Your browser does not support the HTML5 video element.
Guatemala is one of the only remaining places where the living Maya culture can be truly experienced. This trip contrasts old and new, visiting modern indigenous communities thriving in the highlands around Lake Atitlan, as well as the early Maya cities of Tikal, Quirigua and Copan (Honduras). Hitting the highlights as well as getting far off the beaten path, this trip encompasses the beauty and colour of ancient Central America.
Explore Tour Leader
4 nights comfortable hotel
7 nights premium hotel
2 nights simple hotel
1 nights comfortable lodge
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Guatemala City, the country's busy capital. Much of the city is quite modern, but the colonial centre around the main square harks back to the time when the city was officially declared Guatemala's new capital in the eighteenth century.
Due to the number of evening flights into the international airport, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Guatemala City at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into La Aurora International Airport (airport code: GUA), approximately a 30 minute drive from our hotel.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit the bustling Mercado Central or one of the city's many museums.
Hotel Best Western Stofella (or similar)
Before leaving the city this morning we'll begin the day with a short drive around by vehicle, just to get a feel for Guatemala's capital before setting off to Copan, in Honduras. It will take around 6 hours including a lunch stop and customs formalities, before we arrive at this small, relaxed town just at the other side of the Guatemala-Honduras border. With a small plaza principal, and some cafes and restaurants to enjoy, the town of Copan is so unassuming that it's hard to believe that it's home to one of the jewels of the ancient Mayan world. We may not have a lot of time here when we arrive, but we'll take a stroll around the town centre this evening before dinner.
Hotel Plaza Copan (or similar)
This morning, a local guide will escort us around the spectacular ruins of Copan - one of the richest archaeological sites to be uncovered in Central America and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anyone familiar with Catherwood's incredible drawings (which first appeared in John Stephens' 1841 narrative - 'Incidents of Travel in Central America and Yucatan'), will recognise scenes and objects from this marvellous site. Stephens actually bought the entire site from a local farmer for just $50.
The Great Plaza is one of the most amazing achievements of the Classic Maya period and contains the greatest collection of Maya sculpture anywhere in Meso-America. Next door is the Acropolis - a group of massive pyramidal structures where royal power was once concentrated. Ascending one structure is the famous Hieroglyphic Stairway. Composed of some 2500 individual glyphs, its sides flanked by serpentine birds and snakes, this is the New World's longest inscribed Pre-Colombian text.
Copan has been the subject of exploration and investigation since the 1830s. Remarkable finds continue to be unearthed by archaeologists, making it the most thoroughly researched and understood of all Maya sites. We have the day to enjoy this special place, leaving you plenty of time to explore on your own.
This afternoon, you could visit the museum dedicated to the site, or take a trip to Macaw Mountain, a rescue and rehabilitation centre for tropical birds and other animals.
This morning we will stop en route at Quirigua, renowned for its fine Mayan carvings, covered with intricate glyphs which still remain a mystery to scholars and archaeologists. Quirigua was dominated by Copan but was valued as a trading centre for the jade that can be found throughout the surrounding area. Independence from Copan was finally achieved under Quirigua's most powerful leader, Cauac Sky in 737AD. We will then continue to Puerto Barrios where we will board our launch and cross the bay to the lazy, laidback town of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. Here we can enjoy the colourful, lively Garifuna town, with its unique racial blend. In the evening there may be the chance to hear the increasingly popular local music or enjoy the fresh seafood in one of the restaurants along the main street.
Villa Caribe (or similar)
This morning we head out on a boat trip to the 7 Altares waterfalls. These falls are located in a lush rainforest and the water is cool and clean. It is the perfect place for a dip to cool off. Once we have had enough time enjoying these beautiful natural formations we jump back on the boat and head to Playa Blanca, a taste of the Caribbean in Guatemala. We will spend a few hours on this white-sand beach and can enjoy lunch here (not included). For those that would like, there is the chance to take an optional boat trip and hike to Tapon Creek. Alternatively, you can have some relaxation time on Playa Blanca Beach. We will then head back to Livingston in the early afternoon.
Once back in Livingston we will embark on a walking tour of the town.
