Discover more than one kind of bliss on this 17-day Lonely Planet Experience in Central America, from the calming sea breezes on Tulum’s beaches to the contentment of a hearty, homecooked dinner in a lakeside Maya village. This adventure through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize takes its sweet time ambling down the coast to the island paradise of Caye Caulker, then cuts inland to the lush jungle around Tikal, cruising to the vast Rio Dulce and finishing among the clouds in Panajachel and Antigua. You get the right balance of local-led experiences and independent exploration, with a whole load of awesome places to discover.

Theme

Lonely Planet Experience

  • Highlights

    • Caribbean Caye Caulker is a dreamy place to spend two days with no plans. Munch barbecue lobster? Snorkel around a coral reef? Nap under a palm tree? It’s up to you.
    • 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 Jorge La Laguna, a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family.
    • Hit the streets of Antigua with your leader and climb to a vintage cross lookout for views of the city and the massive volcano that towers over it.
    • Wander between stalls of rainbow-coloured handicrafts, fruits and flowers and get some haggling tips from your leader in Chichicastenango Market.
  • What's Included

    Meals

    1 Breakfast

    Transport

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

    Accommodation

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

    Included Activities

    • Antigua - Leader-led walking tour
    • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
    • Chichicastenango Market
    • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
    • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
    • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
    • Tikal National Park - Entrance fee
    • Tulum - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Pricing

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      • End Date:16 Mar 20
      • Price:$2,035
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      • End Date:23 Mar 20
      • Price:$1,713
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  • Itinerary

    Day - 1

    Location: Playa del Carmen - Hola! Welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. If you 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. Check out the full range of recommended optional activities below for more inspiration. After the welcome meeting tonight, perhaps head out for a cocktail and a meal with your new travel buddies.

     

    Day - 2

    Location: Tulum - Leave behind one paradise for another, quieter version. Travel south by local bus to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins await after a mere 1.5-hour journey. Take an orientation walk with your leader around the small town when you arrive, then head to the cliffs or the shore to enjoy the sunshine at your own pace. The famous ruins that hug the cliff edge are no longer a well-kept secret, so if crowds aren’t your thing it’s best to get up early tomorrow to beat them. Enjoy free time to maybe grab a snack and a beer at a beach shack, then hit the sand and the water (rinse and repeat). 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.

     

    Day - 3

    Location: Tulum - Today is as clear as the waters of the Caribbean, so you can spend it how you like. Perhaps start your morning by renting a bike and exploring on two wheels. Then maybe head to Akumal Bay for a change of scenery or check out one of the many local freshwater rock pools known as cenotes. You can buy an organised tour to each of these attractions or venture off on your own as both are easily accessible using local transport. Cenote Dos Ojos is perhaps the most spectacular of the natural pools, but it be prepared for a three-kilometre walk each way from the local bus drop off. Remember, pack plenty of water and snacks so you don’t get caught out! If you haven't already, you might want to take the opportunity to head to Mexico's most famous archaeological site, Chichen Itza, which is about a 2-hour drive away. Chat to your leader about what’s on offer and how to organise optional activities.

     

    Day - 4

    Location: Caye Caulker - Bid adios to Mexico early this morning and head south to Belize. Be prepared for a long day of travel on the road without a chance to stop for lunch, as the total driving time including the border crossing will be 8–9 hours. First, travel to the town of Chetumal by public bus (approximately 3.5 hours). Then jump on a local bus to the border (20 minutes). Undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City (approximately 3 hours). Once in Belize City take a water taxi to Caye Caulker (1 hour). Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker by 6 pm. Phew! What a day. But trust us, it’s worth it. Perhaps go for an evening stroll to get your bearings on the island, then if you have the energy why not hit a beach bar and unwind. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.

     

    Day - 5

    Location: 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

    Location: 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). Some of the best meals can be found by the roadside, so why not grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with firewater to really get into the spirit.

     

    Day - 7

    Location: San Ignacio - From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City (1 hour) and then take a local bus to San Ignacio (3.5 hours). 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 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

    Location: 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

    Location: Tikal - 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 (approximately 2.5 hours). 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). Tonight, set up the tents and mattresses and spend some time under the stars. The weather is always warm in this part of the world but a thin blanket is provided for extra comfort. There are also basic shared bathrooms and showers at the camp.

     

    Day - 10

    Location: 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 1-hour ride 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 (approximately 4 hours). 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

    Location: 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

    Location: Antigua - Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua, a journey which should take around 8 or 9 hours, allowing time for lunch. 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, 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 tie in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward you 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

    Location: Chichicastenango/San Jorge La Laguna - Be up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport for 2.5 hours 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. After doing a little shopping at the market, head to San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan (about 1.5 hours). Meet your host family and start getting to know each other. 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

    Location: Lake Atitlan/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

    Location: Antigua - Hit the road again at 9 am and make the 3-hour 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. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout, the local market and the chicken bus station next door, where the colourfully-decorated American school buses you've probably seen on the roads come from. 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

    Location: 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. If you want to learn more about Guatemalan coffee, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and buy some to take home. 

     

    Day - 17

    Location: 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.

     

    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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