Welcome to my new Itineraries series! I’m starting with a day-by-day 2.5 week itinerary for Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
I’ve heard from many people that planning is what puts them off of traveling. Choosing a region, deciding on destinations, finding flight routes that work – it’s a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin, let alone how to bring all of the elements together.
But here’s the thing – sometimes I feel like I have just as much fun planning a trip as I do going on it. Alright, I guess that’s a slight exaggeration. But the logistics that go into creating a trip are like a puzzle, and I love figuring out ways to make them all come together.
Show me a collection of must-sees that you can’t figure out how to fit into one trip, and I’ll show you my ideal Saturday night.
And that’s why I’m starting this new Itineraries series! I’ll share the exact day-by-day schedule of a trip I’ve recently taken, including how I got from place to place, what the flights looked like, what I’d do differently in the future, and more.
Keep reading for the first edition: A 2.5 week itinerary for Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
Belize: Caye Caulker
Guatemala: Flores, Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlàn
Since I knew we’d be covering a lot of ground, we looked for one-way flights. This isn’t always budget-friendly, but it happened to work really well for this trip.
A side note on flying from a small airport: At one hour’s drive, Syracuse is the closest “major” airport to where I live in Hamilton. This means we often have to get pretty creative with flights in order to find good deals. While this can be tricky, it’s not a total dealbreaker; you might just need to do a little extra searching. This itinerary is a good example of that: we found a one-way outgoing flight to get us to our starting point and then combined two separate one-way flights to come home, and each journey only involved one stopover. (The dream!) Don’t be afraid to try a few different combinations and routes while searching to see what works best.
Syracuse (SYR) — Chicago (ORD) — Cancun (CUN) on United
Flight 1: Guatemala City (GUA) — Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Spirit Air
Flight 2: Fort Lauderdale (FLL) — Syracuse (SYR) on jetBlue
Mexico, Belize and Guatemala Itinerary
Day 1: Land in Cancun and transfer to Tulum
After landing, we headed to the ADO Bus desk to buy tickets to Tulum. We were issued two separate tickets – one from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and one from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. The journey took a little longer than the expected ~2 hours due to a delay in our second bus, but was overall simple and inexpensive (less than $10 USD each).
Day 2: Tulum
Click here for my full guide to Tulum.
Day 3: Tulum
Day 4: Tulum to Caye Caulker
Click here for a step-by-step guide on getting from Tulum to Caye Caulker.
Day 5: Caye Caulker
Click here for my guide to Caye Caulker.
Day 6: Caye Caulker to Flores (a popular base for visitors to Tikal)
We took a ferry through Belize Water Taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City (~45 minutes). We then headed to the Fuente del Norte bus terminal, conveniently located right by the water taxi terminal, to catch a bus to Flores (~4.5 hours). We purchased the bus tickets from a storefront while on Caye Caulker.
Day 7: Visit Tikal
Day 8: Fly Flores to Antigua
We originally booked a one-way 7:37 am flight from Flores to Guatemala City on Avianca. Before our trip, we were notified that we’d been automatically moved to a 9 pm flight instead. Luckily, Avianca agreed to refund us and we booked an 8 am trip on TAG Air.
To get from Guatemala City to Antigua, we paid about $10 USD to take a shared shuttle van. We didn’t book in advance, but we did a little searching online to get an idea of what we should expect to pay.
Day 9: Antigua
Click here for a first timer’s guide to Antigua.
Day 10: Antigua
Day 11: Antigua to Lake Atitlàn
Antigua is full of small agencies that provide shuttle van service to Lake Atitlàn. We reserved two tickets in person, paying $10-12 USD for the ~2.5 hour journey. The shuttle will drop you off near the docks in Panajachel, the main jump-off point for the other villages on the lake. If you’re not staying right in Panajachel, you’ll take a lancha, or speed boat, the rest of the way. Brace yourself for a bumpy ride and hang on to your luggage! At this point in the trip, we were relieved we packed light.
Day 12: Lake Atitlàn
Read more about our Lake Atitlàn experience here.
Day 13: Lake Atitlàn
Day 14: Lake Atitlàn
Day 15: Lake Atitlàn
Day 16: Lake Atitlàn to Antigua
We used the same method to get back to Antigua as we did to leave, but in reverse: a lancha ride from our base in San Pedro La Laguna to Panajachel, followed by a shared shuttle van ride back to Antigua. We booked the shuttle van tickets at a storefront in San Pedro during our stay.
Click here for a guide to Antigua’s cafe scene.
Day 17: Antigua to Guatemala City and fly home
Instead of taking a shared shuttle van back to the airport in Guatemala City, we reserved an Uber. The cost estimate for both options was similar, so we treated ourselves. In the end our Uber cost $24 USD, or just about $4 USD more than two shuttle bus tickets would have been.
I loved our time in Tulum and could have happily stayed a few extra days there, or potentially added a second destination within Mexico. That said, two full days gave us enough time to at least enjoy an intro to the area. If you’re short on time, you can still cover a lot of ground.
Other nearby options: Bacalar, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres
Caye Caulker was great and I think having one full day there was perfect for us. While stunning, the island is very tiny. We had plenty of time to see most of it even while spending a lot of the day on a snorkeling tour.
Our day of travel to get from Tulum to Caye Caulker was definitely a long and tiring one, but it felt totally worth it after arriving on the island. If you’re on a short trip, I might try to avoid dedicating a day to the journey. If you’re on a longer backpacking trip, I’d definitely go for it.
Another nearby option: Ambergris Caye
Flores and Tikal
This will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t love Tikal! There’s no doubt that the site itself is impressive, but unfortunately our guided experience was just not great. If that hadn’t been an issue, I may have enjoyed the day much more. (That said, we met some really cool people in Belize who we bumped into in Guatemala and visited Tikal with. We later spent time with them on Lake Atitlàn as well!)
Considering its remote location, I wouldn’t recommend making the trek to Tikal unless it’s a destination you feel really passionate about seeing.
Have you visited Tikal? If so, let me know your thoughts in the Comments section!
I loved our time in Antigua. The ~3.5 days we had was a perfect amount of time for leisurely exploring. If you have less time than that, you’ll still be able to see a good amount of this walkable, colorful city. If you’d like to go on one of the popular volcano day or overnight trips that leave from Antigua, be sure to budget a little extra time.
I go into a lot of detail on Lake Atitlàn in my post here. Due to unfairly high expectations on my part, some aspects of this leg of the trip were challenging for me. In hindsight I would have stayed in a quieter area than San Pedro La Laguna. That said, there were high points as well, and there’s no doubt that the volcano-ringed lake is stunning.
Are you planning a trip to this corner of the world? Do you have feedback from your own adventures that you’d like to share? If you have any thoughts or questions, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
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I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, and Suitcases and Sandcastles. Follow the links to check out their sites!
AllisonDecember 5, 2019 at 1:59 pm
I agree with you. Planning trips are part of the fun of traveling. Putting the pieces in place and having it all come together is one of my favorite parts. It really helps build up the anticipation and excitement for the trip. #farawayfiles
Corey | Fifi + HopDecember 11, 2019 at 12:50 pm
Great idea for a new series! I happen to love the planning, but agree with others that its can get a little tedious and time consuming. But pouring through guide books and reading blog posts on a destination in preparation for it is one of my favorite things – hence why I’m a travel writer! I would love to visit Tulum and Belize some day. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles