Guatemala, Belize & Honduras
This truly beautiful tour takes us in search of the Maya of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. We journey to great ancient cities such as Copán and Tikal and to more remote outposts in the jungle, often by boat across lakes and along rivers that were the arteries for trade and communication across the Maya world.
The still mysterious demise of most of the tropical forest Maya meant that by the 11th century AD many of their major cities had been reclaimed by the jungle. We may dine with brilliant macaws in the branches above and drop off to sleep to the roar of howler monkeys deep in the surrounding forest.
- The enduring mysteries of a magnificent civilisation which arose from the impenetrable jungles of Central America
- A real Mesoamerican adventure — jungle treks, mangrove swamps, fantastic wildlife, and remote sites strewn along ancient lagoons
- Incredible wildlife — brilliant macaws, swinging spider monkeys, and eagles wheeling high above the rainforest...
- Cultural Excursion
- The New World
- Special Access
- Small Group
- All Inclusive
We land in Guatemala – our gateway to Central America.
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.
Our expedition is well underway today, as we journey through verdant volcanic valleys and cross into Honduras, to explore the extensive ruined city of Copàn. Though initially discovered in 1570, the ruins of Copàn 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, Copàn 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 ballcourt, where an early precursor to the modern game of basketball was played – a site of great cultural and spiritual significance.
We begin today with 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…
Following this we continue on the picturesque coastal town of Livingston, where an unusual mix of Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean, Ladino and Mayan people has created a diverse blend of cultures and languages. We travel by boat to our hotel gardens, enjoying the tropical climate and fresh sea air along the way. A relaxing way to round off this wonderful day.
Our focus for today is nothing less than the mighty Tikal National Park, 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.
Tikal 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, with plenty of extra historical and archaeological insight on hand to bring this ancient civilisation to life.
There are few things more impressive than witnessing the jungle at daybreak. 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 temples of Tikal as the sun rises, and drinking in the majestic scene at our feet. A welcome opportunity to imagine life as an ancient Mayan, and discover the secrets of this glorious natural habitat.
We take to the water again this morning, on a boat trip 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.
Located on an island cluster in one of these nearby lakes is the important Mayan site of Topoxte, first discovered in 1904. We visit the archaeological ruins here, for a Middle Preclassic encounter.
Following this we cross the border into Belize, where further jungle treasures lie in wait...
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. Caraoal is home to some truly awe-inspiring temples, including the ‘Canaa’ or ‘Sky Palace’, the tallest manmade 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.
Following breakfast we travel 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. Our next stop today is Xunantunich, with its well-known Mayan stucco friezes depicting dancing figures, and ropes thought to signify those held by women in labour.
We continue on to Belize City, the country’s only major urban area, where we visit the collections of the National Museum. 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 bloodletting 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 another exhilarating boat ride as we skim across the water back from Lamanai. On dry land once more, we enjoy a comfortable return transfer to Belize City, skirting the gorgeous Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on our way.
Having found ourselves back in Belize’s main metropolis, we have plenty of time to explore the city’s ramshackle streets and curious corners before coming together for a hearty farewell dinner.
Our expedition draws to a close as we catch our return flights home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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