Rutahsa Adventures' 2008 Guatemala excursion will be held Oct. 21 - Nov. 5 in order to feature the colorful and fascinating Day of the Dead Festival held in Santiago Sacatepéquez on All Saints Day (Nov. 1). Our annual Guatemala excursion for 2005 featured this folkloric celebration and all our travelers were enchanted...we have had requests to do this again (and we want to see it again ourselves), so here we go...
But the Day of the Dead ceremonies are only the tip of the iceberg! Guatemala without a doubt is one of the most remarkable places on earth, full of marvelous places and people. While only about the size of Tennessee, Guatemala's varied 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 plateaux; and it is home to an amazing diversity of Maya, Mestizo, European and Caribbean traditions. The Highland Maya, comprising roughly half of Guatemala's population and speaking over 20 different languages, have maintained a rich and colorful culture that gives Guatemala its special flavor. There is so much to see, so much to leave you marveling, so much to make you want to return to Guatemala again and again. And this is why we have been exploring Guatemala since 1969-- and each year learning new secrets.
Every year since 1987 we have organized a very special trip to Guatemala, and 2008 is no exception! The especially unusual highlights of this year's excursion will be the Day of the Dead Festival, a visit to two Mam Maya communities far off the beaten track where traditional Maya costume is still preserved in all its glorious color, an overnight stay at a rustic lodge high in the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains, and a hike to a dramatic viewpoint overlooking a steaming volcanic crater. Of course, we will also visit colonial Antigua, dazzling Lake Atitlán and the Chichi market. We'll also make a cross-border foray into Honduras to visit the Classic Maya site of Copán. A two-day extension to magnificent Tikal National Park will also be offered.
This time of year, by the way, is one of the best seasons to visit Guatemala, weatherwise. The rainy season is ending, the country is gloriously green, and skies are generally smiling.
Here's our itinerary:
Tu. Oct. 21: Fly from home to Guatemala City; you will be met at the airport and taken 45 km to lovely Antigua Guatemala to settle into the Posada de Don Rodrigo, originally the sumptuous home of a colonial aristocrat, now tastefully remodeled into an attractive hotel. The "PDR" is very conveniently located just a block and a half from the main plaza of Antigua and is a great place to headquarter while you are getting to know Antigua. For a preview, visit the PDR's webpage: Posada de Don Rodrigo.
This evening you'll enjoy the refreshing climate of Antigua (altitude around 5020 ft) and start to get to know your way around this romantic town. We'll have supper as a group, so that introductions can be made all around.
We. Oct. 22: AM: We'll go on a half-day walking tour of Antigua, guided by Liz Bell, author of one of the best Antigua guidebooks, who will take us to some of the more important colonial monuments, giving us a cook's tour of places not normally accessible to visitors. PM: Free time to explore more ruined churches, convents and monasteries. Two sites not to miss: Capuchinas Convent and Santa Clara Convent.
In its heyday, Antigua was the capital of the Kingdom of Goathemala, and the third largest city in the New World (surpassed only by 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 website Monumental Antigua. A visit to the "Casa Popenoe", a lovingly restored colonial home is a must for lovers of Spanish architecture and period furnishings. Anyone really seriously interested in the architecture of Antigua should ask bibliophile Mike Shawcross for a copy of Verle Annis' scholarly tome The Architecture of Antigua Guatemala, 1543-1773. This long-out-of-print work has recently been reprinted and Mike has copies for sale (we can introduce you to Mike).
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon boosting the local economy shopping for beautiful handwoven Maya textiles, jade jewelry and other types of artesanía for which Guatemala is justly famous. A great place for textiles and other native crafts is Nim Po't, on the same street as our hotel, just a block away walking toward and through the landmark arch that bridges the street. Second night at the PDR.
Th. Oct. 23: AM: We'll board our private bus and head out of Antigua, passing between the soaring cones of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, following a paved road that drops down to the Pacific coastal plain. Near Esquintla we'll turn and head north through the hot country of sugar cane fields and cattle ranches. After a brief refreshment stop we turn eastward and head back up into the cool volcanic highlands, passing through vast coffee fincas (plantations) that blanket the fertile slopes of Volcán Atitlán. As we approach the town of San Lucas Tolimán you'll get your first thrilling glimpses of shimmering Lake Atitlán.
From San Lucas to the T'zutujil Maya town of Santiago Atitlán is just a short drive, but a very interesting one as we will be passing through small plots of land tilled in traditional manner by Maya families. The contrast between these small family fields and the great mechanized sugar cane fields of the coastal plain or the sprawling coffee fincas that we passed through earlier is striking.
PM: We should arrive at the Posada Santiago, our home for the next two nights, in time for a late lunch. Food at the Posada is great; for a snack we highly recommend the guacamol and homemade tortilla chips. The Posada is run by a couple of American ex-pats, David and Susie, and you will find them an interesting couple to get to know; the Posada has an unusual history and you should be sure to take a look at the humorous pamphlet in their library "The 24 Questions Dave Just Won't Answer Anymore". For more information, visit the Posada's homepage and take their virtual tour..be sure to click on "Activities" to see the tree dogs (David's sense of humor showing through!): Posada de Santiago.
The afternoon will be free time to relax, enjoy the Posada's lovely grounds, pool and hot tub, or go for a swim in the lake (chilly) off the Posada's private dock. David makes killer margaritas, and this would be a good time to indulge, if you are so inclined.
The more ambitious and restless might consider a 15-minute hike from the Posada to the Peace Park memorializing the victims of a massacre committed here by the Guatemalan Army in 1990 during La Violencia, part of the Mayan people's tragic history, but an instance in which a community stood up against oppressive authority and eventually won: negative international publicity forced the Army to withdraw from Santiago.
Just beyond the Peace Park is yet another tragic scene, this one geological rather than socio-political: the small community of Panabaj was partially buried by a mudslide that descended from the steep volcanic slopes one night following torrential rains from Hurricane Stan in 2005. Many of the victims were never recovered. Today you can walk out over the surface of the dried mudflow, presently being reclaimed by vegetation; it is only a few feet thick in most places, but it was deadly in its speed and overpowering force.
Fr., Oct. 24: This morning we will take a walking tour of the town of Santiago Atitlán, which in pre-conquest days was the capital of the Tz'utujil Maya nation. Our guide will be Dolores Ratzun, a Tz'utujil woman and native of Santiago, formerly married to an American author. Dolores will show us through the town with an insider's knowledge. We will visit the ancient church of Santiago, see its altar carved by native artisans and replete with Maya symbology, see the "navel of the earth", the town market, pay a visit to the shrine of the native deity Maximón, and also learn about Santiago's tragic recent history during La Violencia-- from which the town has recovered remarkably.
Santiago women still weave on the backstrap loom, and still wear their distinctive traje (i.e., traditional clothing), which features a halo-like headwrap. To see more photos of Santiago traje, as well as native costume from all over Guatemala, take a look at our website on Traje of the Highland Maya.
After Dolores' guided introduction to Santiago you will have free time to visit the many crafts shops that line the main street leading down to the town dock. Just be sure to remember your way back to the Posada de Santiago; should you forget, you can always ask a local...and keep asking from time to time as you wend your way back through the town. Or, if you speak some Spanish, you can hire a "tuk tuk" (a three-wheeled motorcycle cab) for Q5 to take you back to the hotel.
Second night at the Posada Santiago.
Sa., Oct. 25: After breakfast we reboard our chartered bus and begin a drive around the west side of the great caldera (a basin formed by volcanic subsidence) that contains Lake Atitlán. This will be a new route for Rutahsa Adventures, passing through the major Maya town of San Pedro Tolimán, then climbing up the caldera rim on a recently improved road through Santa María Visitación connecting to the Panamerican Highway. We hope this new route will afford some great views of that sapphire jewel Lake Atitlán.
Upon joining the Panamericana, we will turn northwestward towards Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second most important city and, for a brief time in the 19th century, capital of the breakaway state of Los Altos.
