Day 1: Antigua
Before arriving in Antigua for the first day of your dream Belize and Guatemala journey, you’ll fly into the international airport in Guatemala City (there are no flights from the United States direct into Antigua) and take private ground transfer to El Convento Boutique Hotel in the old world city center of Antigua.
With emblematic Colonial architecture, vivid multicolor stucco homes, melancholy ruins and meandering cobblestone lanes, Antigua feels as though time stood still in the 16th century, while remaining an exceedingly cosmopolitan city of almost 35,000 Antiguenos and full to brimming with lavish hotels, fine dining and upscale boutiques. Once the capital of Guatemala and one of the most important Spanish colonies in the Americas, Antigua, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its perennial appeal and enchanting relics and ruins.
During your stay in Antigua, you’ll be intoxicated by your stay at El Convento Boutique Hotel, where quiet sanctuary and traditional simplicity meet bespoke amenities and modern convenience, garnering the 26-suite hotel several award-winning nods, including a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice award and a Condé Nast Johansen Best Hotel in Central America nod. The boutique hotel is nestled on a charming cobblestone lane near the famous Capuchinas Convent and also is home to the outstanding Elu Restaurant and Lounge. All accommodations are finely appointed and extremely spacious. Some suites also include fireplaces, private gardens, hot tubs and cedar-beamed ceilings.
Day 2: Antigua Walking OR Coffee Tour
If a coffee-centric tour through the countryside sounds appealing, you’ll start your day by meeting your bilingual driver for our DLG Fair Trade Coffee Tour. Meet your driver at hotel reception for a short transfer to nearby San Miguel Escobar village. Once you arrive in San Miguel Escobar, a local guide from As Green as it Gets (AGAIG) will meet you for a tour that includes visits to small local farmers, where you can work alongside them before tasting their delicious handiwork. While there, you’ll learn about what it takes to produce coffee each day, before enjoying a simple traditional lunch in the home of a local family. AGAIG is a non-profit dedicated to supporting independent coffee farmers and promoting sustainable agriculture throughout Guatemala. This tour includes a donation to AGAIG. Some activities may be altered outside coffee season, which runs from November through March. Once back in Antigua, you’re free to explore in the afternoon.
If you’d rather sleep in, you can join the afternoon half-day walking tour of Antigua’s cultural, historical and social highlights. Our expert guide will meet you at hotel reception after lunch to begin your behind-the-scenes look at some of the most recognized buildings and monuments in this Colonial city, including convent, church and cathedral ruins. Entry to the Cathedral, La Merced Church and Iglesia San Francisco are included with this tour, but guides are flexible, so feel free to speak up and pay the entry fee directly if you want to see additional or alternative monuments and sites. Tuc tucs may be used during this excursion, and these fees are included.
If you would like to participate in the morning DLG Fairly Traded Coffee Tour and the afternoon Walking Tour, please let us know and we can arrange to add this on to your trip.
Once the day winds to a close and evening hangs over the city, we recommend you enjoy dinner on your own at one of Antigua’s many outstanding restaurants or, if you’re a more adventurous eater, grab some street food from one of the street vendors or the local market. The best way to find vendors with authentic, well-prepared cuisine is to keep a look out for long lines of locals— they know where the most delicious dishes are found. If you’d prefer a guided tour of this kind, we also are happy to schedule a private Street Food Tour for the (not included in package price), during which you’ll sample some of Antigua’s most popular street food while learning the cultural and historical significance of the cuisine offered here.
Day 3: Lake Atitlan, Comapala & Iximche
On day three of your Belize and Guatemala Mayan Circle tour, you’re heading to the magical Lake Atitlan region for a relaxing and illuminating respite at the uber posh Casa Palopo Atitlan following a day trip to the Iximche archeological site and Comalapa Market. Prepare yourself to experience the diverse, vibrant and rich traditions of this beautiful Guatemalan Highlands region for the next three days.
