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Vip Tour Group > Guatemala > Itineraries > Guatemala and Belize Maya Circle  
 
 

Guatemala and Belize Maya Circle - 14 Days

 
 

Why choose jungle or beach when you can have the best of both worlds on our new Guatemala and Belize Maya Circle Tour! On this 14-day tour, you’ll enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime adventure across the Mayan heartland, as you travel from the Colonial beauty of Antigua into the misty Guatemala Highlands and alluring Lake Atitlan.

Along the way, you’ll experience some of the most renowned markets (such as Chichicastenango), famous cultural institutions (including Compala) and iconic archeological sites to get an up-close, immersive perspective on the rich history of this enchanting Central American destination. Then, you’re headed to Belize’s Cayo District for a bit of jungle luxury. Here, you’ll find even more Mayan archeological sites, eco-adventures and rare wildlife before closing out your dream vacation on the shores of Ambergris Caye.
   
 
trip details
VIP Journeys has no fixed departure dates. We plan one-of-a-kind luxury Travel completely designed for you. Call our travel planners now to see how easy it is... 800.772.9188.




Day 1 – Antigua

You’ll arrive at the international airport in Guatemala City for the first day of your dream Guatemala and Belize journey, as there are no direct flights from the United States to Antigua. From there, you’ll take private ground transfer to El Convento Boutique Hotel in the Antigua old world city center.

With iconic Colonial buildings, vibrant pastel stucco homes, meandering cobblestone streets and melancholy ruins, Antigua feels as though time may have stopped in the 1700s, while remaining a very cosmopolitan city of nearly 35,000 Antiguenos full to the brim with fine dining, high-end boutiques and lavish hotels. Formerly the capital of Guatemala and perhaps the most important Spanish colony in the Americas, Antigua, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its ceaseless appeal and alluring ruins and relics.

During your time in Antigua, you’ll be charmed by your stay at El Convento Boutique Hotel, where traditional simplicity and quiet sanctuary meet modern convenience and bespoke amenities. The 26-suite hotel has garnered several awards, including a Condé Nast Johansen Best Hotel in Central America nod and TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice award for its perennial appeal. It’s nestled on a delightful cobblestone lane near the renowned Capuchinas Convent and also is home to the mouthwatering Elu Restaurant and Lounge. All rooms are very spacious and finely appointed. Some also include private gardens, hot tubs, fireplaces and cedar-beamed ceilings.




Day 2 – Antigua Walking or Coffee Tour

If a coffee-focused jaunt through the countryside whets your whistle, you’ll start your day by meeting your driver for our DLG Fairly Traded Coffee Tour. You’ll meet your guide at hotel reception for a brief transfer to close-by San Miguel Escobar. Upon arrival in San Miguel Escobar, a local attendant from As Green as it Gets (AGAIG) will meet you for a wonderful half-day tour that includes visiting small local farmers to work alongside them and taste their delicious handiwork. While at the farms, you’ll learn more about what it takes to make coffee each day and then enjoy a traditional lunch in a local family’s home. AGAIG is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting independent farmers and promoting sustainable agriculture. Some activities on this tour may be altered outside of coffee season, which runs November through March. This tour includes a donation to AGAIG. You’re free to explore Antigua the rest of the afternoon.

If you’d rather sleep a bit later, you can feel free to join the afternoon walking tour of Antigua’s historical, cultural and social institutions. Our knowledgable guide will meet you at hotel reception after lunch to start your journey to some of the most recognizable monuments and buildings in this Colonial city, including church, convent and cathedral ruins. Entry to La Merced Church, the Cathedral and Iglesia San Francisco are included, and guides are flexible, so we hope you’ll speak up if you’d like to see alternative or additional sites and monuments— you can simply pay the entry fee directly. Tuc tucs might be used during this tour. These fees are included.

If you’d like to participate in both the morning DLG Fair Trade Coffee Tour and the afternoon Walking Tour, let us know in advance and we’re happy to add this to your trip.

