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Easter in Guatemala: Semana Santa

8 days from £1,733pp

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Easter in Guatemala: Semana Santa:
Trip Dossier

In just a week, you are invited to enjoy a holiday which not only embraces the pageantry of the world-famous Easter celebrations in Antigua, but manages to squeeze in the country’s main highlights.

You’ll be amazed by the variety in such a small geographical area: volcanoes, smoking or stifled by vegetation, glass-clear shimmering lakes, treeless grasslands and valleys choked with orchards and kitchen gardens.

Across all this the wonderful culture, a blend of Mayan, and Spanish colonial; pre-Columbian religion and ritual blended with Christianity – see it in the market at Chichicastenango, the pocket-sized rural communities on the fringe of Lake Atitlán, the long abandoned jungle-stifled Mayan temples and pyramids at Tikal. Imagine being able to do as much as this in 7 days at home... 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Guatemala City, transfer to your hotel in Antigua.

Day 2

Walking tour of colonial Antigua.

Day 3

Attend the Easter processions in Antigua.

Day 4

Visit Iximché ruins en route to Lake Atitlán.

Day 5

Guided tour of Chichicastenango market.

Day 6

Boat trip across Lake Atitlán to Santiago.

Day 7

Explore Tikal ruins on a guided tour.

Day 8

Transfer to the airport for international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Guatemala City, transfer to your hotel in Antigua.
 
Antigua

You will be met by our local representative and taken to your hotel in Antigua. It’s a journey of about one hour along a winding paved road.

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Antigua

Day 2

Walking tour of colonial Antigua.
 
Antigua

The city is a colonial work of art, with cobbled streets, overhanging tiled roofs and a beautiful, leafy central plaza. There’s an abundance of huge ruined churches, convents and monasteries, testament to a time when Antigua was the country’s capital and its main religious centre. You’ll have time to absorb this fascinating city, including on a walking tour of the historic centre. It seems that every doorway opens onto a fragrant tiled courtyard. A dramatic backdrop of smouldering volcanoes and ruined churches and convents surrounded by parkland bear witness to the city’s destruction a volcanic eruption in 1773.

Today the city will be gearing up for the celebrations, but Antigua is always a welcoming place to relax and unwind, do some shopping in tempting boutiques and art galleries, and enjoy the excellent food in a large range of restaurants and pavement cafés. Wander around the courtyards and enjoy the floral displays in beautifully tended gardens.

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Antigua

Day 3

Attend the Easter processions in Antigua.
 
Antigua

Good Friday sees you attending Antigua's 'Semana Santa' ('Holy Week') Easter celebrations, famous around the world for their spectacular colour and elaborate celebrations, in which the whole city takes part. Huge processions wind their way through the city's cobblestone streets carrying giant floats. Traditionally, men dressed in purple robes carry a float bearing a statue of Christ, followed by women dressed in black carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. 

The most visually impressive are the beautifully hand-made carpets of brightly coloured sand, sawdust and flowers, intricately interwoven, which are laid along the full length of the parade route. Vibrant patterns and images depicting scenes from the last days of Christ cover the streets, creating what looks like rivers of colour. You will be able to witness the San Cristóbal El Bajo and San Francisco processions today, and may be able to add your own touch of colour by contributing to the laying of the carpets. 

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Antigua

Day 4

Visit Iximché ruins en route to Lake Atitlán.
 

Head off west this morning to the highlands, dominated by watchful volcanoes and compact farming villages.

En route to Lake Atitlán, visit Iximché, an archaeological site which was the former capital of the Maya-Kaqchikel civilisation. In 1524, the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was founded by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado. Today Iximché is still an important site with a ceremonial area used by the Kaqchikel Spiritual Guides to carry out their rituals. End the day at your hotel in Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlán.

This is one of the most captivating lakes in the world and its beauty has been eulogised by poets and travellers.  On a sunny day, the closely forested volcanic cones are reflected in cobalt waters. Traditional villages and indigenous agricultural settlements skirt its fertile shores, each with its own character and identity, its own dialect and often a unique costume still worn by the proud inhabitants.

