The editors of Travel + Leisure have teamed up with Black Tomato—a company known for securing insider experiences—on a series of one-of-a-kind journeys around the globe. Plus: the must-see experiences and sites in each destination that are so unique we’ve designated them our new wonders of the world.
Guatemala offers one of the richest cultural experiences in Central America—yet still feels delightfully under-the-radar. Travel + Leisure has partnered with luxury travel experts Black Tomato on a trip that begins in Antigua, the former Spanish colonial capital, and includes a private luxury camping experience at our New World Wonder, Uaxactun, with its incredible Mayan ruins and jungle wildlife.
Read the full trip outline below, and when you’re ready to speak to an expert, get in touch with our luxury travel partner, Black Tomato.
Day 1: Antigua
Arrive in La Antigua, a jewel of Guatemala with meticulously restored Spanish colonial architecture and a horizon shaped by three spectacular volcanoes. It’s nestled in a mountain valley and surrounded by evergreen forests, and retains the aura of the 17th-century capital. On its cobblestone streets, you’ll find high-end art galleries, fascinating museums, and traditional markets packed with locally made textiles and woodcrafts.
Your hotel for this first part of the trip is San Rafael, a two-block walk from the city’s main park and cathedral, with seven individually-designed rooms in a meticulously renovated colonial home.
Day 2: Antigua
Get a taste of Antigua’s traditional street food with a walking tour along charming cobblestone streets of the comedores (eateries) most loved by locals. Sample delicious, authentic Guatemalan cuisine like chuchitos (Guatemala-style tamales), pupusas (cheese-filled corn tortillas), rellenitos (plantain dough filled with beans and then fried), and even pigs’ feet. You’ll learn about the cultural background of these everyday delicacies as your guide leads you through Antigua’s bustling community market to see, smell, touch, and taste the fresh ingredients used in their preparation. Here, you’ll find exotic fruits, vegetables, seeds, beans, grains, spices, meats and fish. As the tour ends, your guide will escort you to Casa Popenoe, a 17th-century mansion/museum that’s perhaps the best-preserved Spanish colonial home in Antigua. Working in a 300-year-old kitchen, a Guatemalan will chef prepare a traditional three-course meal.
Day 3: San Miguel
Your private guide and driver will meet you for the short ride to the town of San Miguel Escobar, just outside of Antigua. In San Miguel, you’ll meet a guide from De La Gente (DLG), a nonprofit organization working to support small independent coffee producers and promote environmentally responsible agriculture in Guatemala. On this tour you will visit some of the families supported by this organization and can work side-by-side with coffee farmers as you help pick, pulp, ferment, wash, dry, or grade the coffee (depending on the season); roast the coffee over an open fire; and grind it by hand on a grindstone before sampling the brew. Later, you’ll enjoy a simple, traditional lunch prepared and served in a family home before returning to Antigua.
Day 4: Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan
Meet your private driver and guide for the two-and-a-half hour drive to the highland town of Chichicastenango. Along the way, you’ll pass through the central highland region and see the local Maya people in their traditional dress. Upon arrival at Chichicastenango, your guide will take you to explore this expansive, world-famous market. You’ll see the endless amount of fruit and vegetables of offer, and spend time in the artisan craft area where countless stalls overflow with handmade textiles, carved wood, and ceramic crafts. You can also visit the famous St Tomas Church, where both Maya and Catholic rituals are performed in the sanctuary, reflecting the intertwining of these two diverse faiths in this region. If you wish, you can also hike up the hill to the Pascual Abaj, where you may see local shamans performing their rituals, or you can visit the cemetery on the outskirts of town, where the mausoleums are painted in vivid colours. Then it’s on to Panajachel (one hour from here), set on the shores of Lake Atitlán. You’ll lunch at a local restaurant, walk the busy main street crowded with colourful artisan shops, and take in breathtaking views of the lake surrounded by Mayan villages and three volcanoes.
Then it’s on to Lake Atitlán. With its sparkling in the shadow of three majestic, dormant volcanoes, this is Guatemala’s highland jewel. Surrounded by Mayan villages, the lake’s timeless beauty is equalled by the exquisitely embroidered clothing worn by the local T’zutujil and Kaqchiquel Maya people. Each lakeside village has its own character: the ceramic arts of San Antonio Palopo, San Juan’s natural dyes and handwoven textiles; San Pedro’s backpacker vibe; San Marcos’ yoga and wellness centres; Santiago Atitlan’s busy markets and shops; and Panajachel’s hectic-eclectic mix of shops, hotels, and restaurants. All have one thing in common: the shimmering lake and dramatic countryside, where you can kayak and canoe, swim, fish, watch birds or simply swing in a hammock.
