LAND of the MAYA EXCURSION 2005
Featuring the DAY of the DEAD CELEBRATION
The thousand-year-old Temple of the Jaguar soars above the dense
jungle surrounding the Maya city of Tikal
LAND of the MAYA 2005!
A first for Rutahsa Adventures! Despite our many many years of traveling
throughout Guatemala, we have never before witnessed the fascinating Day of the
Dead Festivals held in Santiago Sacatepéquez on All Saints Day (Nov. 1).
So our annual Guatemala excursion for 2005 will be timed to feature this
colorful folkloric celebration.
But the Day of the Dead ceremonies will only be 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 led a very special trip to Guatemala, and 2005 is
no exception! Rutahsa's Guatemala-2005 Adventure will take place October 30 -
Nov. 15. The especially unusual highlights of this excursion will be the Day
of the Dead Festival, an overnight stay at a picturesque hacienda in the
mountains, and a trip by boat to the little-visited classic Maya ruins of
Aguateca (including a stay in a lodge on an artificial island created
by the Maya over a thousand years ago). Of course, we will also visit colonial
Antigua, dazzling Lake Atitlán, the Chichi market, Tikal, and even
include a cross-border hop into Honduras for Copán Ruins.
November, by the way, is one of the best months to visit Guatemala,
weatherwise. The rainy season has ended, the country is gloriously green, and
skies are generally smiling.
Here's our itinerary:
Sun., Oct. 30: Fly from home to Guatemala City; you will be met at the
airport and taken 45 km to the Hotel El Patio in lovely Antigua Guatemala. This
evening you'll enjoy the refreshing climate of Antigua and start to get to know
your way around this romantic town. We'll plan to have supper as a group, so
introductions can be made all around.
Mon., Oct. 31: 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.
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
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. Second night at
Hotel El Patio.
Tues., Nov. 1: Today is Día de Todos Los Santos, that is,
All Saints Day on the Christian calendar. After breakfast, we will board our
private bus to leave Antigua and begin our Guatemala circuit with a visit 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, 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.
Because this is a first for Rutahsa, we are short on images, so 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, then just use your back button to return
to this itinerary: Rosenfeld journal.
In the afternoon we will continue on to the town of Panajachel and glorious
Lake Atitlán, a sapphire jewel set in
a deep volcanic basin. Our lodging tonight will be the well-known Rancho Grande
Inn, established here in the 1940s. Here's their website, for a preview: Rancho Grande.
Panajachel, or "Pana" for short, is sometimes derisively called
"Gringotenango", for it is the least Guatemalan of towns we will visit. A
colony of gringo ex-pats, including some hippies, settled in Pana in the 1960s
and '70s (and who could blame them!); in more recent years it has become a
tourist mecca for national and international visitors, with more hotels,
restaurants, shops and street vendors than you would think possible to cram
into such a small town. In some ways it is an example of the worst influences
of tourism. In other ways it is a lot of fun. You will find all kinds of
crafts and other souvenirs from all over Guatemala for sale here. It's a great
place for shoppers. But it isn't the "real" Guatemala...which we will see
later in the trip.
Weds., Nov. 2: This morning we will board a launch and cross the lake to
a decidedly more native town on the opposite side, Santiago Atitlán, in
pre-conquest days the capital of the Tz'utujil Maya nation. Here Dolores, a
Tz'utujil woman and native of Santiago, formerly married to an American author,
will guide us through the town with an insider's knowledge. We will visit the
ancient church of Santiago, 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" (1980s)-- from
which the town has recovered remarkably.
Santiago women still weave on the backstrap
loom, and still wear their distinctive traje, 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
In the afternoon we board our bus and drive back to Panajachel, around the rim
of the great caldera, with many a breath-taking view of the shimmering lake below. From Pana we continue on
another hour and a half to the famous market town of Chichicastenango, where we
will settle in to the equally famous old hostelry, the Mayan Inn.
The Mayan Inn has been receiving guests for
over 70 years. 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
clicking your "back" button. 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.
Thurs., Nov. 3: 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 to just sit
a while and watch the scenery roll by as we head north across the central
highlands and then ascend into the high mountains to reach the remote Ixil Maya
town of Nebaj. Our route will be mostly paved, but will switch to gravel --but
good, all-weather gravel-- when we cross a major fault zone (part of the plate
tectonic boundary separating the North American plate from the Caribbean plate)
and start our steep climb into the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains. After passing
the crest at something over 8000 ft, we'll descend into a hidden valley in
which nestles the town of Nebaj, at about 6300 ft.
Nebaj and the two towns of Cotzal and Chajul 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 guerrilleros during La Violencia (early
1980s). We will learn some of this sad history while we are here; a visit to
the church of Nebaj will move you as you gaze on the memorial of many miniature
crosses, one for each of those who were "murdered", "tortured", "assassinated",
or simply "disappeared". Happily, the bad times are past and life here is
All three of the Ixil Triangle towns have distinctive traje, and
that of Nebaj is particularly spectacular. A bright red corte (skirt),
an elaborately embroidered huipil (traditional blouse), an all-purpose
shawl over the shoulder, and a marvelous turban-like head wrap comprise the
dress of the Nebaj woman.
In Nebaj we will stay at the Hotel Ilebal Tenam, on the outskirts of town.
Fri., Nov. 4: Eat a hearty breakfast today, for a hike is planned! We
will hike up a centuries-old trail, out of the Nebaj valley and over a mountain
ridge, to descend into an adjacent valley to the hacienda where we'll
overnight. The hike should take about four hours; glorious views and good
exercise! (Anyone not wishing to hike may spend a couple of extra hours in
Nebaj shopping for textiles or just observing life in an Indian town, then come
around to the hacienda on our bus.)
On the opposite side of the ridge we will walk through the village of Acul,
which became one of the Guatemalan Army's "model villages"-- in reality, more
like a form of concentration camp into which local Maya were forced to move
when their villages were razed during the brutal campaign to suppress the
rebels in the 1980s. Some of the original Army-built buildings can still be
picked out, but Acul has become a real Maya village in its own right.
A short walk down the road from Acul is the picturesque Hacienda San Antonio,
where we will spend the night. This is a working hacienda, famed throughout
Guatemala for its excellent cheese. Idyllic in its setting, and easily reached
by road today, one can hardly imagine the difficulties to be overcome by its
Italian founder who started the hacienda in 1938! In recent years some of the
hacienda buildings have been renovated for overnight guests. Do not expect
luxury, but do expect good food and an interesting experience. Lunch, supper,
and breakfast are included with the price of our stay at the hacienda. (L, D)
Sat., Nov. 5: (B) Today is largely a "getting there" day. We have a long
drive from the hacienda to the major town of Cobán, capital of the
Department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala's most important coffee-growing region.
The coffee industry here was developed in the late 19th century by German
Our route today takes us back over the range we crossed coming into Nebaj, then
east over a series of ridges and valleys, along and across the dramatic Chixoy
river gorge, and back up into high country to eventually reconnect with
pavement and reach Cobán. It's a marvelous drive through rugged
scenery. But it's definitely the back road, with few amenities, so you'll
want to buy some snacks to carry with with you for lunch. We'll take a couple
of short breaks in Indian towns along the way.
Our lodgings tonight will be at the lovely old La
Posada, which features an extensive menu and some of the best cooked food
in all Guatemala.
Sun., Nov. 6: Today we have a drive of 3 or 4 hours, first through
limestone mountains and interesting haystack karst terrane, then across the
flat lowlands of the Petén, to reach the town of Sayaxché on the
banks of the Río de la Pasión.
After lunch at the Hotel Guayacán, we'll board a long, motorized dugout
canoe for a trip of about three hours to Chiminos Island Lodge. Our bus will
stay in Sayaxché, parked in a safe place, with most of our luggage on
board. So you need to pack lightly for this trip: bring only what you need
for two days in hot country.
Chiminos Island Lodge is located on what was originally a natural peninsula
jutting into Lake Petexbatún, but in Classic Maya time, more than 1000
years ago, the site was converted into a manmade island for defensive purposes
when Maya people dug three artificial canals across the low neck of the
peninsula to separate it from the mainland. As we will learn tomorrow at
Aguateca, this region experienced intense and vicious warfare in Late Classic
time, and archeological studies at Aguateca have provided insights into
possible reasons for the sudden collapse of Classic Maya civilization in the
9th century AD. All participants in this trip should make a point to read the
National Geographic article on Aguateca ("Violent Saga of a Maya Kingdom", Feb.
Chiminos Island Lodge is an expression of faith in the future-- far off the
beaten track, difficult of access, the owners have made a significant
investment in the future of Guatemalan tourism on La Ruta Maya. The
lodge consists of six charming bungalows (three two-person bungalows and three
four-person bungalows-- we will occupy them all, which means some sharing).
All meals are included during our stay at the lodge. (And you might wind up
sharing part of your meals too...with their beautiful tame young ocelot who had
the run of the place when we visited the lodge in 2003.) Here's a link to the
lodge website Chiminos Island
Mon., Nov. 7: After an early breakfast, we will hike along a jungle
trail to the archeological site of Aguateca (about an hour to hour-and-a-half
of hiking). Here the Maya built a small but well-fortified city on a cliff
overlooking the lake. In addition to the cliff and constructed defensive
walls, the Maya took advantage of a great natural rift in the limestone as part
of the city's defenses. The rift is a fault zone opened up by solution of the
limestone bedrock, and is said to average 40 - 50 m deep and 4 - 5 m wide,
running for several kilometers. We will see this impressive natural feature
and even get down inside it. It formed a nearly uncrossable barrier throughout
much its length. The inhabitants of Aguateca bridged it in two places, and our
trail will cross one of these bridges.
In the main site we will see the ruins of important buildings, with stelae
(carved stone monuments) depicting the kings of Aguateca. And we will see
last-ditch defensive walls built across portions of the town during its final
and ultimately futile defense against the besiegers who eventually overcame
its defenses and sacked the town.
We will return to Chiminos Island Lodge by a shorter trail, and have lunch
there. In the afternoon you can walk the trails of Chiminos Island and visit
the smaller archeological site on the island, visit one of defensive canals, go
for a swim in the lake, or just hang out and relax.
Tues., Nov. 8: Eat a hearty breakfast today, as this will be a long day
and there is not a lot in the way of restaurants between Chiminos Island and
the town of Flores. We return to Sayaxché by boat today. Depending on
the hour of arrival, we might eat lunch at the Hotel Guayacán, but it
would be preferable to move on down the road to Flores, which is worth a short
visit, before breaking for lunch.
Flores is situated on an island in Lake Petén Itzá and was the
capital of the fierce Itzá Mayas. Although Cortés passed through
here on his epic march from Mexico to Honduras in 1524, the Spaniards did not
manage to conquer the Itzás by force of arms, and only in 1697, almost
two centuries after the Conquest began, did the Itzás submit peacefully
to missionaries. According to legend, Cortés left one of his horses in
the care of the Maya ruler of the island, and when the Spanish missionaries
arrived here at the end of the 17th century they found the Maya worshiping the
skeleton of the horse.
Upon arrival in Tikal National Park (just a little over an hour's drive from
Flores) we will check into our cabañas at the Jungle Lodge, then-- depending on the hour-- go for an orientation
walk into the huge archeological complex, passing through the great plaza, flanked by the soaring pyramids of
Temple I and Temple II to reach 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 us on back towards the
Jungle Lodge before dark. But just in case he can be talked into letting us
stay late, as sometimes happens, be sure to bring a flashlight for the walk
back in the dark.)
Weds., Nov. 9: (B) All day long at Tikal! 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
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, 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 hotel, 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!
Tikal is really a wonderful site, but it is hot! Fortunately, November
is cooler than most of the year, and the Jungle Lodge has a pool. Second night
at the Jungle Lodge.
Thurs., Nov. 10: (B) In the mid-late morning we board our bus to head
south to the town of Río Dulce where we will overnight at the Hacienda
Tijax, which you can get a preview of by visiting their website Hacienda Tijax.
Fri., Nov. 11: 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, 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, for 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 Plaza Copán, which, as the name implies, is right
on the central square. 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.
Sat., Nov. 12: 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 scultures (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 Hotel Plaza Copán.
Sun., Nov. 13: 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 our familiar digs at the Hotel El Patio.
Mon., Nov. 14: 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.
Those who don't fancy a volcano climb can have an easy day in and about
Antigua. 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.
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 new
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. Certainly lots to do
When the volcano climbers return and shower off the volcanic dust and grit, we
can all go to supper together to compare experiences, and enjoy a last group
meal. Second night in Hotel El Patio.
Tues., Nov. 15: 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!
Three little girls from Santiago Atitlán, with a friend from
ESTIMATED 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. 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
gladly and highly recommends Patricia Guamuchi of Solar Tours at 1-800-388-7652
ext. 558. Tell Patricia you are going on Rutahsa Adventures Oct./Nov. trip to
her homeland and she will treat you right!
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala-2005 Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric
Finch at email@example.com.
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.
Just about every year since 1998 Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel has highly
recommended Rutahsa Adventures' Guatemala excursions. For example, take a look
at what Frommer's had to say about our 2002 Guatemala excursion: Frommer's review.
To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
Thanks for visiting!
- 17-day excursion (US-GUA-US airfare not included): We can deliver this
fabulous trip for just $1660.00 p/p, in double room accommodations.
- Because some of the hotels are small, single-room accommodations may not be
available at all lodgings (Chiminos Island Lodge, for example). Nonetheless,
if you prefer a room for one, let us know and we will see what we can work out.
- The trip fee includes a $25 donation to Programa de Ayuda a los Vecinos
del Altiplano (PAVA), that is, "Aid Program for the Residents of the Highlands".
PAVA a very remarkable and very effective organization helping highland Maya
communities obtain schools, potable water supplies, critical bridges on access
roads, and other greatly needed facilities and infrastructure. The citizens of
the communities must take the initiative to make requests of PAVA, and must be
willing to supply labor. PAVA representatives visit the villages to determine
how best to answer their petitions; PAVA raises funds and supplies engineering
expertise, and PAVA volunteers work with the villagers to make these dreamed-of
improvements become realities. It is a truly inspring program of outside aid
combined with self-help. PAVA has accomplished many small but great good
works over the years, and Rutahsa Adventures is pleased to further their work
by way of this small contribution from each of our Guatemala travelers.
All photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.