Enquire About This Tour Code YYA Mayan Circle
Duration: 22 Days Route: Antigua to Antigua Style: Adventure Tours Price: US$2,149.00
Chichén Itzá, Palenque and Tikal are the three most famous pre-Columbian ruins on the Yucatan peninsula. Explore all of these amazing sites and discover the history of the ancient civilisation that built them. The contemporary culture of Central America is equally fascinating and there will be plenty of opportunities to meet local people, buy wonderful handcrafts at vibrant markets, explore beautiful colonial towns and discover the stunning landscapes around them.
The tour that we operate in the reverse direction is Mayan Circle (YYC).
Day 1 to 1 - Arrive Antigua
The first day of your tour is simply an arrival day with no pre-organised activities. In order to allow time to relax and see some of the sights you may wish to add pre tour accommodation. On arrival please ask at the reception for information on when the pre departure meeting will be held.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua is one of the most delightful colonial towns in Central America.The local indigenous can be seen throughout the cobbled streets and plazas of the city in their colourful costumes, selling their crafts and textiles. As the cultural centre of Guatemala, Antigua is an ideal place to experience the traditional music, architecture and art of the country. Rich in ornate churches, convents, parks, plazas, cafés, restaurants, bars and colourful street markets and surrounded by awe-inspiring volcanoes, Antigua is one place you will never forget.
Optional Excursions: Pacaya volcano climb – US$15 • Horse riding in the hills behind the Cerro de la Cruz – US$15 per hour • Cerro de la Cruz – free • Cemetery – free • Walking tour (2.5 hrs) - US$18 • Cooking school – US$50
Day 2 to 2 - Rio Dulce
We depart Antigua by mini van to the river town of Rio Dulce where we overnight in cabins right on the water. In the afternoon the boat tour along the 23 kilometre stretch of waterway to Livingston allows you to experience one of the most scenic areas of Guatemala. Livingston is situated at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, where it joins the Bay of Amatique, and is inhabited by the Garifuna people. This lively little town has a Caribbean atmosphere different to the rest of Guatemala and is a great place to try the delicious local specialty tapado (seafood coconut soup) and listen to the local African-style punta music.
Included Excursions: Boat tour to Livingston
Day 3 to 3 - Flores
From Rio Dulce we continue to the charming island-town of Flores, the last town to be conquered by the Spanish and situated in the centre of Lake Peten Itzá. Flores is our base for exploring the breathtaking Maya site of Tikal which is regarded as the greatest city of the Maya world and is nestled deep in the jungle. This complex is one of the biggest Maya sites discovered, and you will have most of the day to explore and learn about the flora, fauna, and amazing Mayan history with our knowledgeable local guide.
The area around Tikal has been declared as the Tikal National Park and the preserved area covers 570 square kilometres. The ancient city has been completely mapped and at its height covered an area greater than 16 square kilometres, with more than 3000 structures. Today the main centre covers an area of approximately two and a half square kilometres. As you wander the site, you will see several tall mounds which are temples that have not yet been excavated, and you will have the opportunity to climb some of the tallest Mayan temples.
The emphasis was on height when creating these imposing structures because the Maya believed the higher the building, the closer they were to the gods. Around Tikal there is a lot of animal life, and if you're lucky, you will have the chance to spot the noisy howler monkeys, pizotes (a racoon-like animal), exotic birds such as toucans, and much more!
Included Excursions: Tikal Ruins
Day 4 to 5 - San Ignacio
A short drive takes us to the Belize border and one of the smallest and most diverse countries in Central America. Formally known as British Honduras, the official language is still English, but most people also speak Spanish. Our first stop is San Ignacio referred to as "Cayo" by the locals, this agricultural centre is also known to be the 'adventure' and 'nature' capital of Belize. The surrounding jungle, wildlife, waterfalls, rivers and caves, have created the ideal location for the numerous optional excursions that are available, from canoeing downriver and tubing through caves, to visiting the famous caves Actun Tunichil Muknal, where they found untouched Mayan ceremonial and sacrificial remains.
Optional Excursions: Tubing – US$65 • Caving – US$85 • Canoeing – US$30-35 • Caracol Ruins, the largest and most important Mayan ruin site in Belize – US$65 • Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve – US$35
Day 6 to 7 - Caye Caulker
Leaving San Ignacio, we take a local bus through the centre of Belize to Belize City, where we catch a water taxi out to the Cayes (mangrove islands). Belizeans know how to relax, and hopefully the locals' expertise on relaxation will be contagious during your stay on Caye Caulker. If not, there are signs to remind you to "Go Slow", "Take it easy", and even "No shirt, no shoes, no problem". We spend a couple of very laid back nights on Caye Caulker, where you can throw away your shoes to wander the sand filled streets, spend the evenings eating seafood, drinking cocktails, and listening to reggae music in one of the bars.
