Rutahsa's Guatemala 2010 Adventure will take place July 28 - Aug. 8, an especially lovely time to visit Guatemala. The highlights of this excursion include colonial Antigua, dazzling Lake Atitlán, the Chichi market, an overnight visit to the Ixil Maya town of Nebaj high in the mountains, and even a cross-border hop into Honduras to visit the major Classic Maya site of Copán Ruins. For those with a little more time, an extension to majestic Tikal Ruins is also programmed for Aug. 8 - 10.
The Tour Conductor for this trip will be Prof. Mary Drobny. Prof. Drobny has taught art since 1991 in three different California colleges and universities. Her specialty is Meso-American and Latin American art history. She was the Cuba Travel Coordinator for Long Beach City College and Palos Verdes Art Center, making over 50 trips to the island. This will be the third trip to Guatemala arranged by Rutahsa Adventures and led by Mary, but her travel experiences in Guatemala go back to the mid-1970s.
Day 2, Thurs., July 29: AM: We'll go on a half-day walking tour of Antigua, guided by Liz Bell, author of one of the best Antigua guidebooks. Liz will take us to some of the more important colonial monuments, giving us a cook's tour of places not normally accessible to visitors. PM: Free time to explore more ruined churches, convents and monasteries.
In its heyday, Antigua was the capital of the Kingdom of Goathemala, and the third largest city in the New World (surpassed only by Mexico City and Lima). Then it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes in 1773. Today it is a great tourist attraction for its colonial architecture and ambience. For more details on Antigua's history and architecture, see our website Monumental Antigua. A visit to the "Casa Popenoe", a lovingly restored colonial home is a must for lovers of Spanish architecture and period furnishings. (Note: Unfortunately, Casa Popenoe was closed in 2008; let's hope it's open this year.)
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon boosting the local economy shopping for beautiful handwoven Maya textiles, jade jewelry and other types of artesanía for which Guatemala is justly famous. For variety in native crafts, we highly a visit to Nim P'ot..just go out the front door of the Posada de Don Rodrigo, turn right and walk a little ways past the famous arch.
Tonight we will enjoy a group dinner (included) and all get to know our traveling companions for the next week and a half.
Second night at Posada de Don Rodrigo.
Day 3, Fri., July 30: Today we are headed to Copán Ruins, which means crossing the border into Honduras (you can carve one more notch on your passport). However, long before reaching Copán, there is the small, but very important Maya ruins of Quiriguá. Here, exquisitely carved stelae are the tallest in the Maya realm, exceptionally well-preserved. Quiriguá is also famous for its bizarre zoomorphic boulders not found at other Maya sites. And in spite of its small size, Quiriguá is quite important historically, for its king, Cauac Sky, defeated 18-Rabbit, the king of the larger and more powerful Maya city-state of Copán. This defeat was likely a factor in the subsequent political decline of Copán.
Upon arrival at the small rural city of Copán we will take up our lodgings at the Hotel Marina Copán, a delightful hotel with a pool (complete with swim up bar!) and a good restaurant. You will find the town of Copán charming, and full of friendly people. If we arrive in time, we will visit the small Copán Museum on the square. Though somewhat overshadowed now by the larger new museum out at the main archeological site, this little museum displays some must-see treasures, most notably the large, exquisitely carved flint eccentrics, truly mind-boggling examples of fine art by master flint-knappers.
Day 4, Sat., July 31: All day at Copán Ruins National Park, starting with a guided tour of the 1000-year-old Classic Maya site. Copán is famed for its marvelous carvings, which are better preserved here than in most Maya sites due to the use of volcanic rock that resists weathering. In addition to the numerous stelae depicting Copán's kings, there are pyramids and temples, and a fine ceremonial ballcourt, where the ritual ball game was played for keeps. In 1999, a series of archeological exploration tunnels underneath the ancient pyramids was opened to the public, revealing the completely intact buried temple known as Rosalila. In addition to the pyramids and temples, there is the Museum of Sculpture, which houses many of the finest Copán sculptures (some of the stelae that you will have seen in the ruins are well-done replicas, with the originals moved into this museum for their preservation). Finally, the town of Copán itself is such a pleasant, friendly country town, a really nice place to spend a day. Second night at the Hotel Marina Copán.
Day 5, Sun., Aug. 1: Today we return to Guatemala, driving from Copán to Cobán! To reach Cobán, we backtrack a ways up the Motagua Valley, then turn north and climb high into the Sierra Chuacús...Cobán, located in the cool highlands, is the capital of the Department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala's most important coffee-growing region. The coffee industry here was developed in the late 19th century by German immigrants.
En route, time permitting, we will stop at the Biotopo, a biological preserve, where we can take a hike through glorious and riotously green cloud forest.
Our lodgings tonight will be at the lovely old La Posada, which features an extensive menu and some of the best cooked food in all Guatemala.
Day 6, Mon., Aug. 2: Today we have a drive of approximately 3 hours, on a recently paved highway through limestone mountains and interesting haystack karst terrane, past coffee and cardomom fincas (plantations), and through the small city of Lanquín to reach one of Guatemala's most famous natural wonders, the Semuc Champey.
The Semuc is indeed a natural wonder: the Río Cahabón has cut a narrow canyon through a limestone ridge, intersecting a water-bearing stratum. Springs issuing from this stratum have deposited such enormous quantities of travertine that the entire river has been bridged over for several hundred meters. Atop the travertine bridge are a series of clear green pools, each cascading over a travertine dam, down into the next, forming the most idyllic series of tropical paradise swimming holes imaginable. Yet just at the upstream end of these serene pools one encounters the startling sight of a raging whitewater stream disappearing into the open maw of the gaping tunnel under the travertine bridge. Watch your step here...there is no saving anyone who slips into this roaring maelstrom.
While at the Semuc you can swim, picnic, enjoy the scenery, or climb a trail to an observation point on the cliffs above the Semuc for a truly memorable view.
We return to Cobán in the late afternoon. Second night in La Posada.
Day 7, Tues., Aug. 3: This morning we will follow the recently improved Ruta Nacional 7 over a series of ridges and valleys, through rugged mountain scenery and the dramatic gorge of the Río Chixoy. It's definitely a back road, with few amenities along the way, so be sure to buy some snacks and drinks in Cobán the night before this journey (and you might want to carry a bit of TP too...in case you need to make a pit stop along the road). We'll take a couple of short breaks in Indian towns along the way, such as Uspantán, where you can visit a non-touristed native market.
Eventually we fork off of RN7 and turn north to ascend into the Altos Cuchumatanes mountains, cresting out something over 8000 ft, to descend into a hidden valley in which nestles the town of Ixil Maya Nebaj, at about 6300 ft. We expect to reach Nebaj about 5 hours after leaving Cobán, depending on how many stops we make along the way.
After checking into Hotel Villa Nebaj, our lodgings for the night, we will walk through the town to see the sights.
Nebaj and the towns of Cotzal and Chajul form the "Ixil Triangle", an area of Ixil-speaking Maya, and an area that was very hard hit by both the Guatemalan army and the guerrilleros during La Violencia (early 1980s). We will see evidence of this sad history when we visit the church of Nebaj, where you cannot fail to be moved as you gaze on the memorial of many miniature crosses, one for each of those who were "murdered", "tortured", "assassinated", or simply "disappeared", victims of both army and guerrilla atrocities that took place during La Violencia. Happily, the bad times are past and life here is improving.
All three of the Ixil Triangle towns have distinctive traje, and that of Nebaj is particularly spectacular. A bright red corte (skirt), an elaborately embroidered huipil (traditional blouse), an all-purpose shawl over the shoulder, and a marvelous turban-like head wrap comprise the dress of the Nebaj woman. To see more of the traditional traje (native dress) of Nebaj, visit our traje of the Highland Maya website.
Supper will be at the Maya - Inka Restaurant, run by a Peruvian man married to an Ixil woman. They generally have some high quality Nebaj textiles on hand to sell to those interested in fine weavings.
Day 8, Weds., Aug. 4: Plan to eat an early breakfast in the hotel restaurant, so we can load the bus and be rolling out at 8 AM.
On the opposite side of the ridge overshadowing Nebaj is the village of Acul, which originated as one of the Guatemalan Army's so-called "model villages"-- in reality, more like a type of concentration camp into which Maya people were forcibly relocated when their villages were razed during the brutal campaign to suppress the rebels. Some of the original Army-built buildings can still be picked out, but Acul has become a real Maya village in its own right.