Jungle Lodge (or similar)
We start our day by heading west on the Rio Dulce by boat. The river squeezes through an impressive gorge of towering cliffs covered in a mass of jungle creepers with egrets, pelicans and cormorants lining the shores. En route we will stop at the small community project of Ak Tenamit where you will have the opportunity to learn more about this educational support project that has been set up. From the town of Rio Dulce, we will continue by bus to Flores (driving time approximately four hours) where we will stay for the next two nights.
Flores is situated on a small island in the tranquil Lake Peten Itza and joined to the mainland by a causeway. On arrival we will have a short walking tour of this quaint and peaceful town.
Villa Maya Hotel (or similar)
We will have an early start to drive the one and a half hours to Tikal for a guided tour. Tikal is possibly the greatest of all the Mayan cities, located in the heart of the Peten jungle. The ruins of Tikal can easily be compared with the masterpieces of Egypt and Greece. Initially settled about 600 BC, Tikal was abandoned by its rulers around AD 890 and totally deserted a hundred years later, overgrown by the jungle. Rediscovered in 1848, they comprise many great temples and pyramids. The city covers an area of more than 16 square kilometres with temples, palaces, causeways, ballcourts, spacious plazas, and hundreds of other architectural ruins - a superb example of sophisticated Mayan engineering.
The site is so large we leave you free time to explore at your own pace this afternoon. Those with a good head for heights could climb one of the pyramids which pierce the jungle canopy for splendid views over the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Late afternoon we head back to Flores where we have a free evening in this charming lake side town.
Park Hotel (or similar)
Leaving Flores behind we head south into the southern mountains for a long day's drive through varied scenery. We drive to Sayaxche where we cross the river by ferry before continuing to the Candelaria Caves. Following our visit to the caves we continue onto Coban, where we will stay for the next two nights.
Hotel Villa Nebaj (or similar)
Today is a long day - but it will be worth it to see one of Guatemala's natural highlights! Semuc Champey is a natural monument made up of turquoise pools and set in a lush mountainous jungle. We leave our hotel early this morning and drive two and a half hours to the town of Lanquín. From Lanquín we take a 45-minute bumpy pickup truck along unpaved roads to the natural wonder of Semuc Champey. We will have a few hours here to enjoy some swimming in the natural pool formations. For those looking for more of an active adventure there is the option to hike up to a viewpoint which offers panoramic views of the jungle and pools below. The walk is quite difficult and is on uneven terrain with wooden steps that can become slippery (we highly recommended walking shoes for this!). It is expected to take one and a half hours.
Once we have spent enough time exploring and enjoying this natural paradise, we will make the journey back to Coban where we will arrive in the evening.
This morning we will drive for approximately one hour to the Quetzal Biotope. This cloud forest is 1,044 hectares and was officially established as a protected area on June 2, 1976 with the main objective of protecting the Quetzal and its habitat. We will embark on a 2 hour walk through the cloud forest, passing small rivers and creeks and keeping our eyes peeled for the elusive quetzal and other wildlife. The trail is mainly made up of steps and uneven ground - good footwear is recommended.
Once we have finished our walk, we will continue on a five-hour drive to the breathtaking city of Antigua where we will arrive in the evening. Antigua is a beautifully preserved colonial city founded in 1542 and surrounded by volcanoes. The streets are cobbled and colourful, packed with interesting architecture and buzzing with great cafes, restaurants, and bars. We are using this city as our base tonight to break up the long journey to Lake Atitlan, but we will be back for two nights at the end of the trip to fully enjoy this city!
Villa Santa Catarina (or similar)
We will leave Antigua this morning for Lake Atitlan. Our first stop on route is the fascinating archaeological site of Iximche. We will stop here for a two-hour guided tour, where we will learn all about the history of this site which dates back to the 15th century.
We will continue our journey making another stop at the colourful local market of Solola where we can get a sense of Guatemalan daily life. Our final stop of the day is Santa Catarina Palopo, a small village on the shores of Lake Atitlan where we will be staying for the next two nights. There are magnificent views of the impressive volcanic peaks of Atitlan (3537m), San Pedro (3020m) and Toliman (3158m) towering over the lakeside, and the lake's fertile shores are sprinkled with small communities of farmers and fishermen who still uphold the traditions of their Maya ancestors.
The volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan is a place of stunning beauty. Some 24km long by 16km wide, it lies at an altitude of 1585m. We take a boat trip across the lake to visit villages inhabited by the Tzutujil Indigenous, including Santiago Atitlan. The Tzutujil can trace their ancestry back to the post-classic period of the Maya (around 900-1500 AD). They still wear a traditional form of dress, with the women in particular sporting colourful blouses with embroidered geometric and bird designs. This is a busy village with lots of visitors and locals going about their business, and we may see more traditional Mayan rituals at the shrine to Maximon. Around the popular town of Panajachel and other smaller villages, we can appreciate the beautiful panoramas around the lake. It changes hue at different times of the day and can appear green, deep blue, or grey, while at sunset it glows fiery red.
This morning we will head north towards the highlands of the El Quiche Province and the bustling town of Chichicastenango, the 'sacred town' of the indigenous Quiche. Steeped in Maya culture, the town is famed for its market, where you can buy everything, from chickens and copal, to pigs and pottery. The best way to enjoy the market is to throw yourself into the melee and haggle with the traders, or escape to the beautifully colourful cemetery located just a short walk from the market. It is also the perfect place to pick up souvenirs of your visit.
We will then continue to the city of Antigua, set in a beautiful valley between the volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango.
Villa Colonial (or similar)
After an orientation tour this morning, you will have free time to explore Antigua further. An orientation tour of this graceful old colonial city shows how it can justly claim to be one of the most charming in Central America despite the damage caused by a series of earthquakes and floods over the ages. The afternoon is free to wander the timeless streets and hunt for souvenirs. One of its lively restaurants makes a perfect setting for our last meal together.
The trip ends this morning at our hotel in Antigua Guatemala.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from La Aurora International Airport (airport code: GUA). The drive between the airport and our hotel is only 40km but can take between 1.5 and 4 hours depending on the traffic and the time of day.
In the high plains (1524m-1981m) the climate is temperate all year round. In lower areas the climate is semi-tropical. The mountains can be cool especially at night. In general, the dry season in Guatemala lasts from Nov - April. From May to October there are often fine mornings and clear evenings but afternoon rains tend to be heavy. The Peten lowlands tend to be rainy all year round though less so from February to April.
2 Pin Flat
Catholic and Protestant
Climate change varies depending upon altitude. Mid range temperatures reach about 28°C. Rainfall is low to moderate with May to October being the wettest season. Temperature ranges in the lower reaches of the slopes and along the coast are more constant, with less rainfall.
Roman Catholic and Protestant
Copan - Macaw Mountain US$10; re visit ruins US$20. Antigua - Coffee and Music Museum US$8; Pacaya Volcano US$65 (min group of 4); Jade workshop US$48; La Casa del Ron - Rum tasting US$13
Lightweight clothing and a sunhat are essential in mid-summer though a warm sweater or fleece jacket is necessary for cool evenings in the highlands. A waterproof is essential. The jungle lowlands around Tikal are hot and muggy, and it can rain at any time of year. Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts are recommended on jungle walks, plus good walking shoes. Bring a swimming costume.
Comfortable trail boots with ankle support are essential for visiting Maya sites because of the amount of walking/climbing involved. Also trainers and/ or sandals.
One main piece of luggage and a day pack. Remember, you are expected to carry your own baggage - don't overload yourself.
Bring insect repellent, sunscreen, sun hat, torch and a waterbottle.
On this trip we stay in a wide range of accommodation, graded from comfortable to premium. In Antigua we spend two nights at the beautiful Villa Colonial, a colonial style accommodation with a lush garden, swimming pool and fantastic views to the Volcan Fuego from the balcony of the restaurant.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Guatemala: Visas are not required for UK, New Zealand, Australian, US and Canadian citizens. Honduras: Citizens from UK, New Zealand, Australia, New Zealand and most EU nationals do not require a visa. Other nationalities should consult the relevant consulate. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. All travellers entering or exiting Guatemala must complete the immigration pre-clearance form. You will receive a confirmation email, which you should print and carry with you or have a screen shot of the QR code. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against typhoid, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.