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Maya Encounter


Dive into a 17-day adventure through Central America, from the calming sea breezes of Playa del Carmen's beaches to the bustling chaos of Chichi market. On this journey to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, enjoy a hearty, homecooked dinner in a lakeside Maya village, amble down the coast to the island paradise of Caye Caulker, cut inland to the lush jungle around Tikal National Park, cruise to the vast Rio Dulce, watch a pottery demonstration using ancient Maya techniques and finish among the clouds in Panajachel and under the volcano in Antigua. On this trip, you’ll get the right balance of local-led experiences and independent exploration in a whole load of incredible places ready to be discovered.

17 days, from

$1,391

per person

GROUP SIZE

16 people max

ACTIVITY LEVEL

 
2
Trip code: QVRA
Style: Basix
Theme: Explorer

Details

Countries Visited:  Belize Guatemala Mexico
Accommodation: Hotel (12 nights), Multishare Hotel (1 night), Hotel with shared facilities (2 nights), Homestay (1 night)
Transportation: Private vehicle , Public bus , Taxi , Shared Boat , Ferry
Included Meals:

  • 1 breakfasts
  • 1 dinners

Group size: Minimum 1, Max 16

  • Spend two days exploring Caye Caulker at your leisure. Munch barbecue lobster? Snorkel around a coral reef? Nap under a palm tree? It’s up to you.

  • Hit the streets of Antigua with your local leader and climb to a vintage cross lookout for views of the city and the incredible volcano that towers over it.

  • Get to know contemporary Maya life during a homestay in San Jorge La Laguna, a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family.

  • Wander between stalls of rainbow-coloured handicrafts, fruits and flowers and get some haggling tips from your leader in Chichicastenango Market.

  • Cruise up the Rio Dulce to your waterfront jungle lodge, then maybe grab a beer and relax while the sounds of nature fill the air.

Itinerary

Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Playa del Carmen

Hola, welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. If you arrive early and are lucky enough to have extra time in this beachside playground, why not spend it snorkelling in freshwater rock pools (called cenotes), strolling along the white sands or reef diving on Cozumel. After the welcome meeting tonight, perhaps head out for a cocktail and tacos with your newfound travel buddies.

Day 2: Playa del Carmen

Wake up without an alarm, today is yours to explore this beachside paradise at your leisure. Known for its coral-clad reefs, Playa Del Carmen might prove to be the perfect spot to don your snorkel mask and flippers and explore beneath the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for rays, moray eels and turtles. If you’d rather leave the flippers behind and adventure on land, perhaps catch a local bus and travel south to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins await just a short 1.5-hour journey away. In the evening, you could grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a spot to watch the sunset with a margarita in hand – muy bien.

Day 3: Chetumal

Wake up and enjoy your final morning in Playa del Carmen. Perhaps take an early morning stroll to the beach and dip your toes in the sand or simply let the world pass you by with a coffee in hand at a local café. We’ll head to our next stop in Chetumal mid-morning. Arrive in Chetumal after lunch with the afternoon at your leisure. A quiet city, close to the border of Belize, this place makes for the perfect stop before tomorrow’s adventure toward Caye Caulker. You might like to round up your newfound travel buddies and head to a local restaurant for the evening.

Day 4: Caye Caulker

Bid adios to Mexico early this morning as we head south to Belize. Be prepared for a few hours of travel. First up, we’ll jump on a local bus to the border of Belize and Mexico, undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City. Once in Belize City, we swap the bus ride for a water taxi trip to the island of Caye Caulker. Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker in the afternoon and get acquainted with the island during a guided walk with your leader. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. Be aware that there may be crocodiles in the split area that separates the north and south of the island so it’s best to take caution while swimming and exploring the beaches.

Day 5: Caye Caulker

Good morning and welcome to heaven! Today is free for you to explore the island and surrounds or simply relax. Whatever you choose to do, it’s pretty much impossible to keep the smile off your face when the scenery is this magic. If you feel like snorkelling, ask your leader about organising a trip to the colourful coral reef nearby, or perhaps head further afield to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the world’s second-longest coral reef. Manatee spotting is one option nature lovers should consider, as the chance to encounter these gentle giants is a special one. Of course, you could always take a stroll and find a swaying palm tree with your name on it – they make the perfect place to nap, read a book and soak up the island vibes.

Day 6: Caye Caulker

What’s better than one day in paradise? Two, of course! Wake up when you like, because you’ve got another free day. Like any good seaside Eden, Caye Caulker is home to super fresh seafood, which you can dig into with your feet planted in the sand at one of the many ‘floor free’ outdoor restaurants. The island's famous lobsters are available between 15 June and 15 February, and you can expect to pay far less than at home (though more than your average island meal). You could even grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with firewater from a roadside stall to really get into the island spirit.

