Unique Experience Intrepid | 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.

Theme

Explorer

  • Highlights

    • By travelling on this trip, you’ll learn about our Intrepid Foundation partner, Gastromotiva. Donations help them provide nutritious, balanced meals for vulnerable people in Mexico. Intrepid will double the impact by dollar-matching all post-trip donations made to The Intrepid Foundation.
    • 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.
    • Get to know contemporary Maya life during a homestay in San Juan La Laguna – a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family and see how they harvest their local medicinal plants.
    • 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. Then, enjoy heaps of free time to take photos, wander and people-watch.
    • Spend two days exploring the island paradise of Caye Caulker – munch on barbecued lobster, snorkel around a coral reef, nap under palm trees, go kayaking or just kick back with a couple of worry-free beach days.
    • Wander between stalls of rainbow handicrafts, fruits and flowers and get some haggling tips from your leader in the popular and colourful Chichicastenango Market.
  • What's Included

    Meals

    1 Breakfast

    Transport

    Private vehicle , Public bus , Taxi , Shared Boat , Ferry

    Accommodation

    Hotel (12 nights), Multishare Hotel (1 night), Hotel with shared facilities (2 nights), Homestay (1 night)

    Included Activities

    • Antigua - Leader-led orientation walk
    • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
    • Chichicastenango - Market Visit
    • Chichicastenango - Shaman Visit
    • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
    • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
    • San Ignacio - Leader-led orientation walk
    • San Juan La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
    • Santa Apolonia - Traditional Pottery Demonstration
    • Tikal National Park - Tikal archaeological site (entrance fee, no guide)
  • Pricing

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    Please note: while prices are accurate at time of loading they are subject to change due to currency fluctuations and currency surcharges may apply. Please check price at time of booking
  • Itinerary

    Day - 1

    Location: Playa del Carmen - Hola! Welcome to Mexico. Your adventure begins in Playa del Carmen with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive early and are lucky enough to have extra time in this beachside playground, maybe try your hand (and feet and lungs) at snorkelling in the freshwater rock pools (cenotes). Maybe stroll along the white sands or reef dive on Cozumel. After the meeting, perhaps head out for a cocktail and a few tacos with your new travel buddies.

     

    Day - 2

    Location: 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 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, catch a local bus and travel south to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins are just an hour and a half away. In the evening, you could grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a good spot to watch the sunset – muy bien!

     

    Day - 3

    Location: Chetumal - After breakfast, enjoy your final morning in Playa del Carmen. Maybe 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 at a local cafe. Head to your next stop in Chetumal mid-morning and arrive after lunch – a quiet city close to the border of Belize, this place makes for the perfect stop before tomorrow’s adventure to Caye Caulker. You have a free afternoon in Chetumal so you might like to round up your group and head to a local restaurant for the evening.

     

    Day - 4

    Location: Caye Caulker - Bid adios to Mexico early this morning as you head south to Belize. After border formalities, arrive in Belize City then hop in a water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker. When you arrive, get acquainted with the island on 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

    Location: Caye Caulker - Good morning and welcome to heaven! Today is free for you to explore the island that surrounds you, or just to simply relax. If you feel like snorkelling, ask your leader about organising a trip to the colourful coral reef nearby, or maybe head further afield to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the world’s second-longest coral reef. Manatee spotting is perfect for nature lovers, or you could 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 on a beach day.

     

    Day - 6

    Location: Caye Caulker - What’s better than one day in paradise? Two, of course! Wake up whenever you like, because you’ve got another free day. Like any good seaside paradise, 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

    Location: San Ignacio - From the islands to the highlands, you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker today and catch a ferry to Belize City, then a bus to San Ignacio. When you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena, giving you a sense of how vibrant the local Garifuna and Maya communities are. Tonight, maybe head out in search of a classic Maya dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).

     

    Day - 8

    Location: San Ignacio - Today is free for you to discover San Ignacio at your own pace. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the ideal base. If you’re a bit of a history buff, maybe take a day trip to Xunantunich – an impressive Maya ceremonial site on a hill overlooking 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

    Location: 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. Here, 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 is 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

    Location: Rio Dulce - This morning you’ll depart for Flores, where your leader will take you on an orientation walk on the island. Then, continue by private minivan to Rio Dulce before transferring to your hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also on the water – a journey that 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 led by your leader?

     

    Day - 11

    Location: Rio Dulce - With plenty of free time today, consider taking advantage of some optional activities. 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 maybe go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot local manatees or explore nearby San Felipe Fort.

     

    Day - 12

    Location: 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 slow trucks – be armed with patience, music and a good book and the journey will be easier to handle. 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 pepian a try (rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat, usually chicken).

     

    Day - 13

    Location: Panajachel - Today, travel on the winding roads to Chichicastenango – home to perhaps the most colourful market in the country! Nicknamed Chichi market, locals come from surrounding villages on Thursdays and Sundays to sell their wares and the streets are lined with stalls offering multi-coloured textiles and fresh produce. Visit a local Mayan Shaman and do a little shopping at the market, then continue to Panajachel. Located on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel has a thriving market, great eateries and many water-based activities. Your leader will take you on a brief orientation walk of the town and then the rest of the afternoon is free for you to explore. Why not go for a swim, wander the streets or kayak on the lake?

     

    Day - 14

    Location: San Juan La Laguna - This morning after breakfast, take a boat to San Juan La Laguna – a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan and the first community to ban single-use plastic. Here, you’ll witness a textile weaving demonstration, seeing how they use local materials and traditional dyeing techniques. Try out some of your newly learnt Spanish to chat with the locals and take a tour of their medicinal garden, watching how they use ancient techniques to transform plants into medicine - knowledge passed from mothers to daughters for hundreds of years. Tonight, you’ll be staying with multiple families within the community in small groups. Enjoy a homecooked dinner with your host family and spend the night here – a perfect opportunity to get to know them a little better and immerse yourself in local life.

     

    Day - 15

    Location: Antigua - Hit the road again this morning and make the journey back to Antigua – 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. On the way, stop at Santa Apolonia – one of the last communities in Guatemala to make pottery with traditional Maya techniques. The ancient Maya people could produce perfectly rounded pottery without a potter’s wheel! Here, the local women use their hands, as they move in a circular motion to produce amazing pieces. Watch a demonstration and then try it for yourself. Continue to Antigua, where your leader will take you on an orientation walk. Tonight, maybe take part in a dancing lesson – many dancing schools offer hourly lessons, so you'll be able to perfect your moves.

     

    Day - 16

    Location: Antigua - Enjoy a free day exploring photogenic Antigua today. Maybe check out the ChocoMuseo, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, which was first documented by the Guatemalan Maya, as well as its historical importance. Or maybe grab a coffee from one of the myriad shops in central park, sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes.

     

    Day - 17

    Location: Antigua - Your adventure comes to an end this morning and there are no activities planned. 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’d like to spend more time here, just speak to your booking agent.

     

    Maya Encounter
*Terms and Conditions
Offer subject to availability at time of booking. Prices are per person share twin based on best available tour price, inclusive of all discounts unless otherwise stated. Prices are subject to currency fluctuations and are based on cash or cheque. Tour deposit, amendment and cancellation conditions may apply. Travel agent service fees may apply. Special conditions apply - please ask for full details at time of enquiry.
HLO Ref# 6239
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