Guatemala is surely one of the most remarkable places on earth. Slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee, its mountainous topography ranges from sea level to soaring volcanic peaks over 13,000 feet high; its climate zones include steamy tropical jungles, rain-shadow desert valleys, cool cloud forests, and chilly alpine plateaus; and it is home to an amazing diversity of Maya, Mestizo, European and Caribbean traditions. The Highland Maya, comprising roughly half Guatemala's population and speaking some 20 or so different dialects, have maintained a rich and colorful culture that gives Guatemala its basic character. So much to see, so much to leave you marvelling, so much to make you want to return to Guatemala again and again. We have been exploring Guatemala since 1969-- and each year we learn new secrets.
Every year since 1987 we have led a very special trip to Guatemala, and the last year of the 20th century is no exception! Rutahsa's Guatemala-2000 Adventure will take place July 16 - Aug. 4 (Aug. 6, including Tikal). The trip will be timed to maximize the probability that we can witness the wonderful Rabín Ajau ceremony in Cobán, which is usually held on the third Saturday in July.
Here's our itinerary:
Sun., July 16: Fly from the U.S. to Guatemala City; settle in at the Hotel Pan American, then take a walking tour of the Plaza Mayor area: the Palacio Nacional, Catedral Nacional, and the central market-- a great place to begin to get acquainted with all the colorful textiles and other crafts of Guatemala.
Mon., July 17: Travel eastward down into the Motagua Valley, passing through an area of rain-shadow desert, stopping at archeological and geological sites of interest along the way, to cross the border into neighboring Honduras, ending the day cooling off in the pool at the Hotel Marina in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. To see more of the Hotel Marina Copán, click here: Marina Copán; then hit your "back" button to return to this trip description.
Tues., July 18: All day at Copán Ruins National Park, a 1000-year-old Classic Maya site famed for its marvelous carvings, which are better preserved here than in most Maya sites due to the use of volcanic rock that resists weathering. In addition to the numerous stelae depicting Copan's kings, there are pyramids and temples, and a fine ceremonial ballcourt, where the ritual game was played for keeps. Just as of 1999, a series of archeological exploration tunnels underneath the ancient pyramids was opened to the public, revealing the completely intact buried temple known as Rosalila. In addition to the pyramids and temples, there is the new Museum of Sculpture and also the old Copán Museum which houses a cache of amazing flint eccentrics discovered recently in a buried temple, plus many other wonderful objects. Finally, the town of Copán itself is such a pleasant, friendly country town, a really nice place to spend a day. Second night at the Hotel Marina.
Weds., July 19: Return to Guatemala, and head further east down the Motagua Valley. Visit the small, but important Maya ruins of Quiriguá; the stelae here are the tallest in the Maya realm, and some of the most exquisitely carved. Then on to Puerto Barrios on the Gulf of Honduras, Guatemala's main port city. Here we'll take a boat to the sleepy coastal town of Livingston. At this quaint port town we will get a glimpse of an entirely different culture, the Black Carib culture of the Caribbean coast. Lodging at the waterside Hotel Tucán Dugú.
Thurs., July 20: Today we go by motorboat up the famous limestone gorge of the Río Dulce. We are attempting to arrange a visit to a Q'eqchi' Maya village to see handicrafts, including handmade paper products, made by Q'eqchi' women. If this doesn't work out we will certainly visit the Ak'Tenamit Q'eqchi' Women's Cooperative, where the crafts are sold. Afterwards we will continue upriver, passing through the Golfete as we motor on to El Castillo, a colonial fortress that once guarded the Kingdom of Goathemala from raiding buccaneers. We will overnight at the nearby Hotel Vinás del Lago, a small hotel (we'll pretty well fill it) on the water's edge. Rooms are air conditioned, and breakfast is included!
Fri. July 21: After a visit to the historic fortress, we will board our bus again and head for the coolness of the Chuacús Mountains. Overnight at the Posada del Quetzal, in delightful bungalows, and enjoy the change of climate: instead of being thankful for the lake breeze, here you may want to light the fire in your cabin's fireplace!