Shortly before reaching the city we'll take a detour to visit the famous yellow church of San Andrés Xecul. The facade of this colonial church is vividly painted to highlight the many fascinating plaster figures and motifs that reveal the syncretism of Catholicism with native traditions.
Quetzaltenango, familiarly known as "Xela" (pronounced "Shay-lah"), is unlike any other Guatemalan city, at least in its historic center. This is in large part because it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1902 and rebuilt in a style that is more neoclassic European than Spanish Colonial. Our hotel, the Pensión Bonifaz, is located just on the corner of the central plaza, within easy walking distance of the central market, an internet cafe, several restaurants, the once elegant opera-house-style civic theatre and a couple of museums. Xela is a pleasant city to stroll around in, but remember that the elevation is 7700 ft and it is cool --sometimes chilly-- in the evenings!
After settling into our rooms we'll meet in the lobby and go for an orientation walk, including some of the restaurant locations, but note that the Bonifaz has the some of the best food in town.
Su., Oct. 26: An early morning adventure is scheduled for those who want to view an active volcano and who are willing to arise early and hike a bit. Those who prefer may sleep in!
The morning excursion will leave shortly before dawn; wear your hiking boots and something warm, preferably something you can layer then take off layers as the morning warms up. We'll go by bus through the sleeping town, then up a steep road towards the towering cone of Volcán Santa María, and on towards a forestry plantation. Here we sometimes encounter a locked gate and have to get out and walk; more often there is a watchman who can unlock the gate and let our bus through, thus saving us about 45 min of hiking. One way or another we reach Hacienda Santiago where a trail, steep in places, leads us down through a pasture then on down through tree ferns and other lush tropical vegetation to a small flat area where once, long ago, a small hotel stood (though you will doubt this considering how difficult the access is even today!). This is the overlook for Volcán Santiaguito and the viewpoint from which we hope to witness a real live (but preferably small!) volcanic eruption.
In 1902, not only was there an earthquake that devastated Quetzaltenango, but Santa María volcano also chose this year to blow (the two events were probably related tectonically). Much like our own Mt. St. Helens in 1980, the flank of the volcano was destroyed by a mighty blast --on the Pacific side of the cone, fortunately for Xela-- that ripped away the mountainside leaving a huge explosion crater. Some twenty years later pasty dacite lava began to push up out of the crater floor forming over the years the volcanic dome known as Santiaguito, said to be the largest dacite dome in the world, with a volume of about two cubic kilometers. The steep sides of the dome collapse from time to time, sending avalanches of incandescent ash (small nuées ardentes) streaming down the gullies below the dome. The more common activity, which we hope to witness and photograph, is upward spouting of steam and ash, accompanied by a roaring noise like a jet plane passing close overhead. Depending on the wind direction, we might get dusted by a little ash. Or, Santiago could be totally quiescent today...volcanoes are moody and hard to predict. Whether or not we witness an eruption, we'll enjoy great scenery and an invigorating hike. BTW, the amble down to the overlook is an easy 10-15 min stroll, but coming back up is a real huffer-puffer, so take it easy!
We should be back at the Bonifaz between 9 and 10 AM for a late breakfast. Their chilaquiles with green sauce are our favorite breakfast dish.
Around noon we'll board up and drive just a few kilometers out of Xela, passing through Almolonga with its thermal baths (note at least two styles of native blouses known as hipiles worn here), to the truck farming center of Zunil. The land around Zunil is some of the most fertile in the republic, and the Mayan farms form a georgeous checkerboard filling the valley bottoms and continuing up impossible slopes with multiple hues of green.
At Zunil we turn off the main road and drive another eight kilometers through a truly beautiful patchwork quilt of fields, stopping for photos along the way. The road climbs into cloud forest, then passes by sulfurous-smelling fumaroles, to arrive at Fuentes Georginas, a rustic hot springs spa. Here we can relax in a pool of thermal spring water, surrounded by luxuriant tropical cloudforest growth. Be sure to bring your swimsuit and a towel. Changing rooms are by the pool.
Those who didn't eat lunch early at the Bonifaz can quell their hunger pangs now at the small poolside restaurant. Hikers who had a late breakfast may wish to enjoy the pool first and snack later.
After a stay at the springs-- the group can decide how long-- we will return to Zunil where we can visit a women's co-op (provided it is open on Sundays). Here every purchase we make helps the native weavers more than when we buy through marketplace middlemen.
Just a block downhill from the co-op we can get an agricultural education by visiting the huge vegetable market where fruits and vegetables of myriad types and vast quantities are sold for consumption all over Guatemala, and even exported to Mexico. This is a real eye-opener!
Like Santiago Atitlán, Zunil is a center of Maximón worship. There are several caves near the town where costumbre (traditional ritual) is performed frequently. In fact, we sometimes can see ceremonies on-going in one cave entrance.
Second night at Pensión Bonifaz.
Mo., Oct. 27: Today we roll northwestward along the Panamerican Highway to the city of Huehuetenango, capital of the department (state) of that name. In "Huehue" (pronounced "Way Way") we'll settle into the Hotel Casa Blanca, not luxurious, but one of the newest hotels in Huehue and centrally located.
After checking in and a few minutes to freshen up, we'll go for an orientation walk and decide on a place for lunch.
After lunch we'll drive a short distance to the ruins of Zaculeu. This is a post-Classic Maya site showing strong Mexican influences. At the time of the Spanish invasion Zaculeu was the capital of the Mam Maya. The Spaniards, led by Pedro de Alvarado, laid siege to the site in 1525, eventually overcoming native resistance and destroying the Mam stronghold. Archeological restoration of the site first took place in 1948, funded by United Fruit.
At Zaculeu we can see plastered pyramids and remains of temples with Mexicanized architecture. There is a restored ballcourt where the sacred, but deadly, Mesoamerican ball game was played. There is also a special feature not seen by anyone except those who know where to look: a pre-Columbian handprint preserved in original plaster remaining on one of the ruined buildings.
Tu., Oct. 28: Eat a hearty breakfast today, for a hike is planned! We will visit the Mam Maya town of San Juan Atitán, then hike across the mountains for several hours to reach another Mam town, Todos Santos Cuchumatán.
San Juan Atitán is seldom visited by outsiders, and you'll find out why. The road to San Juan is steep in places and not suitable for our bus, so we will ride standing up in the back of pick-up trucks. The pickups are provided with rails to hold on to and so you cannot fall out; this is the native system of transportation. But we won't go completely native--to be completely authentic we would have to be all crammed into just one truck!
San Juan is a completely Mam Maya town. When we were last there (2001) absolutely everyone was in traditional native dress, not just the women, but the men, too, and the children were miniatures of the adults...we were lucky enough to be in town when school let out for lunch and the kids were truly beautiful! The elaborate San Juan elaborate costume is described in some detail on our traje website.
From San Juan, at around 7500-8000 ft elevation, we will hike about four hours along ancient trails, crossing three ridges between San Juan and Todos Santos. Hiking boots are a must, and you should have a daypack in which to carry your water, snacks, rain poncho (just in case), sunblock, and camera. You should be aware that this is a moderately strenuous (some will consider it genuinely strenuous) hike passing through elevations from 8000 up to 10,000 feet.
Anyone not wishing to hike can skip the visit to San Juan and ride the bus from Huehue to Todos Santos, arriving there well ahead of the hikers and having plenty of time to look around the town, visit the market, admire the distinctive costume, etc.
Note: Both hikers and non-hikers need to carry some snacks for lunch, as there are no suitable eateries along the trail or in Todos Santos.
After crossing the last ridge (at around 10,170 ft) the hikers will descend to the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán at 8140 ft. Shortly before reaching the town, the trail passes through Cumanchúm, an archeological site consisting of an ancient pyramid cluster. Some of the mounds now topped by the weathered crosses made famous by anthropologist Maud Oakes in her book "The Two Crosses of Todos Santos".
Like San Juan, Todos Santos is a Mam Maya town. Nonetheless, the native dress here is totally different. Distinctive features of the Todos Santo men's traje include the red and white striped pants, the split-legged dark wool overpant (use of which seems to be dying out) and the finely striped shirt featuring huge, intricately decorated collar. The Todos Santos women's huipil features a distinctive collar decorated with rick-rack. And as in San Juan, the children of Todos Santos are dressed just like their parents. Again, for more information on the native dress, visit our traje website.
How much time the hiking party has to enjoy Todos Santos depends on how well we hike and what time we arrive. However, by 3 or 4:00 PM we should be boarding our bus to drive on to our destination for the night, the Unicornio Azul, or "Blue Unicorn" Lodge, about an hour and a half drive from Todos Santos.
The Unicornio Azul is a very special place, designed not so much as a hotel but as a lodge for family outings with the focus on horseback riding. It is owned and operated by a Guatemalan husband/French wife couple, and is located in a once glaciated area of the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains at over 10,000 ft elevation. Accommodations are rustic, and inasmuch as they were designed for family groups (rooms typically sleep 3 to 5), you should plan to become good friends with other members of our group early in the excursion, for we will be sharing rooms here! For a preview of the lodge, click here: Unicornio Azul.
N.B.: While at the Blue Unicorn all meals will be included in the tour cost: supper tonight, breakfast and lunch on the morrow.
We., Oct. 29: AM: After breakfast we will have the morning for resting up from yesterday's hike, enjoying the splendid alpine scenery and refreshing air, and, for the energetic, hiking about the grounds or horseback riding. A one hour ride is included in the cost of lodging for all who wish to ride (additional riding time at additional cost).
Lunch will be our last meal at the Unicornio, then at 1 PM we will again board our bus and head for Chichicastenango. After driving across the formerly glaciated plateau we will stop at a mirador for a view out across the central volcanic highlands towards the Pacific-- a truly spectacular view when the weather cooperates. Then we wind down the dramatic mountain front to reach the town of Chiantla. A ways beyond Chiantla we take a brand new highway to Santa Cruz del Quiché, capital of the department of Quiché, and continue on another hour to reach Chichi. Driving time from the Unicornio to Chichi should be about 3 1/2 hours exclusive of photo stops.
Upon arrival at Chichi we will go directly to the Mayan Inn, a famous old hostelry. The Mayan Inn has been receiving guests for three quarters of 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. A night in the Mayan Inn is a memorable experience. Of course, we've come to Chichi for its world-famous native market, and you can start your shopping tonight as vendors begin setting up for tomorrow's big market day.
Th., Oct. 30: 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 perhaps to show off your newly acquired treasures to your fellow travelers. After lunch you might have time for another short visit to the market, but by 3 PM we need to be rolling down the road across the central highlands back to Antigua.
Back in Antigua we will take up our familiar lodgings at the Posada de Don Rodrigo.
Fr., Oct. 31: A full free day in Antigua! By now you know your way around this charming city and have an idea which colonial ruins, museums, shops, and fine restaurants you still need to visit. We highly recommend a mid-morning trip to nearby La Azotea Cultural Center (Azotea provides a shuttle service for under a dollar) where you can tour a working coffee processing plant, experience Casa K'ojom museum of native music, and enjoy textile displays, a video and other cultural exhibits. Or you can head out on your own to explore more ruins or visit any of several museums in Antigua. Visit the jade shops, or an indigenous women's co-op selling fine weavings, or shop in the city marketplace (a wondrously bewildering complex) or the nearby artesans' 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. Use your guide book and enjoy the day--there is so much to see and enjoy in Antigua.
As usual, for the energetic, we have another option: a half-day trip to Volcán Pacaya National Park. This involves an hour and a half bus ride from Antigua to the park, leaving around noon (exact time to be announced on the trip), followed by an uphill hike of about an hour and a half to the crest of an ancient volcanic rim. From this rim you get great views of the highly active cinder cone of Pacaya. It is also possible to hike on another 15 minutes to approach within a few feet of an active lava flow, something that is quite exciting! [N.B.: Due to a 2005 lava flow it is no longer very practical to ascend the main peak, though some visitors still do-- but this means they miss seeing the currently active flows up close.]
The return hike down is likely to be in the dark, returning to Antigua around 8 PM. The trail is easy, but you do need a flashlight! If the cone is in an explosive mode, you will appreciate the timing of this excursion: the night views from the old crater rim can be quite spectacular with volcanic fireworks!
For more on Volcán Pacaya, visit our website Pacaya Volcano.
Second night at the PDR.
Sa., Nov. 1: Today is Día de Todos Los Santos, that is, All Saints Day on the Christian calendar. However, in parts of Mexico and Guatemala it is celebrated as the Day of the Dead. After breakfast, we will board our bus for a short ride to the small highland Maya town of Santiago Sacatepéquez where the celebration of the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has become a noteworthy event. Families gather in the cemetery to commune with the spirits of their ancestors, decorating graves with flowers and sharing a meal --including fiambre, a special food made only for this ceremony-- with the dead. And colorful barriletes (kites), some of which are huge, are flown to the heavens for better communication between the living and the dead.
Although families gather to remember deceased loved ones, the spirit of the occasion is one of a joyful community fair: vendors sell refreshments in the cemetery, there is competition among the kite flying teams (yes, the kites are so big that teamwork is required to get them aloft), people picnic amongst the graves, and visitors are welcome. You should be prepared for crowds, and it may require a real effort on the part of our driver to extricate us from the jam of vehicles, but that's all part of the fascinating experience.
For additional images and to get a better idea of what the Day of the Dead celebration is all about, we recommend you take a look at the following websites, but be sure to use your back button to return to our trip itinerary: Rosenfeld journal.
Third night at the PDR.
Su., Nov. 2: Today we are headed to Copán Ruins, which means crossing the border into Honduras (you can carve one more notch on your passport-- but take a good look at the stamp when your passport is returned to you!). However, long before reaching Copán, there is the small, but very important Maya ruins of Quiriguá. Here, exquisitely carved stelae are the tallest in the Maya realm and exceptionally well-preserved. Quiriguá is also famous for its bizarre zoomorphic boulders not found at other Maya sites. And in spite of its small size, Quiriguá is quite important historically: its king, Cauac Sky, defeated 18-Rabbit, the king of the larger and more powerful Maya city-state of Copán. This defeat was likely a factor in the subsequent political decline of Copán.
Upon arrival at the small rural city of Copán we will take up our lodgings at the Hotel Marina Copán. You will find the town charming, and full of friendly people. If we arrive in time, we will visit the small Copán Museum on the square. Though somewhat overshadowed now by the larger new museum out at the archeological site, this little museum displays some must-see treasures, most notably the large, exquisitely carved flint eccentrics, truly mind-boggling examples of fine art by master flint-knappers.
Mo., Nov. 3: All day at Copán Ruins National Park, starting with a guided tour of the 1000-year-old Classic Maya site. Copán is 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 Copán's kings, there are pyramids and temples, and a fine ceremonial ballcourt, where the ritual game was played for keeps. In 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, which houses many of the finest Copán sculptures (some of the stelae that you will have seen in the ruins are well-done replicas, with the originals moved into this museum for their preservation). 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 Marina Copán.
Tu., Nov. 4: Today we reluctantly leave endearing Copán, and yet with a certain degree of eagerness in the knowledge that we are returning to wonderful Antigua Guatemala. The trip takes about five driving hours, but we'll have stops at the border, at a noteworthy geologic site or two, and for lunch, so we've got things to see and do en route! Once back in Antigua, we'll settle into the PDR (or possibly, it's annex, La Posadita) for a final night.
We., Nov. 5: Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Today is the day to fly out to the U.S. (or to wherever home is), carrying tons of photos, souvenirs and memories of a remarkable country and even more remarkable people, indigenous and Europeanized, historic and present. Along with these memories of a great trip, you will carry with you a determination to return, for Guatemala is just too fantastic to visit only once!
For those with a little more time, the adventure is not yet over! We offer this two-day extension to the main trip so that you can visit the world-famous Classic Maya ruins of Tikal, its dense tropical jungle, and wonderful wildlife.
We., Nov. 5: Instead of flying back home, you will be picked up at the PDR early in the morning and taken to the Guatemala City airport for the flight out to Flores, the airport serving Tikal. At the airport you will be met by a representative of the Jungle Lodge and board their bus for the hour-long ride to Tikal National Park.
Upon arrival at the Jungle Lodge you will leave your luggage at the reception desk and go on a guided introductory tour of the sprawling archeological complex, passing through the great plaza, flanked by the soaring pyramids of Temple I and Temple II, then on to Temple IV or elsewhere. Depending on the interest and stamina of the group, this orientation tour can last two to four hours, so wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring water, snacks and sunblock.
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. Keep alert and you'll see parrots, toucans, toucanettes, hummingbirds, oropendolas, the beautiful ocellated turkey, and many other avian inhabitants of the jungle. And you'll almost certainly see foxes, guatuzas (agoutis), pisotes (coatimundi), and spider monkeys. You might see howler monkeys, deer, peccary, small alligators in the water hole near the visitor's center, or other jungle beasts. On our June 2001 trip one lucky Rutahsa Adventurer had a wonderful close-up view of a jaguar napping in a trail in mid-afternoon!
The guided visit will end back at the Jungle Lodge where you can have lunch (included) and then check into your cabaña.
For the afternoon you may want to return to the ruins. Birdwatching and wildlife viewing improves in the late afternoon and early evening. Recommended: an evening visit to the "Lost World" where the giant pyramid makes a great place to watch the jungle birds come in to roost for the evening and to await the sunset. (The ruins are officially closed at 6 PM, so a park guard may shoo you towards the park entrance before dark. But just in case he can be talked into letting you stay late, as sometimes happens, be sure to bring a flashlight for the walk back in the dark.)
Alternatively, you may want to visit the two Tikal museums, or enjoy the Jungle Lodge's small but refreshing swimming pool. Tikal really is a wonderful site, but it is hot! Fortunately, November is cooler than most of the year.
Th., Nov. 6: Get up early-- You can watch sunrise from high atop Temple IV. And by getting into the ruins early you both improve your chances of seeing wildlife as well as beat the heat.
If you are one of the early risers, you may want to come back to the Jungle Lodge for breakfast (which is included) then hit the ruins again to prowl and marvel amid crumbling, jungle-encrusted temples, palaces, causeways, pyramids, and numerous ruined edifices of unknown purpose.
Wherever you wander, you are sure to enjoy...however, do not fail to be back at the Jungle Lodge in time for the afternoon bus (generally at 2 PM, but check with your Tikal guide to be sure!) back to Flores for the return flight to Guate City, where you will be picked up and returned to the PDR in Antigua (or its annex, La Posadita) for your last night in Guatemala.
Fr. Nov. 7: An airport shuttle will pick you up at the PDR and take you to the Guatemala City airport for your international flight out. But we repeat-- we think you'll come back-- Guatemala is unforgettable, and it's impossible to see all its wonders in a single visit...not even with Rutahsa Adventures!
COST OF THE 2008 EXCURSION:
NOTE: Trip prices DO NOT include US-Guatemala-US air fare. Travelers are responsible for arranging their own air travel to and from Guatemala. We do provide airport transfers in at the beginning and out at the end of the excursion. For excellent prices on air fares to Guatemala, Rutahsa Adventures recommends Solar Tours at 1-800-388-7652, specialists in bargain priced flights to Latin America. And, of course, deals can be found by shopping on-line.
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala-2008 Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric Finch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a reservation, request a trip application blank now; when you receive it, fill it out and send it, along with a deposit check for $450 made out to Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., 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 canceled.
Starting in 1998 Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel began recommending Rutahsa Adventures' Guatemala excursions. For example, take a look at what Frommer's had to say about our 2002 Guatemala excursion: Frommer's review. And again, Frommer's recommends our Day of the Dead trip.
To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
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