A short distance down the road from Acul is the picturesque Hacienda San Antonio, a working hacienda, famed throughout Guatemala for its excellent cheese. Idyllic in its setting, and easily reached by road today, one can hardly imagine the difficulties to be overcome by the Italian pioneer who founded the hacienda in 1938. San Antonio now receives guests, and we will plan on eating lunch here (included meal), as well as enjoying visiting the rustic little cheese factory.
At 1 PM we will head out for the famous market town of Chichicastenango, approximately 5 hours drive from Hda. San Antonio. Upon arrival at Chichi we will settle in to the equally famous old hostelry, the Mayan Inn.
The Mayan Inn has been receiving guests for over 70 years. Each room is unique, and all are furnished with antiques, including some colonial pieces of museum quality. The food is excellent, and service is provided by turbaned Maxeños, i.e., K'iche' Maya men of Chichicastenango, in full traje. To learn more about the Mayan Inn, visit this website: Mayan Inn, but don't forget to return to this trip description by clicking your "back" button. A night in the Mayan Inn is a memorable experience. Of course, we've come to Chichi for its world-famous native market, and you can start your shopping tonight as vendors begin setting up for tomorrow's big market day.
Day 9, Thurs., Aug. 5: You may be startled awake by explosions around 6 AM, thinking a revolution is in progress, but it is only a typical market day in Chichi, and the people do love their bombas along with all the other noises, smells and color. This is without question the most colorful native market in all the Americas, with native vendors coming from long distances to sell their wares. See Rutahsa's website on Chichi's market by clicking here: Market day at Chichi.
After taking pictures and haggling for blankets, wall hangings, native blouses, men's shirts, ceramics, carved wooden masks, and all kinds of other crafts, antiques, and souvenirs, you'll be ready for lunch and then to get off your feet for a while as we bus from Chichi to the town of Panajachel and glorious Lake Atitlán, a sapphire jewel set in a deep volcanic basin. At "Pana" we'll board a launch to take us across the dramatic lake to Santiago Atitlán...all the luggage will continue with the bus around the lake to meet us...our boat ride is just for fun!
Santiago Atitlán, was, in pre-conquest days, the capital of the Tz'utujil Maya nation. Though modernized in many ways, it is still a Maya town. Santiago women still weave on the backstrap loom, and most still wear their distinctive traje, though nowadays only a few still wear the famous halo-like headwrap. To see more photos of Santiago traje, as well as native costume from all over Guatemala, take a look at our website on traje of the Highland Maya.
Our hotel, the Posada Santiago, located just outside the town, is run by David and Susie, a couple of gringo ex-pats who have settled into Santiago permanently. The hotel features stone cabañas, each different and all charming, laid out in lovely grounds. The food at Posada Santiago is great (and David makes killer margaritas!).
Day 10, Fri., Aug. 6: This morning we will walk into town to meet Dolores Ratzan, a Tz'utujil woman and native of Santiago, formerly married to an American author. Dolores will guide us through the town with an insider's knowledge. We will visit the ancient church of Santiago, see the "navel of the earth", pay a visit to the shrine of the native deity Maximón, and also learn about Santiago's tragic recent history during La Violencia -- from which the town has recovered remarkably. Dolores' tour will end up at her mother's home where you will have the opportunity to see (and purchase) high quality weavings.
This afternoon will be free time-- You can continue to explore Santiago on your own...visiting the many shops and stalls along the main street leading to the public docks; or you can return to La Posada to enjoy their pool and sauna (if you like cold water you can also swim in the lake from their private dock), or just hang out, relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Second night at Posada Santiago.
Day 11, Sat., Aug. 7: This morning we will return to Antigua, first descending from the volcanic highlands through coffee fincas down to the coastal highway, then traveling about an hour and a half through sugarcane plantations, cattle ranches, and other features of the hot lowlands, and finally turning back up into the mountains and the cool highlands. We should reach Antigua in time for a late lunch, and several hours of free time in this delightful city of colonial architecture, shops, museums, and restaurants.
Tonight we will enjoy a final group dinner (included), as our trip comes to an end.
Overnight at the Posada de Don Rodrigo.
Day 12, Sun., Aug. 8: Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Today is the day to fly out to the U.S. (or to wherever home is), carrying tons of photos, souvenirs and memories of a remarkable country and even more remarkable people, indigenous and Europeanized, historic and present. Along with these memories of a great trip, you will carry with you a determination to return, for Guatemala is just too fantastic to visit only once!
