A Dressed-Up Archaeology Tour in Guatemala
Not long ago, Viaventure was asked to create an itinerary for a husband and wife who were both passionate about archaeology and looking to celebrate an anniversary and birthday in Guatemala. Needless to say, we knew their trip had to be memorable. Stephanie García, a member of Viaventure’s sales team, created an itinerary that combined ruins, romance, and a handful of special touches (one of which included purchasing jade cufflinks as a gift for the husband’s birthday so his wife needn’t worry about sneaking away to shop). Below is an overview of the 10-day tour, along with a few suggestions from Stephanie on how you could dress it up even further.
Day 1: You’ll arrive in Guatemala City and tour the capital’s main sights, some of which include the cathedral, national palace, and central plaza. You’ll also visit the Mapa en Relieve (a giant raised-relief map of the country), Casa MIMA (a nineteenth-century house filled with an eclectic collection of artifacts), and two museums of your choice. (This tour is split between Day 1 and Day 2.)
“There are some great archaeology museums in the city from which to choose, but I’d also recommend doing the behind-the-scenes tour at the Ixchel Museum with the curator who works there. You’ll learn about Guatemala’s long tradition of weaving and about the different textiles that are made throughout the country.”
Day 2: You’ll finish your city tour in morning and transfer to Lake Atitlán in the afternoon.
“For clients on a tight schedule, this leg of the journey can easily be done by helicopter. It saves time, and you get a great bird’s-eye view of the highlands and the many volcanoes in the region.”
Day 3: You’ll travel to the indigenous lakeside towns of San Juan La Laguna and Santiago Atitlán. The former is home to a handful of women’s cooperatives that use all-natural dyes and traditional backstrap weaving methods to make some of Guatemala’s prettiest textiles. Santiago is a traditional Tz’utujil Maya town with an impressive church and large market; here, you’ll also find Maxímon, a Maya folk saint represented by an effigy that’s housed by a different member of the local religious brotherhood each year. Shamans (spiritual leaders) often perform rituals wherever Maxímon resides.
Day 4: You’ll travel to the archaeological site of Iximché. Once the capital of the Kaqchiquel Mayas, Iximché now comprises partially excavated temples, ceremonial plazas, and ball courts, and is still used by Maya shamans today for sacred rituals. After touring the site, you’ll continue to the colonial city of Antigua.
“You can arrange to have a shaman ritual performed for you at Iximché. It’s an incredible experience and goes a long way towards better understanding traditional Maya beliefs.”
Day 5: You’ll tour Antigua’s colonial-era ruins, its central park, and a handful of other sites as you learn about the historic, cultural, and social highlights that make the city unique.
“Special touches that we added to the couple’s Antigua leg of the trip included a carriage ride around the city at dusk and a restaurant reserved just for them (this was a treat for the husband’s birthday).”
Day 6: You’ll transfer to Guatemala City for a charter flight to the Copán archaeological site in western Honduras. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and one of the ancient Maya’s most lavish cultural centers, Copán is well-known for its intricately carved stelae (inscribed stone monuments). You’ll tour the site with David Sedat, an archaeologist and the former Copán field director for the University of Pennsylvania’s archaeology museum.
“A charter flight is a convenient way to make a quick trip of Copán from Guatemala. In my opinion, touring the site with David Sedat is a must for any archaeology enthusiast; you have the chance to explore the ruins while picking the brains of a true expert. If you’re interested in learning even more about the site, you can also arrange for a private presentation with David over dinner and drinks.”
Day 7: You’ll take a charter flight to the town of Flores, in the Guatemalan department of El Petén. From here you’ll travel to the community of Sayaxché where you’ll board a boat and head to the Ceibal Maya ruins. This impressively restored site was particularly active during the ninth century and features incredible stelae, temples, and a ring-shaped structure believed to have served as an astronomical observatory. After exploring, you’ll transfer to your jungle lodge.
Day 8: You’ll transfer to Flores and take a short tour of ARCAS Wildlife Rescue Center, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals captured illegally. In the afternoon, you’ll travel to the archaeological sites of Topoxté (one of the last strongholds of the Itzá Maya during the Spanish conquests) and Yaxhá (a hilltop site with superbly restored ruins). At the latter, you’ll climb a towering temple at dusk for drinks and snacks and to watch the sunset over the jungle landscape.
“Yaxhá is one of Guatemala’s most picturesque archaeological areas. The site is surrounded by lush jungle, and you can see two nearby lakes. The views—especially at sunset and with a glass of wine in hand—are breathtaking.”
Day 9: You’ll travel to Tikal National Park, one of the ancient Maya’s largest and most fascinating urban centers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal was occupied from approximately 900 B.C. to 900 A.D. and comprises more than 3,000 well-preserved temples, palaces, and shrines surrounded by wild jungle (keep your eyes peeled for tropical birds and monkeys). In addition to a privately guided tour, you’ll also enjoy a luxury picnic in the park. When you’re finished exploring, you’ll transfer to your hotel.
“The Tikal luxury picnic is a great add-on as it means you don’t have to walk all the way back to the entrance of the park (where the restaurants are) for lunch, wasting time you could use to explore. This couple used the Camino Real Tikal as their hotel and from there took a private evening boat tour with replete flowers and music to celebrate their anniversary.”
Day 10: You’ll fly to Guatemala City in time for your flight home.