Map of Maya Encounter including Belize, Guatemala and Mexico

Bliss out in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize

Discover more than one kind of bliss on this 17-day experience in Central America, from the calming sea breezes on Playa del Carmen's beaches to the contentment of a hearty, homecooked dinner in a lakeside Maya village. This adventure through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize takes its sweet time ambling down the coast to the island paradise of Caye Caulker, then cuts inland to the lush jungle around Tikal, cruising to the vast Rio Dulce and finishing among the clouds in Panajachel and Antigua. You get the right balance of local-led experiences and independent exploration, with a whole load of awesome places to discover.


Start
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Finish
Antigua, Guatemala
Destinations
Belize, Guatemala, Mexico
Style
Basix
Theme
Explorer
Code
QVRA
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

Why you'll love this trip

  • Spend two days exploring Caye Caulker at your leisure. Munch barbecue lobster? Snorkel around a coral reef? Nap under a palm tree? It’s up to you.

  • Hit the streets of Antigua with your local leader and climb to a vintage cross lookout for views of the city and the incredible volcano that towers over it.

  • Get to know contemporary Maya life during a homestay in San Jorge La Laguna, a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family.

  • Wander between stalls of rainbow-coloured handicrafts, fruits and flowers and get some haggling tips from your leader in Chichicastenango Market.

  • Cruise up the Rio Dulce to your waterfront jungle lodge, then maybe grab a beer and relax while the sounds of nature fill the air.

Is this trip right for you?

  • Using public transport is better for the environment and you’ll get an authentic look at daily life, but keep in mind that local transport between certain locations on this trip can be basic.

  • Crossing the borders between the various countries visited on this trip is usually straightforward, but you may need to be patient. Books, podcasts and car games will be your best friend.

  • The tropical climate of Central America means conditions can be really hot and humid. It makes the beers even more refreshing but consider what time of the year you wish to travel in if you’re easily affected by the weather.

  • The homestay is a wonderful opportunity to witness everyday local life. Conditions are simple and multi-share but comfortable. A hearty homecooked breakfast and dinner will be served during your stay, which can be a lot more basic than what you're used to.