Surrounded by three massive dormant volcanoes, rugged hills and a dozen or so authentic Maya villages each with its own unique and diverse traditions, Lake Atitlan has been called the most beautiful lake in the world and is regularly compared to Lake Cuomo in Italy— it also often is inaccurately described as one large geographic region. In actuality, Lake Atitlan is a collection of small distinct towns each with its own character. This distinctive ambiance means it’s possible to discover something totally fresh and new on every stop of a lake tour on which you’ll find charming indigenous hamlets where natives still practice ancient Maya rituals and don traditional attire.
Upon arrival in Lake Atitlan, you’ll check into the incomparable Casa Palopo Atitlan— an adults-only (15+) Relais & Chateaux playground where an unrivaled setting and completely personalized service will energize your mind and settle your soul. Nestled on the idyllic shores of Lake Atitlan in Santa Catarina Palopó Village, this distinctive hotel features seven expansive rooms in the main building, as well as a separate two-bedroom villa, originally constructed as a private home but converted in 2000. Since that time, Casa Polopo continuously has been named “the best luxury hotel in Guatemala.” Despite its opulent atmosphere, that includes quite a collection of contemporary and local art, the hotel amazingly has retained its private home feel, as well as the languid pace of the misty Highland landscape where it resides.
Before settling into the ambiance of Lake Atitlan, however, prepare to get on the road for a one-hour private transfer to Comalapa. The town of Comalapa is a world-famous yet remote outpost of culture and known primarily as the birthplace of the local naif painting tradition. Here, you’ll meet area painters experienced in the style and witness a renowned mural painted by local school children to depict the history of Guatemala.
During your visit to Comalapa, we recommend stopping by the museum honoring a local resident known for composing Guatemala’s national anthem and visiting the nearby market to watch locals buy and sell produce and goods in preparation of the week ahead. You’ll enjoy a lunch in Comalapa before journeying onto the Maya archeological site of Iximche.
Iximche is one of the smaller Mesoamerican archeological sites but its scenic appeal made it a national monument in the 1960s. Also the capital of the late postclassic Kaqchikel May kingdom during the 15th and 16th centuries, Iximche truly is a pre-Colombian gem. Here, you’ll explore some 160 mapped structures, including excavated palaces, temples and ball courts. Perched high on a ridge overlooking deep ravines and flowing rivers, this picturesque site is well worth the trip. There is a small on-site museum that’s worth a visit, but be sure to bask in the solitude and beauty of the ruins, as relatively few tourists ever make this trip— in fact, you’re much more likely to find yourself primarily amongst indigenous Mayan company.
When you’re ready to say goodbye to this Maya treasure, you’ll hit the road to Lake Atitlan for checkin at Casa Polopo.
Day 4: Lake Atitlan, Santiago & San Juan
Remember the collection of small distinct towns situated along the shores of Lake Atitlan? Today is the day to discover them up close. Your personal guide will pick you up from Casa Palopo for a short drive to nearby San Juan La Laguna Village. Here, you’ll have a chance to visit with a local textile cooperative to learn about the use of natural dyes and see a traditional back strap loom used. Once you’ve experienced this intimate perspective on Guatemala’s vibrant handmade textiles, you’ll stop into the workshops and homes of native naif painters before boarding a boat to neighboring Santiago.
Once you disembark in Santiago, you’ll enjoy a lunch break before walking with your guide to find the home where the god Maximon currently “lives” as part of an ancient Mayan ritual. Each year, the effigy of Maximon is transferred to a new location for a new member of the tribe to enjoy the honor of caring for him. It’s possible you may even witness a shaman performing ceremonies for locals, though this can’t be guaranteed.
After discovering the unusual rites of Maximon, we recommend visiting the local church for a history lesson on this very traditional town before exploring the local market to learn about the primitive art and textiles of the village. When you’re ready to depart, your expert guide will transfer you back to Casa Palopo where you’re free to enjoy the evening grabbing a nosh at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, lounging poolside, fireside in the gazebo or overlooking the lake in the hot tub.
