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Kinkajou: Best of Guatemala and Belize

12 days from £2,458pp

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Kinkajou: Best of Guatemala and Belize:
Trip Dossier

This variety-packed escorted group journey combines two countries which couldn’t be more different. Guatemala is steeped in native Mayan indian and Spanish colonial tradition plus religious mysticism. Belize, a truly Caribbean country, is English speaking, utterly laid-back, and a popular destination for some outdoor adventure. It’s a real treat to be able to combine the two into one experience-packed holiday.

Start off in Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial masterpiece, and continue to the serene setting of Lake Atitlán, encircled by volcanoes, – pocket handkerchief sized fields and time-warped indigenous villages. 

Continue to Tikal, the vast Mayan city where ancient temples and pyramids penetrate the rainforest canopy. Crossing the border into Belize, stay at a remote countryside lodge surrounded by tropical foliage rich in wildlife; enjoy the thrills and spills of outdoor activities, or just relax. Overall, you'll be enchanted by the friendly people, extraordinary architecture and diverse flora and fauna.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart Thursday arriving in Guatemala the same day.

Day 1

Transfer to colonial Antigua.

Days 2-3

Explore the city, with guided walks.

Day 4

By road to Lake Atitlán via the market at Chichicastenango.

Day 5

Excursion on Lake Atitlán.

Day 6

At leisure to further explore the lakeside.

Day 7

Drive to Guatemala City; fly to Flores.

Day 8

Guided exploration of the Mayan archaeological site Tikal.

Day 9

Drive across the Belize border to Chaa Creek.

Days 10-11

Outdoor activities and excursions.

Day 12

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Tuesday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart Thursday arriving in Guatemala the same day.

Day 1

Transfer to colonial Antigua.
 

Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by a Journey Latin America tour leader or a local representative and escorted to the group hotel in Antigua. It’s a journey of about an hour along a winding paved road. This popular city is well-endowed with art galleries, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques.

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Days 2-3

Explore the city, with guided walks.
 
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 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 are testament to the city’s destruction by a volcanic eruption in 1773.

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Antigua

Day 4

By road to Lake Atitlán via the market at Chichicastenango.
 
Travel by a gradually-ascending road to Lake Atitlán. The landscapes in the highlands west of Antigua are dominated by watchful volcanoes and compact, busy farming villages.

Stop off en route at Chichicastenango (2 hours). This chilly mountain town, which has a decidedly mystical air, is where the symbols and practices of overt Catholicism sit side by side or even amalgamate with esoteric Mayan religious ceremonies, centred around the simple, whitewashed façade of the church. Here there is a vast, bustling market, and you can wander the labyrinthine streets lined with textiles, clothes and tapestries of striking colour and extraordinary intricacy, as well as extravagant hand-carved masks and good-quality leather goods. Local farmers also bring an array of fruit and vegetables from the surrounding villages, which they both barter and sell.

Later in the day continue onto Lake Atitlán (1 hour), one of the most captivating in the world, its beauty 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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Chichicastenango Market

Day 5

Excursion on Lake Atitlán.
 
You are based in the peaceful village of Santa Catarina de Polopó, a few kilometres from the lively tourist centre Panajachel.

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.

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Day 6

At leisure to further explore the lakeside.
 
At leisure to explore the lake and its shores, peppered with tiny agricultural and fishing communities.

Each of the villages around the lake has its own traditional dress and speaks its own Mayan dialect. There is plenty of time here to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet or you can take to the lake by canoe, hire a bicycle or visit one of the nearby butterfly or animal parks.

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Bucolic Lake Atitlan

Day 7

Drive to Guatemala City; fly to Flores.
 

After a short drive from Antigua back to the capital an hour-long flight from Guatemala City takes you to Flores, in the dense sticky jungles of northern Guatemala, and from here you continue to your lodge by road. It is situated on the shores of tranquil Lake Petén. There are many well-marked tracks to explore and lots of wildlife including monkeys to see, or you can relax by the swimming pool.

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Day 8

Guided exploration of the Mayan archaeological site Tikal.
 

Today there is a guided tour of the archaeological site at Tikal, an hour’s drive away. Steep, stepped and vertiginous temples penetrate the forest canopy; the timeless rainforest views over the site from one of these temple-tops 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 in 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 low branches of the trees, and flashes of colour as toucans and parrots take flight.

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Tikal

Day 9

Drive across the Belize border to Chaa Creek.
 
This morning you depart for the little known Mayan ceremonial site of Yaxha, situated on the shores of a lagoon before enjoying a beautiful drive across the border and into Belize, passing through the town of San Ignacio and on into the low-lying Cayo district.

Spend a couple of days in the country’s lush, unspoilt and sparsely populated hilly interior, based on the rain-forested banks of the Macal river.

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Chaa Creek

Days 10-11

Outdoor activities and excursions.
 
Stay at the Lodge at Chaa Creek, one of the first of its kind in Belize. This tranquil jungle hideaway, set in its own rainforest, was opened by an Anglo-American couple in 1981. The focus here is on the area’s natural attributes, and activities available include a stroll along some of the many orchid-lined trails, a canoe ride through the mustard-coloured waters of River Macal watching waterside creatures and birdlife emerge from its shoreline habitat.

If you’re feeling more active you can explore the area on horseback or by bike. (Note: some of these excursions may incur an extra charge.) However, you may simply want to relax and enjoy the splendid tropical gardens, or be pampered in the spa. It’s a little piece of paradise here, and the atmosphere is welcoming and informal. You might visit Mountain Pine Ridge where waterfalls, rivers, lakes and caves are surrounded by savannah and pine forest. Other excursions from your hotel include visits to Mayan archaeological sites at Xunantunich and Caracol.

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Day 12

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Tuesday.

Essential information

Transport

1 flight (1 hour), 4 land journeys (longest 4 hours).

Accommodation

We use a first-class countryside lodge and good quality medium-class hotels.

Examples of the hotels include 
• Antigua: Meson de Maria (except January 2017 departure which will stay at Posada don Rodrigo)
• Lake Atitlán: Villa Santa Catarina
• Lake Petén: Villa Maya
• Belize: Chaa Creek Lodge

On very rare occasions these hotels can change, however please speak to one of our consultants who can provide full details for each departure if you have any doubts. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 8, half-board days 9-11.

Included excursions

• Antigua: Guided walking tour of Antigua
• Lake Atitlán: excursion by boat
• Chichicastenango: exploring the market 
• Tikal: guided tour of the tour of ruins 
• Chaa Creek: outdoor activities 

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Antigua 3, Lake Atitlán 3; Tikal 2; Chaa Creek 3.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader
• All land and domestic air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and insurance
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions
• International airport departure taxes

Optional excursions

There are optional excursions which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. A budget of around $130USD should cover participation in the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so cannot be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest:

• Antigua: climb Volcano Pacaya
• Antigua: visit surrounding villages 
• Antigua: walk up Cerro de la Cruz
• Lake Atitlán: further boat trips out onto the water
• Lake Atitlán: walk up to Nariz del Indio 
• Chaa Creek: additional options include guided nature walks, a visit to some nearby botanical gardens, horse riding

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with another same-sex member of the group who is also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to have their own room there are a limited number of single rooms available, which carry a surcharge.

Currency

The unit of currency in Guatemala is the quetzal; in Belize it is the Belize dollar.

Budget

A budget of around $35USD per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday price, drinks and the odd souvenir.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so 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 you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. These bills should be in good condition as soiled or torn bills may be refused. Travellers’ cheques are increasingly less favoured by visitors who find them difficult to exchange as well as offering a poor rate of exchange. If you do decide to carry some with you they should be US dollar cheques only (American Express are by far the most accepted brand).

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $3USD (or local equivalent) per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group. 

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.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6USD per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

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

International departure tax is not included on your ticket and is approximately $21.50BZD or $10.75USD.

Journey grade

This journey moves at a gentle pace and there is plenty of time to relax in each location. All walks and excursions are optional, so speak to your tour leader if you have any doubts about their suitability. There are some early mornings, and in the lowlands temperature and humidity are high, and the sun is strong.

Climate

Travellers on May to October journeys 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. 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 a problem. 

Protection against the sun (sun-block, sun hat) and mosquito repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying around sun block, guidebook, camera and binoculars, water and any extra layers of clothing.

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. 

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

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.  Clients with a different nationality should enquire or check with the Guatemalan or Belizean Consulates.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.
This costs $14USD per person. This must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). 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.

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