About Guatemala & Belize
Antigua: This 300-year-old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the central highlands. Antigua is among the world’s best conserved colonial cities in the Americas. This captivating small town still retains a sense of magic that feels a little like time has stopped, or, at the very least, slowed down to allow the visitor to take it all in. It is distinguished for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque architecture that is found in its elegant historic homes, palaces, cathedrals and churches, including San Francisco Church and La Merced Church. The area is also a mosaic of wild forests and streams, traditional Indian villages and farms.
Chichicastenango: In the Guatemala highlands, this large indigenous town spreads out on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 m/6,447 ft. It is known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture. Here, one of the more famous local markets takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. Vendors sell all sorts of goods including handicrafts, food, pottery, medicinal plants, cal (lime stones to prepare tortillas), pigs, chickens, machetes and textiles. The city is also known for the manufacture of brightly colorful carved wooden masks used in traditional dances.
El Mirador: El Mirador flourished as a trade center from about 300 BCE to 150 CE, with a peak population of perhaps between 100,000 and 250,000 people. Its main attractions are two large pyramid complexes, El Tigre and La Danta, facing each other. La Danta is technically the lower of the two, but it is located on a hillside, making it the tallest structure in the Mayan World. The ruins of this ancient city are more overwhelming than most Mayan sites. The Tiger Pyramid is 18 stories high and it base covers the area of three football fields. The first mention of the site was in 1885, when engineer Claudio Urrutia, who surveyed the area, sited a “ruinas grandes.” El Mirador was officially reported in 1926. Archaeologists noted that a large amount of construction predates other Mayan sites including Tikal.
Flores: Flores sits on an island in Lake Peten Itza, and is connected by a causeway to the mainland and its two sister towns of Santa Elena and San Benito. All three are often referred to as Flores. Close to Tikal, Flores is a charming city worth exploring with its colonial, red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, an historic church and open Spanish plaza. It is also close to Yaxha National Park, discovered in 1904, and was occupied from about 800 BCE to 1600 CE. It embraces more than 500 buildings, including the only twin pyramid complex outside of Tikal. Nearby, in the center of Yaxha Lagoon, is another Mayan site, Topoxte.
Guatemala City: The capital city serves as the main port of entry, with restaurants, hotels, art galleries, theaters, museums and a modern transport system. In colonial times, it was a small town, with the 17th-century El Carmen Monastery. It became the capital of the Spanish Captaincy General of Guatemala after earthquakes in 1773 destroyed the old capital of Antigua.
Iximche: This Mayan ruin site sits in the Western highlands of Guatemala in Tecpan between Antigua and Lake Atitlan. It is not as recognized as the major archaeological sites of the Classic Period (250 to 900). It served as the capital of the Kaqchikel Maya from 1470 to 1524. Here, visitors can witness an authentic Mayan shaman ritual.
Lake Atitlan: The stunning lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption some 84,000 years ago. Atitlan is recognized as the deepest lake in Central America with a maximum depth about 340 m/1,115 ft. The lake is shaped by deep escarpments that surround it and by three volcanoes on its southern flank. Most inhabitants of the region are of Mayan ancestry. The Tz’utujil are one of the 21 Mayan ethnic groups that dwell in Guatemala, dating back to the post-Classic Period (circa 900-1500) of the Mayan civilization, and inhabit the southern watershed of Lake Atitlan. The Tz’utujil people are noted for maintaining strong cultural practices, with their distinctive embroidered dress and long-standing family traditions.
Tikal: The country’s most priceless archaeological gem, Tikal ranks among the great ancient cities of the world. This epic site’s pyramids loom out of the thick jungle canopy like stoic sentinels of ancient mysteries. Once an affluent city complex with more than 100,000 inhabitants, it was the seat of power for the Jaguar Clan lords. The site was discovered by outsiders in 1848. This UNESCO Heritage of Humanity Site includes a staggering 3,000 or so structures: palaces, temples, plazas, ceremonial platforms, ball courts, terraces, avenues and steam baths. The Maya began Tikal about 600 BCE, and for the next 1,500 years it served as an important religious, scientific and political center. Tikal National Park is also home to howler monkeys, boisterous parrots, white-lipped peccary, brocket deer, coati mundi, toucans, scarlet macaws, ocelots and the rare jaguar.
