Travel from magnificent Mexico to gorgeous Guatemala via breathtaking Belize

Travel to paradise somewhere between the blazing Yucatan sun and the cool Guatemalan highlands on this Mayan Encounter. Prepare to be wowed as you relax on the white sands of Tulum, admire the underwater life in Caye Caulker, amble over the Mayan ruins in jungle-clad Tikal and gaze up at the volcanoes surrounding Antigua. From narrow laneways and remote jungles to fascinating ruins and powdery beaches, the Mayan Encounter has everything under the sun.

Start
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Finish
Antigua, Guatemala
Countries
Belize,
Guatemala,
Mexico
Themes
Explorer
Code
QVRA
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 16
Carbon offset
210kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • This overland adventure covers big parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, allowing you to see some of the best of Central America
  • Extended time in Caye Caulker and Antigua provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy laid-back island vibes as well as buzzy colonial city life
  • A homestay in San Jorge La Laguna invites you to connect with a local family. Sit down for breakfast and dinner with your hosts and work on improving your Spanish
  • Whether its slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango, you'll experience multiple sides of Central America
  • Visiting the colourful Mayan villages surrounding Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands is a humbling experience

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2016 to 31 December 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Welcome to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 7 pm today. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

In order to make the most of what Playa has to offer, we strongly recommend that you extend your stay in Playa del Carmen for one or two extra days. Please contact us if you need us to assist you with additional accommodation. If you manage a few extra days in Playa, you may want to spend time snorkelling among the mangroves or strolling along the white sands. For adventures further afield, take a ferry across the turquoise seas to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
Travel south today by local bus to Tulum, which should take around an hour and a half. Tulum is a beach paradise on the Caribbean coast, where you can spend your time relaxing on the beach or strolling along the white sands. For a taste of Mayan architecture, take an optional visit of the ruins of Tulum. These ruins sit atop a cliff amid palm fringed and white sand beaches. You can even go for a swim within its ancient walls. In the evening, use the opportunity to kick back and watch the waves with a margarita.
Today is free to relax, take part in optional activities and to generally do as you wish. Perhaps start your morning by renting a bike and cycling around the area - this is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short time. There's also the option of heading to Akumal Bay for a snorkelling tour of the bay.
Leave Mexico behind today and head south to Belize. Be prepared for a long day of travel on the road, as the total driving time including the border crossing will take around eight or nine hours. Travel by minivan to the border at Chetumal and then continue onto Belize City by private minibus. Once in Belize City take a water taxi to Caye Caulker (approx one hour). The Belize Cayes are a group of islands that are a short boat ride away from the coast. There are a number of these islands to choose from, but we base ourselves on Caye Caulker as this is one of the more popular islands with travellers.

On arrival there won't be too much time to explore, so perhaps go for an evening stroll to get your bearings of the immediate vicinity.
Today is free to explore. From Caye Caulker, it's possible to arrange day trips to other Cayes, to the best reefs for diving, or simply to take a local boat out to the reef of Caulker itself. Each island has its own particular character, but all of them have the unmistakeable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. There's also plenty of optional activities to keep you entertained during your time here.

Relax on the beach or head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the magnificent Blue Hole and the world's second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colorful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You could also choose to go manatee spotting. These huge peaceful creatures are often called sea cows and are quite curious to meet their visitors.

If you're interested in sampling local cuisine, Caye Caulker is famous for its lobster. Not the cheapest meal you'll ever buy, but delicious nonetheless. Always make sure that you respect the season: the lobsters can only be caught between June 15th and February 15th. Some of the best meals on the island are cooked on the road side. How about some grilled shrimp and a lovely rum and coke made with the local fire water?
Today travel by local bus through the forested hills of the highlands to San Ignacio, which should take around three hours. The local buses in Belize are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers. On arrival, the rest of your day is free.

All guests at our hotel in San Ignacio are required to pay an additional charge of USD20 per night if they choose to use the air conditioner in their room. Electricity in Belize is incredibly expensive so most hotels charge an extra rate to use the air conditioning - and USD20 per night is pretty standard. We could include this extra charge in the trip price but then all of our travellers would have to pay whether they want to use it or not. We believe giving our travellers the option is a fairer way to manage this situation.
You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Mayan ruins, making the ideal base to explore the region. One of the optional activities here is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Mayan ceremonial centre located with panoramic views over the countryside. The east side of one of the temples has a unique stucco frieze and the central plaza has three carved stelae. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river.

The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Mayan relics, where you'll have to wade through water until you reach the Mayan ceremonial site. Here you'll find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons, preserved by the natural processes of the cave for over 1,400 years. Other options to fill in your time in San Ignacio include a day trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and warm swimming holes, as well as a huge cave system, the butterfly garden, canoeing or river tubing.

