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Mayan Sun—Southbound

Tour Map

Tour style - Culture & History

16 days

Find your paradise somewhere between the blazing Yucatán sun and the cool Guatemalan highlands on this 16-day odyssey. Wander Antigua’s cobblestone streets and its local markets before experiencing the diverse beauty of Lake Atitlán and its indigenous villages. Geared to the adventurer wanting to capture some of Central America's finest highlights, this trip will ensure that you really pack some punch into those postcards home.
  • Day 1 Playa del Carmen

    Arrive in at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Shuttles and buses from the Cancún airport are easy to find and reasonably priced. 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. This once sleepy village is quickly becoming a destination among sun worshippers worldwide. Stroll along the cool, white sands of the Caribbean coast, spend your time snorkelling or diving in underground caverns, or simply sipping on cool margaritas and catching some rays. Playa del Carmen is also known for its vibrant nightlife.

  • Day 2 Playa del Carmen

    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 first 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.

  • Day 3-5 Caye Caulker

    For many years Belize has been a relatively unknown destination, and tourists have only recently begun to explore this fascinating country. Mention Belize and you may conjure up visions of unbelievably clear blue waters, diving and snorkelling along the barrier reef and remarkable marine life. Belize also boasts huge swaths of jungle, ancient Mayan ruins, and above all, friendly, easygoing people. Belize is all this and much more! As a peaceful, democratic and English speaking country, Belize is an anomaly in the region; it seems in many ways not to belong in Central America at all. In many ways, Belize has more in common with its Caribbean rather than its Latin neighbours, although it has plenty of distinctively Central American features as well. Its unique blend of cultures includes Maya, Mestizo, African, European, Arabic and Asian. English is the first official language (as a former British Colony) and Spanish runs a close second, though the locals speak Creole the majority of the time. 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 bakeshops, seafood stands and bars. There is not much to do on the island except relax and explore 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 manatee spotting tours at Swallow Caye. The barrier reef is the world's second longest (after Australia’s) and offers some truly amazing sights including coral canyons and an astonishing range of tropical fish, Manta Rays, sharks and barracudas, as well as the more mundane, edible varieties of fish. Estimated Travel Time: 12 hours Approximate Distance: 480 km

  • Day 6-7 San Ignacio

    From the town of San Ignacio, opportunities abound for exploring Belize’s little known inland scenic beauty. With your free time here, you may choose to explore the area by foot, canoe or horse, take a caving trip, or visit the Mountain Pine Ridge Area and swim in its inviting pools and rivers. As a peaceful, democratic and English speaking country, Belize is an anomaly. It seems in many ways not to belong in Central America at all. 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. It offers a unique blend of cultures that includes, in a tiny population, people of Maya, Mestizo, African, European, Asian and Arab descent. Aside from the rich and lyrical local Creole, Spanish is also spoken throughout the country. For many years Belize has been a relatively unknown destination, and only recently have tourists begun to discover its wonders, including the western hemisphere’s longest barrier reef (second only to Australia’s). The San Ignacio/ Mountain Pine Ridge area is the highlight of the trip for some travellers to Belize. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve covers almost 500 square kms (310 square miles) and only controlled logging is allowed. Interesting stops include Hidden Valley Falls, spectacular waterfalls dropping more than a 300 m (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 will bring you to a delightful site with waterfalls and several warm water pools. The Mountain Pine Ridge area is also renowned for its system of caves, the biggest and most famous being the Rio Frio Cave. There is an enormous arched entrance into the kilometre-long cave, the largest in Belize. Also well worth a visit, the Cave of the Stone Scepter, Actun Tunichil Muknal involves a 45-minute jungle hike to the opening of the cave, wading across a river three times before the adventure begins! Inside the cave, you’ll find a Mayan cermonial site. There you will be amazed by the natural museum of Mayan relics left just as it was by the Maya 1400 years ago. Ceramic pots, skulls, and calcified skeletons will enthrall even the most experienced speleologist. Days trips can also be arranged to Xunantunich,an impressive Maya ceremonial centre located on a natural limestone ridge providing a grand view of the entire Cayo District and 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 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 can give you the lowdown on the site. In San Ignacio the accommodation is a rustic Eco-Lodge, you will enjoy being totally surrounded by nature. Eat local belizean food, swim in the river that passes by and wake up to the sounds of belizean wildlife at your window. There are composting toilets and ceiling-less showers, this lodge is one of the most unique stops of your adventure. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 110 km