Uaxactun Archaeological Park: Uaxactun Archaeological Park is nestled in dense tropical rainforest. In addition to its natural beauty, this city was an important center for monumental art. The site was occupied beginning in the Middle Formative Period (900–300 BCE) of Mayan culture, and several ceremonial buildings had been erected before the close of the Late Formative Period (300 BCE–100 CE). The most impressive ruin remains the Structure E-VIIsub, the focal point for the plaza with three temples aligned along its eastern edge. Together these structures were used for astronomical studies. The equinox and solstice were accurately determined by sighting the sunrise from the eastern stairway to one of the three pyramids to the east. Uaxactun is one of the longest-occupied Mayan sites. It is also a community where traditional “Chicleros” (gum collectors) have lived for more than a century. Many residents make their living gathering forest products including chicle, allspice and xate palm leaves, used in floral arrangements. Travelers have a distinctive opportunity, through special advance preparations, to stay overnight at a private tented campsite in the ruins.
Volcanoes of Guatemala: Volcanoes have formed Guatemala’s landscapes and influenced its cultures. The Central American Volcanic Arc is a chain of volcanoes which extends from Guatemala down through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and northern Panama. This volcanic arc is 1,500 km/930 mi. long, and is affected by an active subduction zone along the western boundary of the Caribbean Plate. From hiking up an active volcano, to roasting marshmallows over hot vents in the rocks, to a helicopter flight over six different volcanoes en route to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala offers a unique look at the world of volcanology.
Belize: Belize has long been known to scuba divers as the site of the Belize Barrier Reef and the famous Great Blue Hole. The longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and one of the longest in the world runs just off the Belize coast. It is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches 900 km/560 mi. from the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras. The Great Blue Hole is a large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize, near the center of a small atoll. It is circular in shape, over 300 m/984 ft. across and 124 m/407 ft. deep. In 1971, Jacques-Yves Cousteau brought his famous ship, the Calypso here to chart its depths. The Great Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, and together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize, and San Pedro is the only town on the island. Ambergris Caye has been the hub of Belizean maritime trade for centuries. Historically, fishing, coconuts and chicle have been the mainstays of the economy. The history of the island goes back to the Maya, when Ambergris Caye was a trading post. Excavated sites indicate that the historic Maya population may have numbered 10,000. History of the country can be discovered in small towns like Placencia in the Stann Creek District on the southern tip of the largest peninsula of the Gulf of Mexico. In the 17th century, the area was settled by English Puritans from Nova Scotia, but the settlement died out during the Central American wars of independence in the 1820s. The Placencia Peninsula was resettled in the late 1800s. Belize boasts 26 km/16 mi. of beaches, restaurants, art galleries, shops, spas, marinas and cays.
Best Time to Go
Guatemala’s climate is consistent year-round, making travel possible at any time. The rainy season is generally May-November. Climate varies due to altitude, but it is generally hot throughout the country. Average daytime temperatures year-round run in the 27-32˚C/80-90˚F range. Belize is subtropical with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. It is dry and hot January to April; and the rainy season is June to September. It is hot and humid year-round, but cooler in the mountains. Average daytime temperatures year-round run in the mid to upper 26ºC/80ºF range.
Day 1: Guatemala City, Guatemala / Antigua
Antigua is a colonial masterpiece known for its Baroque architecture.
Day 2: Antigua
Antigua, among the world’s best conserved colonial cities in the Americas, remains a captivating small town that feels like time stopped three centuries ago.
Day 3: Antigua / Lake Atitlan
Three stunning volcanoes rise out of the emerald surface of Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful settings in the country.
Day 4: Lake Atitlan / Peten / Uaxactun
Uaxactun was a major Mayan city, north of the more famous Tikal. Its impressive Structure E-VIIsub is the focal point with three temples aligned along its eastern edge.
Day 5: Uaxactun / Tikal / Flores
This city of the ancient Mayan civilization, Tikal, became an important ceremonial center with the construction of major pyramids and temples. It is recognized by UNESCO as a Heritage of Humanity Site.
Day 6: Flores – El Mirador – Flores
Ancient Mayan culture and adventure hidden in the heart of Guatemalan jungle, El Mirador is a fascinating pre-Classic Mayan city that is still currently being actively excavated by archaeologists.
Day 7: Flores / Depart
Iximche (3 days)
This Mayan ruin in the western highlands between Antigua and Lake Atitlan is not well known, but ancient traditions are still practiced here.
Uaxactun & Glamping (2 days)
Uaxactun is known for the discovery of the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex. A private camp can be arranged for an overnight glamping and a candle-lit dinner at the site.
Volcanoes of Guatemala (2 days)
Guatemala has dozens of volcanoes, some still active, that formed that landscapes and people of this country. They make for exhilarating climbs and hikes for outdoor enthusiasts.
Ambergris Caye (4 days)
The Belize Barrier Reef is just a quarter mile from the beach of Ambergris Caye making scuba diving and snorkeling easily accessible.
$600-$900 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.