Trip Number: 13580A
Staff: Kath Giel
- Explore the mystery of Maya civilization at Tikal, Copan, Yaxha, and Quirigua
- Experience colonial Antigua and the exuberant market at Solola
- Search for monkeys, toucans, and parrots in verdant highland forests and dense tropical jungles
- On-trip travel by private air-conditioned bus and one internal air flight
- Expert cultural and naturalist guides, activity and entrance fees, and gratuities
- Boat cruises on Lake Atitlan and the Rio Dulce near the Caribbean shores
Please note that the trip dates have changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
Photo: John Hickok
Explore the colorful history of the Maya civilization and rich culture of the
famous Guatemalan and Honduran
cities and villages on this comprehensive adventure. We venture not only through
the Mayan ruins but also
through colonial towns, indigenous markets and villages, dense tropical jungles,
Caribbean shores, volcanic
landscapes, highland forest and the serene lake country. The people we meet
along the way are proud of
their heritage and reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the landscape. The
birds, mammals, and plants of the
various ecological zones will surprise you with their beauty and natural history.
Guatemala and Honduras
are full of color and vitality, and are popular destinations for travelers seeking
an enchanting adventure. It’s
possible that you may fall in love with the spirit of Central America on this
The Maya civilization left an indelible mark in the jungles of Central America,
particularly in Guatemala and
Honduras. The ancient Mayas had a rich culture replete with sophisticated architectural
wonders, as well as advanced mathematics, astronomy, calendars and a written
language. After nearly 3,000
years of habitation, the Mayas abandoned their cities in the 10th century. The
reasons for this abandonment
are still not fully understood; some theorize long-term drought, lack of food
sources, or civil unrest. The
legacy of their long history and belief systems is found in jungle sites, preserved
on walls, temples, and ritual
objects that we explore and ponder. This trip provides a comprehensive overview
of four major Mayan sites
that will allow us to compare and contrast the fascinating ancient Maya civilizations
in the verdant jungles
near the Caribbean coast. Maya people, culture, and many Mayan dialects continue
to this day, as people
from the ancient overgrown cities are now dispersed throughout Central America,
giving us the opportunity
to notice the living Maya as well as the wondrous cities of their ancestors.
Maya Explorer: Guatemala and Honduras is designed for the enthusiastic traveler
who is reasonably fit for
our daily walks and hikes. In addition to the local destinations in each country,
our journey takes us to
several UNESCO World Heritage sites. Our local guide is well versed in both
natural and Maya history, and
assists us in learning about and understanding ancient and current cultures,
as well as local ecology. Join
this intimate adventure for a trip of a lifetime!
Photo: Kath Giel
Day 1: We meet at La Aurora International Airport and transfer
to the charming colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala for a festive welcome dinner.
Overnight in Antigua.
Day 2: After breakfast we begin our exploration of Antigua,
a UNESCO World Heritage site. We tour the
Parque Central, walk under the Arco de Santa Catalina, and visit La Merced Church,
the Convent of the Capuchins, and the Centro Cultural Casa Santa Domingo. The afternoon is free
to explore the cobblestone
streets and quaint shops of Antigua, or just relax. Overnight in Antigua.
Day 3: After breakfast, we board our private bus and begin
our trip toward the heart of the Guatemalan
highland, driving through incredibly rich landscapes. We arrive at the legendary
Solola market to enjoy a
riot of color, sounds, smells, and smiles as the ancient, indigenous commercial
process turns the day into a
magical experience. After lunch we continue to Lake Atitlan, the deepest lake
in Central America, and spend
the night in a cozy lodge in nearby Panajachel.
Day 4: This morning begins with a scenic boat ride on Lake
Atitlan. We disembark at the village of San
Juan La Laguna for a short walk to visit a women’s textile cooperative.
Afterwards we tour the studios of the
celebrated local painters and then boat to the next village, where we pay respects
to the Maya God Maximon
and learn about the textiles, spiritualism, and beliefs of the T’zutujil
Maya. We travel back to Guatemala City
for dinner and overnight accommodations.
