2 countries, 1 trip. Spend 10 days backpacking Guatemala and 4 days backpacking Belize on this roundtrip. See the highlights of both countries like the Acatenango volcano, Tikal, and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as well as the ATM Cave and the Caribbean beaches of Belize.
When planning a Guatemala backpacking trip, you should consider adding backpacking in Belize to your Guatemala itinerary!
If you’re planning a trip to Belize and Guatemala you can see the highlights of two countries. Let’s be honest: Guatemala does a lot of things great. The Acatenango volcano is truly the highlight of any Central America trip and the Tikal ruins are amongst the most impressive we’ve visited. Other things it does not do that great. The Caribbean beaches of Livingston and co pale against their Belizean counterparts. So why not combine both countries in one itinerary to get the best of both worlds?
This two week Guatemala and Belize itinerary provides you with the bare minimum of time you’ll need to explore the two countries. In places like Hopkins, Belize, or Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala, you might be very much tempted to prolong your stay - and we encourage you to do so if you have the time!
Like so many travellers, we resorted to shuttles in Guatemala. They are easy to book, frequent in between the major tourist destinations, and relatively cheap. Most of the time, you can just walk into a local travel agency and book your shuttle for the next leg of the trip - it’s also much more affordable than booking online.
Unlike in Guatemala, there is no well-established shuttle infrastructure in Belize. You’ll mostly find private shuttles for some steep prices. But also unlike in Guatemala, the public buses are easy to navigate and hence an affordable alternative. There are two main routes: the NorthSouth route and the East-West route which meet in the capital Belmopan. The Belize bus schedule can be found here.
Depending on your style of travel, you need to budget around 50 USD per person and day for this trip - both for Guatemala and Belize. Admittedly, we haven’t done Guatemala on a super tight budget (especially avoiding the local buses) but it’s still not a super budget-friendly destination as many other travellers confirmed. Having a transfer or tour almost every second day adds up but you also get to see a lot.
The majority of this cost for Guatemala will be:
Antigua is a great first stop to arrive in Guatemala. It offers great food and drinks - from hipster bars and artisanal coffee to traditional cuisine and street food. Wonder the streets, if you have time take a free walking tour, settle in and relax after a potentially long travel day.
Here are some of our favourite food and drinks options:
The easiest answer is Uber. It costs around 20$ and takes around 2 hours depending on the time of day - allow some extra time for heavy traffic.
This will be one of the highlights of your trip! The hike up takes around 6 hours (depending on your fitness) with an extra 5-hour hike to Fuego (only go there if you’re incredibly fit). It’s a 1500 m (1 mi) elevation gain on very gravelly, slippery ground. The reward of your struggles? An amazing view from Acatenango to Fuego, which normally erupts around every 15 minutes. At night, you can see lava flowing if you’re lucky.
Easy. Take a tour. Unfortunately, we can not recommend our operator as the tour was horribly organized...
As the hike to the volcano is super tough, we would recommend an extra day to relax in Antigua. We also found that the sleep at 3.7 km (2.3 mi) elevation is not as restful as one might think after such a strenuous hike... You can just continue your food tour or book a relaxing massage.
This will be the longest travel of your entire trip but it will be very straightforward and you can interrupt it in a beautiful place like Rio Dulce. If you have more time, this is another great place to stay a day or two longer.
Easy and straightforward: Take a shuttle 😉
It depends on when the shuttle arrives in Rio Dulce. Currently, three boats a day (9:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:00 pm; 2022) leave from Rio Dulce to Livingston. The early shuttles should drop you off in time for the last boat. If not, you can easily spend a night in Rio Dulce which we found to be quite charming.
Warning: If you spend the night in Rio Dulce, you’ll either have to spend another night in Livingston as currently, the only boat from Livingston to Punta Gorda leaves at 7:00 am. You can also rent a private boat which will be much more expensive.
The boat from Livingston to Punta Gorda currently (2022) does not leave every day so you might catch the boat from Puerto Barrios as an alternative.
As the boat leaves at 7 am and takes around an hour, you can easily catch a northbound bus from Punta Gorda to Dangriga. Jump out at Hopkins section and take a shared taxi (10 BZD, 2022) into town.
