Explore the ancient civilisation of the Maya, visiting the pyramids, temples and tombs of this mysterious culture’s heartland in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. This new 16-day tour takes you to a range of spectacular sites, voyaging up rivers, crossing spectacular volcanic lakes, driving through jungles, and even boating through a cave system. The diverse ecosystems in which the Maya flourished, such as the Barrier Reef of Belize and the Rio Dulce, which we follow into Guatemala, are also a highlight – as are the thriving contemporary towns and cities of this less-touristed region.
Marvel at the massive pyramids and the elaborately decorated temples and cities of the Maya
Colonial Antigua, the historic capital of Guatemala
Spectacular Lake Atitlan and its surrounding villages, where Mayan culture remains strong and traditional dress is worn
Investigate the World Heritage sites of Tikal, Copan, Quirigua and the Belize Barrier Reef
Sail up the Rio Dulce Canyon beneath huge high cliffs and thick jungle, accompanied by the sounds of wildlife and birds
Days 1–3: Arrive Guatemala, travel to Antigua and explore its museums, surrounding villages and coffee plantations.
Days 4–6: Visit Lake Atitlan. Return to Guatemala City and fly to Flores and see the Mayan citadel of Tikal.
Days 7–8: Admire the vast archaeological sites of Yaxha and Caracol.
Days 9–11: Discover the Mayan ceremonial site of Barton Creek in Belize and the ruins at Lamanai. Relax on idyllic Caye Caulker.
Days 12–14: Sail the Rio Dulce to Castillo San Felipe. Investigate Quirigua’s stone stelae and Copan’s ruins in Honduras.
The tour begins at Guatemala International Airport and ends at our hotel in Guatemala City. Qantas and American Airlines offer flights into and out of Guatemala City, via Los Angeles, from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Wednesday 13 November: Arrival and Orientation
Chris Carter will meet the group at La Aurora International Airport, Guatemala City, about one hour’s drive from our hotel in Antigua. Overnight Antigua
Thursday 14 November: Touring Antigua
This morning we embark on a walking tour of Antigua, the original colonial capital of Guatemala until the Spanish Crown ordered Guatemala City become the new capital following a devastating earthquake. In 1979 UNESCO declared the colonial city of La Antigua as a World Cultural Heritage Site – recognising it as a location of exceptional value. We explore the cobblestone streets and monumental buildings including the Municipal Palace, the Convent of Las Capuchinas, the Cathedral and the Escuela de Cristo. Overnight Antigua (B, D)
Friday 15 November: Coffee and Music
Today we travel a short distance through the beautiful Guatemalan countryside to visit some of the local villages and visit one of the oldest and most established coffee estates in Guatemala. Coffee production began to develop in Guatemala in the 1850’s and forms a vitally important part of the economy in the form of export revenue. The Antigua region’s rich volcanic soils and cool nights result in the best coffee in the country. We visit a plantation and follow the path of the coffee bean from the nursery to the cup including an educational tasting session. We return to Antigua after lunch and visit one of the most unique and interesting museums in Guatemala, Casa K’ojom (K’ojom is the Mayan word for music.) The private museum and education centre is dedicated to the research, preservation and dissemination of the traditional music and instruments of the Mayan people of Guatemala. Overnight Antigua (B, L, D)
Saturday 16 November: Lake Atitlán
We depart by coach for Panajachel on the spectacular Lago Atitlán, one of the world’s most beautiful settings, in the Guatemalan Highlands and spend several hours touring around the lake. After lunch in one of the many well regraded local restaurants, we board a boat and cross the lake to visit the village of Santiago de Atitlán. Santiago Atitlán was the site of considerable violence during the civil war – two of the most notable incidents during the war were the assassination of a Roman Catholic priest by right-wing death squads in July 1981, and the massacre of 14 people (and wounding of 21 others) when the army opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians on 2 December 1990. On arrival at our hotel, surrounded by Botanical gardens, there is time to relax and take in the stunning views of the Lake and surrounding volcanoes. Overnight Panajachel (B, L)
Sunday 17 November: Chichicastenango
Today we travel further into the countryside to Chichicastenango. Surrounded by valleys and mountains, it remains one of the most traditional places in Guatemala. The town’s isolation has helped to conserve its indigenous authenticity. The people of Chichicastenango, known as Masheños, are known for their adherence to pre-Christian beliefs and ceremonies and still practise religious rituals and hold processions in observance of their saints around the church of Santo Tomás almost on a daily basis. The markets, where you can find every type of handicrafts, fruits and vegetables, flowers, pottery and many other goods are held on Thursdays and Sundays and are famous throughout Central America. This afternoon we return to Guatemala City and fly to Flores where we spend the next two nights. Overnight Flores (B, D)
Monday 18 November: Tikal
We spend today exploring Tikal. An important ceremonial, cultural, and commercial centre during the 8th century the city became the greatest in the Mayan world. The central part of the ancient city has around 3,000 structures including temples, terraces, ceremonial platforms, tombs and plazas. All of these structures were connected with an aqueduct system that filtered the water and fed a city of at least 90,000 people. Recent investigations have suggested that the surrounding area contains the remains of over 60,000 structures and more are being discovered all the time. The site’s location in a vast national park surrounded by jungle and rainforest provides an opportunity to see local wildlife including howler monkeys, peccary and caiman and perhaps the elusive Jaguar. Overnight Flores (B, L)
Tuesday 19 November: Yaxha
On our way to Belize we visit Yaxha, one of the few Mayan cities to retain its traditional Mayan name, which translates as “green waters”. A large city located on a ridge overlooking Lake Yaxha, the ruins include the remains of more than 500 structures consisting of numerous stelae, altars and nine temple pyramids including a twin pyramid complex similar to the one in Tikal. This afternoon we cross the border into Belize and onto our accommodation in San Ignacio. Overnight San Ignacio (B, L)
Wednesday 20 November: Caracol
We depart early for our visit to Caracol, an expansive Mayan city whose ruins lie deep in the jungle. It is a densely populated city, known for its military prowess recorded on monuments documenting its victory over Tikal in 562CE and stelae, alter and facades inscribed with hieroglyphic texts. Caracol’s most impressive and largest structure is the main pyramid called Caana or “sky-palace”, comprising of four palaces and three temples originally decorated with white stucco and red paint.