In the late afternoon and at night, many little street barbecue stalls open, and serve huge portions. Give it a try, sit down next to the road, chat with the locals and enjoy a juicy chicken leg.
Continue your adventure by private minibus across the border into Guatemala, and then onto Tikal National Park (approximately four hours in total). Towering above the jungle of the Tikal National Park, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Mayan ruins. Hidden in the jungle growth is a maze of smaller structures waiting to be explored. The energetic can climb to the top of the ruins for spectacular views over the canopy and you may even spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. While here, you have the option of taking a guided tour of the area or scale the canopies and explore by zip-line.

Tonight, set up the tents along with sleeping mattresses and camp under the stars by this majestic Maya site. There are also basic shared bathrooms and showers at camp.
If you haven't already had enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again this morning (entrance fee not included). Afterwards, continue onto the town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza, where there's time for you to grab some lunch and explore the town. Leaving Flores behind, jump on a local bus and head towards Rio Dulce, which takes around five hours. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or take a short walk enjoying the jungle.

Your hotel is located a short distance from town in a spot right on the river. This is a great place to simply relax on the deck overlooking the water, with reasonably priced meals served in the hotel restaurant. A highlight for many guests is the 'Casa Natural' - an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.
Use your free day here taking advantage of the optional activities to get out and about. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laidback town on the Caribbean coast that offers a unique experience of local Garifuna culture. Follow the local trend and go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot the protected manatees or explore nearby San Felipe fort.
Say goodbye to Rio Dulce today and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua, which should take between eight and nine hours. You'll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won't spend too much time in Antigua today, but you should still go out for a stroll and try tamales - a local dish usually prepared traditionally on weekends and served in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which is a meal that consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). The best value food you'll find is next to the artisan market that's close to the bus station.
Start the day by travelling by private minibus to the famous market in Chichicastenango, taking approximately two and a half hours. Home to perhaps the most colourful market in the country, on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and the streets are lined with stalls offering multi-coloured textiles and fresh produce. After visiting Chichi head towards San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan, which should take an hour and a half.

Arriving in San Jorge La Laguna, meet your host family for tonight's homestay. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on the group size. Locals in San Jorge La Laguna are both very friendly and very shy. In order to make the most of this experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Learn as many Spanish words as you can and get ready for some serious hand language signals.

Houses in San Jorge La Laguna are very basic. Your room may only consist of a couple of beds with clean bedding, and the bathroom will most likely be outside your room and shared with the rest of the family. The mother of the family will cook dinner and breakfast for you. Meals can be very basic but filling, consisting of corn, rice and beans. You may want to stack up some snacks in Antigua.
Say farewell to your host family this morning, as you move to the neighbouring town of Panajachel. Located on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake? The surrounding area is dotted with villages, which can be reached on foot or by boat. Watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan. Your whole day is free to take part in optional activities.
Hit the road back to Antigua by private minibus today, which takes around three hours. In 1773 the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be seen. Walk through the quiet cobblestone streets and past heavy carved-wood entrances. There are many fascinating markets and museums to explore, or hire a mountain bike and ride through the countryside if you fancy something more active. The views of mountain peaks and deep valleys, covered in lush vegetation provide an amazing backdrop. The rest of the day is free to do as you wish here.
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, its history and nutritional values and you may be lucky enough to get a sample bag of chocolates at the end of the tour. Otherwise, grab a coffee from one of the many coffee shops in central park and just sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's city vibe. If you want to learn more about the famous Guatemalan coffee, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and even buy some to take home. If you're into salsa dancing or if you'd like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons so you'll be able to perfect your moves.
Your Mayan Encounter adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day and you're able to depart the accommodation at any time. As there's a great deal to do in Antigua, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.

Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you have come to know so well lives under the poverty line, which may explain why Guatemala has also the lowest literacy rate in Central America. With this in mind, the Intrepid Foundation is proud supporter of CasaSito, an outstanding not for profit organization dedicated to assist youth to reach their academic, personal and professional potential.

If you have 2’ to spare (2’41’’ to be exact!) take a look at this short video about CasaSito – it’s inspiring: https://youtu.be/v62Ou9czWyE

If you want to help CasaSito and Guatemalan’s youth, you can donate through the Intrepid Foundation, which means that your donation will be match dollar for dollar by Intrepid too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization. Simply visit our website: www.theintrepidfoundation.org/projects/casasito/
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
1 breakfast, 1 dinner
Transport
Private minibus, Local bus, Ferry
Accommodation
Hotel (14 nights), Camping (with facilities) (1 night), Homestay (1 night)
Included activities
  • Tikal National Park - Entrance
  • Chichicastenango Market

Dates

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Trip notes

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Reviews

Our Mayan Encounter trips score an average of 4.55 out of 5 based on 273 reviews in the last year.

Mayan Encounter , August 2016

Mayan Encounter , August 2016