Arrive in Antigua. As your fellow travellers are arriving at various times throughout the day, there are no planned activities until the evening. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members. Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala's capital city for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Antigua today is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. It is a short 45 km from Guatemala City on a lovely winding road. The natural scenery is some of the most beautiful anywhere with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys, every inch of land covered with lush growth. The point of reference for finding one's way around Antigua is the Central Park, which is directly in the centre of town and the place to be in the late afternoon or early evening. You can pick up a map from the tourist office located on the ground floor of the Palace of the Captains-General on the south side of the Central Park. Explore the museums, the colonial buildings and other sites in this delightful town. This tour leaves Antigua early on Day 2. If you are interested in exploring the city and its nearby attractions, it is recommended you book additional pre-trip accommodation nights.
This morning we head north past Rio Dulce and Poptún along the road to Flores. This charming town, with its pastel-coloured buildings, enjoys a scenic setting on Lake Petén Itzá. There will be time to stroll through the streets, buy local handicrafts or take a swim in the lake. We also have a day to visit the famous ruins of Tikal and the curious wildlife of the National Park. The city of Tayasal was transformed into the city of Flores, officially founded by the Spanish in 1700. It remained an isolated area, relying on the subsistence farming of corn and beans, and the gathering of chicle from nearby trees, used in the manufacture of gum. Despite the recent growth in Petén, Flores remains the same small island town, with narrow, cobblestoned streets, small, brightly painted houses and friendly people. The island is now attached to the mainland by a causeway, but many of the local inhabitants still get around by cayuco, or dug-out canoe. Flores remains one of the most scenic and charming towns in the Petén. It is particularly attractive to visitors because of Lake Petén Itzá, a large lake (12 km long and 3 km wide) offering all sorts of possibilities for fun, including swimming, boating, fishing and bird watching, a small zoo and a nature preserve. The sheer scale of the ruins at Tikal may at first seem daunting. Even if you make it only to the main plaza or spend an hour relaxing in deep contemplation, you certainly won't be disappointed. The central area, with its five main temples, forms by far the most impressive section. If you start to explore beyond this you can wander endlessly into the maze of smaller structures and outlying complexes hidden in the jungle growth. If your energy levels are high enough to make it to the top of Temple IV, your senses won’t be disappointed! Spectacular views of the surrounding jungle canopy will greet you from the top of the highest structure within the complex. Occasionally, you may spot toucans, macaws and other bright birds from this artificial perch within the greenery. Otherwise, you may simply marvel at the engineering and organizational skills needed to construct this city within the jungle! A local bilingual guide will explain the natural and artificial wonders of this site during our foray into Tikal. Estimated Travel Time: 11 hours Approximate Distance: 550 km
We move on to Belize, a country with a decidedly Caribbean flavour. The relaxed atmosphere of San Ignacio allows for options including horseback riding, canoeing, caving, or exploring the Mountain Pine Ridge area. Belize is an anomaly. Peaceful, democratic, English-speaking, it seems in many ways not to belong in Central America at all. And indeed, to an extent, it is more a Caribbean nation than a Latin one, looking out from the coast rather than inland for its trade and alliances. On the other hand it has plenty of distinctively Central American features as well. Above all, it offers a blend of cultures and races that includes Maya, Mestizo, African, European, and Asian. Spanish runs a close second as spoken language, with the rich local Creole. Belize consists of remarkable marine life, profuse jungle vegetation, ancient Mayan ruins, and above all, friendly and easy-going people. An optional visit to the Mountain Pine Ridge area is a highlight for some travellers to Belize. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve covers almost 500 square km (310 square miles) and only controlled logging is allowed. Interesting stops include Hidden Valley Falls, a spectacular waterfall dropping more than 300m (984 ft) over the granite edge of the jungle. Further along, you will cross the Rio On and a climb over an assortment of worn boulders and rocks that will bring you to a delightful site with waterfalls and several warm water pools. The area is also renowned for its system of caves, the biggest and most famous being the Rio Frio Cave. With its enormous arched entryway into the kilometre-long cave, this river cave is the largest in Belize. A day trip to the ridge can easily be arranged in San Ignacio. It's best to get together with a small group to split the costs of the guide and vehicle for the day. An optional day trip to the astounding Actun Tunichil Muknal cave will leave you with memories long after the adventure ends. Discover a wealth of archaeological and natural wonders lying within the cave chambers. The Maya used the cave for rituals and communication with their gods; clay pots used for ceremonies remain intact as well as evidence of human sacrifice. Make your way through one of the cave’s water systems using a helmet and headlamp. An experienced local guide will give us insight into the fascinating practices of the ancient Maya. You can also arrange a trip to the impressive Maya ceremonial centre of Xunantunich. Located on a natural limestone ridge, the site provides a grand view of the entire Cayo District and the neighbouring Guatemalan countryside. The tallest pyramid on the site, El Castillo, has been partially excavated and explored, and the east side of the structure displays a unique stucco frieze. The plaza of the ceremonial centre houses three carved stellae. You can get a group together and hire a taxi to take you the 14 km (9 miles) to the site. Getting there includes crossing a narrow river by a hand-cranked ferry which shuttles you across! There is a small fee to enter the grounds, and a guide will explain the site. A third alternative activity is to take a walk on the Pantí Trail. From Chaa Creek, visitors are welcome to take part in a self-guided walking tour set up by the herbalist, Rosita Arvigo, who has been practicing for 20 years. Anyone interested in holistic medicine will be fascinated with Rosita’s work at Ix Chel Farm. This can be arranged from San Ignacio, by taking a taxi to the farm. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 130 km
Caye Caulker is a relaxed and easy going island with friendly and welcoming local residents. The main street is a sandy pathway through the centre of town surrounded by small bakery and seafood stands. The main activities on the island are relaxation and exploration of the reef. Snorkel and dive boats leave daily for full or half day outings to the reef, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the Blue Hole and for manatee spotting tours. The reef is the world's second largest (after Australia) and offers some truly amazing sights including coral canyons and an astonishing range of tropical fish, manta rays, sharks and barracudas. You can also try your hand fishing and be rewarded with a fresh catch, then barbecue it on the beach...delicious! Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 110 km
Our final stop is Playa del Carmen, located on the beach just a 45-minute drive south of Cancún. The town is your last chance to enjoy some nightlife, buy last minute souvenirs and to relax and swim in the Caribbean Sea. There is also snorkelling and diving available, and long stretches of sandy beaches which are perfect for walking and relaxing after a hectic day. Just off the coast is the island of Cozumel, renowned for its world-class diving. Take the ferry from Playa del Carmen (30 to 75 minutes depending on the boat) across the turquoise waters and explore the towns and the reefs of the island. For a final dose of ruins, Tulúm is just a 45-minute drive south of Playa. Aside from its unusual late Mayan architecture, it offers possibly the most appealing setting for any ruins, as it is located on a palm-fringed, white-sand beach, where you can even go for a swim within the ancient walls. Estimated Travel Time: 12 hours Approximate Distance: 480 km
Depart Playa del Carmen at any time. Note: Playa del Carmen is located just south of Cancún airport (45 minute drive) so you can head directly there without returning to Cancún.