Once the day comes to a close and evening looms, we suggest dinner on your own at one of Antigua’s many wonderful restaurants or, for the more adventurous eaters, seek out some street food from one of many outstanding vendors or even the local market. The best way to find authentic vendors with well-prepared fare is to keep an eye out for long lines of locals who know best where the most scrumptious dishes can be found. If you’d prefer a private guided street food tour, we also are more than happy to schedule it for you though it is not included in package price. Should you choose to add this on, you’ll sample some of Antigua’s most popular street cuisine while learning the historical and cultural significance of the food offered here.




Day 3 – Lake Atitlan, Comapala & Iximche

On the third day of your Guatemala and Belize Maya Circle tour, you’re going to the mystical Lake Atitlan region for an illuminating and relaxing respite at the upscale Casa Palopo Atitlan. But first, you’re heading out for a day trip to the Iximche archeological site and Comalapa Market. Get ready to experience the rich, diverse and vibrant traditions of this astonishing Guatemala Highlands region for the next three days.

Surrounded by three dormant yet towering volcanoes, verdant hills and approximately a dozen genuine Mayan towns with widely varied traditions, Lake Atitlan has been described as the most beautiful lake in the world and oft-compared to Italy’s Lake Cuomo, but it is often wrongly described as one cohesive geographic region. Conversely, Lake Atitlan actually is a collection of distinct small villages each with its own unique character. This distinctive quality means it’s possible to discover something totally new and fresh on virtually every stop of a tour to this area with its charming native hamlets where locals still practice ancient Mayan ceremonies and don traditional attire.

Upon your arrival in the Lake Atitlan region, you’ll check into the unrivaled Casa Palopo Atitlan— a Relais & Chateaux adults-only playground (15+) where an incomparable setting and truly personalized service will settle your soul and energize your mind. Positioned on the spectacular shores of Lake Atitlan in Santa Catarina Palopó Village, this upmarket hotel boasts seven expansive rooms in the main building and a separate two-bedroom villa— all of which originally were converted from a private home in 2000. Since that time, Casa Polopo repeatedly has been called “the best luxury hotel in Guatemala.” Despite its opulent flair, even showcasing a blend of contemporary and local art, the hotel miraculously has managed to retain its private home ambiance and the slow pace of the misty Highland landscape in which it resides.

But before settling down on the shores of Lake Atitlan, prepare to hit the road for a private one-hour transfer to Comalapa. World famous for the local naif painting tradition, the town of Comalapa is a remote outpost of art and culture where you’ll see a celebrated mural painted by area school children to depict Guatemala’s history and meet local painters experienced in the naif style.

While visiting Comalapa, we suggest stopping by the small museum built to honor a local native who composed the Guatemalan national anthem and visiting the market to watch locals buy and sell goods and produce for the week ahead. You’ll enjoy a local lunch before venturing on to discover the Mayan archeological site at Iximche.

Iximche is a small but eye-catching Mesoamerican archeological site declared a national monument in the 1960s. This pre-Colombian gem also was the capital of the late postclassic Kaqchikel Mayan kingdom during the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, you’ll find at least 160 mapped structures, including excavated temples, ball courts and palaces. Situated high on a ridge overlooking flowing rivers and deep ravines, the site truly is amazingly picturesque and worth the trip. Be sure to check out the small on-site museum and bask in the beauty and solitude— relatively few tourists make the trip and you’re likely to find yourself primarily amongst indigenous Maya.

When you’re ready to bid farewell to this Mayan treasure and hit the road to Lake Atitlan, you’ll transfer to Casa Polopo for check-in.




Day 4 – Lake Atitlan, Santiago & San Juan

Remember the collection of distinct small villages nestled along the shores of Lake Atitlan? Today is your day to discover several of them up close. You’ll be picked up from the hotel and driven to San Juan La Laguna Village, where you’ll visit a local textile cooperative, learn about the use of natural dyes and even see a back strap loom used in the traditional manner. Once you’ve gotten an intimate perspective on Guatemala’s vibrant handmade textiles, you’ll drop by the workshop and home of local naif painters before crossing via boat to Santiago.

