Glorious azure Lake Atitlán, with its soaring volcanoes.
NEW YEAR's 2002 in GUATEMALA!
Leave Old Man Winter and the stateside rush and pressures of the Christmas
season behind you by joining this special relaxing end-of-the-year excursion to
beautiful Guatemala, the "Land of Eternal Springtime".
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 60% of Guatemala's population and speaking some 20
different languages, have maintained a rich and colorful culture that gives
Guatemala its basic character. So much to see, so much to leave you
marveling, 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 summer excursion to Guatemala,
and the first year of the new millennium was no exception-- we had a great trip
in June. But now we want to offer a trip in the U.S. wintertime: Rutahsa's
end-of-the-year Guatemala Adventure will take place Dec. 27 - Jan. 12.
World-famous highlights include colonial Antigua Guatemala, the colorful
indigenous market of Chichicastenango, glorious Lake Atitlán, and the
mysteries of the Classic Maya ceremonial center of Copán (Honduras).
But Rutahsa Adventures will also get you off the beaten track and on the back
roads to see the real Guatemala in the remote Ixil Maya town of Nebaj,
at the misty crater lake of Chicabal where ancient rites are still practiced,
and to other sites seldom visited by outsiders.
The itinerary covers the best of Guatemala, but maintains a relaxed pace, with
two nights (or longer) at every hotel save one. Here it is:
Thurs. Dec. 27: After flying 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, surpassed 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 seemingly endless, the climate at around 5000 feet
above sea level highly agreeable, and the overall ambience delightful.
Fri., Dec. 28: Morning: an introductory tour of Antigua's most
important colonial buildings, guided by Elizabeth Bell, author of one of the
best-selling Antigua guidebooks. Afternoon: free time to explore more romantic
ruins, visit the jade shops, museums, market, etc. Any excursion participants
unable to arrive in Guatemala on Dec. 27th may join the group today. Second
night at the Posada de Don Rodrigo.
Sat., Dec. 29: 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 winding road brings us to Santiago Atitlán, a Tz'utujiil 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'utujiil town remarkably little
changed from its traditional ways. We will stay at the Posada Santiago, a
charming hotel of unusual stone architecture, unique bungalows, lovely gardens
and excellent cuisine.
Sun., Dec. 30: 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 all day to prowl about Santiago's narrow streets, visit the
ancient Catholic church, perhaps to visit
the shrine of the cult of Maximón, and to visit the Peace Park to learn
something of Santiago's tragic experiences during La Violencia in the
1980s. Some may wish to swim off the Posada Santiago's private dock for
guests. And, of course, there's shopping to be done at the artisans' shops
lining the main street.
Mon., Dec. 31: After time for a leisurely breakfast we'll take a boat
across gorgeous and dramatic Atitlán to the main lakeside town of
Panajachel. We don't have to hassle with our luggage on the boat as it will be
in the bus sent around the lake to await us at the docks.
Boarding our bus in "Pana", 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 west along the Panamerican Highway towards Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's
second most important city. En route we will pass by the K'iche' Maya town of
Nahualá, where many of the men still wear the wool kilt traditional to
this village. On beyond Nahualá we pass a windy, treeless area 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 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 checking into the Bonifaz you have two choices: 1) Eat lunch in the
Bonifaz' excellent restaurant, then spend the afternoon roaming about Xela's
main square area, discovering its neoclassical buildings, marketplace, museums,
and an internet cafe where ex-pats like to gather, all conveniently close at
hand to the Bonifaz. Or, 2) Grab your swimming suit and hop back on the bus
for an hour-long drive to Fuentes Georginas, a hot
springs spa where we can have a late lunch and soak in relaxing 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. Tough to decide which option to
pick, but our personal favorite here at Rutahsa is the second choice!
It's New Year's Eve and you can expect some goings-on at the central square
right in front of our hotel. Guatemalans love their noisy
bombas, and you might consider bringing earplugs for when you decide
to turn in for some shut-eye this night. A special New Year's Eve supper will
be held for us at the Bonifaz (included in the excursion package).
Tues., Jan. 1: Happy New Year! And welcome to 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. Actually, we'll pile
into the back of a pick-up truck and be carried up the first three kilometers
of steep dirt road, passing through the outskirts of San Martín where
we will see native costume, including, if we are lucky, the very distinctive
traditional men's outfit.
From the end of our bouncy pick-up ride, 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
special days. Although the Maya New Year's Day does not coincide with the
Gregorian calendar, it may well be that something special will be going on here
today...we'll find out.
Back to Xela for a second night at the Pensión Bonifaz and supper at one
of the good restaurants of this pleasant city.
Weds., Jan. 2: This morning we drive along the Pan American highway to
Chichicastenango, where we will take up lodging 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 Thursday market,
but you can start your souvenir shopping tonight if you like.
Thurs., Jan. 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, replete with 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 1 p.m. we'll load up and start
out for the mountain town of Nebaj.
Nebaj is the principal town in the "Ixil Triangle", the area where the Ixil
Maya live (the towns of Cotzal and Chajul being the other two points in the
triangle). This town region was especially hard hit by the army and the
guerrillas (mostly the former, but the latter are not without blame) during the
early 1980s. Fortunately, peace has returned to this beautiful area and its
resilient people. We will stay in the Hotel Ixil Annex, a fairly basic place,
but relatively new, clean, and quite adequate.
Nebaj is justly famous for its beautiful traje (traditional dress),
which won an international native costume contest some years ago. The
women's costume is particularly striking.
Fri., Jan. 4: Today we have planned a hike of several hours through
verdant mountain scenery, winding up at the town of Chajul (where a costume
totally different from that of Nebaj is worn). Those who do not wish to hike
can spend the day in Nebaj, and/or ride the bus to Chajul to meet the hikers.
Second night at the Hotel Ixil Annex.
Sat., Jan. 5: The morning will be spent enjoying more mountain
panoramas and dizzying roads as we travel from Nebaj to the coffee town of
Cobán, capital of the Department of Alta Verapaz.
In Cobán we'll stay at La Posada, an
inn of colonial charm and some of the best food in all Guatemala. After lunch
here we'll take a short walk to Finca Margarita for a tour of a coffee
plantation, seeing how coffee is grown and processed, and sampling of their
products, of course.
Sun., Jan. 6: Cobán area. Things to do include visiting an
orchid nursery (thousands of plants, hundreds of species), visiting an
excellent private museum of Maya artifacts, going to a nearby park for a swim
in a lovely natural swimming hole, and, of course, visiting the local
marketplace if you've not seen enough of markets! We'll decide what to do
according to the group's druthers when we're there. Second night at La Posada.
Mon., Jan. 7: Today we have a fairly long drive, but all on good roads,
from Cobán to Copán! Hard to tell from the names whether you're
coming or going, but Copán is actually a country away! We'll cross the
international border to reach the town of Copán Ruinas 12 kilometers
inside the Rep. of Honduras. The border crossing is rather bucolic-- something
like a scene out of a movie about banana republics! And the town of
Copán Ruinas is also rural, but with an interesting overlay of
international activity. It is a thoroughly charming small town of cobbled
streets and very friendly people. Our hotel, the Marina Copán is
delightful, complete with pool and swim-up bar. In addition to the Marina's
restaurant there are several good eateries in town, plus internet cafes and
shops with wood carvings, lovely pottery, and other items.
Tues., Jan. 8: All day at Copán. Copán ruins are
magnificent. Whereas most Classic Maya cities were built of limestone (which
slowly dissolves away in the tropical rains), Copán was built of
weather-resisting volcanic tuffs. For this reason the stone carvings are
exceptionally well-preserved. And stelae of
Copán's once-powerful kings, altars, glyph panels, wall friezes, and
other carvings are everywhere. Copán is called the "Paris of the
Maya" for its abundance of sculptural art. In addition to temples, pyramids
and courtyards, Copán features a very elegant ballcourt, where a deadly serious ritual ballgame was played.
Your excursion package includes your entry to the partially restored ruins of
the thousand-year-old Maya ceremonial center, the tunnels under the ruins
(revealing the intact Maya temple known as "Rosalila"), the wonderful Museum of
Sculpture with its full-scale replica of "Rosalila"), and the small but important Old Copán Museum on
the city square. You'll need all day to see it all. Second night at the
Weds., Jan. 9: Back to Antigua today, as our Guatemala odyssey comes
full circle. En route we'll stop at an obsidian outcrop where you can see (and
sample) the raw material from which the Maya made knives, spear points and
other items of trade. You can collect some pretty souvenirs here, but be
careful: this black volcanic glass can give you a nasty cut if you handle it
Once again back in Antigua, this time we'll
settle in at the Quinta de las Flores, located on the edge of Antigua, quieter
than our original hotel, but still within easy walking distance of the central
plaza. Within the meticulously manicured, peaceful gardens we can properly
reflect about the many wonders seen --so far-- on this excursion, where we have
been, whom we have met, and what we have learned. The Quinta has a small
restaurant exclusively for its guests, and, of course, Antigua is loaded with
Thurs., Jan. 10: 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 1 1/2 to 2 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 can be 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 Quinta de las Flores;
the contrast between Pacaya's barren peak full of primal energy and the
tranquility of the Quinta's gardens could hardly be more striking!
Fri., Jan. 11: 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
Quinta de las Flores.
Sat., Jan. 12: All good things must come to an end, and today is the
day you head to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City to wing your
way back home, carrying lots of photos and treasured crafts, addresses of your
traveling-companions-become-friends, and a million memories. Shuttle service
will be provided at the appropriate time for your particular flight schedule.
HOWEVER, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO END JUST YET...
OPTIONAL TWO DAY TIKAL EXTENSION:
For travelers with a little extra time and a yen to see another world-class
archeological site that is very different from Copán, both in the nature
of its ruins and its setting, Rutahsa Adventures has organized the following
two-day trip extension to Tikal National Park.
Sat., Jan. 12: 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. But most
spectacular of all are the soaring skyscraper-like pyramid/temples...if
Copán was the "Paris" of the Maya, Tikal was surely the "New York City"!
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. One of our lucky
travelers in June 2001 got a good look at a jaguar sprawled out on a trail; he
and the great spotted cat stared at each other for about 10 seconds, until the
cat got up and ambled off, with our amazed (and intrepid!) adventurer
following behind taking pictures!
Tikal is really a wonderful site, but it is hot! Fortunately, the
Jungle Lodge has a pool!
Sun., Jan. 13: 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 Quinta de las Flores.
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!
Mon., Jan. 14: 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
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. For
excellent prices on air fares to Guatemala, Rutahsa Adventures gladly
recommends Solar Tours at 1-800-388-7652; ask for Patricia at extension 558,
and tell her you are going on Rutahsa Adventures Dec. trip to her homeland.
Also, MENA Travel at 1-800-536-6362; ask for John and tell him Rutahsa
Adventures sent you.
A minimum of 8 travelers is necessary to make this trip go; a maximum of 16
will be allowed. Thanks to a wonderful review by Frommer's, our June 2001 trip
sold out, so interested parties are advised to make their reservations early.
If you'd like to see what Frommer's said about our most recent Guatemala
adventure, click here: Frommer's reviews Rutahsa Adventures Guatemala excursion.
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala New Years 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
Nov. 1, 2001. After Nov. 1 there will be a cancellation penalty of $175 if
cancellation is made before Dec. 1. In the event of cancellation after Dec. 1
the full deposit is subject to retention.
Thanks for visiting!
- 17-day trip: $1482, in double room accommodations. At the present (July
20, 2001) this price, based on quotes from our suppliers, is believed to be
firm. However, in the unexpected event of a major price increase by one
of our suppliers we would have to revise the trip cost.
- 2-day Tikal extension: $321 p/p, in double accommodations. Included in
the Tikal trip: round trip transportation from Antigua to Tikal (including
flight from Guatemala City), first day entry to Tikal National Park,
guided introductory tour; lunch on the day of arrival at Tikal; lodging Jan.
12 at the Jungle Lodge; and Tikal Museum entry; lodging Jan. 13 at Quinta de
las Flores; shuttle service from Antigua to the airport on Jan. 14. Not
included: Tikal park entry Jan. 13 (approx. $6.50), drinks, additional meals,
- Singles supplement for the main Guatemala excursion: single-room
accommodations on the main Guatemala trip are available for an additional fee,
still to be determined; there is one possible exception: it may not be
possible to have a single room in Nebaj, due to the limitations of the small
- Singles supplement for the Tikal extension: TBA.
Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.