  • Try to learn as many Spanish words as you can before the trip. In many of the destinations we visit, local people are reserved and/or do not speak English. Attempting to communicate in Spanish is a great way of showing you care.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 Jan 2023 to 31 Dec 2023.
View the 2020 itinerary
Hola, welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. If you arrive early and are lucky enough to have extra time in this beachside playground, why not spend it snorkelling in freshwater rock pools (called cenotes), strolling along the white sands or reef diving on Cozumel. After the welcome meeting tonight, perhaps head out for a cocktail and tacos with your newfound travel buddies.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Playa del Carmen - Bicycle Rental (per day) - Free
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip Ticket) - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Wake up without an alarm, today is yours to explore this beachside paradise at your leisure. Known for its coral-clad reefs, Playa Del Carmen might prove to be the perfect spot to don your snorkel mask and flippers and explore beneath the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for rays, moray eels and turtles. If you’d rather leave the flippers behind and adventure on land, perhaps catch a local bus and travel south to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins await just a short 1.5-hour journey away. In the evening, you could grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a spot to watch the sunset with a margarita in hand – muy bien.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Wake up and enjoy your final morning in Playa del Carmen. Perhaps take an early morning stroll to the beach and dip your toes in the sand or simply let the world pass you by with a coffee in hand at a local café. We’ll head to our next stop in Chetumal mid-morning. Arrive in Chetumal after lunch with the afternoon at your leisure. A quiet city, close to the border of Belize, this place makes for the perfect stop before tomorrow’s adventure toward Caye Caulker. You might like to round up your newfound travel buddies and head to a local restaurant for the evening.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4 hours.
Bid adios to Mexico early this morning as we head south to Belize. Be prepared for a few hours of travel. First up, we’ll jump on a local bus to the border of Belize and Mexico, undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City. Once in Belize City, we swap the bus ride for a water taxi trip to the island of Caye Caulker. Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker in the afternoon and get acquainted with the island during a guided walk with your leader. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. Be aware that there may be crocodiles in the split area that separates the north and south of the island so it’s best to take caution while swimming and exploring the beaches.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4.5-5 hours.
Good morning and welcome to heaven! Today is free for you to explore the island and surrounds or simply relax. Whatever you choose to do, it’s pretty much impossible to keep the smile off your face when the scenery is this magic. If you feel like snorkelling, ask your leader about organising a trip to the colourful coral reef nearby, or perhaps head further afield to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the world’s second-longest coral reef. Manatee spotting is one option nature lovers should consider, as the chance to encounter these gentle giants is a special one. Of course, you could always take a stroll and find a swaying palm tree with your name on it – they make the perfect place to nap, read a book and soak up the island vibes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Full-day Guided Snorkelling Trip (gear, guide and transport included) - BZD150
  • Caye Caulker - Half-day guided sea kayaking tour (Incl. guide & transport) - BZD70
  • Caye Caulker - Manatee boat tour (Incl. transport & guide) - BZD240
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
What’s better than one day in paradise? Two, of course! Wake up when you like, because you’ve got another free day. Like any good seaside Eden, Caye Caulker is home to super fresh seafood, which you can dig into with your feet planted in the sand at one of the many ‘floor free’ outdoor restaurants. The island's famous lobsters are available between 15 June and 15 February, and you can expect to pay far less than at home (though more than your average island meal). You could even grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with firewater from a roadside stall to really get into the island spirit.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Bicycle Rental (per day) - BZD40
  • Caye Caulker - Stand-up paddleboard hire (per hour) - BZD35
  • Caye Caulker - Sunset sailing - BZD100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City and then take a local bus to San Ignacio. Local buses in Belize are a little more basic and crowded than you may have experienced elsewhere in Central America. Get ready for a stop-and-go experience on the journey. There are very few official bus stops in Belize, so the bus will stop as required by roadside passengers. On arrival, your leader will take you on a walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena, which will give you a sense of how vibrant the local Garifuna and Maya communities are. Perhaps tonight head out in search of a classic Maya dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • San Ignacio - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4.5 hours.
You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the ideal base. One optional activity that will appeal to history buffs is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial site positioned on a hill that overlooks the countryside. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river. Also nearby is the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a living museum of Maya relics. Wade through cool waters to find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons preserved by the calcium-rich environment of the cave for over 1400 years. Easily spooked? Maybe you'd prefer a cave with fewer (as far as we know) skeletons, like the one in Mountain Pine Ridge. In the late afternoon, the barbecue stalls of Santa Elena start to set up for the dinner rush. It's only a 15-minute walk, so consider wandering over to enjoy a juicy chicken leg and a chat with the locals.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (Incl. entry, guide, transport & lunch) - BZD250
  • San Ignacio - Butterfly Farm - BZD55
  • San Ignacio - Cave tubing (incl. entrance, guide & transport) - BZD190
  • San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project (entrance fee) - BZD20
  • San Ignacio - Xunantunich Ruins entry - BZD10
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Rise and shine for an 8 am taxi ride to the Belize-Guatemala border. Once you've crossed over, board a bus to Tikal National Park. In Tikal there will be time to buy lunch before visiting the impressive archaeological site. Towering above the jungle, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Maya ruins. Hidden in the evergreen forest are 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 the chance to spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. Choose to explore on your own or pay a little more for a guided tour (or maybe see the site from above on an optional zip-line ride).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Multishare) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Tikal archaeological site (entrance fee, no guide)
Optional Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Guide for Ruins (per group) - GTQ500
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Multi-share typically includes triple and quadruple rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples or people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.

Today’s total travel time is approximately 2.5 hours.
If you can't get enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again in the (very) early morning at your own cost before departing at 8 am to Flores. It's just a short away, and on arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of the island of Flores. Continue by private minivan to Rio Dulce. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also on the water, a journey which can be organised through the hotel. Alternatively, a 40-minute jungle walk will get you there. The hotel is a great place to relax and look over the water, with reasonably priced meals and drinks served in the hotel restaurant. Now that you are back in a Spanish-speaking nation, why not join an informal Spanish lesson put on by your leader? Muy bien!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Private rooms with shared facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 5 hours.
With plenty of free time today, consider taking advantage of some of the optional activities available. Maybe take a scenic boat trip down the river to the coastal enclave of Livingston for a taste of Creole-Caribbean culture. This laidback town on the Caribbean coast feels very different from the rest of Guatemala thanks to its Garifuna population. Or perhaps go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot local manatees or explore nearby San Felipe Fort.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Private rooms with shared facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Rio Dulce - Boat trip to Livingston (Price dependent on boat available & passengers) - GTQ160
  • Rio Dulce - Natural Hot Springs (entrance fee and transport) - GTQ150
  • Rio Dulce - Quirigua Ruins (entrance fee) - GTQ80
  • Rio Dulce - San Felipe Fort (entrance fee) - GTQ20
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua. The road between Rio Dulce and Guatemala City is one of the busiest in the country. Traffic is slow, there are frequent road works and many, many (seriously) slow trucks. Be armed with patience, music and a good book and the journey will be easier to handle. Spend the night in Antigua before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. Though there's not much time in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward your patience with a tamale – meat and dough steamed in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). You may also want to take this time to purchase a few snacks for your time at the homestay on Lake Atitlan as the meals there can be very basic.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 8-9 hours, including time for lunch.
Today. We're up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport on winding roads to Chichicastenango. 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 doing a little shopping at the market, head to San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan. Once we arrive, we’ll visit a local Mayan Shaman before meeting your host family. 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. Draw on your newly learnt Spanish and get ready for some serious hand signals. Enjoy dinner with your host family.
Accommodation
  • Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Juan La Laguna - Shaman Visit
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
Today's total travel time is approximately 4.5 hours.
Say goodbye to your host family this morning and move on 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. Once you arrive in 'Pana' your leader will take you on a brief walking tour of town so you can get your bearings. The rest of the time is free for you to explore. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake, there aren't many places in the world that serve up active adventure in such a beautiful locale. The surrounding area is also 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Panajachel - Guided lake and villages tour - GTQ190
  • Panajachel - Kayak rental (per hour) - GTQ75
  • Panajachel - Water taxi to Santiago, San Pedro or San Juan (Return) - GTQ60
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Hit the road again around 9 am and make the journey back to Antigua by private vehicle. 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. Once you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout. The rest of your time in Antigua is free for you to explore at your own pace. If you fancy a spin on the dance floor and want 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. As always, ask your leader for details.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Antigua - Leader-led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Salsa-dance Lesson (per hour) - GTQ100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 3 hours.
Enjoy a free day exploring this photogenic city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, which was first documented by the Guatemalan Maya, as well as it's historical importance. Or maybe grab a coffee from one of the myriad shops in central park and sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop at ChocoMuseo - GTQ225
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Your adventure comes to an end this morning, there are no activities planned for the final day. Please note you are required to comply with the check-out time set by the hotel. As there's a great deal to do in Antigua, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this traveller favourite. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

1 breakfast, 1 dinner

Transport

Private vehicle, Public bus, Taxi, Shared boat, Ferry

Accommodation

Hotel (12 nights), Multishare Hotel (1 night), Hotel with shared facilities (2 nights), Homestay (1 night)

Included activities

  • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
  • San Ignacio - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Tikal National Park - Tikal archaeological site (entrance fee, no guide)
  • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Juan La Laguna - Shaman Visit
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
  • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Antigua - Leader-led orientation walk

Dates & availability

Trip departures are unavailable.

There are currently no scheduled departures on our Maya Encounter trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

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Important notes

Travellers on Intrepid trips that start on or before 31 December 2022 are required to produce proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. Learn more about Intrepid’s COVID-19 policy.

1. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1 in Playa del Carmen. There are no activities planned for the final day so you may depart at any time.
2. A single supplement is available if you’d prefer not to share a room on this trip. The single supplement excludes Day 9 (Tikal) & Day 13 (San Jorge La Laguna homestay) where you will be in shared accommodation and is subject to availability. Please speak to your booking agent for further information.
3. Multishare typically includes triple and quad rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples, and people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.
4. Please be careful when booking flights from Antigua; make sure you fly out of Guatemala City Airport [GUA]. Guatemala City Airport is the closest airport to Antigua. Please do not book flights from Antigua & Barbuda Airport [ANU] as this is an island in the Caribbean.
5. Travel is always an adventure and, as destinations reopen, there are a few challenges as everyone gets back up to speed and adjusts to the new normal. Our leaders are experts when it comes to dealing with anything unexpected along the journey, so pack your understanding and flexibility, sit back and relax while they take care of the rest.

Essential trip information

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