I am thrilled to share with you the spectacular road trip itinerary I did from Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala, going through the Frontera Corozal, on the Mexican-Guatemalan border, continuing in the Guatemalan region of Peten and ending in the charming city of Antigua. It was an unforgettable adventure from Mexico to Guatemala!
I did this trip while traveling solo on my epic journey from Mexico through South America, which unfortunately ended earlier than planned, but that’s another story.
Here I will be giving you great useful tips on how to organize your own itinerary and make the most of your time, the best places to visit, where to stay, and most of all, how to travel safe, avoiding the mistakes I made.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Practical Tips for your Mexico to Guatemala Adventure
- 2 15 DAY ITINERARY FROM CHIAPAS TO GUATEMALA
- 2.1 Days 1 & 2 – Palenque
- 2.2 Day 3 & 4 Tour and border crossing to Flores
- 2.3 Day 5 to 7 in Flores
- 2.4 Day 7 to 9 Semuc Champey
- 2.5 Day 9 to 12 Rio Dulce
- 2.6 Day 12 to 15 Antigua
Practical Tips for your Mexico to Guatemala Adventure
Before getting to the actual day by day itinerary I would like to go through a few organizational tips which I consider one important aspect of this journey, especially on the safety side.
Why I choose organized tours in Mexico and Tourist Buses in Guatemala
I normally stay away from organized tours because I want to set my own pace and decide when and where to stop for eating, resting, or using the water closet.
However, in Chiapas it was different. Especially if you have a limited time, organized tours allow you to see more sites in one day. Also, local buses don’t get to some of the touristic places. So with organized tours, you can easily get there and you will be given enough time to enjoy.
In Guatemala, the chicken (local) buses are considered quite dangerous, first because they drive like crazy on dangerous roads secondly because they are easy targets for assaulters.
Now, I don’t want to scare you. I took one of those buses and I arrived at my destination in one piece, after lots of prayers and meditation, but still, if you can avoid it, it’s better.
Make sure you check in the immigration office on the way out of Mexico and in Guatemala as well
On the way out of Mexico nobody from immigration checks on you, so you have to make sure you pass by their office and get the stamp out, if you don’t want any issue on the way into Guatemala or if you wish to go back to Mexico. You will have to pay a tax as well which is 25 USD or 500 Pesos. I have heard that if you show proof that you have entered the country by plane you won’t need to pay this tax. But please double-check this information because it’s new to me.
Better safe than sorry
Make sure the tour company you choose is reliable. I would ask your hotel front desk staff or check on TripAdvisor for previous comments. I have been scammed right in Palenque on my way out to Guatemala and even if it was the very first time it didn’t feel good. You can read more about my scam story and adventure at the border down below.
If you have fewer than 15 days available…
You can shrink the following Mexico to Guatemala itinerary if you have fewer days or you wish to spend more time in Antigua.
But let’s dig into the itinerary now.
15 DAY ITINERARY FROM CHIAPAS TO GUATEMALA
Days 1 & 2 – Palenque
Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas are the two main hubs in Chiapas from where you can reach the most interesting places.They are easily connected by local buses, which run daily.
What to see in Palenque
The town of Palenque is everything but charming, but there is a lot to see in the surroundings. Here’s a list of my favorite activities.
- Visit the waterfalls of Misol-ha and Agua Azul. Mind that if it’s summer the “Agua” (water) is not so “Azul” (blue) but rather brownish, because of the rains, but it’s still beautiful.
- Visit the spectacular archeological site of Palenque – and UNESCO world heritage site. I would suggest you should go in the morning when it opens at 8 am, so that you won’t suffer from the heat and humidity (too much).
- Visit the refreshing waterfalls of Roberto Barrios – difficult to reach if you don’t have your own car, so you can join a tour which is basically a private transportation. It’s not expensive and you will have enough time to enjoy the falls and swim into those emerald green natural pools.
Where to stay in Palenque
Since the city has nothing interesting to offer I would suggest you should stay in the mystic jungle. There are quite a few “eco” lodges right on the way to palenque site. I went to visit the following places and l loved them:
- Cabañas Kin Balam – this is the most upscale in the area although very simple
- MayaBell – cute wooden cabañas in the middle of the jungle, not a luxury but very cozy
You could also get a tour that leaves San Cristobal at 3 am at night and gets to Palenque in the afternoon and includes a visit to the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol-ha ending with the visit of the spectacular archaeological site of Palenque.
