Glorious azure Lake Atitlán, with its soaring volcanoes.
2001-- A GUATEMALAN ODYSSEY
Guatemala is undoubtedly 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 languages, 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
first year of the new millennium is no exception! Rutahsa's Guatemala-2001
Adventure will take place June 1 - 15. World-famous highlights include colonial
Antigua Guatemala, the colorful indigenous market of Chichicastenango, glorious
Lake Atitlán, and the mysteries of jungle-enshrouded Tikal ruins. But
Rutahsa Adventures will get you off the beaten track and on the back roads to
see the real Guatemala in the remote Maya town of Todos Santos
Cuchumatán, at the misty crater lake Chicabal where ancient rites are
still practiced, and other sights seldom witnessed by outsiders.
Here's our proposed itinerary:
Fri., June 1: Fly from the U.S. to Guatemala City; you will be picked
up at the airport and driven 45 km to Antigua Guatemala to settle in at the
Posada de don Rodrigo, a colonial home
converted into a delightful hotel, with flowery patios, a good restaurant, and
a daily marimba concert.
Antigua, now a UN World Heritage site, was, in its heyday, the third largest
city in the new world, with a population of 60,000, topped only by Lima and
Mexico City. Antigua served over two centuries as capital of Spain's colonial
territory known as the Kingdom of Goathemala, and as such was replete with
splendid public buildings, such as the Palacio
de los Capitanes Generales. Then, in 1773, a series of powerful
temblors turned many of the great colonial churches, convents, colleges,
government palaces and private mansions into rubble.
Antigua today is a colonial-style city, full of historic buildings, some
restored, others still standing as massive romantic ruins. For a good introduction to Antigua's history and
lots of photos of its monumental architecture, visit our website on Antigua,
using the link at the end of this trip description.
You will find Antigua's historic sites fascinating to explore, the variety of
shops and places to eat endless, the climate at around 5000 feet above sea
level highly agreeable, and the overall ambience delightful.
Sat., June 2: All day exploring Antigua. Any excursion participants
unable to arrive in Guatemala on Friday June 1 may join the group today.
Sun., June 3: Today we board our private bus and motor down past the
soaring volcanic cones of Agua, Acatenango and Fuego on a brand new road to the
Pacific coastal plain. We are on our way to Lake Atitlán via the
coastal route, seldom taken by foreigners. This will give us a glimpse of the
hot country where agriculture is king-- vast fields of sugar cane, citronella
tree plantations, cattle, etc.-- without really subjecting us to the oppressive
heat of this region. Soon we rise back up the flank of the Pacific volcanic
chain, into cooler climes, passing through huge coffee fincas to crest out on
the rim of the basin that holds stunning Lake Atitlán.
A bit of bumpy road brings us to Santiago Atitlán, a Tz'utujil Maya town
on the south side of the lake. This town is a favorite goal of day-trippers
who cross the lake by boat from Panajachel, arrive mid-day, spend a couple of
hours buying from the justly famous artisans, and admiring the unique
indigenous costume of Santiago. By arriving via the back door and after these
tourists have left we will find a Tz'utujil town little changed from its
traditional ways. We will stay at the Posada Santiago, a charming hotel of
unusual stone architecture, bungalows and lovely gardens.
Mon., June 4: Women in Santiago still weave on the backstrap loom, and some still wear the famous
"halo" headwrap made famous by the 25
centavo coin. We have the morning to prowl about Santiago's narrow streets,
visit the ancient Catholic church, and
perhaps to visit the shrine of the cult of Maximón, to learn something
of Santiago's tragic experiences during La Violencia in the 1980s, and,
of course, to make some purchases from the artisans' shops lining the main
street. Then, after a bit of lunch, we'll take the 2 PM boat across the
gorgeous and dramatic lake to the main lake town of Panajachel. We don't have
to worry with our luggage, it will be in the bus sent around the lake to await
us at the docks.
Panajachel, sometimes known as "Gringotenango", is an example of what
uncontrolled tourism can do to a town, and a far cry from the native village it
once was. Yet it is an interesting town, with lots of excellent textiles and
crafts of all kinds, from all over Guatemala, available at bargain prices.
And you should definitely bargain!
Our hotel in "Pana" will again be the Posada de don Rodrigo, a new sister hotel
to the one in Antigua. A special attraction to the Posada is the brand new and
exceptionally well-done Museum of the Lake, telling the volcanic history of the
lake's birth and featuring pre-Columbian artefacts recently brought up from the
lake bottom by divers.
Tues., June 5: This morning we will drive a winding road up out of the
Atitlán caldera basin, stopping for photogenic vistas along the way, onto the central volcanic plateau,
and head towards Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second most important city. En
route we will visit the K'iche' Maya town of Nahualá, where many of the
men still wear the wool kilt traditional to this village. Just past
Nahualá we pass a windy, treeless spot called "Alaska", at an elevation
over 10,000 ft!
Quetzaltenango-- traditionally known as Xelajú (pronounced
"Shay-lah-hoo!"), or just "Xela" for short-- is situated at an elevation of
over 7700 ft, in the shadow of the cone of Volcán Santa María.
Here we will check into the Pensión Bonifaz, an elegant old hotel with a
European flavor. The Bonifaz has an excellent restaurant, full amenities,
including an indoor swimming pool. For a preview of the Bonifaz, visit their
webpage, then use your "back" button to return to this trip description:
After lunch there are two options: 1) Roam about Xela discovering its
distinctive neo-classical architecture, its art and history museums and market,
and an internet cafe where ex-pats like to gather, all conveniently close at
hand to the Bonifaz. Or, 2) Go on an hour-long drive to Fuentes Georginas, a
hot springs spa where we can swim and relax
in sulphurous thermal waters while surrounded by Eden-like cloud forest
vegetation. En route to the spa we will pass through some of the most amazing
Indian agricultural lands where checkerboards of meticulously hand-tilled
plots climb breath-taking slopes to form stunningly picturesque mosaics. Oh
my, save us from hard choices!
Weds. June 6: Another hard choice: If you visited the hot springs
yesterday, you may want to get to know Xela today. But that will be at the
expense of missing another marvelous experience: we will drive over to the
nearby town of San Martín Sacatepéquez and hike up to the sacred
crater lake Laguna Chicabal. In San Martín we will see native costume,
including, if we are lucky, the very distinctive traditional men's outfit.
The lake is reached by a hike of less than an hour along a steep 4WD road up
the forested flanks of an extinct volcano, then down into the old crater to the lake, which is almost
perpetually mist-enshrouded. An easy shoreside trail
circumnavigates the lake, taking us through lush tropical vegetation,
ever-changing, mystical and ethereal scenes,
and passing by a series of shrines where traditional religious practices known
as costumbre are still performed on
Back to Xela for a second night at the Pensión Bonifaz and supper at one
of the good restaurants of this pleasant city.
Thurs., June 7: Today we drive along the Pan American highway to
Huehuetenango ("Huehue" for short, pronounced "Way-way"), capital of the
department of the same name. Just outside of Huehue lie the partially restored
ruins of Zaculeu, a Mexican-Mayan site that was occupied by the Mam Maya at the
time of the arrival of the Conquistadores. The site was beseiged and conquered
by the Spaniards in 1525. We can see pyramids and temple remains that reflect
Mexican influence on the original Maya culture. There is a restored ballcourt
where the sacred, but deadly, Mesoamerican ball game was played. And a special
feature not seen by anyone except those who know just where to look: a
pre-Columbian handprint preserved in original plaster remaining on one of the
Our home for the night is the old-fashioned Hotel Zaculeu, in the center of
Huehue, in easy walking distance of places to eat and the wonderful, big old
Fri., June 8: More decisions! The hale and hearty today will ride in
the back of a pick-up to ascend a steep mountain road to the town of San Juan
Atitán to start a 4 hour hike across the mountains to a more remote
town, Todos Santos Cuchumatán. The traje (traditional clothing)
of San Juan is very worth seeing, and the hike is through beautiful country,
but the elevations are around 8000 to 10,000 feet, so you need to be in good
shape for this one.
Those who elect to skip the hike will travel to Todos Santos in the bus on a
spectacular road that crests out over 11,000 ft above sea level in the Altos
Cuchumatanes mountains, before descending some 3000 feet into Todos Santos.
In Todos Santos we will be in a truly Indian town, even more so than in
Santiago Atitlán. Here almost all the men, as well as the women, wear
traje. We will get a good glimpse into the daily lives of the Mam Maya, eat their food, and enjoy their
colorful costumes. Note: this is not a town with first class tourist
facilities! Our hotel in Todos Santos will be very basic: shared bathrooms,
but with the luxury of hot water, and, more to the point, safe food.
Sat., June 9: We have the morning in Todos Santos. Those who didn't do
the hike over the mountain may want to climb the hill just outside town to see
the pre-Columbian mound site and the old
crosses made famous by early anthropologist Maud Oakes in her book "The Two
Crosses of Todos Santos". But before noon we need to start down the road to
For about three hours we'll be traveling on gravel back roads, with lots of
scenery, and passing through Aguacatán where the women wear what may be
the most beautiful headwrap in all Guatemala, eventually picking up pavement
again at Sacapulas. If time permits we'll take a rest break in this
interesting if dusty little town; there's a cemetery here that will knock
your eyes out!
From Sacapulas we still have an hour and a half drive to Chichi, where we will
quit our road dust in the luxury of the Mayan
Inn, a famous hostelry for over 60 years. With no two rooms alike, all
furnished with valuable antiques, staying in the Mayan is like staying in a
museum! To learn more about the Mayan Inn, visit their website:
Mayan Inn, but don't fail to use your "back" button to return to
For supper you can sample the excellent food at the Mayan, or go out on the
town to find a restaurant and see the preparations for tomorrow's market going
on all about the town center. We've come to Chichi for the Sunday market, but
you can start your souvenir shopping tonight if you like.
Sun., June 10: 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 long distances from all over Guatemala to sell their
varied 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, so around 3 p.m. we'll head up and start
out for Antigua as our Guatemala adventure begins to come full circle.
Once again back in Antigua, this time we'll
settle in at the Posada Belén, a 17th-century convent, church and
hospital that has undergone various reincarnations throughout its long history.
Today part of the convent houses a hotel run by nuns, while another section
continues to function as a convent. The sprawling complex has spacious grounds
with gardens, and, unlike the Posada de Don Rodrigo, is located near the edge
of town, quieter, but still within easy walking distance of the central
plaza. Within the peaceful convent walls we can properly reflect about the
many wonders seen --so far-- on this excursion, where we have been, who we
have met, and what we have learned.
Mon., June 11: 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. Second night at the Posada Belén; the
contrast between Pacaya's barren peak full of primal energy and the tranquility
of the convent gardens could hardly be more striking!
Tues., June 12: 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. In the afternoon we will visit the
Casa Popenoe, a restored colonial mansion
outfitted with period pieces. Certainly lots to do here. Third night at the
Weds., June 13: Up real early today to go into Guatemala City to the
airport to take an in-country flight across the Chuacús Mtns. north
across the Petén lowlands to the town of Flores. From here the
Jungle Lodge will provide bus transportation 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 temple-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 purposes. Our trip to Tikal
has been timed for mid-week, the better to enjoy the jungle ambience and
splendor of the ruins without the weekend crowds.
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!
Thurs., June 14: 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 to spend a final quiet evening at the Posada Belén.
You may need some extra time to pack away your treasured purchases, or perhaps
to run out to a store for that one last item you want!
Fri., June 15: Shuttle in to the airport and fly away home. But don't
expect this to be your last visit to Guatemala-- This was your introduction,
and you will want to come back!
Three little girls from Santiago Atitlán, with a friend from
THREE-DAY EXTENSION TO COPÁN RUINS, HONDURAS!
For travelers with a little extra time and a yen to see another spectacular
archeological site, very different from Tikal, Rutahsa Adventures has organized
the following trip extension to Copán, Honduras. Also note you get to
cut another notch on your passport, adding seals from the Republic of Honduras!
Fri., June 15: The extension begins at your hotel in Antigua, where you
will be picked up by a van or minibus and driven to Honduras. The route takes
you to the northeast, along the Motagua Valley, passing through (surprise,
surprise) an area of intermontane desert, then, continuing eastward towards the
Caribbean, you get into some real steamy tropical lowland environment to reach
the Classic Maya site of Quiriguá. Here you will have an hour-long,
self-guided visit. This site, though small, is important as it contains the
tallest of all Maya stelae, and also features
strangely carved zoomorphic boulders not found at
other Maya sites. Its king, Cauac-Sky, defeated
the king 18-Rabbit of Copán, and initiated a decline in the fortunes of
that more powerful Mayan state.
From Quiriguá you continue on to Copán, passing through
pine-forested mountains, crossing a very sleepy border checkpoint (looks like
something out of a movie about banana republics), into Honduras. The customs
check here is fairly simple, and costs about $4 per person; you'll find the
process of working yourself along from one little office to another
entertaining enough if you go at it with the right attitude. The rural town
of Copán Ruinas lies just 12 km away inside Guatemala's sister republic.
In spite of the flux of international travelers, being home to a number of
ex-pats, and several really fine hotels, Copán has retained a
wonderful small town friendly ambience. It is a great little town to walk
about in the cool of the evening, and has a small, but interesting selection of
restaurants. Your hotel is Copán's finest, the Marina Copán,
complete with swimming pool, restaurant, bar, and a wonderful pet margay named
Siria. She is a beautiful cat, and playful, but be a little cautious as her
play can be a tad vigorous at times...she is a jungle cat!
Sat., June 16: Your bilingual (Spanish/English) Copán guide picks
you up at the Hotel Marina at 8 AM for a 5-hour guided tour of Copán
Ruins, just one kilometer out of town. Hint: apply sunblock, carry a water
bottle, and wear a hat. Carry insect repellent just in case.
Copán is very different from Tikal. If huge, sprawling Tikal with its
skyscraper pyramid/temples can be likened to New York City, then Copán
is the Paris of the Maya realm. Here art dominates. The ruins are built of a
volcanic tuff that was relatively soft and easy to carve when first quarried,
then case-hardened under weathering conditions. Thus the temples were
profusely decorated with carved sculpture, which is much better preserved here
than in sites where limestone was the building material. In addition to
temples and courts, Copán features a well-preserved and restored
ballcourt, where ritual ballgames were played
to the death. And it is famous for its intricate stelae carved in the round,
many of which depict the once-powerful king 18-Rabbit.
A few years ago, archeologists tunneling beneath the ruins discovered a
complete Mayan temple buried intact. For an additional entry fee of $12, you
can enter a tunnel and see portions of this original temple called "Rosalila".
At the end of your guided tour you can have a light lunch in the cafe at the
opposite end of the parking lot from the park headquarters. After lunch you
should visit the new Museum of Sculpture (ticket $5, must be purchased at the
main park headquarters). This museum is well worthwhile, not only for its
sculpture, but for its dramatic cave-like entry that brings you face-to-face
with a full scale replica of Rosalila, in all its bright red-painted glory.
From the ruins it is an easy 1-kilometer walk back to town, with some stelae and
altars to be seen en route.
In Copán town, on the main square, is the Old Copán Museum, which
is quite different from the Museum of Sculpture in what it offers: burials,
skulls with jade inlays in their teeth, ceramics, obsidian artifacts, and
fabulous flint eccentrics discovered in Rosalila. Don't miss this small but
extremely worthwhile museum. Entry is $2.
Second night at the Hotel Marina Copán. Enjoy the pool after a long day
and a lot of sun.
Sun., June 17: Morning free time. Visit the Old Copán Museum
today if you didn't yesterday (but better check Saturday to make sure what the
Sunday hours are!). Hike up to the old fort on the hill above the Marina.
Shop for souvenirs in the various shops in town (Honduras offers good wood
cavings; and some of the shops carry some gorgeous ceramics from El Salvador).
Play with Siria. You could even go for a horseback ride, but you'll have to
arrange this Saturday; and don't fail to get back to the hotel in time for the
Midday: You are picked up at the Marina for the return trip to Antigua.
Upon arrival in Antigua you will be taken to the Quinta de las Flores (just a
half block from the Posada Belén, the convent where we stayed earlier),
for your final night in Antigua in a wonderful hotel with the most delightful
gardens imaginable. You won't want to leave!
Mon., June 18 Today you take a shuttle to the Guatemala City airport to
catch your flight back to the U.S.
COST OF THE 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; however
Rutahsa Adventures gladly recommends MENA Travel, for discounted air fares to
Guatemala (and other Latin American destinations). 1-800-536-6362; ask for
John and tell him Rutahsa Adventures sent you. We also recommend Solar Tours,
at 1-800-388-7652; ask for Patricia at extension 558; Patricia is familiar
with our Guatemala trip and is very very helpful.
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-2001 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 $350, 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. If you decide to cancel your reservation,
your deposit will be fully refunded provided cancellation is made before
Feb. 1, 2001. After Feb. 1 there will be a cancellation penalty of $175 if
cancellation is made before May 1. In the event of cancellation after May
1 the full deposit is subject to retention.
- 15-day trip, including Tikal: $1420. At the present (Jan. 30, 2001) this
price is considered final. Although we believe this price will hold, we trim
our prices VERY closely in order to give our travelers the best deal possible,
and this means that should one of our Guatemalan suppliers raise their
price to us unexpectedly, we would have to follow suit.
- 13-day trip, without Tikal: $250 off the full trip fee.
- 3-day extension: $225 for the Copán trip, plus lodging at the
Quinta de las Flores. Included in the Copán trip: transportation in
2000 model bus to Copán, via Quiriguá, and return to Antigua; 2
night's lodging in the Hotel Marina Copán; entries to Quiriguá
and Copán ruins, and 5-hour guided tour of Copán ruins with
bilingual guide. NOT included: guide at Quiriguá, entry to the
tunnels ($12), Museum of Sculpture ($5), or Old Copán Museum ($2),
meals, souvenirs, tips. The cost of lodging at the Quinta de las Flores varies
according to the accommodations chosen: single room, $54; double room, $66;
double room with extra bed, $76; cabaña with sunken living room,
kitchenette, and two upstairs bedrooms, $120. The cost of your shuttle service
from Antigua to the Guatemala City airport is included in your main Guatemala
trip fee of $1420.
- Singles supplement for the main Guatemala excursion: single room
accommodations on the main Guatemala trip are available for an additional $212;
there is one possible exception: it may not be possible to have a single room
in Todos Santos, due to the limitations of the small hotel.
- Singles supplement for Copán Ruins: single room accommodation in
Copán is available for an additional $50.
- To visit Rutahsa Adventures Antigua Guatemala website, click here: Antigua Guatemala.
- To visit our highly educational website on native costume of the Highland
Maya, click here: Traje of the Highland
- To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
Thanks for visiting!
Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.