Guatemala to Belize: Local Traditions & Tropical Wildlife 10 days / Eco Tours, Community & Conservation Tours
About This Experience
Sharing a border and deep cultural connections to the mysterious Mayans, Guatemala and Belize come together to create the green heart of Central America. Both countries are world-renowned biodiversity hotspots, incorporating volcano-laden landscapes, azure lakes and endless flocks of rare tropical birds into their folds. As you travel through the Guatemalan highlands, and drift along the Rio Dulce on toward Caribbean villages, you’ll experience the dramatic environments each country is known for while learning cultural traditions from the people whose lives unfold there.
Your Tour Includes
Round-trip airfare & transfers
9 nights in handpicked hotels & eco-lodges
Breakfast daily, 5 lunches, 7 three-course dinners, some with beer or wine
Multilingual Tour Director
Boat transfers & private motor coach
Select entrance fees
Why You'll Love It
Tasting freshly roasted coffee & just-picked cacao
Floating past jungle wildlife on the Rio Dulce
Bargaining with merchants in highlands markets
Learning traditional handicrafts alongside local women
Keeping watch for jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin
Lake Atitlan’s volcano-dotted landscapes
Antigua1 night - hotel info
Make your home amid Antigua’s volcano-ringed landscapes
Begin your adventure with a flight to Guatemala City. Upon arrival, a Go Ahead representative will meet you at the airport as you clear customs. You’ll be escorted to your hotel in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, a short drive from the airport. After check-in, a late night dinner will be served at the hotel.
Santiago Atilan2 nights - hotel info
Mingle with the Masheños who flock to the Chichicastenango market
Brush up your bargaining skills in Chichicastenango on a visit to Guatemala’s most famous highlands market. Twice a week, the market attracts indigenous farmers, weavers and other merchants from throughout the region. Learn your way around on a short, guided walking tour of the town and market. Afterward, you’ll have free time to shop to your heart’s delight: this is a great place to buy authentic, handmade souvenirs straight from the folks who made them. Continue to Panajachel, gateway to Lake Atitlan, where you can have lunch on your own at a restaurant overlooking the lake. From here, embark on a boat ride across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, where you’ll check into your lakeshore eco-lodge. Your guide will show you around town, after which you’ll have time to relax and share an included welcome dinner. (Please note: Some departure groups may visit Chichicastenango on the return trip from Lake Atitlan.)
Try your hand at creating the textiles of the Tz’utujil people
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Cruise along the lake to San Juan la Laguna. Here, you’ll meet a local guide from Rupalaj K’istalin, a community guiding association. Your guide will show you the town and its local artisan cooperatives. Local women will demonstrate how to spin and dye yarn and weave it into textiles before letting you try your own hand at these skills. Later, an included lunch is served at a local restaurant, followed by free time to discover the galleries and shops supported by the association. Head back to the hotel for a leisurely afternoon; or join our optional bird watching hike to a nearby volcano.
San Juan la Laguna: Volcano Hike & Bird-watching $29* pp
Follow a Rupalaj K'istalin guide along the trails leading from the small lakeside village of San Juan la Laguna to San Pedro Volcano. As you hike up the volcano, your guide will point out the area’s native creatures and its rare birds. A national birding destination, the region is home to approximately 150 birds of all different flocks and feathers, including the exotic and colorful occellated turkey.
Antigua2 nights - hotel info
Amble among Antigua’s colonial churches and vivid vistas
Return to Panajachel, where you’ll board a bus back to Antigua. You’ll have free time for lunch, followed by a guided sightseeing tour of Antigua, featuring the colonial churches and evocative ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Get your caffeine fix and support local coffee growers along the way
As Green As It Gets guided visit
Travel to San Miguel Escobar, near Ciudad Vieja, for a morning on a locally owned coffee farm. Meet a local farmer who participates in As Green As It Gets, a nonprofit that strives to provide sustainable incomes to local coffee growers via coffee exportation and tourism. Tour the nearby coffee growing areas (and help pick, if in season); then visit your guide’s home for a demonstration of sorting, roasting and grinding—followed by tasting. Each visitor will receive the gift of a one-pound bag of local coffee. Return to Antigua for the remainder of the day.
Rio Dulce1 night - hotel info
It doesn’t get much sweeter than Rio Dulce
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Leave early for Rio Dulce, stopping en route for breakfast. Lunch is served upon arrival at your jungle lodge. Afterward, travel by boat to Finca Paraiso, a local farm with incredible waterfalls and hot springs, perfect for cooling off.
Punta Gorda2 nights - hotel info
Drift through the jungle, past villages, on toward the Caribbean
Embark on a half-day journey down the Rio Dulce, a national marine-protected conservation area. Cruise toward the Caribbean, navigating through the jungle and past local villages. Stop at a community hot spring before arriving in Livingston, a town without road connections to anywhere else in the country. Grab lunch on your own and take in the local Garifuna culture before boarding a ferry to Punta Gorda, Belize. Upon arrival at the Cotton Tree Lodge, a local guide will give a lecture on ecotourism and ecology, followed by dinner.
Taste Belizean treats and sway to the local Garifuna beat
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Eladio Pop’s farm
After breakfast, visit Eladio Pop’s organic farm, where he’ll show you his land and discuss his personal conservation efforts. Taste fresh cacao fruit, sugar cane and other fresh-picked treats. Eladio Pop invites you for lunch in his home, where his daughter will demonstrate how to turn cacao beans into chocolate. Don’t miss your chance to sample. The remainder of the afternoon is free to explore your jungle lodge—hike the trails, canoe the river or swing in a hammock. After dinner, feel the Garifuna beat during a performance by a local drumming group.