Day 7: San Ignacio

From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City and then take a local bus to San Ignacio. Local buses in Belize are a little more basic and crowded than you may have experienced elsewhere in Central America. Get ready for a stop-and-go experience on the journey. There are very few official bus stops in Belize, so the bus will stop as required by roadside passengers. On arrival, your leader will take you on a walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena, which will give you a sense of how vibrant the local Garifuna and Maya communities are. Perhaps tonight head out in search of a classic Maya dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).

Day 8: San Ignacio

You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the ideal base. One optional activity that will appeal to history buffs is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial site positioned on a hill that overlooks the countryside. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river. Also nearby is the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a living museum of Maya relics. Wade through cool waters to find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons preserved by the calcium-rich environment of the cave for over 1400 years. Easily spooked? Maybe you'd prefer a cave with fewer (as far as we know) skeletons, like the one in Mountain Pine Ridge. In the late afternoon, the barbecue stalls of Santa Elena start to set up for the dinner rush. It's only a 15-minute walk, so consider wandering over to enjoy a juicy chicken leg and a chat with the locals.

Day 9: Tikal National Park

Rise and shine for an 8 am taxi ride to the Belize-Guatemala border. Once you've crossed over, board a bus to Tikal National Park. In Tikal there will be time to buy lunch before visiting the impressive archaeological site. Towering above the jungle, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Maya ruins. Hidden in the evergreen forest are a maze of smaller structures waiting to be explored. The energetic can climb to the top of the ruins for spectacular views over the canopy and the chance to spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. Choose to explore on your own or pay a little more for a guided tour (or maybe see the site from above on an optional zip-line ride).

Day 10: Rio Dulce

If you can't get enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again in the (very) early morning at your own cost before departing at 8 am to Flores. It's just a short away, and on arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of the island of Flores. Continue by private minivan to Rio Dulce. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also on the water, a journey which can be organised through the hotel. Alternatively, a 40-minute jungle walk will get you there. The hotel is a great place to relax and look over the water, with reasonably priced meals and drinks served in the hotel restaurant. Now that you are back in a Spanish-speaking nation, why not join an informal Spanish lesson put on by your leader? Muy bien!

Day 11: Rio Dulce

With plenty of free time today, consider taking advantage of some of the optional activities available. Maybe take a scenic boat trip down the river to the coastal enclave of Livingston for a taste of Creole-Caribbean culture. This laidback town on the Caribbean coast feels very different from the rest of Guatemala thanks to its Garifuna population. Or perhaps go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot local manatees or explore nearby San Felipe Fort.

Day 12: Antigua

Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua. The road between Rio Dulce and Guatemala City is one of the busiest in the country. Traffic is slow, there are frequent road works and many, many (seriously) slow trucks. Be armed with patience, music and a good book and the journey will be easier to handle. Spend the night in Antigua before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. Though there's not much time in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward your patience with a tamale – meat and dough steamed in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). You may also want to take this time to purchase a few snacks for your time at the homestay on Lake Atitlan as the meals there can be very basic.

Day 13: San Jorge La Laguna

Today. We're up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport on winding roads to Chichicastenango. Home to perhaps the most colourful market in the country, on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares and the streets are lined with stalls offering multi-coloured textiles and fresh produce. Once we arrive, we’ll visit a local Mayan Shaman and then have time to do a little shopping at the market. Afterwards, head to San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan. Locals in San Jorge La Laguna are both very friendly and very shy. In order to make the most of this experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Draw on your newly learnt Spanish and get ready for some serious hand signals. Enjoy dinner with your host family.

Day 14: Panajachel

Say goodbye to your host family this morning and move on to the neighbouring town of Panajachel. Located on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Once you arrive in 'Pana' your leader will take you on a brief walking tour of town so you can get your bearings. The rest of the time is free for you to explore. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake, there aren't many places in the world that serve up active adventure in such a beautiful locale. The surrounding area is also dotted with villages which can be reached on foot or by boat. Watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan.

Day 15: Antigua

Hit the road again around 9 am and make the journey back to Antigua by private vehicle. In 1773, the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be seen. Once you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout. The rest of your time in Antigua is free for you to explore at your own pace. If you fancy a spin on the dance floor and want to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons, so you'll be able to perfect your moves. As always, ask your leader for details.

Day 16: Antigua

Enjoy a free day exploring this photogenic city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, which was first documented by the Guatemalan Maya, as well as it's historical importance. Or maybe grab a coffee from one of the myriad shops in central park and sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes.

Day 17: Antigua

Your adventure comes to an end this morning, there are no activities planned for the final day. Please note you are required to comply with the check-out time set by the hotel. As there's a great deal to do in Antigua, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this traveller favourite. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.