During the day we can organise a range of different optional snorkelling trips for you, such as to Shark and Ray Alley, where you can swim within a few feet of nurse sharks and majestic sting rays, or weather dependent, you may have the opportunity to swim with sea-cows! Another optional snorkelling tour takes you out to Hol-Chan Marine Reserve where you are guaranteed to see lots of colourful fish and interesting reef formations. Qualified divers can explore the so-called bottomless "Blue Hole", made famous by the explorer Jacques Cousteau (please note: this optional excursion does not go every day, check locally for availability). Other options include sunning yourself, riding a bike around the island, or trying your luck at fishing. If you are lucky, you can take your catch to one of the local restaurants so they can BBQ it for you.
Optional Excursions: Half/full day Caye Caulker snorkelling – US$25-45 • Manatee combo tour. Visit the breeding and feeding area of the manatees and also stopping at 3 locations in the reserve to snorkel. – US$60 • Scuba diving - Blue Hole – US$190 • Various Scuba diving options – US$45-95 • Night Snorkeling – US$45 • Island Hopping tour – US$95
Day 8 to 8 - Playa del Carmen
Crossing into Mexico we travel up the coast to the beautiful beach resort of Playa del Carmen. Relax on a white sand beach or take advantage of one of the several interesting optional activities available in the area such as visiting the island of Cozumel or the amazingly located Maya/Toltec ruins of Tulúm. There are also many 'cenotes' in the area. Cenotes (se-note-tays) are fresh water swimming holes connected to underground limestone cave systems once sacred to the ancient Maya.
From Playa del Carmen it's only a one hour bus journey to Cancún.
Optional Excursions: Tulum Ruins – US$5
Day 9 to 10 - Cancún
Until 1970 Isla Cancún (Cancún Island) had only three residents, the caretakers of the coconut plantation with only 117 people living in nearby Puerto Juarez, a fishing village and military base. The island was home to some of the Caribbean's most beautiful beaches and with the advent of mass market tourism it was an ideal location. Due to the reluctance of investors to bet on an unknown area however, the Mexican government had to finance the first nine hotels.
Today over two million visitors a year, come to Cancún to relax on one of the beautiful beaches in what is now known as the 'hotel zone' and to swim in the crystal clear turquoise waters. If the activity of Cancún becomes too much for you, you can always take a ferry out to the more relaxed Isla Mujeres or arrange a snorkelling or diving excursion.
Optional Excursions: Isla Mujeres – US$7 ferry • Wet & Wild Water Park – US$29 • Xelha Theme Park - US$35 • Xcaret Theme Park - US$53 • Swimming with whale sharks (seasonal May - Sept) – US$140
Day 11 to 12 - Mérida
The hectic days ahead are packed full of surprises for those who are interested in archaeology. We travel first to Chichén Itzá, an impressive Maya/Toltec site recently voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Constructed between the 7th and 10th century AD, Chichén Itzá was a centre of pilgrimage for the Maya for over 1000 years.
Among the sights your local guide will point out during the tour of the site are the ball court where the captain of the winning team was beheaded (no incentive to play your best!) and the sacred cenote where treasures and the remains of human sacrifices have been discovered. The most famous attraction is the great Pyramid of Kukulcan, dedicated to the feathered serpent god Kukulcan and built with such precision that a shadow serpent descends down the steps during the equinox.
Leaving Chichén Itzá we head to Mérida, Capital of the Yucatan province, the 'white city' of Mérida is a pleasant mixture of colonial buildings, churches and plazas. The markets simply overflow with beautiful weavings, hammocks and batiks, making this a great place to buy handmade crafts and souvenirs. At night the city comes alive with live theatre and concerts. There are many city excursions on offer here - from a comprehensive hop on/hop off bus tour exploring the greater city area to a relaxing horse-drawn carriage tour around the cobbled streets of El Centro and Pasaje Montejo Boulevard. If you want to explore the region near Mérida you could visit the small fishing town of Celestún with its large flamingo population. You could also take a swim in the local 'cenotes' (sen-o-tays), fresh-water swimming holes connected by spectacular limestone caverns and deep underwater rivers once sacred to the ancient Maya, covering the entire Yucatan peninsula.
Included Excursions: Chichén Itzá
Optional Excursions: Anthropological Museum – US$3 • Mérida city tour – free • Uxmal ruins – US$45 • Cenotes, it is possible to swim and snorkel in various cenotes which often resemble small, circular lakes or lagoons with vertical edges. – US$50 • Hop-on hop-off bus – US$10
Day 13 to 14 - Palenque
Next we visit the town and ruins of Palenque, famous for the tombs found filled with riches in honour of the renowned Lord Pakal and the Red Queen. This archaeological site houses more than 200 structures including a series of hilltop temples, towers, tombs and pyramids surrounded by steamy jungle. The most important constructions, which date back to the Classical period (400-700 AD) are the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Crypt, the Palace complex, the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Foliated Cross, and the Temple of the Sun. Decorated with elaborate friezes, sculptures and inscriptions, Palenque is unquestionably one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites. Paths cutting through the jungle lead to various temples and the gorgeous waterfalls, where over time, strange figures have taken shape in the rock formations. A local guide may offer you the extra option of going on a forest walk where you can see unexcavated ruins enveloped in jungle.
