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
Style
Basix
Code
QVRA
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

Why we love this trip

  • 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

Is this trip right for you?

  • Travelling between certain locations on this trip can be quite challenging, especially when using local transport. It's also a fantastic way of meeting the locals.

  • Crossing the borders between the various countries visited on this trip is usually straightforward, but you may need to be patient. If there are delays during your journey, be prepared to take part in some car games!

  • The tropical climate of Central America means conditions can be really hot and humid. Always carry plenty of water with you and stay hydrated, especially on walking tours.

  • Conditions during your homestay in San Jorge La Laguna are basic. Your room will consist of a couple of beds with clean bedding, and the bathroom will most likely be shared with the rest of the family. Hearty home-cooked breakfast and dinner will be served during your stay, which can be a lot more basic than what you're used to. However, corn, rice and beans are very filling.

  • Try to learn as many Spanish words as you can. Locals are very friendly, but also shy, so you'll need to make plenty of effort to break the ice. Attempting to communicate in Spanish is a great way of showing you care.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2018 to 31 December 2018. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Bienvenidos a Mexico! Welcome to Mexico!
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be checking your passport details, insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).

If you are lucky enough to have the time to spend a couple of extra nights in Playa del Carmen, use your time snorkelling in fresh water rock pools (called Cenotes), strolling along the white sands or for an adventure further afield, take a ferry across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving. Perhaps take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Playa del Carmen - Mayan Underworld Explorer - Urban Adventures - USD77
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip) - MXN300
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
This trip is part of longer Central America combination trips. As such, some of your fellow travellers may have commenced their trip in Mexico City or continue they journey to Costa Rica or Panama. For more information on these longer trips see: Central American Adventure (32 days), Best of Central America (42 days), Ultimate Central America (58 days) or Complete Central America (65 days)
Travel south today by local bus to Tulum, which should take around 1.5 hours. 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. The town itself is small so your leader will take you on a brief orientation walk upon arrival. 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tulum - Orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Tulum - Tulum Ruins (Archaeological Site Entrance) - MXN59
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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. You may want to head to Akumal Bay for a change of scenery or check out one of the many fresh water rock pools (sink hole) known locally as Cenote. You can buy an organized tour to each of these attractions or venture off on your own as both are easily reached by local transport. Go early in the day to avoid the crowds. Cenote Dos Ojos is perhaps the most spectacular Cenote but it requires a 3 Km walk each way from the local bus drop off.

If you haven't already, you may wish to take your last opportunity before departing the country to head to Mexico's most famous archaeological site, Chichen Itza - named one of the seven wonders of the world.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Dos Ojos Cenote - Entrance fee (snorkelling gear included) - MXN300
  • Cenote Cristalino - Entrance fee (snorkelling gear included) - MXN150
  • Tulum - Bicycle rental (per day) - MXN185
  • Chichen Itza Ruins - Entrance Fee - MXN242
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leave Mexico behind early in the morning 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 (3.5 hours approximately). After crossing the border and having lunch (not included) continue onto Belize City by private minivan (3 hours approximately). Once in Belize City take a water taxi to Caye Caulker (1 hour). Expect to arrive at Caye Caulker by 5-6 pm. 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, Caye Caulker being 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. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is free to explore. From Caye Caulker, it's possible to arrange day trips to other Cayes or a snorkelling trip to the nearby colorful corals to see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. Further away, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is home to the magnificent Blue Hole and the world's second longest barrier reef. 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. Otherwise just relax on the beach.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (half day) - USD35
  • Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (full day) - USD75
  • Caye Caulker - Manatee tour - USD60
  • Caye Caulker - Sea kayaking (half day) - USD25
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is another free day to take up some water or beach activities. 
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?
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Stand up paddle board rental (per hour) - USD22
  • Caye Caulker - Bicycle rental (per day) - USD15
  • Caye Caulker - Sunset sail - USD37
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today catch a ferry back to Belize City (1 hour) before taking a local bus through the forested hills of the highlands to San Ignacio (3.5 hours approximately). Local buses in Belize are a little more basic and crowded than in Mexico. 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 walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena. While San Ignacio may lack the colonial charm of other Central American towns, its streets and markets showcasing a mix of Mayan and Garifuna cultures are well worth exploring.

Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • San Ignacio - Leader led walking tour
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
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 perhaps head to Santa Elena (15 minutes walking) where 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. Closer to town you may want to try tamales, garnachas (crunchy tortillas with fired beans and cheese) and 'foot cow soup' also known as caxlo de res.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave - inc. transport, guide and lunch) - USD95
  • San Ignacio - River tubing - USD95
  • San Ignacio - Butterfly Farm - USD10
  • San Ignacio - Barton Creek canoe trip - USD80
  • San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project - USD9
  • San Ignacio - Yaxha ruins complex (Transport, lunch and guide) - USD80
  • San Ignacio - Xunantunich Ruins Entrance only - USD10
  • San Ignacio - Mountain Pine Ridge day trip (inc. transport and guide) - USD80
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today starts at 8am with a short taxi ride to the Belize-Guatemala border. Once in Guatemala, take a bus to Tikal National Park (approximately 2.5 hours). In Tikal there will be time for lunch (not included), before visiting the impressive archaeological site. 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. Weather is always warm in this part of the world but a thin blanket is provided for extra comfort. There are also basic shared bathrooms and showers at camp.
Accommodation
  • Camping (with facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Entrance fee
Optional Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Private guide for Ruins - USD40
  • Tikal - Zipline - USD45
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
If you haven't had enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again (very) early in morning (entrance fee not included). Leave Tikal at 8am for a 1-hour bus ride to Flores on Lake Peten Itza. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Flores before continuing travelling by private minivan to Rio Dulce (approximately 4 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 40 minute walk enjoying the jungle.

Your hotel is located 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. Now that you are back in a Spanish-speaking nation, this is great opportunity to pick up some Spanish from your leader for your week ahead. 
Included Activities
  • Informal Spanish Lesson
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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.
Optional Activities
  • Rio Dulce - Boat trip to Livingston (Price dependent on boat available & passengers) - USD30
  • Rio Dulce - Natural hot springs (including transportation) - USD20
  • Rio Dulce - San Felipe Fort - USD1
  • Rio Dulce - Quirigua Ruins - USD30
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Say goodbye to Rio Dulce today and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua, which should take approximately eight to nine hours allowing time for lunch. However, 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, many slow trucks. Be armed with patience, music and a good book. 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). You may also want to take this time to purchase a few snacks for your time at the homestay as the meals there can be very basic. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Be ready for an 8am departure. Travel by private transport (approximately 2.5 hours on winding roads) to the famous market in 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 visiting Chichi head towards San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan, which should take 1.5 hours.

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. Draw on your newly learnt Spanish words and get ready for some serious hand 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. 
Accommodation
  • Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
Meals Included
  • Dinner
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. Once in Pana your leader will take you on a brief walking tour of town. 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? 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Panajachel - Leader led walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Panajachel - San Pedro Volcano hike - USD65
  • Panajachel - Guided lake and villages tour - USD30
  • Panajachel - Kayak rental (per hour) - USD6
  • Panajachel - Bicycle rental (per day) - USD10
  • Panajachel - Zipline - USD45
  • Panajachel - Water taxi to Santiago, San Pedro or San Juan - USD8
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
At 9am start travelling back to Antigua by private vehicle, which takes 3 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. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout, the local market as well as the very colourful and unique chicken bus station next to the market. The rest of the time in Antigua is free for you to explore.
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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Antigua - Leader led walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Salsa lesson (per hour) - USD7
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
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. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Coffee/Macadamia nut plantation tour - USD45
  • Antigua - Antigua by the Bean - Urban Adventures - USD76
  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop - USD24
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. 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.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
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 our own not-for-profit organization (see the Responsible Travel section of this trip’s Essential Travel Information or ask your tour leader for more information) , which means your donation will be match dollar for dollar by us too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization.

Meals

1 breakfast, 1 dinner

Transport

Private minibus, Local bus, Ferry

Accommodation

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

Included activities

  • Tulum - Orientation walk
  • Caye Caulker - Orientation walk
  • San Ignacio - Leader led walking tour
  • Tikal National Park - Entrance fee
  • Informal Spanish Lesson
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
  • Panajachel - Leader led walking tour
  • Antigua - Leader led walking tour

Dates & availability

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Important notes

START AND END TIME:
On Day 1 there are no activities planned until the important welcome meeting at approximately 7pm. There are no activities planned for the final day.

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT:
A Single Supplement to have your own room is available for purchase on this trip.

WARNING FOR BOOKING FLIGHTS TO/FROM ANTIGUA:
Please be careful when booking flights to/from Antigua making sure you fly into/out of Guatemala City Airport (GUA). Guatemala City Airport is the closest airport to Antigua. Please do NOT book flights to/from Antigua & Barbuda Airport [ANU] as this is an island in the Caribbean.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Maya Encounter trips score an average of 4.57 out of 5 based on 196 reviews in the last year.

Mayan Encounter, November 2017

Adriana Smeloff

Mayan Encounter, November 2017

Matthew Jong