Glorious azure Lake Atitlán, with its soaring volcanoes.
LAND of the MAYA 2000!
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
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
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
Copán; then hit your "back" button to return to this trip
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
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
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
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
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.
Three little girls from Santiago Atitlán, with a friend from
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 email@example.com.
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!
- Basic 19-day trip without US-GUA-US airfare: $1350
- Basic 19-day trip including RT air fare from Nashville: $1950
- 2-day Tikal Extension: $275
- 4-day Proyecto Ecológico Quetzal/Q'eqchi' village extension: TBA
Images on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.