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Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean

15 days from £2789pp

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Signature Guatemala and Belize: Culture and Caribbean:
Trip Dossier

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

Start off in Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial masterpiece, and continue to the serene setting of Lake Atitlán, encircled by volcanoes, handkerchief-sized fields and tiny indigenous villages. Continue to Tikal, the vast ruined Mayan city where ancient temples and pyramids emerge above 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. Round off the holiday on the beaches of Ambergris Caye, maybe with a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Antigua and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of Antigua.

Day 3

Drive to Lake Atitlán.

Day 4

Excursion by boat to lakeside villages.

Day 5

Day at leisure.

Day 6

Drive to Antigua via Chichicastenango market.

Day 7

Fly to Flores in the jungle Petén region; guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

Day 8

Day at leisure to explore Tikal.

Days 9-11

Drive into Belize to the San Ignacio area. Optional outdoor activities and excursions.

Days 12-14

Drive/fly to Ambergris Caye, coral atoll in the Caribbean. At leisure.

Day 15

Fly to Belize City and connect with international flight.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bel ambergris Caye Vic House _ free

Day 15

Fly to Belize City and connect with international flight.
 

Essential information

Transport

3 flights (longest 1hr); 4 scenic road journeys (longest 4hrs).

Accommodation

This tour uses small or medium-sized properties with plenty of local colour and special features, some considered by many to be first class, others very comfortable but not necessarily offering all the facilities of a top-of-the-range property.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 7.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Walking tour of Antigua.
• Boat excursion to Santiago de Atitlán and San Antonio Palapó.
• Chichicastenango market.
• Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: Antigua 2; Lake Atitlán 3; Antigua 1; Tikal 2; Belize interior 3; Ambergris Caye 3.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.
• Departure tax $10.75/

Optional excursions

There are a number of half-day, full-day or longer excursions or activities you may wish to consider in order to customise your holiday to cater for your interests. Please contact us to discuss these further or to add them to your itinerary before you depart. A selection of these:

• Biking and kayaking, Tikal.
• Xunantunich Mayan temples, in Belize’s interior.
• Diving or snorkelling, Ambergris Caye, Caribbean Sea.

Currency

The unit of currency in Guatemala is the quetzal. In Belize it’s the Belize dollar.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35-45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking 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 additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

In Guatemala, the exchange rate of the quetzal against the $US is variable. In Belize the rate is fixed at $2 Belize dollars to 1 $US, and $US are widely accepted in cash.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

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.

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

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no long days of travel on this trip. This holiday is suitable for all, including families. However, if you have a disability we should be aware of, or other special requirements, please call us. In the summer the weather can be extremely hot and humid, you might bear this in mind if travelling with small children or elderly persons.

Climate

Travellers on May to October 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. From 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 hovering around. 

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

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Central America.

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. 

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. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person, and 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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