On this trip through Guatemala, we explore the ancient lands of the Maya. We visit the early Mayan cities of Tikal, Quirigua and Copan (in Honduras). We also travel through the Guatemalan highlands, spending time in traditional mountain villages and local markets, including the colourful San Tomas Festival in Chichicastenango. On the way, we explore Lake Atitlan by boat and search for the elusive Quetzal bird in Biotopo Nature Reserve.
Chichicastenango - Enjoy the colourful San Tomas Festival
Antigua - Explore this elegant colonial city set in a valley between three volcanoes
Lake Atitlan - Visit some of the villages and towns around this beautiful lake by boat
Mayan sites - Discover the huge Maya site of Tikal deep in the Guatemalan jungle, and the beautiful site of Copan
Nebaj - Stay in this remote town in the Ixil Mountains and experience local life
Why Book this Tour
We have planned the dates of this tour to coincide with the San Tomas Festival in Guatemala. This festival is a mix of Christian and native traditions centred around the famous church in Chichicastenango.
- Lake Atitlan
- Central America
- Small Group
Day 1: Join tour in Guatemala City
Join tour Guatemala City and check-in to the hotel. Guatemala City is the busy capital of Guatemala, most of which is modern build. However the colonial centre around the main square harks back to the time when the area was officially declared the new capital in the eighteenth century.
Day 2: Short city tour of Guatemala City, head to Copan (Honduras)
We will start our day with a short orientation tour by bus of Guatemala City before heading to Copan in Honduras. This afternoon, you have free time to visit Macaw Mountain (optional).
Day 3: Explore the Copan archaeological site, optional Macaw Mountain trip
Everyone familiar with Catherwood's incredible drawings (which first appeared in John Stephens' 1841 narrative - 'Incidents of Travel in Central America and Yucatan') will recognise scenes and objects from this marvellous site. Stephens actually bought the entire site for US$ 50 from a local farmer! The Great Plaza is one of the most amazing achievements of the Classic Maya period (AD 750) and contains the greatest collection of Maya sculpture anywhere in Meso-America. The famous Hieroglyphic Stairway is composed of 2500 individual glyphs; its sides are flanked by serpentine birds and snakes. We have the whole day to enjoy this special place, leaving you plenty of time to explore on your own. The afternoon is free to either visit the museum dedicated to the site or visit Macaw Mountain.
Day 4: Drive to Puerto Barrios, boat to Livingston
This morning we will stop en route at Quirigua, renowned for its fine Mayan carvings, covered with intricate glyphs which still remain a mystery to scholars and archaeologists. Quirigua was dominated by Copan but was valued as a trading centre for the jade that can be found throughout the surrounding area. Independence from Copan was finally achieved under Quirigua's most powerful leader, Cauac Sky in 737AD. We will then continue to Puerto Barrios where we will board our launch and cross the bay to the lazy, laidback town of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. Here we can enjoy the colourful, lively Garifuna town, with its unique racial blend. In the evening there may be the chance to hear the increasingly popular local music or enjoy the fresh seafood in one of the many restaurants along the main street.
Day 5: Boat trip on the Rio Dulce, continue to Tikal
We start our day by heading west on the Rio Dulce by boat. The river squeezes through an impressive gorge of towering cliffs covered in a mass of jungle creepers with Egrets, pelicans and cormorants lining the shores. En route we will stop at the small community project of Ak Tenamit where you will have the opportunity to learn more about this educational support project that has been set up. From the town of Rio Dulce we will continue by bus to Tikal, possibly the greatest of all the Mayan cities, located in the heart of the Peten jungle. The ruins of Tikal can easily be compared with the masterpieces of Egypt and Greece. Initially settled about 600 BC, Tikal was abandoned by its rulers around AD 890 and totally deserted a hundred years later, overgrown by the jungle. Rediscovered in 1848, they comprise many great temples and pyramids. The city covers an area of more than 16 square kilometres with temples, palaces, causeways, ballcourts, spacious plazas, and hundreds of other architectural ruins - a superb example of sophisticated Mayan engineering.