Day 5: Chichicastenango & Guatemala City
Next, get ready for a breathtaking private drive through the Central Highland region en route to Guatemala City and a stop at the colorful Chichicastenango Market. On the way, don’t miss local Maya going about their normal days, whether peddling their wares, working in the fields, collecting firewood to ward off the chilly Highland nights or simply traveling between markets. You’ll arrive at Chichi Market roughly an hour into the trip and your guide will assist as you discover this busy market. Here, you’ll find intricate handmade textiles, locally-grown veggies and fruits and everything in between. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays all year. While in Chichi, we recommend you visit the Pre-Colombian Santo Tomás Catholic Church, where Quiche priests still practice traditional Maya ceremonies today. The surprising dichotomy of primitive Maya rituals merged with Catholicism exemplifies the unique way different faiths have blended into one here in Guatemala’s Highland region.
While in this one-of-a-kind town, be sure to make the easy trek up to Pascaul Abaj or to the community cemetery near the outskirts of town. You may catch a shaman performing ceremonies for the locals if you’re lucky. Rest assured, there is enough time to visit at least one (but probably both if moving quickly) and still make it in time to enjoy lunch at a neighborhood eatery before heading out for the next leg of your dream vacation.
After Chichi, it’s onto the Guatemala City International Airport for a domestic flight to the Department of El Petén and Flores. Here, you’ll relax and unwind in a waterfront suite at Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel.
Though it covers nearly one-third of the country, El Petén is the most sparsely populated region in Guatemala. For this reason, it still is very much considered a bit of a wild frontier. Once a glistening mecca of the expansive Classic Maya civilization, the grand cities of old have long since been overtaken by jungle where monkeys and parrots greatly outnumber people. Nevertheless, El Petén has become one of the most requested destinations in all of Guatemala, enjoying increasingly easy access with the relatively recent addition of a new international airport and paved roads. Despite its surge in popularity, the region remains authentic, understated and much less developed than most anywhere else in country.
You may think it’s tough to find high quality hotels and eco-lodges in such a remote wilderness (and you’d be correct), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few to love. One of our favorites is the all-suite Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel. At Las Lagunas, situated on the banks of the Quexil Lagoon, you’ll experience luxury by nature from a home-base in one of 35 suites dotted throughout 200 acres of undomesticated private nature reserve. All suites are comfortable and upscale, but we recommend the waterfront suites for their serene lagoon-front locale. You’ll be gobsmacked to find supreme indulgence in the jungle at Las Lagunas.
Day 6: Tikal Tour
After a tasty a la carte breakfast at the hotel, you’ll meet your private guide at reception for a personal tour of Tikal National Park. The most famous, as well as one of the biggest and most excavated of all surviving ancient Maya cities, Tikal is the crown jewel of El Petén. It’s a sprawling archeological site with at least 3,000 mapped structures and countless more still hidden beneath the densely-packed rainforest that surrounds the site.
While exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, be sure to keep a look out for the exotic mammals and tropical birds, as you follow in the footsteps of the approximately 50,000+ Maya who lived at Tikal between 800BC and 900AD. Don’t miss the Acropolis, the Great Plaza, 144-foot Temple of the Jaguar and the 125-foot Temple of the Masks before stopping into the museum and visit center. All that archeological exploration is going to leave you hungry, so your guide has brought along a gourmet picnic lunch to enjoy in the park before heading back to Las Lagunas.
Day 7: Yaxha & Topoxte Tour
We know your waterfront suite at Las Lagunas is so comfy that it’s tempting to simply settle in for the duration of your time here, but there’s still so much to do and see! Today, you’ll be swept off to Yaxha National Park for a private tour of one of the less famous Mayan archeological sites. Although there are other bigger ancient Maya cities within easy driving distance of the hotel, the hilltop setting of Yaxha with its 360-degree scenic vistas of two picturesque lakes make this a particularly appealing excursion. Don’t forget to experience the view from the top of Temple 216 in the East Acropolis before you meet your private guide for sunset wine and snacks on the banks of Lake Yaxha and a sunset lagoon cruise.
When the cruise is complete, we’ll start the trip to the Guatemala-Belize border to begin the second week of your dream getaway. The drive to Melchor takes about an hour and is a private transfer. From the border crossing, we’ll continue into the western region of Belize and the breathtaking Cayo District, which borders El Petén.
The Cayo is a vast highland stretch of remote and rugged terrain that mirrors El Petén in many ways. This largely undiscovered inland expanse is a sweeping wilderness of cave systems, rainforest, rivers, waterfalls, ranches and, of course, Maya ruins. There are no beaches here, but the opportunity to experience some 2,000 square miles of pristine natural landscape draw intrepid travelers who brave the wild frontier on foot, by horseback and bike, via canoe, kayak or raft and even via aerial walks and zip lines. Although the small country’s capital of Belmopan is located in Cayo, the hip Colonial city of San Ignacio takes first prize as the true hub of the region with its dining, shopping and nightlife.
One of the can’t-miss attractions in the Cayo District is the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, which you’ll call home during your jungle excursion at Blancaneaux Lodge. Once an abandoned lodge, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola discovered and renovated the abandoned property in the early 1980s for use as a private family hideaway. The first Coppola property in Belize, today the Blancaneaux is an eco-luxury resort tucked away in an untamed mountain setting with 20 thatch roofed cabanas of unrivaled beauty. Dotted amongst well manicured gardens high on a ridge overlooking a languid river, the one and two-bedroom cottages are decorated and furnished with local textiles and woods. Although all accommodations are lovely, we recommend the two luxury cabanas, two-bedroom villa, Enchanted Cottage, family cabana or even the Coppola family’s private villa for VIP clients. Luxury cabanas include private outdoor pools and showers, but be forewarned that there is no air conditioning in any of the cabanas and villages. However, ceiling fans located throughout ensure a comfortable stay thanks to the high elevation. The Blancaneaux Lodge boasts an on-site restaurant and bar, as well as a freshwater swimming pool, hot tub and day spa.
Day 8: Caracol & Rio Frio Cave & Pools
After an invigorating breakfast at the Blancaneaux Lodge, you’ll be met by your private guide to venture out into the subtropical rainforest en route to San Antonio village. Here, in this renowned Maya village, you’ll learn about the Mestizo (a combination of Spanish and Maya) way of life and culture. Residents of San Antonio hail from two tribes: The Yucatec and the Mopan Maya. It is primarily recognized as the home of one of the last practicing shamans in Belize.
From San Antonio village, you’ll begin the journey to the 106,000-acre Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve— a protected national park that, unfortunately, still shows signs of the catastrophic logging industry of the mid-century and the pine beetle infestation of the late 1990s. Today, just a few decades later, reforestation programs are taking place to rectify past wrongs and our guides will discuss this history with you as the landscape transitions from pine forest to tropical rainforest entering the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.
Just about an hour outside of Pine Ridge Reserve, the remarkable Mayan ruins at Caracol appear over the horizon. Caracol (or “snail”) is the biggest Maya site in Belize, spanning 30 square miles of jungle and boasting more than 35,000 buildings, including five plazas, an observatory and a huge pyramid. Originally called Oxwitza or “sky place,” it’s easy to see how the site got its name when standing at the base of Caana, which rises nearly 150 feet from the jungle floor. Feel free to wonder the site on your own, but a private guided tour with entrance fees and picnic lunch is included with your rate.
But the day isn’t over yet! On your way back to Blancaneaux, you’ll stop to discover the amazing Rio Frio Cave before heading onto the Rio On Pools to complete your day with a relaxing dip in their crystal clear restorative waters.
Day 9: Mountain Pine Ridge
After so much activity, it’s time for a free day to venture out onto the Blancaneaux Lodge grounds and surrounding jungle all on your own:
Explore one of the many freshwater swimming holes near the lodge, including cool deep pools nearby or a path of hidden rock pools on the walk up to Big Rock Falls.
Stop by the lodge’s on-site organic garden to see exotic veggies and fruits growing right next to backyard varieties you may see at home— then keep a look out for all the tasty treats on the restaurant’s menu.
If you’d like to add-on (not included) additional services or adventures, some of our favorites include:
Select a horse to explore the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve on a sightseeing tour from Blancaneaux’s own stables.
Join the Blancaneaux’s knowledgeable guides for one of several jungle hikes where you can enjoy following fresh jaguar tracks, hunting for orchids, taking in Big Rock Falls or enjoying some sunrise birding. These also can be enjoyed on a mountain bike.
Complete the Maya archeological trinity with a half-day tour to Xunantunich— a Classic period site that will take your breath away.
Of course, you’re also always welcome to simply wile the day away at the property’s eco-luxury Waterfall Spa, featuring organic locally-sourced spa treatments in an open-design bungalow overlooking the nearby waterfalls.
However you decide to spend your last full day in the Cayo District, you’re sure to make many more unforgettable memories!
Day 10: ATM Cave
On the last day of your “unBelizable” stay in the Cayo, you’ll enjoy an archeology and adventure excursion to one of the most awe-inspiring caves in all of Central America— Actun Tunichil Muknal.
ATM Cave is a first-class caving tour you won’t want to miss. Renowned throughout the world as one of the most impressive caves in the Maya lowlands, ATM is nestled at the epicenter of Belize’s rainforest and requires a 45-minute trek through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve with its dense jungle vegetation and three stream crossings to get there. This was a sacred site for the classic Maya, and sacrificial rites took place in ATM’s expansive central cathedral accessed by a series of varying size chambers. ATM is a living museum providing visitors the opportunity to experience prehistoric Mayan life by witnessing artifacts in traditional context. All equipment and lunch is provided, but you should take note that some swimming and climbing is required. Time in the cave system is approximately three hours.
Day 11: Ambergris Caye
No one is ever ready to leave the magnificent Cayo District, but you’ve reached your last morning in the spectacular Mountain Pine Ridge region. After your last hours in the Belizean jungle wilds at Blancaneaux, you’ll take a private transfer to the Belize International airport for a easy puddle jumper flight out to Ambergris Caye and San Pedro— but, it’s a quick transfer and we’ve got a little extra time, so why not make a stop to see some sights along the way?!
The Belize Zoo was launched in 1983 in an effort to give retired animal film stars a permanent home, and it’s a great way to learn more about the native animals of Belize— some of which you may already have seen when hiking in the Cayo District. Today, the 29-acre zoo features more than 125 native species in a tropical savannah landscape. Here, you can get an up-close perspective into the importance of wildlife protection and habitat conservation. All of the animals living here today either were born at the zoo, orphaned, rehabilitated or gifted from other zoos and institutions.
Once you’ve learned a bit about the native wildlife at the Belize Zoo, you're headed for the airport to catch the midday puddle jumper to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. The largest of all Belize’s islands, this popular destination for diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, sailing and windsurfing runs parallel to the second longest barrier reef in the world. But, it wasn’t that very long ago that the island was something of a remote hideaway where only adventurous divers and researchers dared tread. The only village on the island, San Pedro is a formerly sleepy fishing town come burgeoning traveler’s hotspot. Its sandy oceanside front street is lined with restaurants, tiki bars, dive shops, hotels, art galleries and a whole lot of golf carts (the only motorized form of land transportation on the caye). Venture a few streets over from the main road for more handcrafted souvenirs, tasty street food and even a couple international banks.
Tucked into a remote stretch of white sand beach on the north end of the island, roughly a 20-minute boat ride from San Pedro, Matachica Resort & Spa beckons guests with its upscale yet beachy Caribbean charm. The resort features 30 casitas and villas that each are carefully decorated and uniquely designed to exude a chic, yet informal, ambiance that maximizes well-being and comfort. Here is where you’ll call home for the remainder of your dream journey. Matachica includes an award-winning restaurant, full-service bar, freshwater pool, hot tub and spa. It also is only a quick walk down the beach from one of the best restaurant/bars on the island— Red’s. No matter which of the tiny country’s attractions you’d like to discover, Matachica boasts the ultimate locale for easy access.
Day 12: Hol Chan & Shark Ray Alley Snorkeling
You’ll awaken to the the calling island winds, the musical sound of songbirds and the sun glistening off the Caribbean waters, where the whispering of the clear blue water is simply intoxicating. After a delicious American style breakfast, your’e headed for an exhilarating day-long snorkel tour of the Hol Chan Cut and Shark Ray Alley— renowned as one of the world’s most biodiverse underwater ecosystems.
Translated as “little channel” in Maya, the marine area of the larger Hol Chan Reserve where you’ll spend the day snorkeling is a natural break in the Belize Barrier Reef where the ocean glistens from three to nearly 30 feet below. Hol Chan is, in actuality, a much larger protected marine reserve composed of four zones, including the reef, the seagrass beds, the mangroves and Shark Ray Alley. The sheer variation and volume in marine life found here is, simply put, staggering. Nearby Shark Ray Alley is a shallow water zone where southern stingrays and languid nurse sharks congregate. You’ll be astounded as the dive masters of some tours feed and pet them.
Once you’ve seen the iconic Belize Barrier Reef system and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, you’ll spend the day strolling through San Pedro, dining on delicious conch fritters, ceviche and grilled lobster (all in season, of course) for miles around and shopping for handmade souvenirs. A lovely add-on to any trip to Hol Chan is a visit to the super relaxed Caye Caulker where barefoot beach town takes on a whole new meaning. Grab lunch on the pier before indulging in a bit of shopping at the artist’s stalls, where hand carved masks, original art and hand-woven textiles can be found in makeshift tents, as well as some brick and mortar storefronts (Caye Caulker not included in package price).
Day 13: Ambergris Caye
Whether you kick back and unwind or keep up the adventurous pace and fit in another full day of activities, you’ll have plenty of time to satisfy your every whim with a free day on your last full day in Belize. Grab a frosty beverage and sunbathe on the beach, grab a friend and paddle out on a sea kayak or standup paddle board, bike back into San Pedro town for more shopping or just visit the Matachica spa for a facial and massage. You also can select from a wide variety of optional trip add-ons (not included). Some of our favorites include:
Go cave tubing and zip lining in Jaguar Paw. Here, you’ll encounter native wildlife along the Old Belize River in limestone and crystal caves considered sacred by the ancient Maya and along meandering jungle trails.
Explore the imposing Pre-Classic Lamanai Mayan archeological ruins, where nearly 1,000 structures have been mapped. The journey includes trips up the New and Northern Rivers (keep an eye out for Mennonites fishing with cane poles and beware pickpocketing monkeys) and a quick stopover in Bomba Village (they have lovely hand-carved souvenirs here). The journey is almost as much fun as the ruins themselves, and you’re sure to see a variety of tropical animals and plants along the way.
Charter a boat to the tranquil Outer Atolls for another snorkeling trip or a day spent sport fishing.
Enjoy a romantic sunset cruise.
Hit the links at Caye Chapel Golf course.
Book a helicopter and get a bird’s eye view of the awe-inspiring Great Blue Hole.
If you’re visiting March through June, head to the southern border of Belize near Guatemala for a rare sight— whale shark watching and swimming.
Day 14: Departure from Belize City
After your last breakfast at Matachica Resort, you’ll bid farewell to the enchanting island of Ambergris Caye and board your boat transfer to San Pedro before meeting your domestic flight to Belize International Airport for the return flight home.