Other attractions near Palenque include the fantastic Agua Azul Nature Reserve with more than 200 small waterfalls, and the incredible Misol-Ha waterfall with a 30 metre drop (optional half day tour includes both these falls).
Included Excursions: Palenque Ruins
Optional Excursions: Tour by minivan to Agua Azul and Misol Ha waterfalls – US$15
Day 15 to 17 - San Cristóbal
Ascending into the mountainous Chiapas region we arrive at the fascinating colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Situated in the middle of the highlands, here you will find Mexico's richest example of indigenous culture, as it is surrounded by 21 indigenous villages with distinct languages, dress and customs. Red tiled houses painted in brilliant colours dominate the city, maintaining a delightful provincial charm. There are numerous interesting museums to see such as the Amber Museum, the Coffee Museum, the Maya Medicine Museum, and the 'Na Bolom' Cultural Centre.
The next day you have an included tour of the nearby villages where you can buy beautifully made local handicrafts and get a true feel for how modern descendents of the ancient Maya people live today. The tour gives you a fascinating insight into their pre-Columbian beliefs and their daily struggle to be heard in what is one of Mexico's most isolated regions.
There is also an option to visit the stunning Sumidero Canyon on a guided speedboat tour along a 30 kilometre section of the Grijalva river to the hydro-electric dam. There are plenty of opportunities to photograph local wildlife such as birds, crocodiles and iguanas. The cliffs towering over the river reach 100 metres at the highest point, which will provide a dramatic backdrop to your pictures.
Optional Excursions: Na Bolom Museum, the old house of Frans and Trudy Blom, an anthropologist and archaeologist, who worked with the Lacandon Indians. – US$5 • Canyon Sumidero. A tour to a deep impressive canyon, where you can spot several sun-bathing crocodiles. – US$22
Day 18 to 20 - Panajachel
Leaving Mexico we cross the border into Guatemala at Ciudad Cuauhtèmoc. You will find the Guatemalans to be some of the warmest and most colourful people in the world. Passing through the Guatemalan highlands we travel towards the Pan American Highway from where we will head down to Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlán. The drive down has simply stunning scenery, with breathtaking views of the lake and its three volcanoes, San Pedro, Atitlán and Toliman, all of which are over 3000 metres high.
A relaxing lakeside town, Panajachel is known to the locals as 'Gringotenango' due to its popularity with foreigners and its hippie influence in the past. Rated by those who have seen it as one of the most beautiful and colourful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlán sits at a little over 1500 metres above sea level. Here you can take a boat tour to some of the many surrounding villages (optional) or possibly go for a swim in the lake. Panajachel also has many restaurants and interesting bars lining the main street, where you can have lakeside sunset drinks, listen to 60s music, and even eat some Asian food.
Optional Excursions: Lake Atitlan boat trip – US$15 • Nima'ya de Atitlan, walk the path past waterfalls (in season), across hanging bridges, to a bird observation deck, a monkey rescue centre, a butterfly reserve and a coffee finca. – US$5 • Lake Atitlan villages by ferry – US$5
Day 21 to 21 - Antigua
We now visit Guatemala's most famous market town, Chichicastenango. This village's population swells from approx. 1000 to over 20,000 on market day (when we visit). The local indigenous people, mostly descendents of the K'iche' (Quiché) Maya people, come down from the nearby hills to sell everything from kitchen pots and pans to live turkeys! Handicrafts, bags, jumpers and wall hangings are just a few of the bargains to be found here. After lunch we depart the market town and continue to Antigua.
Day 22 to 22 - Depart Antigua
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.
Day by Day Itinerary
|Day 2||Rio Dulce|
|Day 4||San Ignacio||Belize|
|Day 5||San Ignacio|
|Day 6||Caye Caulker|
|Day 7||Caye Caulker|
|Day 8||Playa del Carmen||Mexico|
|Day 15||San Cristóbal|
|Day 16||San Cristóbal|
|Day 17||San Cristóbal|
(B - Breakfast, L - Lunch, D - Dinner included)
For tours that include the option of a single supplement, a ✔ will indicate in which destinations single rooms are available.
The detailed and day by day itineraries above are provided in good faith and it is our intention to adhere to the published route. Changes may be made before or during your tour for operational or safety reasons or to incorporate improvements. Impromptu changes may also occur whilst you are travelling as a result of one-off circumstances such as an excursion being closed on a particular day, weather conditions or transport. Delays are rare but occur occasionally and for this reason and the reasons above this itinerary should be considered as a guide only. Published transport times are approximations and may vary depending on local conditions.