On Dec 21, 2012, the Maya calendar will complete its 5,125 year cycle, marking the calendar's finality and the beginning of a new era. This date, at this moment in time, is shrouded in mystery; the meaning and the significance that Dec. 21, 2012 held for the creators of the Maya calendar continues to cause debate among scholars. On this date, camp out near the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex and watch the sun align with ancient temples. Explore and learn about the rich Maya heritage in Guatemala on a date that historians, anthropologists, spiritual leaders, skeptics and curious travelers have been speculating over for centuries.
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 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.
Today rise early for a few hours drive to the famous market of Chichicastenango. 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.
Next continue on foot to nearby Pascual Abaj, a ceremonial sight located on a small hill about a fourth mile walking distance from the Santo Tomas church. Here you will witness a local Maya shaman carry out a ritual on behalf of other locals in the Maya language. Your guide will help explain in depth the elements of the ritual and its purpose. You may even take part in a spiritual cleansing with the shaman as part of the experience.
This afternoon you travel next to the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan, a deep caldera lake flanked by three majestic volcanoes. A passenger boat takes you across the azure-colored water to the charming lodge in the village of Santiago Atitlan.
Today you will take a scenic boat ride across Lake Atitlan to the village of San Juan La Laguna. Here you can visit the women's textile cooperative to see hand weaving and the natural dye process used to make their famous petates, woven mats made from lake reeds. Also you will visit the home studios of the celebrated naïf painters. From here continue to the village of Santiago and enjoy lunch in a local hotel and tour the and learn about the textiles, spiritualism and beliefs of the T’zutujil Maya. It's also worthwhile to visit Maximon and leave an offering to this curious deity. The rest of the day is free to explore as you wish. Go canoeing on the lake, horseback riding to a nearby cloudforest, or rent a mountain bike.
This morning you head to take a tour to visit families supported by As Green as it Gets (GAIG), a small independent coffee producers charity promoting environmentally responsible agriculture in Guatemala. You will have the opportunity to work side by side with small coffee farmers in their daily coffee processing, either pick, pulp, ferment, wash, dry, trilla, sort, or grade the coffee, depending on the season. You may even help roast the coffee over an open fire and help grind it by hand before sampling it for yourself. (Coffee season in Nov – Mar. By taking this tour, we are donating to GAIG).
Continue to Antigua this evening and overnight.
Day 6: Copan
Set out early this morning to the quaint colonial town of Copan Ruinas. Just over a km from the same-name Maya ruins, today spend your time exploring this inviting town. Your 5 hour journey will take you across the Guatemalan border and into the lush mountains of Honduras. This afternoon will be yours to explore the cobblestone streets and archeology museums - its exhibits include painted pottery, intricate jade carvings, ancient glyphs and tomb of a Maya priest. You can also take a hike to remote waterfalls, visit local hotsprings, or explore the surrounding coffee plantations.
Day 7: Copan Ruins and Bird Park
Copan's sprawling ruins provide insight into how this fascinating culture once lived. Its massive structures and skillfully carved stonework are impressive reminders of the remarkable and advanced Maya civilization. Today you will head out on a half day guided tour of the ruins to discover Copan's enormous temples, plazas and monuments. Ornate stalaes divulge the astronomical and mathematical wisdom of the Maya. Enjoy the peaceful nature trails and wildlife that inhabit the area. After lunch, visit the local Bird Park, housing rescued tropical birds and working to educate others about the importance of conservation.
Set out this morning for the 5 hour drive back across the Guatemala border through the central desert region to Rio Dulce, a lush tropical area. Visit the UNESCO site of Quirigua, a small Maya temple site located along the way.
Once you arrive in Rio Dulce, take part in a cruise down the Rio Dulce river through the central canyon and down to the Garifuna village of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. Overnight.
Cruise the Rio Dulce river back to the bridge and meet up with your 5 hour transfer north to Yaxha National Park. Explore this atmospheric lakeside Maya complex while enjoying a snack. View the sunset over the rainforest canopy from atop the main temple.
Day 10: Uaxactun Ruins
1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Set out today for your all night camping adventure in the site of Uaxactun. This site is famous for holding the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex yet to be found, and is one of the longest occupied Maya sites. Chicleros (gum collectors) now live here, as many of Uaxactun's residents make their living from gathering forest products such as chicle (gum), allspice, and xate palm leaves. Tour the site and community today with your guide who is from the area and is an expert on the ruin site. Learn more about the chicle process and various crafts in the community, as well as meander through their small archeology museum. At sunset time you can head to the lookout tower for possible views of the ruins of Tikal rising above the jungle.
After sunset drinks, head back to the campsite for a simple candlelight dinner this evening. Spend this night in tents enjoying the sounds of the jungle and possible festivities putting you to sleep!
Please note - a number of other travelers may also be camping out at the campsite this evening for the solstice. Please be prepared for many people, and possible festivities, dancing, music for the duration of the evening. If you would prefer to overnight in a hotel in the region, please let us know in advance and it can be arranged at an additional cost. This would require foregoing the sunrise on Day 11.
Early this morning awake for a beautiful sunrise over the ruins. Enjoy the local festivities and see the sun align with the temples on this once in a lifetime morning!
Next head on to see Tikal's towering pyramids rising above the thick jungle canopy. The ancient Maya began building this city around 600 B.C., and for the next 1500 years the area was an important religious, scientific, and political center. Pyramids to honor dead kings were built, administrative buildings rose, storage houses appeared and houses for royalty were carved out of the jungle. Tikal became one of the greatest centers of Maya culture and sprawled over 46 square miles with more than 4000 structures in the core city center alone. 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. Today you explore the ruins with an experienced guide before flying to Guatemala City where you overnight.
Please note the Tikal National Park closes at 2 PM today.
Beyond expectations! Then again we weren't sure what to expect. Lovely stay at the lodge, met other like-minded travelers (many had their trips planned by Adventure Life) and the owner was a gracious hostess. It felt like you were one happy family, visiting with a favorite aunt.