Fly into Guatemala City where you will be met and transferred to your hotel in Antigua.
Today we rise early to begin our Guatemala travels with a visit to the famous market of Chichicastenango. This beautiful town, surrounded by valleys and shadowed by mountains, has many shamanistic and ceremonial overtones. Its large market brings villagers from throughout the region, who often arrive the night before and sleep on blankets in the market square. Rising early, they set out their colorful fruits, vegetables and handicrafts. The market disperses in the early afternoon and we travel to the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan, a deep caldera lake flanked by three majestic volcanoes. A passenger boat takes us across the azure-colored water to our charming lodge in the village of Santiago Atitlan.
This morning after admiring the placid waters of the lake, we set out about town on a walking tour. Scholars tell us that the ancient Maya disappeared mysteriously a thousand years ago, but anyone who has intimately explored this fascinating region knows that the Maya continue to thrive in the highlands of Guatemala. Villagers in Santiago Atitlan still adhere to the traditional lifestyle of the Tz'utuhil Maya and on our walk we'll see many people cloaked in brightly-colored, hand-woven clothing. Along Santiago's main street are art galleries filled with oil paintings depicting busy market scenes and typical life in the highlands. We may also visit Maximòn and leave an offering to this curious and revered deity.
We board the lancha this morning for our return trip across Lake Atitlan. A few miles down the curvy mountain road known as the Interamericana, we reach the town of Solola. The main plaza is home to one of the most authentic markets in the highlands, and we'll spend some time wandering through the stalls, admiring the palette of colors created by mounds of fruit, vegetables, meats, housewares and clothing. After our sensory feast, we return to colonial Antigua for the evening.
Volcan Fuego rises to the roof of the world above the streets of Antigua below. Once the capital of Guatemala and all Central America, Antigua resembles a living ruin. Mammoth churches and palaces tell the story of Antigua's past glory, and restored facades speak of a bright future for this wonderful city. This morning we tour the city and admire Antigua's gilded cathedrals. The afternoon is yours to rent mountain bikes to explore the countryside, visit a coffee finca or macadamia nut plantation, or just people watch in the main plaza to complete your Guatemala travel experience.
Early this morning we fly north to the tropical lowlands of the Peten and the home of the ancient Maya. After checking into your hotel, you'll join up with a group of other adventurers for a half-day tour of Tikal. Here you'll encounter towering pyramids rising above the thick jungle canopy, and learn how the city thrived as an important religious, scientific, and political center for 1500 years. Today, the pristine forest engulfing the ruined city is home to howler and spider monkeys, white lipped peccary, brocket deer, coati-mundis, toucans, scarlet macaws, parrots, ocelots and the seldom seen jaguar. After lunch, the day is yours to explore the ruins before returning to your hotel near Flores.
This morning you will be picked up and fly to Belize City. Your jungle lodge is tucked next to the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and Roaring River. Surrounded by pristine forest, your days at the lodge are filled with natural discoveries exploring the lush vegetation of the Maya Mountains and the mysteries beneath. En route you will be able to visit the local Belizean Zoo!
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, you head off to paddle down the Macal River for your first introduction to Belizean wildlife. Your guide will help you spot iguanas, peccaries, coatimundis and a myriad of bird life. After lunch in town, we will visit the Maya ruins of Xunantunich, once a major ceremonial site and the second tallest ruin in Belize. From atop, enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Cayo District of Guatemala.
Today we'll continue our explorations of the ancient Maya with a visit to the ruins of Caracol. Surrounded by breathtaking Belizean jungle, a visit to the ruins offer massive structures, haunting tombs and burial sites, and intriguing carvings that tell stories about the people who lived and worked in this fantastic Maya city. There is still much to be discovered at Caracol and archaeologists continue their digs and preservation of the site. With time we'll stop at Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave. A stop at the pools makes for an inviting dip, especially after spending the afternoon hiking under the hot Belize sun. The smooth granite stones make for great slides, but be sure to watch your step. Even for those who prefer to keep dry, the beauty of the pools is well worth the stop. Not far from the pools is the Rio Frio Cave. This is the largest cave in Belize. Approaching the cave's enormous mouth invites a magical, almost frighteningly fantastic, sensation. Long ago the cave was used as a ceremonial site for the Maya, but while artifacts no longer remain, the cave still holds onto its mysticism.
Alternative: Barton Creek Cave
We wake early for our unforgettable adventure into the Maya underworld. We begin our journey from our lodge doors, crossing creeks and journeying deep into the Belizean jungle to the opening of the sacred Actun Tunichil Muknal - the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher. At the entrance we gear up with helmets and waterproof headlamps, then wade into the emerald colored water flowing from the cave's gaping mouth. Our journey follows the river's flow through wet and dry caves encased in hanging stalactites and towering stalagmites. Our final destination is the spectacular primary chamber where ancient kings and priests made blood sacrifices to appease the Maya gods. Our lights illuminate the ghostly outlines of skeletal ritual victims and scattered ceramic shards of ancient rituals. Tunichil is an active archeological site, so we're careful not to disturb the sleeping skeletons and ceramic pieces before returning to the light above ground. Those preferring life above ground can choose from a variety of alternative excursions.
After breakfast, transfer to Belize City and catch your international flight home.
$640 single supplement