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Signature Guatemala: Mountains, markets and Mayan ruins

12 days from £2,166pp

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Signature Guatemala: Mountains, markets and Mayan ruins:
Trip Dossier

Guatemala is brimming with both obvious highlights and hidden attractions and we’ve packed loads of them in to this variety-packed holiday including Antigua, Lake Atitlán, Mayan Tikal and authentic markets in the remote, wildly beautiful western highlands.

Begin by exploring arty, volcano-framed Antigua, one of the continent’s most beautiful Spanish colonial cities, and move on to atmospheric and spiritual Lake Atitlán, fringed by volcanoes, all the while visiting traditional villages where the indigenous population wear community-distinctive clothing and weave intricate, vibrant textiles.  Continue into the wilder more remote region of the craggy Cuchumatanes mountains, and visit authentic, non-touristy markets trading in the produce of the richly fertile volcanic valleys. Finally fly to the vast complex of temples at Tikal, Central America’s most overwhelming abandoned Mayan city, its haunting pyramids shrouded in exotic bird and monkey-filled jungle.

You’ll mostly be staying in small, characterful colonial-style accommodation befitting the uniqueness of your environment.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Guatemala City and transfer to Antigua.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of Antigua.

Day 3

At leisure in Antigua.

Day 4

Drive to Lake Atitlán.

Day 5

Guided day trip to lakeside villages.

Day 6

Visit Chichicastenango market.

Day 7

Visit the market towns of Quetzaltenango basin.

Day 8

Visit Todos Santos Cuchumatán.

Day 9

Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Day 10

Explore Tikal at leisure.

Day 11

Fly to Guatemala City.

Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Guatemala City and transfer to Antigua.
 
Antigua

You will be met and escorted 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

Guided walking tour of Antigua.
 
Volcano over 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 plenty of 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.

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Volcano over Antigua

Day 3

At leisure in Antigua.
 
antigua

Antigua is 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. There are also a number of optional activities and excursions you can choose from, including visiting a coffee farm, climbing a volcano, cycling, or taking a cookery lesson. For many countries, the kitchen gardens of Guatemala are the source of many commonly eaten vegetables: you might also consider a guided tour of the avocado production process, with a lesson on how to make guacamole at the end. 

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antigua

Day 4

Drive to Lake Atitlán.
 
lake atitlan

Travel by a gradually-ascending road to Lake Atitlán. The landscapes in the highlands west of Antigua are dominated by watchful racing-green and tawny volcanoes and compact farming villages. The lake is one of the most captivating 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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lake atitlan

Day 5

Guided day trip to lakeside villages.
 
guate textiles

Take a motor launch across the lake to Santiago de Atitlán. Cruising over the calm and silent morning waters, 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 that 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.

 After time at leisure to explore, bargain with the traders and admire the costumes you will again be transported by boat to another village, San Antonio Palopó, about 10km from Panajachel. It lies in a natural amphitheatre formed by the mountains behind it. Ascending the hill from the dock, you reach the village consisting of narrow streets of adobe houses with roofs of thatch or corrugated tin, and a fine 16th century church. The village inhabitants are known for their colourful costumes and headdresses. 

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guate textiles

Day 6

Visit Chichicastenango market.
 
Chichicastenango market

It’s a short drive to Chichicastenango, a frosty mountain town, which has a decidedly mystical air. The symbols and practices of Catholicism sit side by side or even amalgamate with esoteric Mayan religious ceremonies, centred round the simple, whitewashed façade of the church. There is a vast, bustling market, and you can wander the labyrinthine streets. Here are 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 Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second city which has subdued provincial air. 

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Chichicastenango market

Day 7

Visit the market towns of Quetzaltenango basin.
 
guatemala market

Beyond a forested range of mountains west of Lake Atitlán lies a vast, fertile pan of fertile land known as Quetzaltenango basin. The ability to cultivate crops, especially vegetables there means that the area has been densely populated for centuries. Zunil and Almolonga are typical vibrant market towns, where women dressed in traditional coloured tunics (huipils) gather to trade in all manner of crops, including carrots and leafy green vegetables. This may well be where your sugar snap peas from Waitrose come from! You'll pass through these villages with time to stop and look around both villages which shelter at the foot of spectacular volcanoes. Continue to Huehuetenango, a relaxed country town. 

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guatemala market

Day 8

Visit Todos Santos Cuchumatán.
 
Boys watching the horse race at Todos Santos, Guatemala

Drive north through the Cuchumatanes mountains from Huehuetenango to Todos Santos Cuchumatán. This is a remote region of wild, craggy limestone outcrops rising to 3,837m cut through by fertile, closely cultivated river valleys. The town is inhabited by descendants of the Mayans who still wear their distinctive traditional dress - unusually the men as well as the women wear a striking costume incorporating bold stripy trousers. Their market days are Thursday and Saturday; you’ll be there on the right day to stroll around the stalls. From there retrace your journey and continue to Guatemala City, where you spend the night.

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Boys watching the horse race at Todos Santos, Guatemala

Day 9

Guided tour of Tikal ruins.
 
Tikal

Take a short flight to Flores, in the dense sticky jungles of northern Guatemala. You’ll have a guided tour of the vast 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.

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Tikal

Day 10

Explore Tikal at leisure.
 
tikal

As your lodge as the best location of any from which to visit Tikal and you will have already been woken by howler monkeys we recommend you revisit the site first thing in the morning when fewer other visitors are around and the wildlife is at its most active.       

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tikal

Day 11

Fly to Guatemala City.
 
Pacaya Volcano

Fly back to the capital and transfer to your hotel for the night.

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Pacaya Volcano

Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day.

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Essential information

Transport

2 flights (longest 1hr); 4 scenic road journeys (longest 6hrs).

Accommodation

This tour uses small or medium-sized properties with plenty of local colour and special features, and a couple of more functional ones in the less tourist-oriented towns.

Meals

Breakfast daily, dinner day 9, half board day 10.

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.
• Boat excursion to Santiago de Atitlán and San Antonio Palapó.
• Chichicastenango market.
• Zunil and Almalongo market towns..
• Visit to Todos Santos Cuchumatán.
• Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Antigua 3; Lake Atitlán 2; Quetzaltenango 1; Huehuetenango 1; Guatemala City 1; Tikal 2; 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.

Optional excursions

There are a number of half-day, full-day or longer excursions or activities you may wish to consider in order to customise your holiday to cater for your interests. Please contact us to discuss these further or to add them to your itinerary before you depart. A selection of these:

• Biking or hiking close to Antigua..
• Visit to a coffee farm near Antigua. 
• Cookery lesson in Antigua.
• Biking and kayaking, Tikal. 
• Boat trip on Lake Peten Itzá, visit Flores, Tikal.

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 (no more than is covered by your insurance), 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

Travellers on May to October should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity in the lowlands. There are likely to be some short bursts of heavy rainfall during these months. From December to April visitors will still encounter high temperatures in the lowlands, but cool evenings in the Guatemalan highlands, with temperatures falling to around 5°C. Rainfall and humidity will be lower 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.

Water-To-Go

We’ve partnered with Water To Go to offer Journey Latin America clients a 50% discount on 7cl filtered, reusable water bottles with every booking. The bottle can be refilled at any water outlet and has a filter that eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, allowing the water to be safe to drink.
Contact your Travel Consultant for more information and to include the purchase in your booking.
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