Sat., July 22: Up very early, well before dawn today, if you want to see the Resplendent Quetzal, perhaps the most beautiful bird on earth. The quetzal is simply indescribable, but I'll try: the male has a head and shoulders of shimmering metallic emerald feathers, a scarlet red breast, and black wings and tail. Add to this emerald plumes that droop down over the shoulders like some pompous 19th-century general's epaulettes, plus four long tail plumes that flow like a horse's tail when he flies, and you have a truly extravagant bird. In Classic Maya times only the nobility were allowed to wear quetzal plumes in their dress. The female of the species is more sedate, but also very beautiful. Today this gorgeous bird, which is the national symbol of Guatemala, suffers from habitat loss as cloud forest is cut for timber and cleared for agriculture. We will go to a biosphere reserve to see the birds-- and we have been successful in sighting them three out of the last four years. After breakfast we'll go for a hike in the cloud forest to see lush tropical plants in abundance.
Next, on to the major coffee town of Cobán and to our delightfully 19th-century-style lodgings at La Posada. Don't worry, it's totally charming, and not so last-century as to not have hot water and other amenities. And La Posada's kitchen crew turn out food that is truly quality and scrumptious! There's a big city market in Cobán that is worth visiting in the remains of the afternoon.
Sun., July 23: Today we drive north from Cobán into scenic karst mountains and prime coffee country, following a bumpy, but all-weather gravel road to the town of Lanquín. After checking into the Hotel El Recreo and picking up some picnic snacks in town, we'll continue on to the fabulous Semuc Champey for an afternoon of picnicking, swimming and relaxing.
The Semuc is one of nature's wonders: the Río Cahabón has cut a narrow canyon through a limestone ridge, intersecting a water-bearing stratum. Springs issuing from this stratum have deposited such enormous quantities of travertine that the entire river has been bridged over for several hundred meters. Atop the travertine bridge are a series of clear green pools, each cascading over a travertine dam, down into the next, forming the most idyllic series of tropical paradise swimming holes imaginable. Yet just at the upstream end of these serene pools one encounters the startling sight of a raging whitewater stream disappearing into the open maw of the gaping tunnel under the travertine bridge. Watch your step here-- there is no saving anyone who slips into this roaring maelstrom!
At dusk, a short hike from our hotel brings us to Grutas de Lanquín where we can watch the evening bat flight pour out of the cave entrance over the huge nacimiento of the Río Lanquín. And we can visit the impressive cave, so bring your flashlights on this outing.
Mon., July 24: We return to Cobán, timing our arrival to take advantage of the excellent cuisine of La Posada for lunch. After eating we will visit an orchid "farm", and, perhaps, a coffee plantation. The orchid "farm" is not just a delight to visit, it is actually a major orchid species rescue operation. Tens of thousands of orchids have been saved from trees felled by the Maya clearing land for agriculture. Hundreds of species, many new to science, have been collected. This valuable salvage and botany program has become the life's work of a remarkable German-Guatemalan family.
If time permits, we'll visit a coffee finca, i.e., plantation, before leaving Cobán, to see how the bean that so many of us could not face the day without is grown, harvested and processed. Then on for a short distance to the Park Hotel near the town of Santa Cruz Verapaz. Included in the park's facilities is a little zoo. I don't much like to see animals in cages, but it does prvoide a chance for you to see some Guatemalan wildlife up close.
Tues., July 25: Today we drive another all weather gravel road through some of the most rugged mountains in Guatemala, up and over ranges, and plunging down into deep valleys, following along a major fault zone (part of the plate tectonic boundary separating the North American plate from the Caribbean plate). We'll lunch along the way-- nothing fancy, that's for sure, so you might want to bring some snacks bought back in Cobán. And by mid-afternoon we end up in the Ixil town of Nebaj.
Nebaj is famous for the striking traje of the Nebaj women. This town and two others form the "Ixil Triangle", an area of Ixil-speaking Maya, and an area that was very hard-hit by both the Guatemalan army and the guerilleros during La Violencia (early 1980s). We will learn some of this sad history while we are here, and we will see that, happily, the bad times are past and life here is improving.
Weds., July 26: From Nebaj we recross a major mountain massif, descend again into the valley of the Río Chixoy, and then climb up on the central volcanic plateau as we head for the city of Santa Cruz del Quiché, which we should reach around midday. After lunch, we'll take a side trip to visit Zacualpa, a Maya town virtually unknown to tourists. In Zacualpa, we want to see one of the most striking of all the native costumes, featuring a bold huipil (traditional blouse) of red and purple. Once you have seen other towns in which the effects of tourists are obvious, you will appreciate having visited Nebaj and Zacualpa all the more. Tourism, it must be admitted, has both its benefits and its negatives for the people it touches.