I chose this option but I wouldn’t do it again. I arrived exhausted with a strong headache and I didn’t enter the archeological site although the ticket was included because I just wanted to reach my hotel, have a shower and lay down. Luckily I had the time to go by myself the following day. Getting up at 2.30am to leave at 3.00 am is not a joke. At least my body didn’t like it at all. But we are all different, so it’s really up to you.
Day 3 & 4 Tour and border crossing to Flores
Now it’s time to leave Mexico and we’ll do it on a tour.
Because on the way to the border, hidden in the heart of the Selva Lacandona, there are two spectacular archeological sites that you will want to see.
The tour leaves at 6 am from Palenque and will take you to visit the sites (the guide is not included), then you will be taken to a random hotel in the area, very basic. The following day somebody else will pick you up and take you to your transportation to Flores in Guatemala.
It’s an amazing experience. You will cross the river Usumacinta and you will be in Guatemala, a totally different world. Who would have thought? Just on the other side of a river, there is another culture.
The second day it’s going to be only travel as it will take about 8 hours to get to Flores.
Here is when I was scammed because my travel agency booked me on a local bus instead of a tourist bus and it didn’t stop at immigration so I basically entered as an illegal. If you want to know more about the entire story click here.
Flores is a cute tiny town and an island which is the departing point for tours to the majestic Mayan archaeological of Tikal, besides other interesting places to visit in the surroundings.
Where to stay in Flores
However, there are also more upscale options if you wish.
Where to eat in Flores
I had great meals in the following restaurants:
- Maracuya, a lovely place with vintage wooden tables and lots of plants on a terrace overlooking the lake not to mention the delicious meals with vegan and vegetarian options.
- San Telmo, an artsy colorful space with international dishes, also facing the lake. Vegan and vegetarian options available as well.
Day 5 to 7 in Flores
I used the first full day in Flores to wander around take pictures and explore the area and organize my next adventures. I took a bus to El remate which is another resort town located half an hour from Flores on the way to Tikal. There are quite a few interesting lodges right on the lake if you want to spend a couple of days in relax and tranquillity. And tours to Tikal are also available from there, if you wish.
Tour to Tikal
This is obviously a must and the only reason many people travel to Flores. To me, the highlight of this tour was seeing the sunrise from one of the towers looking at the never-ending jungle and at other pyramids peeking out from the thick vegetation. It was really a magical view. It’s a 3 am a departure, though. It was exhausting but all worth it.
I thought I would have wanted to spend the entire day on the site as I am a Mayan-ruins-freak but tiredness and heat got on me. So I took the 11 am bus to go back to Flores which gave me the time to still see everything and reach my cozy hostel by 3 pm when I relaxed and had a superb lunch/dinner.
Practical tips :
- You should ask your hotel to book it for you since they normally suggest the best travel agents.
- Mind that you will need to purchase your ticket for the early morning trip in the bank the day before, no exceptions. Somebody was left out because they didn’t get the ticket in advance.
- Bring a bottle of water and something to munch on – it’s very hot and humid
- Dress light but long pants and sleeves and hiking boots will prevent mosquito bites and other insects’ from crawling on you.
- Once you get there, ask the driver at what time there is the return bus and where is the pick-up point, as there are different schedule options.
Day 7 to 9 Semuc Champey
On day 7 of our itinerary, in the morning, you will leave Flores on a tourist bus on the way to Semuc Champey, a spectacular natural monument. It’s been created by the collapsing of a mountain in a river, which causes these emerald green natural pools and waterfalls. It was for me one of the highlights of Guatemala.
There are many interesting lodges in the area but I would stay at El portal which has nice and clean cabañas and dormitories and it’s located on the river right at the entrance of the park. It has a restaurant inside the property with a variety of international dishes and great views.
In this thorough guide, I will explain everything you need to know about Semuc Champey and more hotel options.
Day 9 to 12 Rio Dulce
On day 9 you will be traveling from Semuc Champey to Rio Dulce. You can purchase your bus ticket at the hotel and they will give you instructions. It will take about 6 hours to get there by bus, including a bumpy road.
