

Day 4: Mayan sacred caves

Day 5: Arrival in Guatemala

Day 6: The fabulous Mayan temples of Tikal

Day 7: In the heart of Guatemala

Day 8: Semuc Champey's natural swimming pools

Day 9: Antigua, historic capital

Day 10: Ascension of a volcano

Day 11: Towards the lake of Atitlan

Day 12: In the surrounding villages

Day 13: Quetzaltenango or Chichicastenango?

Day 1 : Arrival in the capital of Belize

Day1 : Arrival in the capital of Belize ©Roi Brooks -

Belize city is not really the most glamorous of cities. As soon as you arrive, head for the island of Caye Caulker (count 2 hours of travel) to rest from the jet lag in the shade of a coconut tree: Caribbean atmosphere guaranteed! No cars on the island, evenings to the rhythm of reggae-zen-relax music, delicious lobsters, cocktails with coconut milk, pineapple or lime flavours, the holidays have officially begun!

Day 2 : On the island of Caye Caulker

Day2 : On the island of Caye Caulker ©Belize Tourism Board

Located off the second largest coral reef in the world, Caye Caulker will delight scuba divers, or even simply snorkelers (mask and snorkels). This small island, which is 8 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide, is easily accessible by water taxi.

Day 3 : Like on the postcards

Day3 : Like on the postcards ©Abdesslam Benzitouni

Continue to enjoy the turquoise waters and heavenly beaches of Caye Caulker. Want to stretch your legs? Go for a walk on the south side of the island, still wild.

Day 4 : Mayan sacred caves

Day4 : Mayan sacred caves ©Belize Tourism Board

Leave the beautiful island of Caye Caulker to San Ignacio (via Belize City and Belmopan). Go on an excursion to the sacred Mayan caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal. On the program: walking, swimming, climbing... it is a real adventure to reach the "Cathedral", a magical place full of history: more than 1,400 Mayan relics (sculptures, pottery, bones...) have been found there.

Day 5 : Arrival in Guatemala

Day5 : Arrival in Guatemala ©Abdesslam Benzitouni

Cross the border to Guatemala to reach the city of Florès. Go for a walk in the alleys of this charming colonial city: it is located on a lake peninsula (Lake Peten Itza).

Day 6 : The fabulous Mayan temples of Tikal

Day6 : The fabulous Mayan temples of Tikal ©Simon Dannhauer - iStockphoto

From Florès, take a day trip to the archaeological site of Tikal. If you have time, spend the night in one of the three eco-locations located at the entrance to the national park. This will allow you to opt for a guided tour at sunrise or sunset: magical hours to enjoy this mythical imposing Mayan city, the lights are unparalleled and the howler monkeys more active than ever. Prefer the guided tour in Spanish rather than English, the groups are generally smaller, you will feel like you are playing Indiana Jones!

Day 7 : In the heart of Guatemala

Day7 : In the heart of Guatemala ©Abdesslam Benzitouni

A long day of minibuses awaits you to cross the country and reach the village of Lanquin, the gateway to the natural site of Semuc Champey and its natural pools. But keep your eyes open, the scenery is really worth it! Towards the end (and especially during the last three hours on an unpaved 4x4 path), the panorama becomes very hilly, many small hills host corn and red bean crops... here you are in the heart of Guatemala!

Day 8 : Semuc Champey's natural swimming pools

Day8 : Semuc Champey's natural swimming pools ©Milosz Maslanka /

Semuc Champey is the result of a curious geological formation: the river flows underground for several hundred metres, leaving a series of basins above it, the water of which takes on magnificent turquoise green colours, all in the heart of a dense tropical forest. It is also possible to explore aquatic caves or to descend the Cahabon River on large buoys. The long journey is really worth it! If you have time, stay there at least one more day, many beautiful walks are possible in the surroundings.

Day 9 : Antigua, historic capital

Day9 : Antigua, historic capital ©globalfolkart -

Join the "civilization", leave Lanquin and head for the former capital of Guatemala. Classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Antigua is certainly one of the prettiest cities with colonial architecture in Central America. Get lost in these alleys, be curious and enter its many churches, go to lunch at the market. Antigua is also a good place to stop for a week or two and take Spanish courses, you will find many language schools there.

Day 10 : Ascension of a volcano

Day10 : Ascension of a volcano ©ThKatz - Fotolia

Antigua is surrounded by many volcanoes. Go on a day trip there, for example to the village of San Francisco de Sales, from where you can start walking to the top of the Pacaya Volcano (still active!). Count 1h30 of walking.

Day 11 : Towards the lake of Atitlan

Day11 : Towards the lake of Atitlan ©Abdesslam Benzitouni

Situated at three hours'bus from Antigua, the beautiful lake of Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and small villages inhabited by the descendants of Mayan peoples. This lake formed more than 80 000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano forming a great caldeira. Choose one of these villages, such as San Pedro de La Laguna, for example, and discover the surrounding area.

Day 12 : In the surrounding villages

Continue exploration and learn a few words in the beautiful Mayan descendant of the Maya.

Day 13 : Quetzaltenango or Chichicastenango?

Day13 : Quetzaltenango or Chichicastenango? ©

Take your exploration to the markets of Quetzaltenango or Chichicastenango (two names of cities that make you dream, don't they?). You can make your last purchases of local crafts before leaving Guatemala: for Mexico? Or to take your return flight from Guatemala City?

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