(Note: this is a difficult site to visit – it is a long ride into a remote area in small vans but it is one of the largest known Mayan cities and the largest in Belize although tourist visitation is limited.) Overnight San Ignacio (B, L)
Thursday 21 November: Barton Creek
This morning we travel to Barton Creek. The creek actually flows out of a natural cave that is also an archaeological site with at least 6.5kms of passages of limestone formations throughout the cave complex. Evidence of the Mayan inhabitants is visible in the first kilometre of the cave who used this region for burials and ritual activities, although most of the artefacts have been removed for security reasons or taken by looters. We explore a section of the caves only accessible by canoe, venturing deep into the caverns – not recommended for those with an aversion to confined spaces. We continue on to Belize City after lunch. Overnight Belize City (B, L)
Friday 22 November: Lamanai
We depart by bus to the town of Orange Walk where we board a boat for our trip down the New River to the extensive ruins at Lamanai. The river voyage takes us through some of the most beautiful jungle and lagoons in Northern Belize where we may encounter a range of colourful and unusual birds, plants and other wildlife. Apart from its impressive architecture and beautiful jungle setting, Lamanai is renowned for its exceptionally long occupation spanning three millennia from the Early Preclassical Maya Period through to the Spanish and British Colonial periods, into the 20th century. Many of the site’s structures and artefacts represent the crocodile which thrive in the river and give the site its name. Overnight Belize City (B, PL)
Saturday 23 November: Caulker Caye
A relaxed day as we take a water taxi to Caye Caulker, a small sand island located near the outer edge of the Belize Barrier Reef – the second longest in the world. There is plenty of time to explore the village where no cars are allowed. There is also the opportunity for a swim in the ‘Cut’ (a constructed channel dividing the island), to go snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters toward the reef or to simply enjoy the local seafood with a drink and watch the locals at play. Overnight Belize City (B, D)
Sunday 24 November: Rio Dulce
We travel by coach from Belize City this morning to Punta Gorda where we cross into Guatemala by boat to Livingston. Once we have cleared Customs, we will join a cruise up the Rio Dulce, past the Castillo San Felipe, a Spanish fort built in 1652 to keep pirates from looting the villages. It was subsequently turned into a prison until the fortress was abandoned and rebuilt in 1956. We visit the town of Agua Caliente before returning to Livingston. Overnight Livingston (B, D)
Monday 25 November: Quiriguá
This morning we depart by boat to Puerto Barrios where we then board a coach to Copan in Honduras. En route, we visit Quiriguá, home to some of the most outstanding 8th century artistic stone monuments and an impressive series of carved stelae and sculpted calendars. The skilled craftsmanship seen in the carving of the hieroglyphs in the monuments Quiriguá led to a breakthrough in deciphering Mayan writing, providing an essential source for the ongoing study of Mayan civilisation. Overnight Copán (B, D)
Tuesday 26 November: Copán
Located a short distance from town, we visit the World Heritage Listed ruins of Copán, once the major city of a Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. It functioned as the political, civil and religious centre of the Copán Valley. The ruins were discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio and feature two large overlapping pyramids, a processional boulevard lined with stelae, an acropolis and a court for playing tlatchli, a Mayan ball game with similarities to basketball. Overnight Copán (B)
Wednesday 27 November: To Guatemala City
Today we travel back into Guatemala on our way to Guatemala City, a journey that will take approximately five hours plus stops to stretch our legs along the way. This evening we gather for a farewell meal in a local restaurant. Overnight Guatemala City (B, D)
Thursday 28 November: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast in the hotel. Passengers who have booked their international flights through Academy Travel will be provided with a transfer to the airport. (B)
Dr Chris Carter
An indigenous and historical archaeologist, actively involved in research in the Atacama region of Chile.
Christopher Carter is an archaeologist with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Central and South America, Spain and Ireland as well as within Australia. He is particularly interested in human interaction within landscapes and the formative period of cultural development.
Chris has a BA(Hons), MA and PhD from the Australian National University (ANU). He has worked as a tutor at the ANU and lectured at both the ANU and University of Sydney Centres for Continuing Education. When not leading tours, Chris works as an archaeological consultant and heritage advisor.
Chris’ research interests cover both Indigenous and Australian historical archaeology. He is also actively involved in research in the Atacama region of northern Chile and involved in a number of studies investigating the early settlement of this region. He has had a number of academic papers published in international journals.
As a teacher, Chris has always declared that archaeology cannot be learned in the classroom. Such statements resulted in him taking a group to South America in 1995. He has continued to lead several tours a year ever since. The areas visited have expanded to other regions that reflect the subjects he teaches.
We asked Chris, what part of tour leading does he find most rewarding?
“I love teaching and, as they say, ‘to travel is to learn’ and what better classroom than the wider world. Nothing satisfies me more than to lead people into new areas where they can see how humans have interacted with landscapes over the years – to witness the evolution of both the people and the environments they occupy.
On a recent tour, one member of the group commented that they can now ‘see’ a lot more than they did before. In the past, they had taken so much for granted and never thought about how things changed through time. Their eyes had been opened and they began to think more about what they were looking at. To me, these are the statements that make my job worthwhile.”
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.