In Santiago Village, you’ll take a break for lunch before strolling with your guide to locate the home where the god Maximon “lives” as part of an ancient Maya ceremony. Each year, his effigy is taken to a new location and a new member of the “brotherhood” is granted the honor of caring for the god. You might even see a shaman performing rites for locals here, although this can’t be guaranteed.

After experiencing the unique ceremony of Maximon, we suggest paying a visit to the local church to learn about the history of this very traditional town and checking out the local market to learn about the textiles and primitive art of the area. When you’re ready, your guide will take you back to Casa Palopo to enjoy your evening lounging poolside on the terrace, in the gazebo near the fire, overlooking the lake in the hot tub or grabbing a nosh at the on-site gourmet eatery.




Day 5 – Chichicastenango & Guatemala City

Next, get ready to hit the road for a breathtaking drive on a private transfer through the Central Highland region en route to Guatemala City by way of Chichicastenango Market. On the way, be sure to keep a look out for local Maya people going about their day, whether working in the fields, peddling their wares, traveling between markets or simply collecting firewood to ward off the chilly Highland nights. You’ll arrive at Chichi Market about an hour outside of Lake Atitlan, and your guide will help you explore this bustling market. Here, you’ll find everything from intricate handmade crafts and textiles to locally-grown fruits and veggies. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays throughout the year. While here, we also suggest you stop by the Pre-Colombian Santo Tomás Catholic Church, which is a highlight where Quiche priests still practice traditional Maya rituals and rites. The surprising dichotomy of Catholicism merged with primitive Maya ceremonies exemplifies the unusual way the different faiths have melded as one in the Guatemalan Highlands.

While in this unique town, be sure to make the easy hike up to Pascaul Abaj or to the community graveyard on the outskirts of town. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a shaman performing ceremonies for the locals. There is enough time to visit at least one (but maybe both if moving briskly) and still make it in plenty of time for lunch at a neighborhood restaurant before heading out on the next leg of your journey.

Then it’s onto the Guatemala City Airport for a domestic flight to the city of Flores in the Department of El Petén. Here, you’ll kick back and unwind in a waterfront suite at Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel.

Although it covers almost a full one-third of the country, El Petén is the most sparsely populated department in Guatemala and is still very much considered a wild frontier. Once a shining hub of the spectacular Classic Maya civilization, today the grand old cities have long since been overtaken by jungle, and parrots and monkeys greatly outnumber people. Still, El Petén has enjoyed increasingly easy access in recent times complete with the addition of a new international airport and even paved roads as the region becomes one of the most requested destinations in Guatemala. Despite its surge in popularity, however, the destination remains understated, authentic and much less developed than nearly anywhere else in country.




Day 6 – Tikal Tour

After a savory a la carte breakfast at the boutique hotel, you’ll meet your guide at reception for a privately guided tour of Tikal National Park. One of the largest and most excavated of all the surviving cities of the ancient Maya, Tikal also is the most famous and, for this reason, is the crown jewel of El Petén. It is a sprawling archeological site with more than 3,000 known structures and immeasurably more still hidden beneath the densely-packed surrounding rainforest.

When visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site, be sure to take note of the exotic tropical birds and mammals, while following in the footsteps of the roughly 50,000+ people who lived at Tikal between 800BC and 900AD. Don’t miss the Great Plaza, the Acropolis, the 125-foot Temple of the Masks and 144-foot Temple of the Jaguar before exploring the visitor center museum. All that archeological investigation is sure to leave you famished, so we’ll provide a gourmet picnic lunch in the park before we prepare to head back to Las Lagunas.




Day 7 – Yaxha & Topoxte Tour

We know it’s tempting to simply settle into your waterfront suite at Las Lagunas, but there’s still so much to see and do! Today, you’ll be swept off to Yaxha National Park, where you’ll enjoy a private tour of one of the lesser known Maya ceremonial sites. Although there are other larger Mayan archeological ruins within easy driving distance of the hotel, the hilltop setting of Yaxha and its panoramic vistas of two scenic lakes make this a particularly picturesque excursion. Don’t miss the 360-degree-view from the top of Temple 216 in the East Acropolis before meeting your guide at sunset for snacks and wine on the shores of Lake Yaxha and a sunset cruise in the lagoon.

When the tour of Yaxha is complete, we’ll begin the journey to the Guatemalan border with Belize to begin the second week of your dream vacation. The private drive to Melchor takes about an hour. From the border crossing, we’ll continue on into the western section of Belize and the Cayo District, which borders Guatemala’s El Petén.

The Belizean district of Cayo is a vast highland expanse of rugged and remote terrain. This largely uncharted inland stretch, is a sweeping wilderness of rainforest, cave systems, waterfalls, rivers, ranches and, of course, Mayan ruins. There are no beaches in this region, but the opportunity to explore approximately 2,000 square miles of pristine natural landscape draws adventurous and intrepid travelers who brave the frontier on foot, by bike and horseback, via raft, canoe or kayak and even by zip lines and aerial walks. Although the tiny country’s capital of Belmopan is located here, the hip Colonial city of San Ignacio wins the prize as the true hub of Cayo with its shops, dining and nightlife.

One of the must-see attractions in Cayo is the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, which you’ll call home base during your jungle adventures at Blancaneaux Lodge. Once an abandoned jungle lodge, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola discovered and breathed new life into the forgotten property in the early 1980s for use as a private family getaway. The original Coppola property in Belize, today the Blancaneaux is an eco-luxury gem situated in an untamed mountain setting with 20 thatch roofed cabanas of unparalleled splendor. Dotted throughout well manicured gardens on the top of a ridge overlooking a river valley, the one and two-bedroom accommodations are furnished and decorated with local woods and textiles. Although all cottages are exquisite, we suggest the two luxury cabanas, family cabana, two-bedroom villa, Enchanted Cottage or even the family’s own villa for VIP clients. Luxury cabanas feature private outdoor showers and pools. There is no air conditioning at the lodge, but ceiling fans ensure a comfortable stay thanks to the high elevation. The Blancaneaux features an on-site bar and restaurant, as well as a day spa, freshwater swimming pool and hot tub.




Day 8 – Caracol & Rio Frio Cave & Pools

After a refreshing breakfast at Blancaneaux, you’ll be met by your guide to head out into the subtropical rainforest and San Antonio Maya village. Here, in this renowned village, you’ll learn about the Mestizo (a combination of Maya and Spanish) way of life and culture. San Antonio residents hail from two tribes, the Mopan Maya and the Yucatec, and is most famous as the home of one of the last practicing shamans in Belize.

From the village of San Antonio, you’ll begin the trip to the 106,000-acre Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve— a protected national park still showing signs of the catastrophic timber industry of the mid-century and pine beetle infestation in the late ‘90s. Today, only a few decades later, reforestation programs are underway and our guides will discuss this history as the landscape evolves from pine forest to tropical rainforest and you enter the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.

Approximately an hour outside Pine Ridge, the remarkable Maya ruins of Caracol appear on the horizon. Caracol (or “snail”) is the biggest Mayan archeological site in Belize. The core area alone spans at least 30 square miles of jungle and once housed some 120,000 people amongst its four palaces, three temples, five plazas, observatory and much more. Originally called Oxwitza or “sky place” in Mayan, it is simple to see how the site got its name when you stand at the base of Caana, which rises almost 150 feet from the jungle floor. You’ll get a private guided tour with entrance fees and picnic lunch included.

On the way back to the Blancaneaux, you’ll stop to explore the magnificent Rio Frio Cave before heading onto the Rio On Pools to finish your day with an invigorating swim in their restorative crystal clear waters.




Day 9 – Mountain Pine Ridge

After so much excitement, it’s time for a free day to explore the Blancaneaux grounds and surrounding jungle on your own:

Discover one or several of the many freshwater swimming holes located near the lodge, including deep cool pools nearby and a path of hidden rock pools on the trail to Big Rock Falls.

Visit the on-site organic garden, where you’ll see exotic fruits and veggies growing next to backyard varieties you probably see at home— you’ll also see some of it on the day’s menu.

Or, if you’d like to add-on (not included) some additional adventures or services, some of our favorites are:

Pick a pony to explore the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve on an equestrian sightseeing tour from Blancaneaux’s very own stables.

Join the property’s expert guides for one of several jungle hikes to follow fresh jaguar tracks, hunt for orchids, take in Big Rock Falls or enjoy some sunrise birding. These also can be taken via mountain bike.

Complete your Mayan archeological trinity on a half-day tour to the Classic period site Xunantunich.

Of course, you always can simply wile away the day at the property’s eco-luxury Waterfall Spa and enjoy locally-sourced organic spa treatments in an open-design locale overlooking cascading waterfalls.

However you choose to spend your last full day in Cayo District, you’re sure to make many unforgettable memories!




Day 10 – ATM Cave

On the last day of your memorable stay in Belize’s Cayo District, you’ll enjoy an archeology and adventure day at one of the most awe-inspiring caves in all of Central America— Actun Tunichil Muknal

ATM Cave is a can’t miss first-class caving excursion. Famous the world over as one of the most impressive caves in the Mayan lowlands, ATM is tucked into the epicenter of the Belizean rainforest and requires a 45-minute hike through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and its dense jungle vegetation (and three stream crossings) to get there. This site was sacred for the classic Maya, and sacrificial rituals took place in ATM’s massive central cathedral, which is accessed by a series of varying size chambers. ATM is a living museum that gives visitors the chance to discover prehistoric Maya life through seeing artifacts in their traditional context. All equipment (and lunch) is provided on this experience, but you should note some climbing and swimming is required. Time in the cave system is roughly three hours, so those with claustrophobia may want to sit this one out.




Day 11 – Ambergris Caye

No one is ever quite ready to leave the majestic Cayo District, but this will be your last morning in the beautiful Mountain Pine Ridge region. After your last hours in the Belize wilds at Blancaneaux Lodge, we’ll transfer to the Belize International airport for a quick flight out to Ambergris Caye’s San Pedro— but it’s an easy transfer and we’ve got some extra time, so why not stop to see the sights along the way?!

Launched in 1983 as a last-ditch effort to give retired animal film stars a more permanent home, the Belize Zoo is a wonderful way to be introduced to the native animals of Belize— many of which you may already have seen when trekking through Cayo. Today, the 29-acre zoo showcases at least 125 native species in a tropical savannah landscape, where guests can get an up-close view of the importance of habitat conservation and wildlife protection. All the animals here were either born at the zoo, rehabilitated, orphaned or sent as gifts from other institutions or zoos.

When you’re done at the Belize Zoo, you’ll head for the airport to catch the midday puddle jumper to Ambergris Caye. The biggest of all the Belize islands, this popular destination for fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and sailing runs parallel to the second longest barrier reef on the planet. But, it wasn’t that long ago that the caye was something of an undiscovered hideaway where only intrepid researchers and divers dared venture. San Pedro is a once sleepy fishing town and the only village on Ambergris Caye. Its sandy seaside front street is lined with tiki bars, restaurants, hotels, dive shops, art galleries and golf carts (the only motorized form of transportation on the island). Explore a few streets over from the main drag for more handmade souvenirs, tasty street food and a few international banks.

Situated on an isolated stretch of white sand beach on the north end of the island, approximately a 20-minute boat ride from the bustling San Pedro, you’ll find Matachica Resort & Spa. The resort boasts 30 villas and casitas that are uniquely designed and carefully decorated to exude an informal, yet chic, ambiance to maximize comfort and well-being. This is where you’ll call home base for the remainder of your journey. Matachica includes a freshwater pool, award-winning restaurant, full-service bar, hot tub and spa. It also is just a short stroll down the beach from another of the best restaurant/bars on the island— Red’s. No matter which of the area’s main attractions you’d like to explore, Matachica provides the ultimate locale for easy access.