Hopkins is our favourite place in all of Belize. The beach is long, clean and beautiful. You can also experience Garifuna culture - how about a drum circle or a cooking class? For us, it’s the better alternative to just visiting Livingston in Guatemala. In our opinion, it’s also the better alternative to Caye Caulker as the beach is actually sandy and there are more things to do - how about an off-the-beaten-path bioluminescent lagoon or the world’s only jaguar reserve?
The food options here are delightful as well. From Garifuna dishes at Queen Bean to Western cuisine at Peer’s Place, there’s everything your stomach could desire - including coconuts on the beach.
San Ignacio is the adventure hub in western Belize. Here, you can visit waterfalls, Belize’s biggest Mayan ruin Caracol, and caves. If you ask us, the ATM cave is a must on your Belize trip!
San Ignacio is also the town in Belize where we found the cheapest and most abundant street food. If you’re there on a Saturday, don’t miss the market! Burns Avenue offers a lot of nice bars and restaurants.
Hop back on the northbound bus to Dangriga and further to the capital Belmopan. Here, change to a westbound bus to San Ignacio. You might have to wait a bit if the next bus is already fully booked.
This might be controversial but we recommend going to San Ignacio / the ATM cave instead of Semuc Champey and the Kanba Caves, Guatemala. The way to Semuc Champey is very long and windy. Although in another country, San Ignacio can be much easier reached from Flores.
Additionally, we have learned that walking through the Kanba Caves in Guatemala with candles is really detrimental to the ecosystem. In contrast, the tours in Belize are very environmentally conscious. They can only enter with socks so you don’t contaminate the cave floor. You’ll get all the same adventure but with some additional Mayan artefacts as a bonus.
If you are also craving the pools of Semuc Champey, San Ignacio has the Rio On Pools to offer. You can bathe and slide in picturesque pools with small waterfalls - completely without the crowds! On our visit, we were the only tourists - almost unheard of in Semuc Champey. You just have to budget another day, but in San Ignacio, that’s easily possible.
You need a guide to enter the cave so it’s easiest to book a tour. The price is steep (125 USD, 2022) but the experience is totally worth it. We loved our guide JC from Mayawalk Tours (not sponsored).
If you leave early in the morning, you’ll have half a day enjoying Flores. You can swim in Lake Peten, take a lancha out, or feast in one of the amazing restaurants.
Take a taxi to the border. We took Silent Lion Shuttle for 15 USD and were really happy with the service. After you have completed all the border formalities, you can easily walk to the colectivo station (we marked it on the map) - don’t let tours tell you otherwise.
The Tikal Mayan ruins are amazing. You can easily spend a whole day or even more there. The city covered an area greater than 16 square kilometres (6.2 sq mi) and included about 3,000 structures. Even if You’re not the biggest history buff, the Great Plaza with its two great pyramids as well as the North and Central Acropolis will impress you. Don’t miss the Star Wars Temple: Temple IV was featured in (you guessed it) Star Wars Episode IV. And the view is impressive even if you’re not a Star Wars nerd. Our second favourite viewpoint is the pyramid in the Mundo Perdido. This is also the second area we recommend you not to miss.
The easiest way is again a shuttle. We took the early bird bus at 4:30 am which arrives at Tikal around the time of the park opening at 6:00 am. We paid 90 Quetzal (12$).
Flores and its surroundings are easily beautiful enough to spend a day. You can do a lot of things.
Even when you leave super early, you’ll lose a whole day in the shuttle. Most shuttles will drop you off in Panajachel which is easily nice enough to spend one night. The morning views of the lake are spectacular here.
We recommend a shuttle again. The trip takes at least 15 hours (also depending on where you want to go on the lake) so it will not be possible to do it in one go during the daylight hours.
If you’re not seriously into shopping, Panajachel is not the place for you. We have personally explored several towns and can recommend:
Other places that have been recommended to us:
Easy - you move around Laka Atitlan by boat or Lancha. Just go to the dock we marked on our map in Panajachel and hop on the next boat to the destination of your choice. They leave very frequently during the daylight hours.