  • Day 8 Flores/Tikal

    Cross the border into Guatemala and you immediately notice the difference in culture, with its heavy Mayan influence and Spanish language. Here we have entered Guatemala’s northeast jungle Petén region. The descendants of the Maya of Chichén Itzá migrated to the Petén area several centuries after the collapse of the great Mayan cities in the Yucatán. En route to Flores, stop for a guided tour of the ancient city of Tikal. The sheer scale of the ruins at Tikal may at first seem daunting. 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. Explore beyond this and 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—the tallest structure in the Mayan world—spectacular views of the surrounding jungle canopy greet you. Peaks of the various temple complexes rise above the trees, giving a sense of the enormous scale of the site, impossible to gauge from ground level where the view is obscured by dense jungle. Occasionally you may spot toucans, macaws and other bright birds from this artificial perch within the greenery. Marvel at the engineering and organizational skills needed to construct this city within the jungle. It was in this region of great natural beauty that their descendants founded the city of Tayasal, on an island in Lake Petén Itzá. They lived here for about four hundred years, isolated and forgotten by the rest of the country, including the Spanish conquistadors. It was not until 1697 that this small city was finally conquered by a military expedition led by Martín de Ursúa, who stumbled upon the city by accident. 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 (gummy rubber obtained from trees). Despite the recent growth in the Petén, Flores remains a small island town, with narrow, cobble-stoned streets, small, brightly painted houses and friendly people. Few modern conveniences are embraced here, and though the island is now attached to the mainland by a causeway, many of the locals still get around by cayuco (dug-out canoe). All in all, 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, bird watching, a small zoo and a nature preserve. Note that the rainy season in the Petén is generally from mid-May until early January. Be prepared to get wet during this time. Make sure you have plastic bags to wrap around the items in your daypack while hiking, and bring a good (light) waterproof jacket. Also make sure that you have strong insect repellent. The dry season runs January until mid-May. During this time you need to make sure you have adequate sunscreen. Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours Approximate Distance: 130 km

  • Day 9-10 Río Dulce

    We take the road past areas of dense jungle and arrive at Río Dulce, a small town on Lake Izabal and a port stop for boaters around the globe, on their way to/from Livingston and the Caribbean coast. There are plenty of opportunities for R & R. Aside from boating on Lake Izabal, there are optional tours in the area to view protected manatees, or you may opt to horseback ride through a rubber plantation, explore San Felipe fort, take the morning monkey kayak tour, relax in the thermal springs or hike through the jungle-strewn trails in the Chocón-Machacas Natural Reserve area. Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours Approximate Distance: 210 km

  • Day 11-12 Antigua

    Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and as the seat of the Spanish colonial government, was once the most important city in all of Central America. Enjoy the beautiful architecture of this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. Your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will take you on a brief orientation walk to help you get your bearings. While you're here, opt to take a mountain bike ride out into the countryside or explore the fascinating markets, shops and museums within the city. Enjoy an included group salsa lesson and practice your moves out at night. 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. Modern Antigua is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Walk through quiet cobble-stoned 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 trip takes you through many small towns and villages, past red, tile-roofed huts and people in colourful traditional clothing. The natural scenery is some of the most beautiful anywhere, with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys and every inch of land covered with lush growth. Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours Approximate Distance: 290 km

  • Day 13-14 Panajachel/Lake Atitlán homestay (1D)

    Travel through the hills and fertile fields of the Guatemalan highlands to the shores of Lake Atitlán, one of the most beautiful spots in Guatemala. Twelve native villages, blue/grey mountains and three volcanoes line the shores of this lake resulting in a wonderful combination of unusual natural beauty and traditional culture. Panajachel is a relatively modern town with paved streets in its centre and a great deal of old world flavour and charm. The best way to see Panajachel is on foot, but pay attention to where you’re going as there aren’t any street signs. Visit the old churches and explore the back streets to see the more traditional side of Panajachel. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the villages on the lake by boat, departing in the mornings and returning in late afternoon. Get ready for spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes, and everyday life in a highland village. The people of this area have received tourists for some timeand are friendly and ready to smile at strangers as readily as they will at a lifelong friend. The area is also ideal for outdoor pursuits like swimming, fishing, wind surfing, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, and horseback riding. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 100 km

  • Day 15 Antigua

    We will overnight at a Planeterra-supported homestay. Tonight, the group will be spread out among a number of homes, and you will sleep in a local home, where dinner will also be provided. This once in a lifetime experience will really help you to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day life of the locals in this region. The Planeterra project - The Mayan Homestay Project is located in the village of San Juan. The project currently hosts G Adventures groups twice per week and another company’s group once per month. Planeterra's initiative here is to help more families get involved in the Posadas Mayas program and current families to have more space by remodeling and constructing new rooms. The project also includes investing in solutions that reduce environmental impacts associated with tourism (i.e. waste and water management) and developing other small businesses to be linked to the Posadas Mayas. Note: Please dress conservatively when visiting the villages and refrain from photographing religious ceremonies, or individuals who do not wish to be photographed. Estimated Travel Time: 1 hour Approximate Distance: 10 km

  • Day 16 Antigua

    We return to Antigua to spend more time to explore the city, shop, and check out optional activities in the area. 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/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 and don’t forget to try some famous Guatemalan coffee. Antigua offers three specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here and in the nearby towns are of the highest quality, beautifully designed and woven on foot looms or the rarer back strap loom. Jade, in the form of carved statues and jewelry, is sold in several factories and shops in town and silver jewelry is sold in the better shops and also in a silver factory in nearby San Felipe de Jesus. The city offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. Optional activities include visiting Macadamia nut and coffee plantations, biking around Antigua's surrounding hills and salsa lessons. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 80 km

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