Day 5: Lake Atitlán
Experience the splendour of Lake Atitlán by kayaking along a portion of it and then exploring charming Maya villages overlooking the lake. Your guide will meet you at your hotel for a pleasant motorboat ride to Santa Cruz La Laguna, a small Kakchiquel village surrounded by jagged mountains. Hop in a kayak and paddle out for a unique perspective of the volcanic landscape and waterfront way of life. Watch Tzutujil fishermen cast lines from their “cayucos” (small fishing canoes) as water birds circle overhead. After your kayaking journey, hike into a Maya village perched on a steep, forest-covered mountainside and continue your trek along a well-worn trail to the village of Jaibalito. Sitting at the water’s edge, Jaibalito offers stunning panoramas of the lake and the soaring volcanoes. Then travel by boat to Santiago Atitlán, a town known for its arts and textiles. You will be back at your hotel, Casa Palopo, in time for a sunset drink or a dip in the pool.
Day 6: San Juan La Laguna
Today, you’ll travel by boat to the village of San Juan La Laguna, a small, picturesque Tz’utujil Maya town with panoramic lake views. From the docks, you’ll ascend the hill past galleries and artisan shops. Meander through this peaceful town to find murals depicting the history of San Juan, and relax in a café with some of the most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted. Visit one of the women’s cooperatives for a demonstration of how traditional backstrap looms and all-natural dyes are used to make some of Guatemala’s richly coloured textiles, including scarves, blankets, and even iPad covers. San Juan is also home to a plethora of naïf paintings created by self-taught artists. Many depict the customs, history, and legends of the town, or reflect the surrounding countryside. At the end of your tour, stop by an artist’s studio before enjoying a traditional Guatemalan lunch at one of the women’s cooperatives. After lunch, you can try your hand at weaving in a two-hour workshop to learn about traditional techniques practised in the country. Once you’re ready, head back down to the dock to transfer back to the hotel by boat.
Day 7: Flores
The quiet island town of Flores is located on Lake Petén Itzá, and was the last Maya stronghold to fall to the Spaniards. Today, it’s a quaint, walkable town with red-tile roofs, colonial-style architecture, and cobblestone streets. Dugout canoes, kayaks, and lanchas (small motorized boats) line its shores. The island is just a few blocks wide but offers a well-rounded selection of shops and restaurants. Most visitors come to Flores to see Tikal archaeological park, but this region boasts other impressive Maya sites too—Uaxactún, Yaxhá, Ceibal, and Aguateca—as well as several fascinating parks and reserves.
Afterwards, transfer to Las Lagunas for one night. The hotel offers the luxury and comfort of a big city property in the middle of a wild jungle in Guatemala’s northern department of El Petén, not far from the famous Tikal ruins. The resort comprises a nature reserve (home to ocelots, deer, tapirs, and wild boars), five lagoons, an archaeological museum, an excellent restaurant serving European-style fare, and an infinity-edge pool. A dock in the center of one of the lagoons is a great place for private massages, yoga sessions, and sunset cocktails.
Day 8: Uaxactún
One of the longest-occupied Mayan cities, Uaxactún impresses with its incredible ruins and nocturnal creatures. You’ll visit a cluster of celestially oriented ruins that, to this day, accurately pinpoint the sun when the seasons change. In the village, you’ll learn about the natural gum, allspice and xate (exported globally for floral arrangements) that locals collect. At dusk, you’ll climb a lookout tower for sunset drinks, followed by nighttime jungle exploration. Keep an eye out for watchful owls, spooky insects such as tarantulas and the coatimundi (long-tailed cousin of the raccoon). Afterwards, enjoy a locally made dinner before camping overnight amid the ruins.
Overnight, stay in your own private tent, located deep within the ruins. Fall asleep listening to the sounds of the surrounding jungle, the howler monkeys calling out in the distance and the owls hooting up in the trees.
Day 9: Uaxactún and Tikal National Park
The next day starts with breakfast and a last look around Uaxactún. A 45-minute ride through the deep jungle will take you to Tikal National Park, where some 3,000 ancient structures rise from the rainforest floor. You will enter Tikal through the forest, an area most visitors never get to see. Following in the footsteps of Maya royalty and commoners, you will visit the majestic Great Plaza and its Temple of the Jaguar, Temple of the Masks, Acropolis, and much more. You’ll end your tour with lunch at a local restaurant. The next day, prepare for the flight home.