Day 5: Today we journey to the archaeological treasure of
Copan, one of the most powerful ancient Maya city states. We travel through
the eastern part of Guatemala and cross the border to enter Honduras. In the
afternoon, with expert local guides, we tour Copan and explore the acropolis
-- a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces -- as well
as the ceremonial center, the ball court, and the hieroglyphic stairway. We
ponder the almost intact shrine of the Rosalila Temple in the Museum, which
was hidden for centuries and is therefore very well preserved. After this full
day, we retire to our lodging in Copan.
Photo: Kath Giel
Day 6: We travel back to Guatemala to Izabal Lake, which is
connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Río
Dulce River and is home to the manatee, jaguar, spider monkey, and howler monkey.
Our journey through
colorful villages leads us to the ancient Maya city of Quiriguá, which
was situated at the junction of several
trade routes. Here we find some famous zoomorphs, stone sculptures that represent
animals. After our tour
at Quiriguá we drive to Río Dulce ("Sweet River") and
enjoy the howler monkeys and toucans that inhabit
the forest around our accommodations. Overnight in Rio Dulce.
Day 7: As the sun rises over the Caribbean, the howler monkeys
serenade us in our rooms. We take a
morning tour on the Río Dulce River, visiting Castillo de San Felipe
de Lara and birdwatching on a nearby
island. We then travel to the Garifuna village of Livingstone; Garifuna are
descendents of Carib, Arawak, and
West African people. We walk around this village and enjoy a savory lunch in
a local restaurant. After lunch
we enter the warm, humid climate and dense vegetation of Tikal National Park,
the first protected area in
Guatemala and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tikal was the capital of one of
most powerful kingdoms of the
ancient Maya. Overnight in Tikal.
Day 8: Today we have a full-day guided tour through Tikal.
We climb Mesoamerican step pyramids known as the Temples and explore the Acropolis,
Great Plaza, Great Plaza Ball Court, altars, stellae, and burials. We visualize
the activities of the ancient city through the stories from our guide as we
walk the Maya pathways. This moving experience leads us to a deeper understanding
of the history of this area, the cradle of the Maya civilization. Overnight
Day 9: After breakfast we travel to the Yaxha National Park,
the site of a recently restored Maya archaeological site. Located on the banks
of the Yaxha Lake, this was a major Maya ceremonial site. We climb temples,
visit palaces, ball courts, and an observatory, and look for birds and howler
monkeys in the tropical forest. After an appetizing lunch in the ruins, we drive
to the airport to take a short flight to Guatemala City. We enjoy our last dinner
together, reminiscing about all the adventures that we have shared. Overnight
in Guatemala City.
Day 10: The trip ends at our hotel following breakfast. We
say goodbye to the "Land of Eternal Spring" and the Mayan civilization until
Photo: Kath Giel
The trip begins at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. Guatemala
City is serviced by numerous
airlines from the United States. You must make your own travel arrangements
to the starting point, but
the leader can provide some recommendations. We will meet everyone at La Aurora
International Airport in
Guatemala City, and then transfer to Antigua, a 40-minute drive from the airport.
You will need a passport
that is valid at least through November of 2013. The leader will be happy to
assist participants who wish to
extend their stay with additional recommendations.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying in locally owned, charming eco-lodges and hotels that are
clean, safe, and comfortable. All
lodges and hotels have ceiling fans or air conditioning. Rooms will all be double-occupancy,
so if you're a solo
traveler, you will be assigned a roommate. If you are single and would like
to pay for a single supplement,
please contact the leader about pricing and availability. All meals except for
one dinner are included.
