Arrive at any time. Antigua is only an hour’s drive from the capital, Guatemala City, and the airport. Transfers are easily arranged when you arrive at the airport, either by shuttle or taxi. Check into our hotel and enjoy this colonial city. 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. 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 Office (CEO) will take you on an orientation walk to help you get your bearings. Modern Antigua is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Walk through quiet cobble-stoned streets, past re-built stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. 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. Explore the colonial buildings in this delightful town and don’t forget to try some famous Guatemalan coffee.
A visit to Guatemala would not be complete without the chance to visit to the famous market of Chichicastenango. Unless you can resist the wonderful handmade items for sale, you should sharpen your communication and bargaining skills. The Chichicastenango market is the best known, but there are a number of other markets around where you may wish to purchase any number of handicraft items. Renowned for its colourful handicrafts and intricate weavings, “Chichi” is also an important trading place for the local residents, and provides close views of daily life of modern Maya. There are also a number of community cooperatives that you may wish to visit. The proceeds from the sales return directly to the community and are a significant contribution to the local economy. Along with your souvenirs you’ll take home memories to last a lifetime. We then travel through the hills and fertile fields to the shores of Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is 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. We will overnight in the small town of San Juan la Laguna, home to 3000 inhabitants, mostly Mayas. 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. G Adventures' partner organization in this town is working hard with the Tz'Utujil Maya to provide positive interaction with travellers through local tourism. The organization also works with the local schools to ensure needed materials are available to teachers and students. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 100 km
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 time, and are friendly and ready to smile at strangers as readily as they will at a life long friend. Note: Please dress conservatively when visiting the villages and refrain from photographing religious ceremonies, or individuals who do not wish to be photographed. The area is also ideal for outdoor pursuits like swimming, fishing, wind surfing, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, and horseback riding. Estimated Travel Time: 1 hour Approximate Distance: 10 km
We return to Antigua to explore the city, shop and check out optional activities in the area. Antigua offers three specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here 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 mountain biking, a hike up the Pacaya Volcano, visiting Macadamia nut and coffee plantations, and salsa lessons. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 80 km
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: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 290 km
Our final stop in Guatemala is Flores, a picturesque town surrounded by Lake Petén Itzá. This is the base for an optional visit to Tikal—the largest excavated Mayan site. The spiritual centre of Tikal boasts the Mayan’s highest pyramids, and abundant flora and fauna in the surrounding jungle. It was to the Lake Petén Itzá region, that the descendants of the Maya of Chichén Itzá immigrated, moving here from Mexico several centuries after the collapse of the great Maya cities in the Yucatán. These descendants founded the city of Tayasal, on an island in Lake Petén Itzá, and lived there 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 Martin 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 (used in the manufacture of gum), from nearby trees. Despite the recent growth in Petén, Flores remains the same small island town, with narrow, cobble-stoned 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 dugout 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, as well as 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 lV, your senses will be stimulated. 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 is available at extra charge, who will explain the natural and artificial wonders of this site during our foray into Tikal. The rainy season in the Petén is generally from mid-May until early January. Be prepared to get wet. 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: 7 hours Approximate Distance: 210 km
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. Estimated Travel Time: 2 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 restaurants, seafood stands and bars. It’s the ideal place to relax and explore the reef then watch the sunset. 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 Belize Reef is the world’s second longest (after Australia’s) and offers some truly amazing sights including coral canyons, an astonishing range of tropical fish, manta rays, sharks and barracudas. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 110 km
Mexico is the third largest country in Latin America and the most populous Spanish speaking country in world. Its geography ranges from swamp to desert, from topical lowland jungle to high alpine vegetation and from thin arid soils to others so rich that they grow three crops a year. Leaving Belize and its Caribbean, reggae-tinged vibe, we head north for our final night of the trip in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the de facto centre of the Mayan Riviera. This once sleepy village is quickly becoming a destination among sun worshippers worldwide. Spend your time here snorkelling or diving in underground caverns, or simply sipping on cool margaritas and catching some rays on the beautiful white sand beach. Playa del Carmen is also known in the area for its vibrant nightlife. The island of Cozumel, with excellent snorkelling and diving is only a 45 minute ferry ride away and the seaside Mayan ruins of Tulúm are a short drive down the coast. Both are well worth the trip. Estimated Travel Time: 12 hours Approximate Distance: 480 km
Depart at any time. Playa del Carmen is located just south of Cancún airport (45 minute drive) so you can easily head directly there without returning to Cancún.