Day 12 – Hol Chan & Shark Ray Alley Snorkeling

You’ll arise to the the whispering island winds, the sounds of songbirds and the sun glinting off the Caribbean Sea, where the call of the clear azure water beckons. After a mouthwatering American style breakfast, you’ll begin a tour to the Hol Chan Cut and Shark Ray Alley for an exhilarating day of snorkeling in one of the world’s most biodiverse (and renowned) underwater ecosystems.

Meaning “little channel” in Mayan, the underwater area of the larger Hol Chan Marine Reserve where you’ll snorkel is a natural break in the Belize Barrier Reef where the ocean floor sparkles from three to almost 30 feet below. Hol Chan is, in fact, a much more expansive marine protected preserve that encompasses four zones, including the reef, the mangroves, the seagrass beds and Shark Ray Alley. The sheer volume and variation in marine life found here is, simply put, staggering. Close-by Shark Ray Alley is another shallow water zone where harmless nurse sharks and southern stingrays congregate. You’ll be astonished as dive masters of some tours pet and feed them.

Once you’ve witnessed the iconic Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Belize Barrier Reef system, you’ll spend your day exploring San Pedro town, shopping for handmade souvenirs and dining on the most delicious ceviche, conch fritters (in season) and grilled lobster (in season) for miles around. A wonderful add-on to this trip also can be a visit to the super chill Caye Caulker for lunch on the pier and a bit of shopping at the artist tents, where hand-woven textiles, hand carved masks and original art can be found in makeshift stalls and some permanent storefronts (Caye Caulker not included in package price).




Day 13 – Ambergris Caye

Whether you want to keep up the pace and fit another full day of activities into your last day in Belize or simply kick back and unwind, you’ll have plenty of time to satisfy your whims with a free day to do as you please. Sunbathe on the beach with a frosty beverage, head out on a sea kayak with a friend, head back into San Pedro town for a bit more shopping or visit the Matachica spa for a massage and facial. This is your day to choose from a multitude of optional add-ons (not included). Some of our faves include:

Go zip lining and cave tubing at Jaguar Paw. Here, you’ll encounter native animals on jungle trails, along the Old Belize River and in crystal and limestone caves considered sacred by the ancient Maya.

Explore the mighty Pre-Classic Lamanai Maya archeological site and ruins, where almost 1,000 structures have been mapped. The trip includes journeys up the Northern and New Rivers (look out for Mennonites fishing with cane poles and beware pickpocketing moneys) with a quick stopover in Bomba Village (they have beautiful hand-carved souvenirs here). You’re sure to see a wide variety of tropical plants and animals along the way.

Charter a boat to the serene Outer Atolls for a second snorkeling trip or a bit of sport fishing.

Savor a romantic sunset cruise.

Hit the links at Caye Chapel Golf Resort.

Reserve a helicopter to get an aerial view of the bewildering Great Blue Hole.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in March through June, take your chances at the southern border of Belize near Guatemala for whale shark swimming and watching.




Day 14 – Ambergris Caye

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.

Comparable accommodations may be substituted depending on availability. Alternative accommodations available in some areas (prices may adjust accordingly).
 


 




options
 
Package Prices and other details
Category Hotel Prices  
  Vip Luxury Blancaneaux Lodge
Casa Palopo
Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel
$6451 price quote
  Five Star El Convento Boutique Hotel
Matachica Resort & Spa
$ price quote
 
 

Land Only - Price per person based on double occupancy.

Includes: All accommodations include breakfast. English speaking Guides, transports, entrance fees and airport transfers. Hotel accommodations with hotel taxes and service charges, meals as indicated in this itinerary.

Not Included: International and domestic flights, Airport departure taxes, Reciprocity tax (entry visa), Tips to drivers, guides, hotel bellboys, meals not specifically indicated as included.

This is a general itinerary, which does not necessarily incorporate the special interests that you may have personally. Please contact our specialists to customize this trip for you. Call us at 800.772.9188 to speak with an expert now.
 




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