Exploring Guatemala in Four Days


Guatemala, meaning “the land of trees,” is located in Central America and shares a border with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Guatemala is a country that boasts beautiful landscapes, over 30 volcanoes (three active), the deepest lake (Lake Atitlán), and the largest city in Central America (Guatemala City). Guatemala is also home to half of the indigenous descendants of the Mayan civilization. I visited Guatemala in February 2023 during the dry season (November-April). In this blog post, you will find information about Guatemala’s transportation options, language, some places I visited, and recommendations to help plan your trip to Guatemala.


In Guatemala, the majority of the population speaks Spanish. I strongly advise that all tourists have some knowledge of conversational Spanish as it would be helpful during your stay. I also recommend downloading google translate or a similar tool if you lack time to learn some Spanish before your trip. In touristy areas, restaurant staff will use Google translate to communicate with tourists that do not speak Spanish. An exception is the Chichicastenango market, where most of the vendors can speak some English to communicate with tourists. I did not have an issue with the language barrier as I can speak and understand most conversational Spanish after years of taking classes in school and expanding my vocabulary using language learning tools such as Pimsleur and Duolingo.


Transportation options for Guatemala include chicken buses (colorful old American school buses), public buses, taxis, or renting a car/van. Traveling around Guatemala takes a long time, hours at times. While traffic does add to the total travel time, it just takes a while (an hour or more) to get anywhere. It may not appear that way on the map, but when visiting, you’ll see. Uber does exist but only in Guatemala City.

Places Visited

Lake Atitlán

Sitting in a volcanic crater in the highlands of Guatemala at 1,120 ft deep (340 meters) lies Lake Atitlán. Surrounding Lake Atitlán are 11 towns and villages, the most popular being Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos, Santa Cruz, and Jaibalito. I stayed in Panajachel, the largest town, and visited San Antonio Palopó, a small village on the lake. Panajachel provides easy access to all towns and villages surrounding Lake Atitlán and great views of the Atitlán volcano. Along the waterfront in Panajachel, you will find plenty of restaurants, vendors, activities, and a water taxi that provides transportation to other towns and villages. Panajachel is a great town to base your stay in if you’re heading to the Chichicastenango market, a little over an hour away. Be aware of the ferry schedule so you don’t miss your transportation back to the town or village where you are staying.

Unlike Panajachel, the small town of San Antonio Palopó has little to offer to tourists. However, if you decide to visit, San Antonio Palopó has a few restaurants, a ceramic shop that sells locally made vases, plates, cups, and other dishes, a weaving shop, and a small playground for children near the dock.


Located in the Guatemala highlands, visitors will find the town of Chichicastenango, which is best known for having one of the largest open-air markets in South America and an indigenous Mayan population. The market is open on Thursdays and Sundays every week from 8 am until 6 pm, and here visitors will find vendors that sell local wood carvings, textiles, jewelry, fruits and vegetables, food, flowers, candles, and much more. An important note is that vendors can be very aggressive toward shoppers to purchase their products after inquiring about the price or expressing interest in an item. Thus, before arriving at the market or expressing interest, know which items you may want to buy. When shopping at Chichicastenango market, bargaining skills are necessary unless you’re satisfied with the offered price. For travelers from the United States, you can pay with dollars, but the bills must be smooth with no wrinkles, tears, tape, or marks because vendors will not take them. Walking through the Chichicastenango market, visitors will find two churches, Santo Tomás and El Calvario church, where Catholics and Mayans worship together. I visited Santo Tomás, where flowers partially adorn the 20 steps leading to the church, and shamans burn incense that visitors can smell as they enter or pass the church. Santo Tomás is famous for retaining the last copy of the Sacred Book of the Maya (Popol Vul), written in the 1500s, to capture Mayan history, culture, and way of life.

Guatemala City

The capital and largest city in Guatemala, Guatemala City is the most modern and well-developed city in the country. I only spent half a day in Guatemala City to be closer to the airport for an early flight the next day. During that time, I visited Constitution Plaza, Guatemala’s central plaza, where visitors can find the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace (presidential palace), and an apartment complex. Constitution Plaza is where locals gather for protests, celebrations and to sit, relax, and people-watch. At the plaza, visitors will find a few vendors selling food and souvenirs, along with a number of pigeons gathering on the premises, which appears to be typical of plazas located within Latin American and South American countries. At the plaza, visitors will also find a memorial dedicated to 41 girls who died in a fire at their state-run protective center for children who were victims of abuse and minors with legal issues and who have already served criminal sentences. Written on the memorial is a plea for justice from the government, which is deemed responsible for their mismanagement of the center. Overall, while visiting the plaza, I felt safe. However, I decided not to spend time exploring more of the capital based on the advice of a local tour guide who felt the area was unsafe for tourists.

San José Cathedral

Located in Antigua, Guatemala, San José Cathedral was once the most important landmark in South America. San José Cathedral was completed in 1680 and then repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, most notably the great earthquake of 1773. The cathedral was then moved and reconstructed in Guatemala City. Due to a lack of funding, the government only repaired the church’s main entrance near the central park. While there, I visited the ruins behind the church in the old cathedral. Visitors can access the ruins using the entrance on 5a Calle Oriente. If time permits, visitors can also visit the crypts underneath the church, which are still used today for Mayan rituals. Because the cathedral does not offer much for visitors to see, your visit will be short. However, it is still worth checking out when visiting Antigua.


  • If you have time, visit the Mayan Ruins in Tikal. Its a 1 hour flight or a 10+ hour drive.
  •  Don’t have time to visit Tikal? Visit the Mayan ruins in Ixmiche, located 2 hours from Guatemala City.
  •  For vegans looking for a vegan restaurant in Antigua, try La Bruja.
  •  Highly recommend that you spend majority of your time at Lake Atitlán when visiting Guatemala. It was my favorite area and easily accessible to other towns/villages without having to ride / drive for long periods on the road.
  •  Credit cards (Visa, Mastercard) are widely accepted at restaurants and hotels (Amex accepted here), but its best to carry local currency when making small purchases or buying items from vendors.

Have you visited Guatemala? What places would you recommend for first time or repeat visitors? Comment below.

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