Belize & Guatemala
Explore the enduring mysteries of a magnificent civilisation that arose from the impenetrable jungles of Central America. From incredible wildlife and ruined cities, to the stories found amongst ancient remains and cultures, we get to experience it all.
A diverse range of landscapes await us in this part of the world, from lush jungles and vibrant colonial cities, to places that house incredible museums and sit alongside volcanoes. Go in search of the Maya in the company of a renowned expert, whose knowledge will shine a light on history and heritage, take memorable boat trips and encounter eclectic cultures on this adventure.
- Climb to the highest temples in Tikal at daybreak
- Tour the well-preserved buildings of Antigua
- Observe howler monkeys, macaws and even eagles on this trip
- Visit an array of enigmatic archaeological sites in glorious locations
- Examine amazing artefacts at fascinating regional museums
- The New World
- Cultural Excursion
- Small Group
This morning, we depart from London aboard a flight via the US to Guatemala City. Upon landing, we transfer to our hotel in Antigua and enjoy dinner together as a group.
Today is all ours to explore the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala’s vibrant capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we receive an exciting introduction to the region, in a city renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings, and encircled by volcanoes. Today’s Antigua is the third incarnation of the city, established on this land in the 16th century after the first incarnation was uprooted by native uprisings, and the second devastated by volcanic mudflow. From markets to churches, with tales of ground-breaking earthquakes in between, we learn all about Antigua’s colourful past.
We leave Antigua this morning for a short and scenic drive east to the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City. This museum was first founded in the late 19th century, and houses one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican artefacts in the world – over 20,000 pieces in total, offering an unparalleled glimpse into Guatemalan cultures past. A permanent exhibit on the development of Mayan culture strengthens this fascinating overview of ancient Central America. Next, we drive to Rio Hondo for lunch and then cross the border into Honduras to arrive in Copán. Next, we drive to Rio Hondo for lunch and then continue on to Copán, crossing the border into Honduras.
Our expedition is well underway today, as we explore the extensive ruined city of Copán. Though initially discovered in 1570, the ruins of Copán were not excavated until the 19th century. They are now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and are much admired for their Hieroglyphic Stairway – upon which the longest inscribed Mayan text can still be viewed -not to mention their many incredible sculptures. Occupied for more than 2,000 years, Copán developed rapidly around AD 450, and is thought to have had a population of at least 20,000 at its peak. We wander the extensive stone ruins, viewing ancient tombs, the grand Monument Plaza, and the magnificent ball court, where an early precursor to the modern game of basketball was played – a site of great cultural and spiritual significance.
Today we head back across the border for a tour of the city of Quirigua, a Mayan archaeological site in southwestern Guatemala, best-known for its gigantic carved stelae. Once the vassal state to Copán, Quirigua came to prominence when its ruler ‘Cauac Sky’ captured his overlord, ‘18 Rabbit’. The Great Plaza here is the largest known public space in the entire Maya region. The reason behind the city’s decline remains a subject of much speculation. Later, we drive to Flores and then continue to Peten.
Our focus for today is nothing less than the mighty Tikal, an incomparable Maya metropolis which was occupied continuously from 800 BC to AD 900. For long periods Tikal was the most powerful political force among the Maya, boasting a lengthy list of dynastic rulers that included the revered Chak Tok Ich’aak I, or Great Jaguar Paw, whose name appears on numerous recovered ceramics and stelae. The Tikal National Park is an enormous site – its central section alone contains over 3,000 buildings – and in this full day tour we cover many of the park’s prized features, and visit the museum which offers plenty of extra historical and archaeological insight on hand to bring this ancient civilisation to life.
Today, we continue our discovery of Tikal. Toucans and parrots caw from hanging vines, wild turkeys scrub around the bush, monkeys howl from the tropical canopy, and crickets vibrate in unison, while the rest of the forest’s exotic flora and fauna awakes. We take ourselves straight to the heart of this enchanting spectacle, climbing the highest jungle temple. A welcome opportunity to imagine life as an ancient Mayan, and discover the secrets of this glorious natural habitat. We have the afternoon to relax at our hotel.
This morning we drive to the once thriving city of Yaxhá, a former ceremonial centre of the pre-Columbian Maya. The name of this area derives from the Mayan word for ‘blue-green water’, and this is what we will see from the tops of the temples, as we survey a vista of rainforest and lakes. After a picnic lunch, we enjoy a boat trip to the important Mayan site of Topoxte, first discovered in 1904. We visit the archaeological ruins here, for a Middle Preclassic encounter. After our full day of exploration, we travel across the border into Belize.
Today we venture deep into the forests to the Vacau Plateau, where the impressive Maya city of Caracol invites more ancient exploration. There is evidence of life here dating back as far as 1200 BC – with a peak population estimate of 120,000 or more. Caracol is home to some truly awe-inspiring temples, including the ‘Canaa’ or ‘Sky Palace’, the tallest man-made structure in Belize. We get up close to a number of palaces and tombs, and learn about the city’s turbulent history as a rival to Tikal. After a light lunch, we take a scenic route back to out hotel.
Following breakfast we travel to Xunantunich, with its well-known Mayan stucco friezes depicting dancing figures, and ropes thought to signify those held by women in labour. Our next stop of the day is to the Classic period site of Cahal Pech, by the banks of the Macal River. Cahal Pech is the oldest known site in the Belize River Valley, and is thought to have been a palatial home for an elite Mayan family. Its ruins are strategically perched above the nearest town, and offer staggering views of the surroundings. We continue on to Belize City, the country’s only major urban area, where we visit the collections of the National Museum of Belize. Housed in what was once Belize’s main jail, the museum’s exhibitions include stunning examples of Mayan jade, as well as a number of recovered sculptures and ceramics.
Our action-packed day begins at Altun Ha, just a few miles from the Caribbean Sea, for a tour of the temples where sacrifices and blood-letting rituals were performed long ago. Traces of Mayan mathematics and astrology also remain here for us to discover. After some thorough exploring we board a motor-launch to Lamanai (also known as the ‘Place of the Submerged Crocodile’), and cruise through acres of luxurious vegetation, teeming with birds and jungle creatures – including a part-submerged crocodile or two! Tonight we stay in the area’s delightful eco-jungle lodges, falling asleep amidst the rumour of howler monkeys and other intriguing forest noises.
We’re in for a real treat today, as we wander the remote jungle remains of Lamanai, which spread along the shores of the New River lagoon. The exceptionally long and uninterrupted occupation of Lamanai from 1200 BC to the time of the conquest makes this a most unusual site to visit.
Highlights here include the extraordinary Mask Temple, decorated by a 13-foot high stone mask of a Mayan king, and the High Temple, the summit of which offers uninterrupted views across the landscape. Later on, we enjoy some free time in our jungle lodge and its gardens – the perfect spot in which to reflect on our day.
Our last full day in Central America begins with a last boat ride from Lamanai to Belize City. Back on dry land we head to the airport and check in for our flight back to London, via the US.
We arrive back in the UK.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Most meals included
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.
As our flights connect in the US, you will require a visa for this trip.