Day 6: Guided tour of Tikal, travel to Flores
We will have an early start to get into the site for a guided tour. Those with a good head for heights could climb one of the pyramids which pierce the jungle canopy for splendid views over the whole area. In the afternoon we will drive to Santa Elena. This evening we have a chance to wander the streets of Flores Island. Situated on a small island in the tranquil Lake Peten Itza and joined to the mainland by a causeway, Flores remains a quaint and peaceful town.
Day 7: Visit Candelaria Caves before transferring to Coban
Leaving Flores behind we head south into the southern mountains for a long day's drive through varied scenery. We drive to Sayaxche where we cross the river by ferry before continuing to the Candelaria Caves. We make a tour of the caves before continuing onto Coban, where we will overnight.
Day 8: Visit Biotopo del Quetzal Reserve, transfer to Chichicastenango
This morning we have a very early start to travel the short distance to Biotopo del Quetzal Reserve, as it is the best time to go bird watching. We start the day with a walk in the cloudforest; if we are lucky we may see the elusive quetzal which feeds on the fruit of the aguacatillo tree at dawn. The quetzal was sacred to the ancients of Central America and the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl was a supreme deity. Killing a quetzal was punishable by death and the 2ft long iridescent green tail feathers were worth more than gold. Today the resplendent quetzal is the Guatemalan national bird.
We then make the long drive to the market town of Chichicastenango, the 'sacred town' of the Indigenous Quiché, and take a walking tour of this colourful Mayan town.
Day 9: Santo Tomas celebrations in Chichicastenango
Today we join the celebration of Santo Tomas, one of the largest annual celebrations in Guatemala and a fusion of Mayan and Christian traditions. The celebrations are in honour of the town's patron saint, focussing around the central Church of Santo Tomas. The festival lasts a week and includes colourful processions, dancing and general merriment. One highlight is the 'Palo Volador' where participants throw themselves from a huge pole attached only by a rope that unravels and spins them around the pole at high speed. We visit for the main day of the fiesta, 21st December.
Day 10: Journey to Nebaj, tour the local villages including Cotzal and Chajul
This morning we embark on an adventurous journey into the famous Ixil Mountains. The drive is spectacular as we wind our way up through valleys and over hills, passing gushing rivers, heading north from Sacapulas. Finally we arrive at Nebaj, part of the lxil triangle. The Ixil are famous for their fine weaving (some of the best to be found in Guatemala), especially the geometric designs in purple, green, yellow and red on the huipiles (blouses) worn by the Indian women. We make a tour of the area including the local villages of Cotzal and Chajul. Accommodation available in this remote mountain area is simple.
Day 11: Morning optional walks in the area; head to Santa Catarina
In the morning we have the opportunity to optional walk around the area. Later we drive to to Santa Catarina, a small village on the shore of Lake Atitlan; there are always magnificent views of the impressive volcanic peaks of Atitlan (3537m), San Pedro (3020m) and Toliman (3158m) towering over the lakeside.
Day 12: In Santa Catarina; boat trip to visit villages inhabited by Tzutuhil Indians
The volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan is a place of stunning beauty. Some 24km long by 16km wide, it lies at an altitude of 1585m. Today we include a boat trip to visit villages inhabited by Tzututils Indians, including Santiago Atitlan. Poignant reminders of the recent history of this village are visible as we visit the church, originally built in 1547, and we may see more traditional Mayan rituals at the shrine to Maximón. In the evening we celebrate Christmas with a Christmas dinner at the hotel.
Day 13: Explore the Solola Market then drive to Antigua
Today we make the long drive to the colonial city of Antigua, visiting the market town of Solola and the ancients ruins of Iximche on the way.
Day 14: Tour of Antigua; free afternoon
After an orientation tour this morning you will have free time to explore Antigua further. An orientation tour of this graceful old colonial city shows how it can justly claim to be one of the most charming in Central America despite the damage caused by a series of earthquakes and floods over the ages. The afternoon is free to wander the timeless streets and hunt for souvenirs. One of its lively restaurants makes a perfect setting for our last meal together.
Day 15: Tour ends in Antigua
Our tour ends this morning in Antigua.
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