Private Journeys

Signature Guatemala: Mountains, markets and Mayan ruins

12 days from £2,290pp

Guatemala

Itinerary

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Day 1

Arrive Guatemala City and transfer to Antigua.

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

Antigua Guatemala

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 Guatemala

Day 3

At leisure in Antigua.

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. There are also a number of optional activities and excursions you can choose from, including visiting a coffee farm, climbing a volcano, cycling, or taking a cookery lesson.

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Day 4

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 racing-green and tawny 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 5

Guided day trip 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.

 After time at leisure to explore, bargain with the traders and admire the costumes you will again be transported by boat to another village, San Antonio Palopó, about 10km from Panajachel. It lies in a natural amphitheatre formed by the mountains behind it. Ascending the hill from the dock, you reach the village consisting of narrow streets of adobe houses with roofs of thatch or corrugated tin, and a fine 16th century church. The village inhabitants are known for their colourful costumes and headdresses. 

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Day 6

Visit Chichicastenango market.

It’s a short drive to Chichicastenango, a frosty 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 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. Continue to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second city which has subdued provincial air. 

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Day 7

Visit the market towns of Quetzaltenango basin.

Beyond a forested range of mountains west of Lake Atitlán lies a vast, fertile pan of fertile land known as Quetzaltenango basin. The ability to cultivate crops, especially vegetables there means that the area has been densely populated for centuries. Zunil and Almolonga are typical vibrant market towns, where women dressed in traditional coloured tunics (huipils) gather to trade in all manner of crops, including carrots and leafy green vegetables. This may well be where your sugar snap peas from Waitrose come from! You'll pass through these villages with time to stop and look around both villages which shelter at the foot of spectacular volcanoes. Continue to Huehuetenango, a relaxed country town. 

Day 8

Visit Todos Santos Cuchumatán.

Drive north through the Cuchumatanes mountains from Huehuetenango to Todos Santos Cuchumatán. This is a remote region of wild, craggy limestone outcrops rising to 3,837m cut through by fertile, closely cultivated river valleys. The town is inhabited by descendants of the Mayans who still wear their distinctive traditional dress - unusually the men as well as the women wear a striking costume incorporating bold stripy trousers. Their market days are Thursday and Saturday; you’ll be there on the right day to stroll around the stalls. From there retrace your journey and continue to Guatemala City, where you spend the night.

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Day 9

Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Take a short flight to Flores, in the dense sticky jungles of northern Guatemala. You’ll have a guided tour of the vast 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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Day 10

Explore Tikal at leisure.

As your lodge as the best location of any from which to visit Tikal and you will have already been woken by howler monkeys we recommend you revisit the site first thing in the morning when fewer other visitors are around and the wildlife is at its most active.       

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Day 11

Fly to Guatemala City.

Fly back to the capital and transfer to your hotel for the night.

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Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Real Latin America Experts

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

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    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

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    Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Kathryn Rhodes
    Kathryn Rhodes - Travel Consultant

    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

Meet the team