Rio Rulce is an interesting place and also a border town for those who come in and out from Belize through Livingston. It’s on the river, obviously, and it’s been an interesting part of my itinerary.
If you are in Rio Dulce you will want to stay in one of the eco-lodges on the river, instead of the town, which has nothing charming to offer. There you can relax in the jungle vibes and enjoy the tranquillity of the surrounding besides taking some tours.
What to do in Rio Dulce
- Take a full-day trip to Livingston – On the border with Belize you will see quite a different culture – the tour is one day only but if you want to enjoy the Caribbean coast you would need to spend an extra day in Livingston as you wouldn’t have enough time to see much with the tour.
- Check out the Finca Paraiso Waterfalls – nice waterfall with hot springs at only 1 hour bus from town. Yes, here you can take the local combi. I really felt safe.
- Explore the rooms of old Castillo de San Felipe – after a 10 minutes bus ride from town, you will reach the old castle. There you will be taken around by local guides happy to explain to you about their heritage.
- Chill in your lovely lodge – if you are tired of traveling this is the best place to chill out and get your energy level back up.
Hotel Casa Perico – this is where I stayed. It’s very cozy with overwater bungalows but they don’t have a private bathroom. So if you are picky with that you should choose the next one.
Tortugal – it’s considered the most luxurious but it’s another concept of luxury, which I would call jungle-luxury or shabby-chic, if you know what I mean. Their prices are still very low for the kind of service and comfort you receive, about 50 USD per room per night.
Day 12 to 15 Antigua
On day 12 you will leave from Rio Dulce on a public bus, (not the chicken bus, but an official company). You will leave around 8 and get to Antigua around 4 pm. NOTE: Check with your hotel the correct schedule.
Antigua is a totally different world from what you have seen so far in Guatemala. You will fall in love with it, who wouldn’t? A colonial city that still wears the scars of the latest terrible earthquake in 1976 that made uncountable victims and destroyed the historical heritage of the city.
As you walk around you will be able to appreciate spectacular old churches or what remains of them which together with the cobblestone roads, the colonial houses, tiny cafes, and spectacular courtyards create a special romantic feeling which makes Antigua extremely different from any other cities in Guatemala. It’s not surprising that many foreigners are making Antigua their own new home.
Besides admiring the architecture and historical buildings there are many activities you can do from Antigua such as:
- Climbing Pacaya Volcano – an easy hike with spectacular views of the volcano.
- Watching Volcan Fuego smoking from the top of its brother Acatenango. It’s a 2 days trip and it must be as challenging as mind-blowing. I didn’t do it this time. I have saved it for next time I go which will be hopefully soon.
- Take a picture of the famous Yellow arch
- Walk up to the Cerro de la Cruz and take stunning photos of the city
- Visit an organic coffee farm
- Browse around the paca market and the veggie market all in one place right in the city center.
Of course, 2 days are not enough to do it all. I am just giving you the options so that you can decide what you feel like doing. Or maybe you will be tempted to extend your stay.
Where to stay in Antigua
I was house-sitting in Antigua so I didn’t stay in any specific hotel but if there is one place I would go, that’s Casa Santo Domingo, an ex-convent that has been turned into a museum, candle factory restaurant and bar, and of course a luxury hotel. There is also a church inside. In the internal courtyards, you can enjoy fountains, pools and tropicals birds. It’s a real treat but all worth the splurge.
We are at the end of our 15 days itinerary but there is so much more to discover in Guatemala and if you can extend your stay here are a couple of places I would not miss:
- Visit San Juan la laguna on Lake Atitlan
- Visit the colorful market in Chichichicastenango on a Saturday or a Thursday.
- Travel up to Quetzaltenango and enjoy some serious hiking off the beaten track from there
- Take surf classes or bask on the beach at El Paredon a new surfing town.
This is a guest post by Isabella from the travel blog, BoundlessRoads.com
Author’s Bio: Isabella is a serial traveller who decided to ditch the 9-to-5 life at the age of 44 to travel through Latin America and become a professional digital nomad. She loves to capture nature and wildlife with her inseparable Canon 6D and write about her beloved Mexico and her adventures across Latin America on her blog BoundlessRoads.com. You can follow her on social media: Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.
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