TIKAL EXTENSION, Aug. 8 - 10:
Day 12, Sun., Aug. 8: Up and at 'em early today, for the airport shuttle will pick you up at 4 AM, to carry you to the Guatemala City airport for your flight out to Tikal. The short flight actually lands at Santa Elena, on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá, where you take the private bus of the Jungle Lodge to Tikal National Park (just a little over an hour's drive from Santa Elena). Upon arrival you will go with a bilingual guide for a 4-hour introductory tour of the huge archeological complex, passing through the great plaza, flanked by the soaring pyramids of Temple I and Temple II, and on to other sections of the sprawling ruins such as Temple IV and the "Lost World". The Lost World features a giant pyramid that makes a great place from which to watch the jungle birds come in to roost for the evening and to await the sunset, so you might want to come back here in the evening. (The ruins are officially closed at 6 PM, so a park guard may shoo you back towards the Jungle Lodge before dark. But just in case he can be talked into letting you stay late, as sometimes happens, be sure to bring a flashlight for the walk back in the dark.)
After the orientation tour you will have lunch (included) at the Jungle Lodge, and will be able to check into your cabin at 3 PM. You may want to return to the ruins on your own, or, if you've had enough walking, you might find relaxing at the Jungle Lodge's swimming pool attractive. There are also two museums to visit: the Tikal Museum and the Lithic Museum. You can buy a ticket (Q10, approx. $1.25 USD) at either museum that is good for entry into both, and both should be seen.
Day 13, Mon., Aug. 9: Breakfast at the Jungle Lodge is included. However, you might want to get up early and visit the ruins before breakfast. You can make arrangements with a local guide to go into the ruins before the official 6 AM opening time, in order to hike over to Temple IV, climb up it, and watch sunrise from high atop the soaring pyramid. And by getting into the ruins early you both improve your chances of seeing wildlife as well as beat the heat. But if you decide to do this, you need to arrange it the night before, and also check with the Jungle Lodge staff to see how late breakfast will be served.
If you not an early riser, you can still re-enter the ruins after breakfast to prowl and marvel amid crumbling, jungle-encrusted temples, palaces, causeways, pyramids, and numerous ruined edifices of unknown purpose.
Note: A second day entry fee of Q150 (approx. $20 USD) must be paid by all visitors.
In addition to the amazing ruins of a once populous Classic Maya city, Tikal is also a wonderful site for its lowland tropical jungle, its brilliant birds and other wildlife. You'll see parrots, toucans, toucanettes, hummingbirds, oropendolas, the beautiful ocellated turkey, and many other avian inhabitants of the jungle. And you'll almost certainly see foxes, guatuzas (agoutis), pisotes (coatimundi), and spider monkeys. You might see howler monkeys, deer, peccary, small alligators in the water hole near the hotel, or other jungle beasts. On our June 2001 trip one lucky Rutahsa Adventurer had a wonderful close-up view of a jaguar napping in a trail in mid-afternoon!
Tikal is really a wonderful site, but remember, this is true tropical lowland jungle: be prepared for heat!
At 2:30 PM the Jungle Lodge bus will take you back to the Santa Elena airport to board the flight back to Guatemala City where you will again be met and taken back to Antigua for one final night at the Posada de Don Rodrigo.
Day 14, Tues., Aug. 10: Today an airport shuttle will pick you up at the Posada de Don Rodrigo and take you to the Guatemala City airport for your international flight out.
To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala-2010 Excursion, e-mail Prof. Mary Drobny at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Ric Finch at email@example.com.
To make a reservation, request a trip application now; when you receive it, fill it out and send it, along with a deposit check for $450 made out to Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., to 299 Allen Hollow Rd., Cookeville, TN 38501. Once your trip application has been received and your deposit accepted by Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., you will be guaranteed a space on this excursion. Your deposit will be fully refunded if for any reason the trip is canceled.
Just about every year since 1998 Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel has highly recommended Rutahsa Adventures' Guatemala excursions. For example, take a look at what Frommer's had to say about our 2002 Guatemala excursion: Frommer's review.
To see the varied services Rutahsa Adventures offers, click here: Rutahsa Adventures homepage.
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