Alcoholic and soft drinks are not included. Guatemalan and Honduran traditional
foods are based on Maya
cuisine and prominently feature corn, chilis, and beans. Guatemala is also known
for its delicious tamales
and famous candies from Antigua, while Honduran food is a fusion of indigenous,
African, and Spanish
cuisines. We sample traditional foods, local cuisines, and Western meals, and
enjoy all the abundant fresh
fruits and vegetables. Your taste buds are going to enjoy this adventure as
This is an active trip, suitable for old and young alike, as long as you are
in reasonably good health, enjoy nature, and have a good-humored and flexible
approach to traveling in Latin America. You will enjoy this trip more if you
are in good shape. Most days we will be walking or hiking up to three miles,
with one optional strenuous day when you need some stamina to climb the steep
stairs at the ruins of Tikal. Keep in mind that Guatemala and Honduras are developing
countries -- things don't always run exactly as they do at home. Although we
are traveling during the dry season, rain may fall, clothes may get muddy and/or
wet, and plans may change, but that's all part of the charm of international
travel. A few of the rides on our private bus will be long; we'll mostly be
on good roads, though, and the views will be fantastic. There will be plenty
of opportunity to stop to take photographs or view wildlife along the way.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Kath Giel
The leader will send a detailed packing list to each registered participant.
Though Guatemala and Honduras
are located in tropical Central America, the local climate varies depending
primarily on altitude. We
will experience both temperate and tropical climates on our trip. The majority
of the trip will be in the
temperate zone, where the daytime temperature rarely exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit
and the nights are
comfortably cool. Our time at the Maya ruins of Copan, Quirigua, Yaxha, and
Tikal will be in the tropical
zone, where daytime temperatures can be in the 90s and nighttime temperatures
rarely drop below 70
degrees Fahrenheit. April is considered the dry season in Central America, but
we still might encounter rain.
Appropriate rain gear is necessary and hopefully we won’t use it much.
- Gorry, Connor, Guatemala: Great Destinations in Central America.
- Vidgen, Lucas, Lonely Planet: Guatemala.
- Gill, Nicholas, Frommers Honduras.
- Reid, Fiona A., A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and
- Edwards, Ernest Preston, A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent
- Beletsky, Les, Travelers’ Wildlife Guide: Belize and Northern
Books on Mayan Civilization:
- Sharer, Robert, The Ancient Maya 6th Edition.
- McKillop, Heather Irene, The Ancient Maya, New Perspectives.
Photo: Kath Giel
Guatemala and Honduras are located in the heart of Central America and are
known for their biodiversity
and cultural importance dating from the ancient Maya civilization. The second
largest contiguous forest in
the Americas, the Maya Forest travels through Guatemala and Honduras. This indigenous
supports jaguars, tapirs, quetzals, scarlet macaws, anteaters, and many other
plant and animal species.
It is an extremely important habitat, and represents the confluence of flora
and fauna from North and
South America, which were separate land masses until about three million years
ago. Many conservation
organizations work with Guatemalans and Hondurans to help protect this unique
forest and biological
transition zone through growing shade-grown and organic coffees, reforesting
barren land, and developing
sustainable ventures. On this trip we will discuss the Mayan forest management
techniques and debate
whether these techniques were conservation-oriented or perhaps led to the collapse
of the powerful Mayan
One of the more unique conservation solutions that has been successfully utilized
in Guatemala is the debt- for-nature land swap. Because Guatemala is a third
world country and hampered with significant debt, it is difficult to protect
natural resources. Recently the United States government, in partnership with
Guatemala, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy, entered into
an agreement for the largest debt- for-nature swap ever. The swap cancels Guatemala's
$24 million debt, which the Guatemalan government will instead channel into
a fund for conservation grant making. These grants are targeted to four geographic
regions that are important for their tropical forests, their biodiversity, and
the benefits that their natural resources provide local communities. On this
trip we hope to meet with a conservation organization in Panahachel to give
us an update on the agreement.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about
conservation and sustainability
of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers
and aided by a salaried staff,
encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants
understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Kath Giel loves Latin America for its rich biological diversity and friendly people. She has been involved in the Sierra Club's outings program since 2000. Kath has a keen interest in natural history and has traveled widely and independently to over 60 countries. She is an avid outdoorswoman and devotes much of her time to travel. When Kath is at home in northern California, she's often hiking the local trails, backpacking and botanizing in the High Sierra, or riding her bike in the local foothills.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips