Guatemala, the Land of the Maya, is the place to travel for an ethnic, scenic, adventure-ecotour that will blow your mind! Rutahsa Adventures will introduce you to the colorful Highland Maya people who proudly retain their customs and beliefs in spite of 500 years of European colonial influence. We will show you Copán, Quiriguá, Zaculeu, Tikal and other archeological sites dating back over a 1000 years, startling ruins of a once mighty civilization. And you will visit (and stay in) graceful and charming Spanish colonial homes, reliving the romantic aspects of Guatemala's turbulent colonial history. All this set amid the natural splendor of soaring volcanoes, dramatic mountain lakes, tropical lowland jungle and high cloud forest teeming with exotic fauna and flora. Who could ask for more?
Explore classic Mayan temples, climb an active volcano, swim in hot springs, hike cloud forest trails in search of the resplendent quetzal, explore a cavern, haggle with modern Mayan merchants in native markets.... Don't just dream of adventures that take you out of the ordinary, travel to Guatemala and experience your dreams.
Join Rutahsa Adventures for a trip to Guatemala like no other trip offered by any other travel service. We guarantee it. Reservations are now being taken for the 1999 Guatemala travel adventure, an 18-day excursion scheduled for late July-early August of 1999. The itinerary is described below.
Trip highlights include:
Trip inscription fee of $1950 includes RT air fare from Nashville to Guatemala City, all lodging (double occupancy rooms), ground transportation, bilingual guide, most museum and park entries, plus the Guatemala exit tax. Fee does not include: meals, beverages, souvenirs, or tips. [Allow $16-18 per day for meals in Guatemala.] As of the date of this writing (Aug. 31, 1998) this inscription fee is an estimate, based on 1998 costs; it is subject to change in the event of an air fare hike, or other cost increases beyond the control of Rutahsa Adventures.
Trip will be priced at $1350 for travellers who prefer to make their own flight arrangements or who wish to embark from a point of origin other than Nashville.
Tikal Extension: A 2-day trip extension to Tikal Ruins is offered for an additional $250. Extension fee includes round trip air fare from Guatemala City to Flores, transportation from Flores to Tikal National Park, lodging in the famous Jungle Lodge, park and museum entry fees. As in the case of the main trip inscription fee, this extension trip cost is subject to change in the event of an air fare or other major cost increase beyond the control of Rutahsa Adventures.
Although the price of this Guatemala excursion is very economical, this is NOT a trip based on budget accommodations or cheap transportation. All the hotels are of good to spectacular quality, and all possess a marvelous Central American ambience. The great price merely reflects our 30 years of experience in Guatemala: we know where the deals are and we have connections! Ground transportation is by private bus with a professional driver.
A minimum of eight travellers is necessary to make this trip go; a maximum of 16 participants will be allowed.
This trip is a unique experience: awesome scenery, wonderfully colorful indigenous people, fascinating history, astounding archeological sites, lush tropical jungle flora and exotic fauna, good food, and some interesting geology and geography thrown in to boot!
A deposit of $450 is required to secure a reservation for this excursion. This deposit will be 100% refunded if the trip is cancelled for any reason. For further information, or to send in your deposit, please contact:
Dr. Ric Finch
Dept. of Earth Sciences
Tennessee Technological University
Cookeville, TN 38505
Mon. 7/19: Fly from the U.S. to Guatemala City; stay at the Pan American Hotel just off the Plaza Constitucional, the very heart of the capital city. Afternoon walking tour of the Palacio Nacional, national cathedral, and central market.
Tues. 7/20: Visit the amazing giant relief map of Guatemala on the outskirts of the city. Next, leave Guatemala City for Copán, Honduras, descending from the volcanic highlands into the semi-desert of the upper Motagua Valley, with brief stops en route at little-known archeological sites. Enter Honduras via a backwoods border crossing that looks like a scene from a movie about banana republics! Overnight at Copán Ruins in the first-class Hotel Marina Copán.
Weds. 7/21: Walking tour of Copán Ruins, the splendid new Museum of Sculpture, the smaller old Copán Museum, and the interesting and friendly country town of Copán itself. Copán Ruins are the partially excavated and restored remains of a major Classic Maya city over 1000 years old. It is most famous for the abundance of sculpture found on the temple and palace walls, and in the form of statues known as stelae, depicting the ancient city's powerful kings. Another famous sight is Copán's fine ceremonial ballcourt, where the losers of ritual ballgames were put to death. Second night at the Hotel Marina Copán, enjoying their pool, and good restaurant and bar facilities.
Thur. 7/22: Return to Guatemala and drive to Quiriguá Ruins, a small, but important site with exceptionally fine stelae and unique zoomorphic boulders. Quiriguá was a vassal city-state to Copán, but rose up against its oppressor, defeating the larger city in the 8th century AD. From Quiriguá Ruins we will continue on to the north shore of Lago Izabal where we will overnight in a group of rustic bungalows on the waters's edge. Here at El Paraíso, which means "Paradise" we will enjoy the truly peaceful ambience of a Guatemalan hacienda, remote from city noises, smells and stresses. Step right outside your bungalow and jump in the lake; watch the wading shorebirds or parrots flocking in to roost for the evening; enjoy a marimba played by local Maya men at night.
Fri. 7/23: Today we can relax all day at El Paraíso. There are various interesting things to do, including a ride in a tractor-pulled trailer over to a wonderful swimming hole with a waterfall of hot water cascading into it. The truly adventurous can hike upstream a quarter of a mile, through a narrow canyon, to explore a spectacular cave. Swinging in a hammock on a bungalow porch, reading and maybe sipping a beverage, will prove irresistible to many.
For the afternoon, it should be possible for those interested to hire a boat and ride down the lake to visit a co-operative run by indigenous women. One of the more interesting crafts produced by the women here is handmade paper.
Sat. 7/24: Around 9 AM we board up, and drive along the north shore of the lake for some miles before heading up into the Chuacús Mountains. Part of the way the road follows the old bed of a railroad that once carried coffee --grown by German plantation owners in the Cobán region-- down to Lago Izabal to be shipped to Europe. After five and a half hours of driving, passing through shifting panoramas, we'll arrive at the Posada Montaña del Quetzal, in the cool elevations of cloud forest. The cabañas here have fireplaces, and relaxing by an evening fire --perhaps with an appropriate libation-- will feel very good indeed.
Sun. 7/25: Up before daylight for a short drive to a place where the resplendent quetzal can be seen feeding in the early morning. The quetzal, a near-indescribable bird covered in shimmering metallic emerald plumes, is one of the world's most beautiful creatures. In Classic Maya times, only the nobility were permitted to adorn themselves with the long tail plumes of the male quetzal. The bird is the national symbol of Guatemala, but unfortunately is threatened by habitat loss as cloud forest is cut for lumber and cleared for agriculture.
After breakfast back at our posada, we will go for a hike up into the mist-shrouded cloud forest, lush with giant hardwoods, tree ferns, bromeliads, orchids, waterfalls, and, for the lucky quiet hiker, possible glimpses of agouti or other wildlife.
Next, we continue on across the limestone mountains to the important coffee-growing town of Cobán. Here we'll visit an orchid farm and a coffee plantation. Our lodging will be the wonderful colonial-style Hotel La Posada, which has a comedor that turns out truly excellent food.
Mon. 7/26: Today is a long day on the road, traveling from Cobán via Ruta 7 along the Río Chixoy valley, through Uspantán, Sacapulas, and Aguacatán to the city of Huehuetenango in western Guatemala. Though a long day, the rewards are spectacular mountain vistas seldom seen by tourists. We will take a number of rest breaks along the way in a series of interesting Indian towns. As the day goes by, you will note that more and more native costume is evident, as we are getting into the "real" Guatemala, that is the Guatemala of the Highland Maya. In Hueheutenango, the departmental capital and a major regional city, we will stay in the Hotel Zaculeu.
Tues. 7/27: Today we'll be joined by Mike Shawcross, a well-known, long-time resident of Antigua Guatemala who has a special knowledge of and love for the Huehuetenango area. On our way out of "Huehue" we'll stop for an hour at Ruinas Zaculeu, a Mam fortress occupied at the time of the Spanish conquest. Although damaged when taken by the conquistadores, the site is relatively well preserved, and retains much of its original plaster. Your guide can even show you a Maya handprint in plaster a half a millenium old.
From Huehue we'll drive up to the mountain village of San Juan Atitán. The Mam dialect, one of Guatemala's 20-or more Maya dialects is spoken in San Juan, and the tradition of traje, that is, native costume, remains very strong here.
From San Juan, with Mike as our guide, we'll hike across the mountains to the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, about 10 km away. This is a hike of about 6 hours, with a lot of uphill. Mike says it's strenuous, but the rewards are "stupendous views". Our luggage-- and anyone who prefers not to hike-- will go around a different route with the bus-- to join us at our rustic hotel in Todos Santos. This Mam pueblo was made famous by anthropologist Maud Oakes with her two studies published in the 1950s ("The Two Crosses of Todos Santos" and "Beyond the Windy Place"). Todos Santos men and women all wear their distinctive traje, and the children are all decked out as miniatures of their parents. This will be a good place for travelers interested in textiles to buy some authentic pieces from the weavers who made them.
Weds. 7/28: Today we return to Huehue by bus, crossing glaciated valleys at nearly 12,000 ft above sea level in the Altos Cuchumatanes before descending the bold escarpment back down to the central plateaux. After lunch in Huehue we'll visit the huge city market, an excellent example of a "pristine" people's market (i.e., unaltered by tourism; you might not want to eat meat bought in the butcher area of this market, but the sights and scents are certainly unforgettable!). Next we bus along the Pan American highway to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city, affectionately known by its Maya name, Xelajú. Overnight in the elegant Pensión Bonifaz.
Thur. 7/29: If the weather is good, we will leave our hotel at 5 AM and drive up the backside of Santa María volcano, then hike a short distance through some amazing vegetation to the Santiaguito overlook. Here we can get a close view of the giant 1902 explosion crater and the steaming, rumbling lava dome that has pushed up into the center of the crater since 1922. Then back to our pensión for breakfast. (Try the festival de frutas with ice cream!)
After lunch we head out to Fuentes Georginas, a hot springs spa. En route we pass through the Indian town of Zunil and the most picturesquely beautiful agricultural lands imaginable. Second night in the Pensión Bonifaz.
Fri. 7/30: Free time in the morning to enjoy Quezaltenango. The market and several museums and the cathedral are right on the main square, as is our hotel.
Afternoon: Drive to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, a dramatic, shimmering sheet of water sunk in a volcanic caldera, with three giant volcanic cones rising up beside it. Panajachel, jokingly referred to by Guatemalans as "gringotenango" is a shopper's mecca, with open-air markets lining the streets selling products from all over Guatemala. We will stay in the Hotel Tzanjuyú, the somewhat faded queen of the lakeside hotels, but boasting a location that can't be beat.
Sat. 7/31: In the morning we'll take the 9 AM boat across the dramatic lake to the Tz'utujil town of Santiago Atitlán, where the women wear halo-like headdresses similar to those seen on some of the Mayan kings depicted by the stelae of Copán. Much of the Santiago costume is still woven by the women of Santiago on backstrap looms.
Return to Panajachel for lunch, and then a short drive to Chichicastenango, to observe the preparations for market day on Sunday. Our hotel is the internationally renowned Mayan Inn, consisting of several century-old buildings converted into a beautiful hotel, furnished with antiques, including many Spanish colonial-era pieces of museum quality. The Mayan has been sheltering tourists since the 1930s, and possesses an ambience that no new hotel can create.