After a couple of hours in Zacualpa, we will finish today's journey by continuing on to Chichicastenango, approximately an hour and a half from Zacualpa. In "Chichi" we will lodge in the Mayan Inn, a famous hostelry for over half a century. Each room is unique, and all are furnished with antiques, including some colonial pieces of museum quality. The food is excellent, and service is provided by turbaned Maxeños, i.e., K'iche' Maya men of Chichicastenango, in full traje. To learn more about the Mayan Inn, visit their website: Mayan Inn, but don't forget to return to this trip description by hitting your "back" button. A night in the Mayan Inn is a memorable experience! Of course we've come to Chichi for its famous market, and you can start your shopping tonight as vendors begin setting up for tomorrow's big day.
Thurs., July 27: You may be startled awake by explosions around 6 AM, thinking a revolution is in progress, but it is only a typical market day in Chichi, and the people do love their bombas along with all the other noises, smells and color. This is without question the most colorful native market in all the Americas, with native vendors coming from long distances to sell their wares. See Rutahsa's website on Chichi's market by clicking here: Market day at Chichi.
After taking pictures and haggling for blankets, wall hangings, native blouses, men's shirts, ceramics, carved wooden masks, and all kinds of other crafts, antiques, and souvenirs, you'll be ready for lunch and then just to sit a while and watch the scenery roll by, as we head up and across the continental divide (over 10,000 ft) to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second most important city. Here we'll stay in the elegant Pensión Bonifaz, just off the main plaza. The Bonifaz has an excellent restaurant, and even an indoor swimming pool; check out the Bonifaz by clicking here: Pensión Bonifaz, and, as before, use your "back" button to continue with Rutahsa's trip description. In addition to the Bonifaz, there are quite a few good eateries within walking distance, and this is an interesting, European-flavored city.
Fri., July 28: Another up-and-at-'em-early day for those who want to see the spectacular Santiaguito volcanic dome, which requires an hour's ride up a road that's a bit rough and very steep, followed by short hike down through amazing tropical vegetation to an overlook. Your reward for this effort is a breathtaking view across the great 1902 explosion crater on the Pacific side of Volcán Santa María. Starting in 1922 and continuing today, a steaming grey mass of dacitic lava has pushed up into the crater. This active volcanic dome steams, will likely roar and rumble some while we watch it, and occasionally spews ash up into the air.
Back to the Bonifaz for breakfast, then some free time in town. In the afternoon we'll drive through the agricultural area around Zunil, where truck farming has transformed the mountainsides as well as the valley bottoms into a beautiful agricultural patchwork quilt. On past Zunil we'll arrive at the hot springs spa Fuentes Georginas to swim and relax and enjoy refreshments. Along the way are, weather permitting, wonderful views of Volcán Santa María and, occasionally, glimpses of Maya people performing costumbre, i.e. their traditional religious rites, in a cave across the valley from the road we travel. We'll spend a second night at the Pensión Bonifaz.
Sat., July 29: After breakfast we will leave Quetzaltenango en route for Lago Atitlán, via the coastal route. On the way out of the city we plan to stop for a tour of the Cantel textile mill, if this can be arranged. The mill produces much of the material used by Maya women for their cortes (skirts). Later we descend to the upper part of the coastal plain, passing through coffee and sugar cane plantations as we skirt the bases of the giant cones of the Pacific volcanic chain. Then we climb back up to the highlands to arrive at shimmering Lago Atitlán, which Aldous Huxley described as the most beautiful lake in the world. For all we know Huxley might have had his perceptions peyote- or mushroom-enhanced, but it isn't needed: this dramatic lake, sunk down in a great volcanic caldera, and flanked by three huge soaring cones is incredibly beautiful!
We'll turn off the pavement at San Lucas Tolimán and drive to the Tz'utujil Maya town of Santiago Atitlán. Here we'll overnight in the Posada Santiago, a great place built and run by a gringo ex-pat: swimming in the lake, good food, and a very interesting town to explore.
Sun., July 30: We'll have the morning to visit the ancient church of Santiago, the town market, possibly to visit the shrine of Maximón, and also to learn about Santiago's tragic recent history during "La Violencia" (1980s)-- from which the town has recovered remarkably. Santiago women still weave on the backstrap loom, and wear their distinctive traje which features a halo-like headwrap.
At noon we'll cross the lake by boat to Panajachel, while our bus backtracks around the lake to meet us on the far side.
In "Pana" we'll stay at the Hotel Tzanjuyú, a sort of faded queen of hotels in the town of Panajachel. Definitely past her prime, but with a location that none of the johnny-come-lately hotels can match, the Tzanjuyú is a wonderful lakeside resort. Lots of places to eat, lots of places to shop, and lots to do in the town of Panajachel. This town has a large foreign population and is sometimes called "Gringotenango" for its thorough gringo-ization. This town is interesting, and you will enjoy your stay here, but it is the extreme of what tourism can do to a town.
Mon., July 31: There will be some free time in the morning to explore and shop in Panajachel, or sleep in and go swimming later. But we'll get on the road by 10 AM, headed for Antigua Guatemala, arriving there around 5 PM, after a midday visit en route at the archeological site of Iximché, the ancient capital of the Kaqchikel Maya. Our hotel in Antigua is the Posada de don Rodrigo, consisting of several colonial homes joined together, and featuring several patios, gardens, and a daily marimba serenade.
Tues., Aug. 1: All day getting to know the charming city of Antigua and its massive earthquake-shattered colonial churches, convents, monasteries, and public buildings. In its heyday, Antigua was the capital of the Kingdom of Goathemala, and the third largest city in the New World (after Mexico City and Lima). Then it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes in 1773. Today it is a great tourist attraction for its colonial architecture and ambience. For more details on Antigua's history and architecture, see our Antigua website. Second night in the Posada de don Rodrigo.
Weds., Aug. 2: A hard choice today: There is so much to see and do in Antigua, that it's hard to leave it; some will choose to spend another full day here, and who can blame them? But for the hearty, today is the day we climb active Volcán Pacaya. This is a completely non-technical climb, but it is a real huffer-puffer. We hike for about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours to reach the peak at about 8550 ft (it changes from year to year because of the constant activity which alternately builds it up and blows it away!). A stupendous view along the Pacific volcanic chain is just one of the rewards for those who make the climb.
Over the years, we have seen Pacaya in quiet steam eruptions, explosively blasting bombs and ash skyward, and with glowing red streams of lava oozing down its flanks. We may get to peer into the fuming crater, or, if the volcano is in a strombolian phase, we will time our trip to see the fireworks at night. To see Pacaya in many different states of activity, visit our Pacaya webpage. Whatever it is doing, Pacaya is always exciting, and getting there is certainly breathtaking (both figuratively and literally!). This is an all day trip, and a hot shower at the end of the day to remove the ash that's worked its way into your clothing and your pores will sure feel fine. Third night at the Posada de don Rodrigo.
Thurs., Aug. 3: An easy day in Antigua. Explore more ruins. Visit any of several museums. Visit the jade shops, or an indigenous women's co-op selling fine weavings, or shop in the city marketplace or the new artesan's market. Try to figure out where and what kind of food to eat: plato típico, Italian, Chinese, vegetarian, or other... Or just relax in the central park and get your shoes shined. Lots to do here. Fourth night at the Posada de don Rodrigo.
Fri., Aug. 4: Today we go into Guatemala City to the airport. Those who end their Guatemala excursion today will fly out to the U.S., carrying tons of photos, souvenirs and memories of a remarkable country and even more remarkable people, indigenous and Europeanized.
Those who choose the 2-day Tikal extension will take an in-country flight across the Chuacús Mtns. (crossed earlier in the trip by road) and on north across the Petén lowlands to the town of Flores. From here the Jungle Lodge will provide bus transporation and an introductory lecture on the countryside and Tikal Ruins as you motor an hour to the park. Once in Tikal National Park, you'll have a guided tour to the great plaza mayor, flanked by the soaring pyramids of Temple I and Temple II, then return to the Jungle Lodge for lunch. After lunch you can return to the sprawling archeological complex on your own to prowl amid crumbling, jungle-encrusted temples, palaces, causeways, pyramids, and numerous ruined edifices of unknown purpose.
