Ten Bespoke Experiences for Every Budget
Although “bespoke” means custom-made, it doesn’t also have to mean expensive. At Viaventure, we consider a bespoke experience one that’s designed with your preferences, schedule, and budget in mind—an experience that helps you get the most out of your trip. Perhaps you delve a bit deeper into the history of an ancient Maya site with an archaeologist at your side or get far off the beaten path in Honduras. The following is a round-up of ten bespoke experiences in Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. While not all cheap, they won’t all break the bank, either. What they will do is ensure your travels are a little more unique and a little more you–which is what bespoke is all about.
1. Expert Archaeology ($$)
Located in western Honduras, Copán is one of the finest archaeological sites of the ancient Maya world, and there’s no better way to see it than through the eyes of the man who spent years unearthing its secrets. David Sedat is the former Copán field director for the University of Pennsylvania’s archaeology museum and the preeminent expert on the site, and touring the ruins with him ensures a fascinating, in-depth, and expert overview of this ancient cultural center. Pick his brain as you roam through temples, plazas, and ball courts, and if you find yourself still wanting more, David can also give a private presentation about the site over dinner and drinks.
2. Blue Hole by Air & Sea ($$$)
The Blue Hole is one of Belize’s crown jewels. A stalactite- and stalagmite-adorned sea cave that forms a striking blue circle when seen from above and that drops more than 122 meters (400 feet) underwater, it’s on many adventurists’ must-dive lists. Getting to the site by boat isn’t easy, though; the trip can take up to three hours one-way and waters can often be turbulent. To avoid a long boat transfer (and save your stomach), consider a private helicopter charter. By flying, you’ll not only be able to dive the Blue Hole (as well as other well-known sites like Half Moon Caye Wall and the Aquarium), but you’ll also get a bird’s-eye view of the incredible sea cave and the cayes and atolls near it.
3. Chicken Bus 101 ($)
Want to learn more about the ubiquitous Guatemalan “chicken bus”? Here’s your chance. Niños de Guatemala (NDG) is a Guatemalan/Dutch non-profit organization that was founded in 2006 to defeat poverty and support sustainable development. A tour sponsored by NDG takes you to the small town of San Miguel Escobar (just outside of Antigua) where you’ll visit NDG’s vocational school for kids, learn more about Guatemala’s educational system, and stop by some of the local businesses that work with NDG. The latter include a carpentry shop where coffins are made and a “chicken bus” workshop where North American school buses are transformed into colorful powerhouses able to fly up mountains as they transport locals from one town to the next.
4. Another Side to Honduras ($-$$)
Plenty of people travel to Honduras and follow a well-trod trail: They visit the Copán ruins and the Bay Islands and occasionally the rainforest, too. To really get to know the country, though, it’s helpful to visit the places that many travelers pass up. Consider Comayagua and Gracias if you’re interested in the country’s colonial-era past. Visit La Campa for traditional Lencan pottery, Santa Rosa de Copán to watch hand-rolled Honduran cigars being made, or the sleepy Caribbean coastal villages around Tela Bay for a taste of Garífuna culture. These spots can be woven into a larger itinerary and will give you a more thorough look into Honduran life.
5. Day at the Museum ($$)
If you’re interested in Guatemalan textiles, i.e. the country’s brightly hued, intricately designed works of art, set time aside to explore Guatemala City’s Ixchel Museum with the on-premise curator. In addition to learning about the indigenous costumes of Guatemala’s highland towns, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at where items are stored and readied for exhibits. This experience is normally part of a city tour that also includes stops at attractions like the national palace, cathedral, and central plaza.
6. Save Now, Splurge Later ($)
Not necessarily a bespoke experience per se, but a stay at the economic Black Rock Lodge in Belize’s Cayo District is a stellar way for adventurous travelers to save a bit of money for other, more lavish experiences, without sacrificing a thing. Located in the dense rainforests of the Maya Mountains, with incredible views of the Black Rock Canyon and Macal River, the lodge comprises thirteen comfortably appointed, thatch-roof cabins and offers myriad on-site activities including birding, canoeing, and horseback riding. It’s an affordable but totally pleasant place to stay and allows you to put more of your Belizean dollars towards some other pricier splurge.
7. Rent a Ruin ($$$)
It’s safe to say that you’ll never forget toasting a wedding or anniversary held in an ancient ruin. Guatemala’s colonial city of Antigua Guatemala and its more remote, northern department of El Petén both offer centuries-old sites that double as event venues. In Antigua, you have friars’ cloisters and the stately courtyards and passageways of eighteenth-century convents at your disposal. At El Petén’s archaeological site of Uaxactún, you’ll find a series of jungle-surrounded temples beneath which elaborate dinners and celebrations can be arranged.
8. World-class Birding ($-$$)
Birders have long known that Central America is one of the world’s best regions for tracking down must-see species but knowing exactly where to go—and getting there—often requires a bit of on-the-ground insight. Plan a bird-watching tour around picturesque Lake Yojoa in western Honduras, and a local birding expert will ensure you see many of the more than 375 avian species that reside in the area. Keep an eye out for blue-throated motmots and the resplendent quetzal. Accommodations in this part of the country are simple; stay at Panacam Lodge, which offers comfortable wood cabins.
9. Custom Ceremonies ($$)
Many of Guatemala’s ancient Maya sites have altars that still serve as spots for prayers, offerings, and ceremonies. You can experience a traditional ritual firsthand by heading to the archaeological site of Iximché, about an hour’s drive outside of Antigua, or to the caves of San Jorge La Laguna, located just above Lake Atitlán. The former served as the capital for the Kaqchiquel Maya in the fifteenth century and comprises partially excavated temples, plazas, and ball courts; the latter is a series of caves considered sacred by locals. A shaman (spiritual leader) will meet you at either to perform an authentic ceremony in the local Mayan dialect. You’ll learn the significance of the rituals performed and more about the beliefs of the Maya people.
10. Why Fly ($$$)
If you think transferring in a charter plane from one point to the next seems like a frivolous luxury, think again. There are myriad reasons why flying instead of driving can make good sense. To start, a private charter allows you to see more if you’re tied to a time-strapped schedule; Honduras’s Copán ruins, for example, can be done from Guatemala City in just a day with a quick flight. Flying is also a good alternative for people who suffer from motion sickness. Certain routes in Central America, such as the drive from Antigua to Chichicastenango in Guatemala, are notoriously windy and not always kind to sensitive stomachs; flying can get you where you want to be in tip-top form. A private charter can also help you access otherwise off-limit destinations. Take the archaeological site El Mirador, in the remote department of Guatemala’s El Petén. It’s reached only by air…or a sweaty, five-day jungle trek. Your choice.