Day - 1
Location: Antigua - Hola! Welcome to Antigua. Surrounded by three volcanoes dominating the skyline, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the city became the tourism hub of Guatemala. Today, the city is filled with coffee shops and international restaurants and is always buzzing with live music and salsa classes. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and travel group. If you arrive with time to spare, why not get a taste of local tradition with a chocolate-making workshop in the ChocoMuseo, or perhaps tour some of the coffee or macadamia nut plantations tucked into the hills that surround the city.
Day - 2
Location: Antigua - As the seat of the Spanish colonial government, Antigua was once the most important cities in Central America. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, but many of the colonial-era buildings have been carefully restored so the architecture matches the city’s historical significance. Enjoy a wander around the city with your leader in the morning, learning some key Spanish phrases to make interacting with the locals a breeze. Walk through the quiet cobblestone streets past heavy, carved-wood entrances, and explore are many fascinating markets and museums. The afternoon is free for yours to explore the city and its surrounds, or to just grab a coffee from one of the many cafes in central park and sit back and enjoy the beauty of this city. You won't want to miss trying tamales: a local dish usually prepared on the weekend and served in a corn leaf. Also worth a try is Pepian: a dish of three meats (chicken, beef and pork) in a rich dark sauce. You’ll find the best value food next to the artisan markets, close to the bus station.
Day - 3
Location: Rio Dulce - It’s a long day of travel as you make your way to Rio Dulce by private vehicle. Depart early for the 8-hour journey, arriving mid-afternoon. Rio Dulce, which means 'Sweet River' in Spanish, refers to both the Guatemalan river that flows from Lago de Izabal (Lake Izabal) to the Caribbean Sea and the town of Fronteras, which sits at the east end of the lake. Upon arrival, the rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Maybe stretch your legs on a jungle walk, rent a kayak for a bit of exploration or just laze in a hammock and enjoy the tropical surrounds.
Day - 4
Location: Rio Dulce - Use your leisure day in Rio Dulce to take advantage of some of the activities on offer. Join your group on a boat ride down the river to Livingston: a laidback, Afro-Caribbean town that offers a unique taste of Garifuna culture on the shoulder of Guatemala. Located 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Rio Dulce, the boat ride is quite scenic, taking you through waters laden with water lilies, and past tropical forests and a spectacular canyon. The Garifuna population in Livingston are descendants of a community forcibly removed from the Caribbean by the British in the late 18th century. Livingston was one of the towns the displaced Garifuna settled in, and its relative isolation means the culture has remained undiluted by Guatemalan norms. Spend a little time here and perhaps grab a Garifuna meal like tapou: a creamy soup made with fish.
Day - 5
Location: Flores - Travel for about 4 hours to the delightful township of Flores on Lago Peten Itza. On the way, pay a visit to Nuevo Horizonte, a ranch where 130 demobilized families settled after the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords in 1998. Beginning with no infrastructure and poor living conditions, the community cooperated to establish fish-farming, agriculture, reforestation and eco-tourism projects. Stop by here this morning and tour their nature reserve, have lunch on the ranch and speak to the locals about the origins of the community. Continue to Flores, where on arrival you’ll take an orientation walk with your group leader. Flores had a long history before it was colonised by the Spanish in 1697, most significantly as the capital of the Itza people after the fall of Chichen Itza. Sometime during the day, you’ll have the chance to partake in a traditional tortilla making workshop, before using your free afternoon to wander the town's cobblestone streets, taking in its pastel-coloured buildings or shop for local handicrafts. It's a small island and walking the whole thing will take less than an hour. At around 4 pm, the lakefront starts to hum with street food vendors, making it a good place to grab a bite and interact with the locals.
Day - 6
Location: Tikal / San Ignacio - Embrace an early start for a guided exploration of Tikal National Park. Among the thick, evergreen jungle are some of the most significant remnants of the ancient Maya civilisation. Wonder at the towering granite temples and other monuments set among lush jungle while pondering the mystery of the ancient city's demise. Spend a few hours playing archaeologist, and afterwards, say goodbye to Guatemala and head across the border to Belize. As the only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize is a great place to get chatting with locals. You'll reach San Ignacio after a 3-hour drive.
Day - 7
Location: San Ignacio - This morning, you can choose whether you would like to relax in San Ignacio or take part in some of the other optional activities on offer, like a visit to the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM caves). A living museum of Maya relics, the ATM cave system is home to ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons, preserved by the natural processes of the cave for over 1400 years. If you choose to explore the cave system (and it is highly recommended), you’ll spend most of the day there. If not, nature lovers may be interested in a trip to the Green Iguana Conservation Project, where the scaly beasts are protected. Or perhaps stretch your legs with a short walk to the ruins of Cahal Pech, which was once the residence of a wealthy Maya family.
Day - 8
Location: Bacalar - Hop on a public bus and head for the Mexico border, a journey that will take about four hours. Deal with formalities at the border and then continue to Chetumal, where you will swap buses and hit the road again for Bacalar (1 hour). A long day of travel will see you arriving in the afternoon with some daylight to spare.
Day - 9
Location: Tulum - Today, head up the Yucatan peninsula to beachy Tulum – well-known for its laidback vibes and stunning stretches of coastline. You’ll be staying in the centre of Tulum, which is a little while from the beach, however easily accessible by a short taxi ride, or by bike, as roads around here are mostly flat. In the afternoon, head to one of the beaches! Paradise beach is the famous one, however Las Palmas Public Beach is just as beautiful, but with far fewer people. Better yet, head to the south-side of Tulum beach and park yourself in one of the many beach clubs on offer. A spend of about MXN200 gets you a couple of drinks, and a chance to laze on a private beach with the comforts of possibly a sun-lounge.
Day - 10
Location: Tulum - Enjoy a free day on the picturesque Caribbean coast. Perhaps visit the Tulum archaeological site, famous for sitting on a clifftop plateau that overlooks the glistening water below. Choose whether you’d like to explore the small archaeological site, or once again find a spot on one of the white-sand beaches and chill out. This cruisy resort town is stuffed with cafes and restaurants serving up seafood-heavy Mexican fare, as well as many vegetarian and vegan options, so you’ll be able to eat well while you catch those sea breezes.
Day - 11
Location: Playa del Carmen - This leg of your journey is a short one. Hop on a local bus and travel for about 1.5 hours to Playa del Carmen. With azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city similar to Cancun, but with a less intense party atmosphere. Take a brief orientation stroll with your leader to get your bearings, then take your pick of a bunch of optional activities. Maybe go for a snorkel in the fresh waters of Dos Ojos Cenote – a flooded cave system. Or perhaps head further afield on a ferry ride to Cozumel, where the colourful reefs are seen with great visibility. If you'd prefer to stay where the margaritas are cold and close by, you might want to rent a bike to explore Playa on two wheels.
Day - 12
Location: Playa del Carmen - With no activities planned for today, you are welcome to leave the accommodation at any time. If you would like to spend some more time in Playa del Carmen, we’ll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). Now, just pull up a towel and laze on the sandy shores of the playa (beach); you deserve it.