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Day 5

Guided tour of Chichicastenango market.
 
Chichicastanango

Take a guided tour to Chichicastenango, a chilly mountain town with a mystical air. The symbols and practices of Catholicism sit alongside or even amalgamate with esoteric Mayan religious ceremonies, centred round the simple, whitewashed façade of the church. There is a vast, busy market on Sundays featuring textiles, clothes and tapestries of striking colour and extraordinary intricacy, as well as extravagant hand-carved masks and good-quality leather goods. Local farmers both barter and sell an array of fruit and vegetables from the surrounding villages.

Continue to San Antonio Palopó, a lakeside village which lies in a natural amphitheatre formed by the mountains behind it. Ascending the hill from the dock, the village consists of narrow streets of adobe houses with roofs of thatch or corrugated tin, and a fine 16th century church. The inhabitants are renowned for their colourful costumes and headdresses. Return to Panajachel for the night. 

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Chichicastanango

Day 6

Boat trip across Lake Atitlán to Santiago.
 
Maximon

Take a motor launch across the lake to Santiago de Atitlán. Cruising over the waters, calm and silent in the morning, you’ll have wonderful views of the various shoreline hamlets and pocket-sized cultivated fields alongside some grand houses, and beyond to the gently sloping bottle-green volcanoes which encircle the water.

You are greeted as you alight at Santiago by enthusiastic children, and the town is an excellent place to buy brilliantly coloured textiles. The children may also offer to guide you to the current resting place of the smoking, drinking, be-hatted and roguish local idol, Maximón, who is moved to a different house each year, and looked after by a diligent entourage. He’s certainly not politically correct but he will help you with your problems in exchange for a suitable financial donation.

Drive to Guatemala City and take an hour-long flight to Flores, in the dense sticky jungles of northern Guatemala, and from here you continue to your lodge.  

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Maximon

Day 7

Explore Tikal ruins on a guided tour.
 
Tikal

There will be a guided tour of the Mayan archaeological site at Tikal. Steep-stepped and vertiginous temples emerge high above the rainforest canopy; the views over the site from one of these ancient skyscrapers are unforgettable. Spend the day wandering through the palace complexes. Tikal was one of the largest and most important Mayan city states, reaching its peak around AD800 prior to its mysterious demise. The pyramids and temples seem frozen in time, but you’re brought back to the present by the roar of curious howler monkeys and lithe spider monkeys as they swing through the trees; and by flashes of colour as toucans and parrots take flight.

Take to the air again and fly back to Guatemala City for the night.

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Tikal

Day 8

Transfer to the airport for international flight.

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (longest 1hr); 2 scenic road journeys.

Accommodation

This tour uses small or medium-sized properties with plenty of local colour and special features, and a functional modern hotel in Guatemala City with a good location.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 7.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Walking tour of Antigua.
• Easter processions in Antigua.
• Boat excursion to Santiago de Atitlán and San Antonio Palapó.
• Chichicastenango market.
• Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Summary of nights

8 days, 7 nights: Antigua 3; Lake Atitlán 2; Tikal 1; Guatemala City 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Guatemala is the quetzal.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35-45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash which you can exchange into local currency Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential.

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no long days of travel on this trip. This holiday is suitable for all, including families. However, if you have a disability we should be aware of, or other special requirements, please call us. In the summer the weather can be extremely hot and humid, you might bear this in mind if travelling with small children.

Climate

In March and April visitors will encounter high temperatures (up to 30°C) in the lowlands, but cool evenings in the Guatemalan highlands, with temperatures falling to around 5°C. Rainfall and humidity will be relatively low at this time.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. Some warm items and good waterproof jackets are also necessary. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitoes may be hovering around. 

Protection against the sun (sun-block, sun hat) and mosquito repellant are essential.  A daypack is useful for carrying sun block, guidebook, water and any extra layers.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Central America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets (unlikely for this holiday). For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be e-passports with embedded chip. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.
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