Sun. 8/1: Market day at "Chichi": the most colorful native market in all the Americas. Because Mayan people come from all over Guatemala to this big market, it is a wonderful place to see a wide variety of native costumes, such as this beautiful woman from Nebaj in full Nebaj traje. At the Chichi market you will find colorful textiles, wood carvings, masks, candles, necklaces, pottery, musical instruments, herbs and native medicines, metates for grinding corn, loom parts, vegetables, pigs and chickens, etc. The cloth goods include a wonderful variety of clothing, tapestries, wall hangings, blankets, sashes, shawls and purses, that make great bargain souvenirs. And bargain you should-- it's part of the art of buying and selling.
Around 3 PM we'll head out to Antigua Guatemala, the former Spanish colonial capital of the Kingdom of Goathemala. In Antigua we will stay at the Posada de don Rodrigo, a colonial home turned into a hotel, complete with several patios, antique furnishings, and a daily marimba serenade.
Mon. 8/2: Walking. All day getting to know Antigua, exploring its vast earthquake-shattered ruins, sampling its terrific variety of restaurants, shopping for jade, or more native cloth goods, or just hanging out. Second night at the Posada de don Rodrigo.
Tues. 8/3: Up early and off to climb active Volcán Pacaya. This is a non-technical, but fairly strenuous climb. The view from the peak is certainly worth the effort! Depending on the nature of the eruptive activity we will climb to the very peak and maybe peer over into the fuming crater. If the volcano is in an explosive phase we may delay the Pacaya trip until the afternoon, in order to watch the volcanic fireworks at night.
Those who do not wish for a strenuous hike-- plus those too enamored with Antigua to leave-- can spend another entire day exploring this charming city. There is so much to see here! Third night at the Posada de don Rodrigo.
Weds. 8/4: Tour a jade factory in the morning. After lunch we clear out of our hotel rooms and load the bus. On our way out of Antigua we'll visit the Casa Popenoe, a 17th-century mansion lovingly restored and featuring the finest collection of authentic colonial furnishings in the country. Then we drive 45 km back into Guatemala City to the Hotel Pan American.
Thurs. 8/5: Those who end their Guatemala excursion today will be taken to the international airport to catch their flight back to the U.S. Those taking the 2-day optional Tikal extension will board a local carrier and fly out to the town of Flores in the steamy jungle of the Petén lowlands.
2-DAY TIKAL EXTENSION: Fly over much of the mountainous terrain we crossed by road in the Cobán region; continue on north to Flores, site of the last Maya city to fall to the Spanish conquistadores (not until 1697!). Here we'll be taken by bus to the Jungle Lodge inside Tikal National Park.
Thursday afternoon spent exploring the sprawling, jungle-covered ruins of this Classic Mayan urban center. Whereas artistic Copán has been likened to Paris, Tikal may be likened to New York City for its soaring, skyscraper-like pyramids and the very hugeness of the metropolis. And for bird-watchers and nature-lovers the flora and fauna are as wonderful as the ruins themselves. Common birds include parrots, toucans, mot-mots, oropendulas, oscellated turkeys, and hummingbirds. Commonly seen animals include spider monkeys, foxes, agoutis, coatimundis and bats. Howler monkeys, javelina, alligators, and other creatures are also sometimes sighted.
Fri. 8/6: Get up early in the morning: see sunrise from Temple IV, go bird-watching, and beat the heat. And don't forget to visit both the Tikal Museums. After lunch we'll head back to Flores to catch the 4 PM flight back to Guatemala City. Final night at the Pan American Hotel.
Sat. 8/7: Fly back to the U.S. with a load of Guatemalan crafts, rolls of film to be developed, and a lifetime of memories of an unforgettable people and their beautiful country.