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Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean

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This highlights trip combines two very different countries in one experience-packed holiday. Guatemala is steeped in native Mayan and Spanish colonial tradition; you'll be introduced to both, including Antigua and Lake Atitlán. Belize, a truly Caribbean country, is laid-back and English-speaking. Here you stay at the remote  Chaa Creek eco-lodge, and can go diving or snorkelling at Blue Hole on Ambergris Caye.

Start off in Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial masterpiece, and continue to the serene setting of Lake Atitlán, encircled by volcanoes, handkerchief-sized fields and tiny indigenous villages. Continue to Tikal, the vast ruined Mayan city where ancient temples and pyramids emerge above the rainforest canopy. Crossing the border into Belize, stay at Chaa Creek, an award-winning lodge surrounded by tropical foliage rich in wildlife, where you can enjoy the thrills and spills of outdoor activities, or just relax. Round off the holiday on the coral beaches of Ambergris Caye in the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Guatemala City and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of Antigua.

Day 3

Drive to Lake Atitlán.

Day 4

Excursion by boat to lakeside villages.

Day 5

Day at leisure.

Day 6

Drive to Antigua via Chichicastenango market.

Day 7

Fly to Flores in the jungle Petén region; guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

Day 8

Day at leisure to explore Tikal.

Days 9-11

Drive into Belize to the San Ignacio area. Optional outdoor activities and excursions.

Days 12-14

Drive/fly to Ambergris Caye, coral atoll in the Caribbean. At leisure.

Day 15

Fly to Belize City and connect with international flight.

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What our experts say

I’ve always loved the contrast between Guatemala and Belize and so it made sense to bring them together for this signature trip. A great introduction to both countries, this holiday showcases the diverse cultures and history found in each region, from the indigenous highland communities of Guatemala to the laid-back, Caribbean atmosphere found in Belize. I’ve packed in lots of authentic experiences too, including the opportunity to fish with local fishermen on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala and swim with nurse sharks in Shark Ray Alley in Belize.

Jamie

Jamie Swan

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean

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Antigua and the highlands
Antigua

Antigua was once one of Spanish America’s greatest cities, its prosperity and importance interrupted by earthquakes. Nowadays it is a peaceful, multi-national place retaining the best aspects of its Guatemalan heritage. Lovely to look at, it hosts lanes and shady plazas where flowering plants spill over crumbly walls, and pastel-painted colonial façades are punctuated with heavy wooden doors.

Boutiques, galleries, arty cafés and restaurants thrive here. The city is encircled by three volcanic peaks, along the fertile skirts of which flourish orchards and kitchen gardens. Beyond in the western highlands are traditional villages with flourishing markets. Chichicastenango, 1,965m, is the best known but others such as Zunil are also a riot of colour.

When to go
The best weather conditions in the upland areas are during the dry season Dec - May. It can be cold in the highlands in winter. Culture lovers may opt to spend Easter in Antigua. The busiest time for tourists is Dec - Mar. 
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Notes can be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card from ATMs in Antigua and Chichicastenango. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

Lake Atitlán, 52 km from Antigua by road; Flores, for a visit to Tikal ruins, 1hr by air from Guatemala City (1 hour by road from Antigua).

Getting there

There are flights to Guatemala City via US and European hubs, the journey from London to Guatemala City takes around taking around 13 hours. It’s an hour’s drive from the airport to Antigua.

Key events
Semana Santa, Easter. Celebrations throughout the country; especially impressive in Antigua – justifiably considered the best in Latin America.
Santo Tomás, Chichicastenango, 13 -22 Dec. Processions, traditional dancing, marimba music.

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Lake Atitlan and villages
Lake Atitlán and villages
In turn cobalt glassy-clear and silver misty, mirror-calm and wispy-waved, Atitlán is one of the most captivating lakes in the world. Many visitors linger here, and the shores are dotted with international communities as well as traditional Mayan villages. The lake is fringed by tiny fields where smallholders cultivate kitchen garden crops on fertile soils, beyond which are fuming green volcanoes which cast ever-changing shadows over the water. Lakeside settlements, most easily reached by boat across the water, are enlivened with textile markets, each with its own costume and character: Sololá and Santiago de Atitlán are among the largest and most interesting.
Key Events

• Semana Santa, celebrations throughout the country. Maximón is paraded through Santiago Atitlán, usually on the Wednesday of Holy Week. 

• Village fiestas: There are fiestas throughout the year in most Guatemalan villages, including on the community’s saint day. Santiago’s main fiesta is 23-27 Jul, Sololá’s 11-17 Aug.
When to go

The best weather conditions in the upland areas are during the dry season Dec-May. It can be cold and in the highlands in winter; but the fields bursting with crops make the landscape look its best when the sun does shine. The busiest time for tourists is Dec-Mar.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Quetzal. Acquire local currency in a larger town before you head into this region. You may have ask your bank to authorise ATM withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

Flores (for visit to Tikal ruins), 4.5 hours by road from Lanquín.

Getting there

It’s a 2hr drive to Panajachel from Antigua (52km)

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Tikal

The Petén of northern Gualtemala is a vast lowland blanketed in dense tropical rainforest. Nowadays it’s sparsely inhabited but this was not the case in the past: the Mayan city of Tikal, which began its development before 250AD, grew to be a vast cultural, religious and commercial centre. Following its collapse (c. 900AD) its jungle remoteness kept it isolated until roads and airstrips brought it within reach in the late 20th century. With its surviving temple pyramids piercing the canopy, vast plazas, its wealth of carvings and inscriptions and its location in the midst of a wild-life rich national park it is now one of the continent’s most impressive cultural monuments.

When to go

Mar - Apr are the hottest but also the driest months, while in Dec - Feb it can be chilly at the beginning and end of the day. Most rain falls between May - Oct when there are plenty of mosquitoes and other insects.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency
Quetzal. Dollars can be exchanged in banks, hotels and travel agencies in Flores, and there are a couple of ATMs where notes may be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card. (Best not to rely on these and use this method in a larger town before travelling to the Petén). You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.  
Time difference

GMT -6 hours.  

Combines with

Belize: Belize City is a 4-5 hours drive east from Flores (220 km) crossing the land border into western Belize.

Getting there

There are daily flights from Guatemala City (1 hour) to Flores. From here it’s a 1 hour 15mins drive to Tikal.

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Maya mountains and jungle
Chan Chich Lodge Belize
The unspoilt interior of Belize harbours some of Central America’s loveliest landscapes and a host of little-visited Mayan sites. In the north, wildlife sanctuaries rub shoulders with sugar cane fields, and recently uncovered Mayan cities poke their head above the canopy of dense jungle. The river banks from the Mennonite village of Shipyard are decorated with tangled bromeliads hanging from tropical trees. Nearby are the Mayan ruins of Lamanai with almost 700 structures.

West towards Guatemala, in the Cayo District, the Macal River offers a water-borne way to explore the forest scenery; and the jagged peaks and gorges of ancient Mountain Pine Ridge are just begging to be explored.
When's the best time to go Belize's Mayan mountains?
The best weather conditions are during the dry season Dec-May. It can be cool in the highlands in winter, while the jungle areas are hot and humid all year round. There’s a low risk of tropical storms or hurricanes Jun-Nov. The busiest time for tourists is Dec-Mar. 
What's the official language of Belize Mayan mountains?

English.

How do I get local currency in Belize Mayan mountains?
Belizean dollar. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges and  from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are few, if any, ATMs outside Belize City where you can use a UK credit or debit card. 
What's the time difference between Belize Mayan mountains and UK?

GMT -6 hrs.

What places combine well with Belize Mayan mountains?
A beach stay on one of Belize’s coral cayes, accessible from Belize City by air or boat; a visit to neighbouring Guatemala, with its Latin and Mayan cultural heritage, there’s a road link to the Mayan ruins at Tikal in the jungle Petén; southern Mexico, crossing the land border at Chetumal. 
How do I get to Belize Mayan mountains?

The north: fly from Belize City to Gallon Jug (30mins) followed by a short drive to Chan Chich. By road and river via Orange Walk from Belize City to Lamanai (2hrs). For the Macal River, travel from Belize to San Ignacio, 115km.

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Caribbean cayes and coast
Relaxing in the Caribbean cayes
With its musical inspiration and cuisine emanating from the reggae and rasta Caribbean culture, and everyone speaking English, Belize still has its own national identity, no more so than on the coast.

There are sugar-white Caribbean beaches on the mainland and the offshore cayes with coral reefs lying just offshore and wrecks harbouring a wealth of underwater life. Ambergris Caye, the largest island, offers access to the reef. Caye Caulker, a lobster-fishing island, is a long-time hippy paradise which has retained its easy-going atmosphere. Placencia, a barefoot resort currently under development, is at the tip of a spidery spit of land south of the little clap-board fishing port of Dangriga.
When's the best time to visit the Caribbean in Belize?

The best weather conditions are during the dry season Dec-May, when temperatures hover around 30°C. There’s a risk of tropical storms or hurricanes June-Nov. The busiest time for tourists is Dec-Mar.

What's the official language of Belize?

English

How do I get to Belize's Caribbean coast and cays?

The cayes, and the southern resorts such as Placencia, are accessible by light aircraft and boat from Belize City.

What are the festivals, cultural and sporting events in Belize's Caribbean?
Belize chocolate festival: Toledo in southern Belize, 3 days in May annually.

Belize Carnival: (Feb/Mar). Lively celebrations especially in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye.

Costa Maya Festival: San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, early Aug. A five day festival with music, dance, cuisine, and other cultural celebrations from the Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Lobster season:  Lobster season starts Jun-Jul, with lobster on offer in all its forms, with drinking and partying.

Belize Independence Day: throughout the country, 21 Sep.  Parades, processions and parties.

How do I get local money in Belize's Caribbean coast and cays?
Belizean dollar. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges and from banks (Ambergris and Caye Caulker have them) which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are ATMs in Belize City where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to get authorisation from your bank first, and withdrawal amounts may be limited. Time difference:  GMT -6 hrs.  

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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