LAND of the MAYA EXCURSION 2008
Featuring the DAY of the DEAD CELEBRATION
Giant kites soar over Santiago Sacatepéquez cemetery during the Day
of the Dead festivities
LAND of the MAYA 2008!
Rutahsa Adventures' 2008 Guatemala excursion will be held Oct. 21 - Nov. 5 in
order to feature the colorful and fascinating Day of the Dead Festival held in
Santiago Sacatepéquez on All Saints Day (Nov. 1). Our annual Guatemala
excursion for 2005 featured this folkloric celebration and all our travelers
were enchanted...we have had requests to do this again (and we want to see it
again ourselves), so here we go...
But the Day of the Dead ceremonies are only the tip of the iceberg! Guatemala
without a doubt is one of the most remarkable places on earth, full of
marvelous places and people. While only about the size of Tennessee,
Guatemala's varied topography ranges from sea level to soaring volcanic peaks
over 13,000 feet high; its climate zones include steamy tropical jungles,
rain-shadow desert valleys, cool cloud forests, and chilly alpine plateaux;
and it is home to an amazing diversity of Maya, Mestizo, European and Caribbean
traditions. The Highland Maya, comprising roughly half of Guatemala's
population and speaking over 20 different languages, have maintained a rich and
colorful culture that gives Guatemala its special flavor. There is so much to
see, so much to leave you marveling, so much to make you want to return to
Guatemala again and again. And this is why we have been exploring Guatemala
since 1969-- and each year learning new secrets.
Every year since 1987 we have organized a very special trip to Guatemala, and
2008 is no exception! The especially unusual highlights of this year's
excursion will be the Day of the Dead Festival, a visit to two Mam Maya
communities far off the beaten track where traditional Maya costume is still
preserved in all its glorious color, an overnight stay at a rustic lodge high
in the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains, and a hike to a dramatic viewpoint
overlooking a steaming volcanic crater. Of course, we will also visit colonial
Antigua, dazzling Lake Atitlán and the Chichi market. We'll also make a
cross-border foray into Honduras to visit the Classic Maya site of
Copán. A two-day extension to magnificent Tikal National Park will also
This time of year, by the way, is one of the best seasons to visit Guatemala,
weatherwise. The rainy season is ending, the country is gloriously green, and
skies are generally smiling.
Here's our itinerary:
Tu. Oct. 21: Fly from home to Guatemala City; you will be met at the
airport and taken 45 km to lovely Antigua Guatemala to settle into the Posada
de Don Rodrigo, originally the sumptuous
home of a colonial aristocrat, now tastefully remodeled into an attractive
hotel. The "PDR" is very conveniently located just a block and a half from the
main plaza of Antigua and is a great place to headquarter while you are getting
to know Antigua. For a preview, visit the PDR's webpage: Posada de Don
This evening you'll enjoy the refreshing climate of Antigua (altitude around
5020 ft) and start to get to know your way around this romantic town. We'll
have supper as a group, so that introductions can be made all around.
We. Oct. 22: AM: We'll go on a half-day walking tour of Antigua,
guided by Liz Bell, author of one of the best Antigua guidebooks, who will take
us to some of the more important colonial monuments, giving us a cook's tour of
places not normally accessible to visitors. PM: Free time to explore more
ruined churches, convents and monasteries. Two sites not to miss: Capuchinas
Convent and Santa Clara Convent.
In its heyday, Antigua was the capital of the Kingdom of Goathemala, and the
third largest city in the New World (surpassed only by Mexico City and Lima).
Then it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes in 1773. Today it is a great
tourist attraction for its colonial architecture and ambience. For more
details on Antigua's history and architecture, see our website Monumental Antigua. A visit to the "Casa
Popenoe", a lovingly restored colonial home
is a must for lovers of Spanish architecture and period furnishings. Anyone
really seriously interested in the architecture of Antigua should ask
bibliophile Mike Shawcross for a copy of Verle Annis' scholarly tome The
Architecture of Antigua Guatemala, 1543-1773. This long-out-of-print work
has recently been reprinted and Mike has copies for sale (we can introduce you
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon boosting the local economy shopping
for beautiful handwoven Maya textiles, jade jewelry and other types of
artesanía for which Guatemala is justly famous. A great place
for textiles and other native crafts is Nim Po't, on the same street as our
hotel, just a block away walking toward and through the landmark arch that
bridges the street. Second night at the PDR.
Th. Oct. 23: AM: We'll board our private bus and head out of Antigua,
passing between the soaring cones of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango,
following a paved road that drops down to the Pacific coastal plain. Near
Esquintla we'll turn and head north through the hot country of sugar cane
fields and cattle ranches. After a brief refreshment stop we turn eastward and
head back up into the cool volcanic highlands, passing through vast coffee
fincas (plantations) that blanket the fertile slopes of Volcán
Atitlán. As we approach the town of San Lucas Tolimán you'll
get your first thrilling glimpses of shimmering Lake Atitlán.
From San Lucas to the T'zutujil Maya town of Santiago Atitlán is just a
short drive, but a very interesting one as we will be passing through small
plots of land tilled in traditional manner by Maya families. The contrast
between these small family fields and the great mechanized sugar cane fields of
the coastal plain or the sprawling coffee fincas that we passed through
earlier is striking.
PM: We should arrive at the Posada Santiago, our home for the next two nights,
in time for a late lunch. Food at the Posada is great; for a snack we highly
recommend the guacamol and homemade tortilla chips. The Posada is run
by a couple of American ex-pats, David and Susie, and you will find them an
interesting couple to get to know; the Posada has an unusual history and you
should be sure to take a look at the humorous pamphlet in their library "The
24 Questions Dave Just Won't Answer Anymore". For more information, visit the
Posada's homepage and take their virtual tour..be sure to click on "Activities"
to see the tree dogs (David's sense of humor showing through!): Posada de Santiago.
The afternoon will be free time to relax, enjoy the Posada's lovely grounds,
pool and hot tub, or go for a swim in the lake (chilly) off the Posada's
private dock. David makes killer margaritas, and this would be a good time to
indulge, if you are so inclined.
The more ambitious and restless might consider a 15-minute hike from the Posada
to the Peace Park memorializing the victims of a massacre committed here by the
Guatemalan Army in 1990 during La Violencia, part of the Mayan people's
tragic history, but an instance in which a community stood up against
oppressive authority and eventually won: negative international publicity
forced the Army to withdraw from Santiago.
Just beyond the Peace Park is yet another tragic scene, this one geological
rather than socio-political: the small community of Panabaj was partially
buried by a mudslide that descended from the steep volcanic slopes one night
following torrential rains from Hurricane Stan in 2005. Many of the victims
were never recovered. Today you can walk out over the surface of the dried
mudflow, presently being reclaimed by vegetation; it is only a few feet thick
in most places, but it was deadly in its speed and overpowering force.
Fr., Oct. 24: This morning we will take a walking tour of the town of
Santiago Atitlán, which in pre-conquest days was the capital of the
Tz'utujil Maya nation. Our guide will be Dolores Ratzun, a Tz'utujil woman and
native of Santiago, formerly married to an American author. Dolores will show
us through the town with an insider's knowledge. We will visit the ancient church of Santiago, see its altar
carved by native artisans and replete with Maya symbology, see the "navel of
the earth", the town market, pay a visit to the shrine of the native deity
Maximón, and also learn about Santiago's tragic recent history
during La Violencia-- from which the town has recovered remarkably.
Santiago women still weave on the backstrap
loom, and still wear their distinctive traje (i.e., traditional
clothing), which features a halo-like
headwrap. To see more photos of Santiago traje, as well as native
costume from all over Guatemala, take a look at our website on Traje of the Highland Maya.
After Dolores' guided introduction to Santiago you will have free time to visit
the many crafts shops that line the main street leading down to the town dock.
Just be sure to remember your way back to the Posada de Santiago; should you
forget, you can always ask a local...and keep asking from time to time as you
wend your way back through the town. Or, if you speak some Spanish, you can
hire a "tuk tuk" (a three-wheeled motorcycle cab) for Q5 to take you back to
Second night at the Posada Santiago.
Sa., Oct. 25: After breakfast we reboard our chartered bus and begin a
drive around the west side of the great caldera (a basin formed by volcanic
subsidence) that contains Lake Atitlán. This will be a new route for
Rutahsa Adventures, passing through the major Maya town of San Pedro
Tolimán, then climbing up the caldera rim on a recently improved road
through Santa María Visitación connecting to the Panamerican
Highway. We hope this new route will afford some great views of that sapphire
jewel Lake Atitlán.
Upon joining the Panamericana, we will turn northwestward towards
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second most important city and, for a brief time in
the 19th century, capital of the breakaway state of Los Altos.
Shortly before reaching the city we'll take a detour to visit the famous yellow
church of San Andrés Xecul. The facade of this colonial church is
vividly painted to highlight the many
fascinating plaster figures and motifs that reveal the syncretism of
Catholicism with native traditions.
Quetzaltenango, familiarly known as "Xela" (pronounced "Shay-lah"), is
unlike any other Guatemalan city, at least in its historic center. This is in
large part because it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1902 and rebuilt in a
style that is more neoclassic European than Spanish Colonial. Our hotel, the
Pensión Bonifaz, is located just on the corner of the central
plaza, within easy walking distance of the central market, an internet cafe,
several restaurants, the once elegant opera-house-style civic theatre and a
couple of museums. Xela is a pleasant city to stroll around in, but remember
that the elevation is 7700 ft and it is cool --sometimes chilly-- in the
After settling into our rooms we'll meet in the lobby and go for an orientation
walk, including some of the restaurant locations, but note that the Bonifaz has
the some of the best food in town.
Su., Oct. 26: An early morning adventure is scheduled for those who want
to view an active volcano and who are willing to arise early and hike a bit.
Those who prefer may sleep in!
The morning excursion will leave shortly before dawn; wear your hiking boots
and something warm, preferably something you can layer then take off layers as
the morning warms up. We'll go by bus through the sleeping town, then up
a steep road towards the towering cone of Volcán Santa
María, and on towards a forestry plantation. Here we sometimes
encounter a locked gate and have to get out and walk; more often there is a
watchman who can unlock the gate and let our bus through, thus saving us about
45 min of hiking. One way or another we reach Hacienda Santiago where a trail,
steep in places, leads us down through a pasture then on down through tree ferns
and other lush tropical vegetation to a small
flat area where once, long ago, a small hotel stood (though you will doubt this
considering how difficult the access is even today!). This is the overlook for
Volcán Santiaguito and the viewpoint from which we hope to witness
a real live (but preferably small!) volcanic
In 1902, not only was there an earthquake that devastated Quetzaltenango, but
Santa María volcano also chose this year to blow (the two events were
probably related tectonically). Much like our own Mt. St. Helens in 1980, the
flank of the volcano was destroyed by a mighty blast --on the Pacific side of
the cone, fortunately for Xela-- that ripped away the mountainside leaving a
huge explosion crater. Some twenty years later pasty dacite lava began to push
up out of the crater floor forming over the years the volcanic dome known as
Santiaguito, said to be the largest dacite dome in the world, with a volume of
about two cubic kilometers. The steep sides of the dome collapse from time to
time, sending avalanches of incandescent ash (small nuées
ardentes) streaming down the gullies below the dome. The more common
activity, which we hope to witness and photograph, is upward spouting of steam and ash, accompanied by a roaring noise
like a jet plane passing close overhead. Depending on the wind direction, we
might get dusted by a little ash. Or, Santiago could be totally quiescent
today...volcanoes are moody and hard to predict. Whether or not we witness an
eruption, we'll enjoy great scenery and an invigorating hike. BTW, the amble
down to the overlook is an easy 10-15 min stroll, but coming back up is
a real huffer-puffer, so take it easy!
We should be back at the Bonifaz between 9 and 10 AM for a late breakfast.
Their chilaquiles with green sauce are our favorite breakfast dish.
Around noon we'll board up and drive just a few kilometers out of Xela,
passing through Almolonga with its thermal baths (note at least two styles
of native blouses known as hipiles worn here), to the truck farming
center of Zunil. The land around Zunil is some of the most fertile in the
republic, and the Mayan farms form a georgeous checkerboard filling the valley
bottoms and continuing up impossible slopes with multiple hues of green.
At Zunil we turn off the main road and drive another eight kilometers through a
truly beautiful patchwork quilt of fields, stopping for photos along the way.
The road climbs into cloud forest, then passes by sulfurous-smelling fumaroles,
to arrive at Fuentes Georginas, a rustic hot springs spa. Here we can relax in
a pool of thermal spring water, surrounded
by luxuriant tropical cloudforest growth. Be sure to bring your swimsuit and a
towel. Changing rooms are by the pool.
Those who didn't eat lunch early at the Bonifaz can quell their hunger pangs
now at the small poolside restaurant. Hikers who had a late breakfast may wish
to enjoy the pool first and snack later.
After a stay at the springs-- the group can decide how long-- we will return to
Zunil where we can visit a women's co-op (provided it is open on Sundays). Here
every purchase we make helps the native weavers more than when we buy through
Just a block downhill from the co-op we can get an agricultural education by
visiting the huge vegetable market where fruits and vegetables of myriad types
and vast quantities are sold for consumption all over Guatemala, and even
exported to Mexico. This is a real eye-opener!
Like Santiago Atitlán, Zunil is a center of Maximón worship.
There are several caves near the town where costumbre (traditional
ritual) is performed frequently. In fact, we sometimes can see ceremonies
on-going in one cave entrance.
Second night at Pensión Bonifaz.
Mo., Oct. 27: Today we roll northwestward along the Panamerican Highway
to the city of Huehuetenango, capital of the department (state) of that name.
In "Huehue" (pronounced "Way Way") we'll settle into the Hotel Casa Blanca, not
luxurious, but one of the newest hotels in Huehue and centrally located.
After checking in and a few minutes to freshen up, we'll go for an orientation
walk and decide on a place for lunch.
After lunch we'll drive a short distance to the ruins of Zaculeu. This is a
post-Classic Maya site showing strong Mexican influences. At the time of the
Spanish invasion Zaculeu was the capital of the Mam Maya. The Spaniards, led
by Pedro de Alvarado, laid siege to the site in 1525, eventually overcoming
native resistance and destroying the Mam stronghold. Archeological restoration
of the site first took place in 1948, funded by United Fruit.
At Zaculeu we can see plastered pyramids and remains of temples with Mexicanized
architecture. There is a restored ballcourt where the sacred, but deadly,
Mesoamerican ball game was played. There is also a special feature not seen by
anyone except those who know where to look: a pre-Columbian handprint
preserved in original plaster remaining on one of the ruined buildings.
Tu., Oct. 28: Eat a hearty breakfast today, for a hike is planned! We
will visit the Mam Maya town of San Juan Atitán, then hike across the
mountains for several hours to reach another Mam town, Todos Santos
San Juan Atitán is seldom visited by outsiders, and you'll find out why.
The road to San Juan is steep in places and not suitable for our bus, so we
will ride standing up in the back of pick-up trucks. The pickups are provided
with rails to hold on to and so you cannot fall out; this is the native
system of transportation. But we won't go completely native--to be completely
authentic we would have to be all crammed into just one truck!
San Juan is a completely Mam Maya town. When we were last there (2001)
absolutely everyone was in traditional native dress, not just the women, but
the men, too, and the children were miniatures
of the adults...we were lucky enough to be in town when school let out for
lunch and the kids were truly beautiful! The elaborate San Juan elaborate
costume is described in some detail on our traje website.
From San Juan, at around 7500-8000 ft elevation, we will hike about four hours
along ancient trails, crossing three ridges between San Juan and Todos Santos.
Hiking boots are a must, and you should have a daypack in which to carry your
water, snacks, rain poncho (just in case), sunblock, and camera. You should
be aware that this is a moderately strenuous (some will consider it genuinely
strenuous) hike passing through elevations from 8000 up to 10,000 feet.
Anyone not wishing to hike can skip the visit to San Juan and ride the bus from
Huehue to Todos Santos, arriving there well ahead of the hikers and having
plenty of time to look around the town, visit the market, admire the
distinctive costume, etc.
Note: Both hikers and non-hikers need to carry some snacks for lunch, as there
are no suitable eateries along the trail or in Todos Santos.
After crossing the last ridge (at around 10,170 ft) the hikers will descend to
the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán at 8140 ft. Shortly before reaching
the town, the trail passes through Cumanchúm, an archeological site
consisting of an ancient pyramid cluster. Some of the mounds now topped by the
weathered crosses made famous by
anthropologist Maud Oakes in her book "The Two Crosses of Todos Santos".
Like San Juan, Todos Santos is a Mam Maya town. Nonetheless, the native dress
here is totally different. Distinctive features of the Todos Santo men's
traje include the red and white striped
pants, the split-legged dark wool overpant (use of which seems to be dying
out) and the finely striped shirt featuring huge, intricately decorated collar.
The Todos Santos women's huipil features a distinctive collar decorated
with rick-rack. And as in San Juan, the children of Todos Santos are dressed
just like their parents. Again, for more
information on the native dress, visit our traje website.
How much time the hiking party has to enjoy Todos Santos depends on how well we
hike and what time we arrive. However, by 3 or 4:00 PM we should be boarding
our bus to drive on to our destination for the night, the Unicornio Azul, or
"Blue Unicorn" Lodge, about an hour and a half drive from Todos Santos.
The Unicornio Azul is a very special place, designed not so much as a hotel but
as a lodge for family outings with the focus on horseback riding. It is owned
and operated by a Guatemalan husband/French wife couple, and is located in a
once glaciated area of the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains at over 10,000 ft
elevation. Accommodations are rustic, and inasmuch as they were designed for
family groups (rooms typically sleep 3 to 5), you should plan to become good
friends with other members of our group early in the excursion, for we will be
sharing rooms here! For a preview of the lodge, click here: Unicornio Azul.
N.B.: While at the Blue Unicorn all meals will be included in the tour cost:
supper tonight, breakfast and lunch on the morrow.
We., Oct. 29: AM: After breakfast we will have the morning for resting
up from yesterday's hike, enjoying the splendid alpine scenery and refreshing
air, and, for the energetic, hiking about the grounds or horseback riding. A
one hour ride is included in the cost of lodging for all who wish to ride
(additional riding time at additional cost).
Lunch will be our last meal at the Unicornio, then at 1 PM we will again board
our bus and head for Chichicastenango. After driving across the formerly
glaciated plateau we will stop at a mirador for a view out across the
central volcanic highlands towards the Pacific-- a truly spectacular view when
the weather cooperates. Then we wind down the dramatic mountain front to
reach the town of Chiantla. A ways beyond Chiantla we take a brand new highway
to Santa Cruz del Quiché, capital of the department of Quiché, and
continue on another hour to reach Chichi. Driving time from the Unicornio to
Chichi should be about 3 1/2 hours exclusive of photo stops.
Upon arrival at Chichi we will go directly to the Mayan Inn, a famous old
hostelry. The Mayan Inn has been receiving
guests for three quarters of a century. Each room is unique, and all are
furnished with antiques, including some colonial pieces of museum quality. The
food is excellent, and service is provided by turbaned Maxeños,
i.e., K'iche' Maya men of Chichicastenango, in full traje. To learn
more about the Mayan Inn, visit their website: Mayan Inn. A night in the Mayan Inn is a memorable experience. Of
course, we've come to Chichi for its world-famous native market, and you can
start your shopping tonight as vendors begin setting up for tomorrow's big
Th., Oct. 30: You may be startled awake by explosions around 6 AM,
thinking a revolution is in progress, but it is only a typical market day in
Chichi, and the people do love their bombas along with all the other
noises, smells and color. This is without question the most colorful native
market in all the Americas, with native vendors coming from long distances to
sell their wares. See Rutahsa's website on Chichi's market by clicking here:
Market day at Chichi.
After taking pictures and haggling for blankets, wall hangings, native blouses,
men's shirts, ceramics, carved wooden masks, and all kinds of other crafts,
antiques, and souvenirs, you'll be ready for lunch and perhaps to show off your
newly acquired treasures to your fellow travelers. After lunch you might have
time for another short visit to the market, but by 3 PM we need to be rolling
down the road across the central highlands back to Antigua.
Back in Antigua we will take up our familiar lodgings at the Posada de Don
Fr., Oct. 31: A full free day in Antigua! By now you know your way
around this charming city and have an idea which colonial ruins, museums, shops,
and fine restaurants you still need to visit. We highly recommend a
mid-morning trip to nearby La Azotea Cultural Center (Azotea provides a shuttle
service for under a dollar) where you can tour a working coffee processing
plant, experience Casa K'ojom museum of native music, and enjoy textile
displays, a video and other cultural exhibits. Or you can head out on your own
to explore more ruins or visit any of several museums in Antigua. Visit the
jade shops, or an indigenous women's co-op selling fine weavings, or shop in
the city marketplace (a wondrously bewildering complex) or the nearby artesans'
market. Try to figure out where and what kind of food to eat: plato
típico, Italian, Chinese, vegetarian, or other... Or just relax in
the central park and get your shoes shined. Use your guide book and enjoy the
day--there is so much to see and enjoy in Antigua.
As usual, for the energetic, we have another option: a half-day trip to
Volcán Pacaya National Park. This involves an hour and a half bus ride
from Antigua to the park, leaving around noon (exact time to be announced on
the trip), followed by an uphill hike of about an hour and a half to the crest
of an ancient volcanic rim. From this rim you get great views of the highly
active cinder cone of Pacaya. It is also
possible to hike on another 15 minutes to approach within a few feet of an
active lava flow, something that is quite exciting! [N.B.: Due to a 2005 lava
flow it is no longer very practical to ascend the main peak, though some
visitors still do-- but this means they miss seeing the currently active flows
The return hike down is likely to be in the dark, returning to Antigua around 8
PM. The trail is easy, but you do need a flashlight! If the cone is in an
explosive mode, you will appreciate the timing of this excursion: the night
views from the old crater rim can be quite spectacular with volcanic fireworks!
For more on Volcán Pacaya, visit our website Pacaya Volcano.
Second night at the PDR.
Sa., Nov. 1: Today is Día de Todos Los Santos, that is,
All Saints Day on the Christian calendar. However, in parts of Mexico and
Guatemala it is celebrated as the Day of the Dead. After breakfast, we will
board our bus for a short ride to the small highland Maya town of Santiago
Sacatepéquez where the celebration of the Día de los
Muertos (Day of the Dead) has become a noteworthy event. Families gather
in the cemetery to commune with the spirits of their ancestors, decorating
graves with flowers and sharing a meal
--including fiambre, a special food made only for this ceremony-- with
the dead. And colorful
barriletes (kites), some of which are huge, are flown to the heavens
for better communication between the living and the dead.
Although families gather to remember deceased loved ones, the spirit of the
occasion is one of a joyful community fair:
vendors sell refreshments in the cemetery, there is competition among the kite
flying teams (yes, the kites are so big that teamwork is required to get them
aloft), people picnic amongst the graves, and visitors are welcome. You should
be prepared for crowds, and it may require a real effort on the part of our
driver to extricate us from the jam of vehicles, but that's all part of the
For additional images and to get a better idea of what the Day of the Dead
celebration is all about, we recommend you take a look at the following
websites, but be sure to use your back button to return to our trip itinerary:
Third night at the PDR.
Su., Nov. 2: Today we are headed to Copán Ruins, which means
crossing the border into Honduras (you can carve one more notch on your
passport-- but take a good look at the stamp when your passport is returned to
you!). However, long before reaching Copán, there is the small, but
very important Maya ruins of Quiriguá. Here, exquisitely carved stelae
are the tallest in the Maya realm and
exceptionally well-preserved. Quiriguá is
also famous for its bizarre zoomorphic boulders
not found at other Maya sites. And in spite of its small size, Quiriguá
is quite important historically: its king, Cauac Sky, defeated 18-Rabbit, the
king of the larger and more powerful Maya city-state of Copán. This
defeat was likely a factor in the subsequent political decline of Copán.
Upon arrival at the small rural city of Copán we will take up our
lodgings at the Hotel Marina Copán. You will find the town charming, and full of
friendly people. If we arrive in time, we will visit the small Copán
Museum on the square. Though somewhat overshadowed now by the larger new
museum out at the archeological site, this little museum displays some
must-see treasures, most notably the large, exquisitely carved flint
eccentrics, truly mind-boggling examples of fine art by master flint-knappers.
Mo., Nov. 3: All day at Copán Ruins National Park, starting
with a guided tour of the 1000-year-old Classic Maya site. Copán is
famed for its marvelous carvings, which are better preserved here than in most
Maya sites due to the use of volcanic rock that resists weathering. In
addition to the numerous stelae depicting Copán's kings, there are pyramids and temples, and a fine
ceremonial ballcourt, where the ritual game
was played for keeps. In 1999, a series of archeological exploration tunnels
underneath the ancient pyramids was opened to the public, revealing the
completely intact buried temple known as Rosalila. In addition to the pyramids
and temples, there is the new Museum of Sculpture, which houses many of the
finest Copán sculptures (some of the stelae that you will have seen in
the ruins are well-done replicas, with the originals moved into this museum for
their preservation). Finally, the town of Copán itself is such a
pleasant, friendly country town, a really nice place to spend a day. Second
night at the Marina Copán.
Tu., Nov. 4: Today we reluctantly leave endearing Copán, and
yet with a certain degree of eagerness in the knowledge that we are returning
to wonderful Antigua Guatemala. The trip takes about five driving hours, but
we'll have stops at the border, at a noteworthy geologic site or two, and for
lunch, so we've got things to see and do en route! Once back in Antigua, we'll
settle into the PDR (or possibly, it's annex, La Posadita) for a final night.
We., Nov. 5: Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Today
is the day to fly out to the U.S. (or to wherever home is), carrying tons of
photos, souvenirs and memories of a remarkable country and even more remarkable
people, indigenous and Europeanized, historic and present. Along with these
memories of a great trip, you will carry with you a determination to return,
for Guatemala is just too fantastic to visit only once!
For those with a little more time, the adventure is not yet over! We offer
this two-day extension to the main trip so that you can visit the world-famous
Classic Maya ruins of Tikal, its dense tropical jungle, and wonderful wildlife.
We., Nov. 5: Instead of flying back home, you will be picked up at the
PDR early in the morning and taken to the Guatemala City airport for the flight
out to Flores, the airport serving Tikal. At the airport you will be met by a
representative of the Jungle Lodge and board their bus for the hour-long ride
to Tikal National Park.
Upon arrival at the Jungle Lodge you will leave your luggage at the reception
desk and go on a guided introductory tour of the sprawling archeological
complex, passing through the great plaza,
flanked by the soaring pyramids of Temple I
and Temple II, then on to Temple IV or elsewhere. Depending on the interest
and stamina of the group, this orientation tour can last two to four hours, so
wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring water, snacks and sunblock.
In addition to the amazing ruins of a once populous Classic Maya city, Tikal is
also a wonderful site for its lowland tropical jungle, its
brilliant birds and other wildlife. Keep
alert and you'll see parrots, toucans, toucanettes, hummingbirds, oropendolas,
the beautiful ocellated turkey, and many
other avian inhabitants of the jungle. And you'll almost certainly see foxes,
guatuzas (agoutis), pisotes (coatimundi),
and spider monkeys. You might see howler
monkeys, deer, peccary, small alligators in the water hole near the visitor's
center, or other jungle beasts. On our June 2001 trip one lucky Rutahsa
Adventurer had a wonderful close-up view of a jaguar napping in a trail in
The guided visit will end back at the Jungle Lodge where you can have lunch
(included) and then check into your cabaña.
For the afternoon you may want to return to the ruins. Birdwatching and
wildlife viewing improves in the late afternoon and early evening.
Recommended: an evening visit to the "Lost World" where the giant pyramid makes
a great place to watch the jungle birds come in to roost for the evening and
to await the sunset. (The ruins are officially closed at 6 PM, so a park guard
may shoo you towards the park entrance before dark. But just in case he can
be talked into letting you stay late, as sometimes happens, be sure to bring a
flashlight for the walk back in the dark.)
Alternatively, you may want to visit the two Tikal museums, or enjoy the Jungle
Lodge's small but refreshing swimming pool. Tikal really is a wonderful site,
but it is hot! Fortunately, November is cooler than most of the year.
Th., Nov. 6: Get up early-- You can watch sunrise from high atop
Temple IV. And by getting into the ruins early you both improve your chances
of seeing wildlife as well as beat the heat.
If you are one of the early risers, you may want to come back to the Jungle
Lodge for breakfast (which is included) then hit the ruins again to prowl and
marvel amid crumbling, jungle-encrusted
temples, palaces, causeways, pyramids, and numerous ruined edifices of
Wherever you wander, you are sure to enjoy...however, do not fail to be back at
the Jungle Lodge in time for the afternoon bus (generally at 2 PM, but check
with your Tikal guide to be sure!) back to Flores for the return flight to
Guate City, where you will be picked up and returned to the PDR in Antigua (or
its annex, La Posadita) for your last night in Guatemala.
Fr. Nov. 7: An airport shuttle will pick you up at the PDR and take you
to the Guatemala City airport for your international flight out. But we
repeat-- we think you'll come back-- Guatemala is unforgettable, and it's
impossible to see all its wonders in a single visit...not even with Rutahsa
Three little girls from Santiago Atitlán, with a friend from
COST OF THE 2008 EXCURSION:
NOTE: Trip prices DO NOT include US-Guatemala-US air fare. Travelers are
responsible for arranging their own air travel to and from Guatemala. We do
provide airport transfers in at the beginning and out at the end of the
excursion. For excellent prices on air fares to Guatemala, Rutahsa Adventures
recommends Solar Tours at 1-800-388-7652, specialists in bargain priced flights
to Latin America. And, of course, deals can be found by shopping on-line.
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala-2008 Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric
Finch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a reservation, request a trip application blank now; when you receive
it, fill it out and send it, along with a deposit check for $450 made out to
Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., to 299 Allen Hollow Rd., Cookeville, TN 38501. Once
your trip application blank has been received and your deposit accepted by
Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., you will be guaranteed a space on this excursion.
Your deposit will be fully refunded if for any reason the trip is canceled.
Starting in 1998 Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel began recommending Rutahsa
Adventures' Guatemala excursions. For example, take a look at what Frommer's
had to say about our 2002 Guatemala excursion: Frommer's review.
And again, Frommer's recommends our Day of the Dead
To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
Thanks for visiting!
- 16-day excursion (US-GUA-US airfare not included): We can deliver this
fabulous trip for just $1810 p/p, in double room accommodations.
- A minimum of 10 participants is required to make the trip go, and a maximum
of 16 will be allowed.
- Because some of the hotels are small, single-room accommodations may not be
available at all lodgings. Nonetheless, if you prefer a room for one, let us
know and we will see what we can work out. Singles supplement: $390
- The cost of the two-day Tikal extension: $420 p/p in double room
accommodations; $493 in single room accommodations. Included: transportation
from Antigua to GUA airport, flight to Flores, transportation to Tikal National
Park, first day entry to park, 4-hour guided introductory tour of ruins with
bilingual guide, first day lunch, Tikal museum entry, overnight at the Jungle
Lodge, 2nd day breakfast, ground transportation back to FRS airport, return
flight to GUA, transportation back to Antigua, and overnight in the Posada de
Don Rodrigo (or its annex, La Posadita), and transfer back to GUA airport for
your flight home.
- The trip fee includes a $25 tax deductible 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-ofimprovements 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.
Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.