In addition to the amazing ruins of a once populous Classic Maya city, Tikal is also a wonderful site for its lowland tropical jungle, its brilliant birds and other wildlife. You'll see parrots, toucans, toucanettes, hummingbirds, oropendula, the beautiful ocellated turkey, and many other avian inhabitants of the jungle. And you'll almost certainly see foxes, guatuza (agouti), pisotes (coatimundi), and spider monkeys. You might see howler monkeys, deer, peccary, small alligators in the water hole near the hotel, or other jungle beasts. Tikal is really a wonderful site, but it is hot! Fortunately, the Jungle Lodge has a pool!
Sat., Aug. 5: Get up early today and enter the ruins before breakfast to take advantage of the cool morning air; maybe you can watch sunrise from Temple IV, an awesome experience. You've got the morning to explore the ruins further and to visit the archeological museum. Then, after lunch, board the bus and return to Flores to fly back to Guatemala City. Here you'll shuttle back to Antigua, less than an hour's drive, to spend a final quiet evening in Antigua at the Quinta de las Flores, a bit more removed from the center of town than the Posada de don Rodrigo. You can still easily walk to your favorite restaurant, but the peace of this location will help you gather your thoughts about packing to leave on the morrow, and what you want to visit when next you return to Guatemala. This much is for sure: you'll want to come back!
Sun., Aug. 6: Shuttle in to the airport and fly away home.
A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE: A CLOUD FOREST Q'EQCHI' VILLAGE EXTENSION!
For those willing to rough it for a truly unusual experience, Rutahsa Adventures will offer for the first time "a day in the life of a Q'eqchi' Maya family", arranged through the environmental group "Proyecto Ecológico Quetzal", an NGO helping Q'eqchi' Maya develop a sustainable lifestyle that aids in the preservation of the cloud forest habitat of the quetzal.
Here is the itinerary being discussed with PEQ for this extension:
Sun., Aug. 6: Travel from Guatemala City to Cobán where we will overnight. Proyecto Ecológico Quetzal staff members will meet with us and introduce PEQ's project with a slide show and handouts.
Mon., Aug. 7: Travel by 4WD minibus 1 1/2 hours from Cobán to starting point for the three-hour hike up into the Sierra Caquipec cloud forest to reach the Q'eqchi' village of Chicacnab. At this village of 78 families PEQ has established a scientific station, where we will have lunch.
After lunch PEQ guides will introduce us to the cloud forest, insects, birds and geology of the area. Supper will be at the research station.
Tues., Aug. 8: After breakfast at the PEQ research station, Q'eqchi' guides will pick us up for a four-hour hike into the cloud forest to observe quetzals, howler monkeys and other wildlife. We will visit a holy cave and a lookout point where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to the volcanoes towering above Antigua. Lunch will be a picnic during the hike.
In the afternoon our group will split into pairs to visit Q'eqchi' families and overnight with them. You can learn to make tortillas, learn about weaving, and observe and participate in many aspects of the daily life of a Maya family.
Weds., Aug. 9: After breakfast with our host families, we meet back at the scientific station, say goodbye to Chicacnab and begin the hike back down the mountain. Upon arriving back in Cobán we'll take our transportation back to Guatemala City for a final overnight in the Hotel Pan American.
The cost and other details of this extension are yet to be worked out, but if you are interested in participating in this very special experience, please let us know ASAP, as the number of people who want to do this can affect the cost per person. Your participation in this extension will promote intercultural understanding and support a very worthy environmental cause.
Thurs., Aug. 10: Fly away back to the U.S. loaded with new experiences,
souvenirs, photos, and memories for a lifetime!
ESTIMATED COST OF THE EXCURSION:
The above prices are estimates, based on the cost of the 1999 excursion, but should be good as long as Guatemala's economy and the exchange rate remain relatively stable as they have for several years.
A minimum of 8 travelers is necessary to make this trip go; a maximum of 16 will be allowed. The 1999 trip sold out and interested parties are advised to make their reservations early.
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala-2000 Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric Finch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a reservation, request a trip application blank or send a check made out to Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., for the amount of $450, to 299 Allen Hollow Rd., Cookeville, TN 38501. Once your trip application blank has been received and your deposit accepted by Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., you will be guaranteed a space on this excursion. Your deposit will be fully refunded if for any reason the trip is cancelled. If you decide to cancel your reservation, your deposit will be fully refunded provided cancellation is made before Jan. 16, 2000. After Jan. 16 there will be a cancellation penalty of $225 if cancellation is made before April 16. In the event of cancellation after April 16 the full deposit is subject to retention.
To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
Thanks for visiting!