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Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean

15 days from £2,947pp

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Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean

15 days from £2,947pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Antigua and transfer to hotel.
 

You will be met by our local representative and taken to your hotel in Antigua. It’s a journey of about one hour along a winding paved road.

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Day 2

Guided walking tour of 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.

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.

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Volcano over Antigua

Day 3

Drive to Lake Atitlán.
 

Travel by a gradually-ascending road to Lake Atitlán. The landscapes in the highlands west of Antigua are dominated by watchful 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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Day 4

Excursion by boat to lakeside villages.
 

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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Lake Atitlan

Day 5

Day at leisure.
 

Day at leisure to enjoy the tranquillity and the magical views, or you can take to the lake by canoe, hire a bicycle or visit a local market or tropical garden.

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Day 6

Drive to Antigua via Chichicastenango market.
 

Return to Antigua via Chichicastenango. The latter is a chilly 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 of 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.

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Chichicastenango Market

Day 7

Fly to Flores in the jungle Petén region; guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Tikal.
 
Drive to Guatemala City and take an hour-long flight to Flores, in the dense sticky jungles of northern Guatemala, and from here you continue to your lodge. 

There will be a guided tour of the 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 Ruins and forest canopy

Day 8

Day at leisure to explore Tikal.
 

Day at leisure, either to explore the site of Tikal further or hire bikes or kayaks from your hotel to explore the private reserve in which it is set, and the surrounding Petén rainforest.

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Days 9-11

Drive into Belize to the San Ignacio area. Optional outdoor activities and excursions.
 
Enjoy a beautiful drive across the border into Belize, pass through the town of San Ignacio and into the low-lying Cayo district (3hrs). 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. 

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 the Macal River as you watch riverside 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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Days 12-14

Drive/fly to Ambergris Caye, coral atoll in the Caribbean. At leisure.
 
By road and air to Ambergris Caye, the most northerly and largest island in Belize, 46km long, and a breathtaking 20min flight low over transparent turquoise waters from Belize City. The island offers a splendid vantage point from which to enjoy the Belize Barrier Reef less than a kilometre from the shores of the relaxed main town of San Pedro, with its wide choice of restaurants and bars. The island’s main attraction is the first class diving, snorkelling and fishing on offer.

This is your beach time. 

Stay in the top of the range, white plantation-style Victoria House Hotel which harks back to the style of British colonial times but without the formality. A barefoot resort with a generous infinity pool, it offers both the chance to relax in the shade of a swaying palm as well as loads of activities. Day trips can be organised to help you get the most out of a stay here, including birdwatching tours, cave tubing, canopy zip lines and a visit to Belize Zoo. Borrow a bike, or you can even hire a golf cart to get around at the lazy pace that epitomises the Caribbean. Snorkelling and kayaking (complimentary use of equipment) are very popular and with good reason - the coral reef is one of the best in the world to view exuberant marine life.

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Bel ambergris Caye Vic House _ free

Day 15

Fly to Belize City and connect with international flight.

15 days from £2,947pp

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