Hopkins1 night - hotel info
Keep watch for big cats and birds of every flock and feather
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Travel to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the country’s oldest jaguar sanctuary. A local naturalist guide will lead you through the trails in hopes of spotting the elusive animals. While you’re unlikely to spot a jaguar, you’ll see ample bird life and other animals. After lunch in the reserve, transfer to your beach hotel in Hopkins, where you can relax on the beach before your farewell dinner.
Extend Your Stay
Add Flores & Tikal $749*
Begin your cultural adventure by digging into Guatemala’s Mayan heritage. From your base on the peaceful island-city of Flores, you’ll set out to discover the expansive ruins that decorate Tikal, the city that once served as the Mayans’ conquest capital. And in the wild “blue-green” city of Yaxha, you’ll gain deeper understanding of the Mayan culture as you explore what remains of one of civilization’s most prominent ceremonial centers.
Guatemala City1 night - hotel info
Flores1 night - hotel info
Conjure images of Mayan rituals in the ceremonial center of Yaxha
Rise early and fly to Flores. After settling in to your hotel, you’ll sit down to breakfast before setting off to explore this island city on your own. At sunset, join your group for guided tour of the Yaxha ruins in the early evening light. After delving into the remains of what was once one of the Mayan’s most prominent ceremonial centers, cap off the day with an included group dinner.
Antiguafor a day - hotel info
Wander among traces of the Mayan civilization in Tikal
Make your way to Tikal, once a Mayan conquest capital. As the sun rises, a guide will lead you through the UNESCO World Heritage site’s expansive ruins. Afterward, head to El Remate, where you’ll have free time to explore. Later, catch your flight to Guatemala City, and upon landing, travel to Antigua to join the rest of your tour group.
Passport & Visa Requirements
In order to enter Guatemala and Belize, U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport. The expiration date must extend at least six months beyond the date of your return home. No visa is required for U.S. or Canadian citizens. If you are not a U.S. or Canadian citizen, contact each country’s consulate for your particular entry requirements.
Airlines have varying weight restrictions on luggage. Some airlines may impose additional charges if you choose to check any baggage. Please contact your airline or refer to its website for detailed information regarding your airline’s checked baggage policies. Bear in mind that your luggage will probably weigh more on your return trip due to souvenir shopping. We allow only one suitcase per person. Soft-sided luggage, such as a duffel bag, is preferred, as you will take several boat transfers on tour. One carry-on bag is also permitted, provided that it does not exceed 45 inches (length + width + height). There may be times when you will have to handle your own bags, and you’ll find that lightweight luggage provides a distinct advantage. Make sure you label your baggage and carry valuables, medication and documents in your carry-on luggage.
Clothing and Packing Tips
Your itinerary focuses on the outdoors, so your clothing should be casual and appropriate for outdoor use. Loose-fitting, layered clothing that can accommodate varying temperatures will be most comfortable. A sun hat, sunglasses and a bathing suit are recommended, as well as walking shoes or hiking boots. Occasional rain showers are common in the areas you’ll be visiting, so pack lightweight rainwear. Binoculars are very useful for bird- and animal watching, along with a field guide if you’re particularly interested in the different species you’ll spot. Insect repellent is highly recommended for visits to the rainforests. The sun can be especially strong in the highlands and by the Caribbean coast, so you’ll want to carry sunscreen at all times.
Be sure to take proper care for sun exposure. There‘s also some risk of mosquito-born diseases, especially in the rainforests and national parks. Additionally, there are several boat transfers on your tour which may pose problems if you’re prone to motion sickness. Consult your doctor at least eight weeks prior to departure about possible preventive measures and personal travel requirements.
Walking on Tour
This is an active tour, and travelers should be prepared to walk on some uneven terrain.
Guatemala consists of several distinct climate zones. The coastal regions, as well as the northeast, are usually warm and humid year-round. At higher altitudes, there’s typically a rainy season, which occurs from May to September. Here, temperatures drop dramatically in the evenings. Belize typically experiences two seasons: one wet, one dry. The wet season occurs from May to September in the south and from June to November in the north. Both countries are warm year-round.
Guatemalan cuisine is inspired by both Mayan and Spanish cultures, and most meals are centered around staples such as rice and beans, stews and seasoned meats. Sample a plethora of tamales—a doughy treat filled with meat or fruits, which is wrapped in maxan or banana leaves. Traditional desserts include arroz con leche and tres leches cakes. Locally grown fruits, such as mango, papaya, banana and avocado, enhance most meals. You can also count on enjoying the punch of the world-class Guatemalan coffee. Belize’s culinary influences derive from Spanish, Mexican, African, Caribbean and Mayan cultures. While staples such as rice and beans, corn and fruit are involved in nearly every meal, seafood is the shining star. Lobster, shrimp and fish can be found on most menus. Local fruits like pineapples, mangos and melons are abundant and fresh. For dessert, you’re likely to find favorites like bread pudding and flan.
Round-trip flights arrive in Guatemala City and depart from Belize City. Included transportation on this tour is by private motor coach and motorboat/ferry. Travelers joining the pre-tour extension will also fly between Guatemala City and Flores. Destinations on tour are all easily walkable, although taxis are also available in Antigua.
Guatemala and Belize use 110 volts, the U.S. standard.
Guatemala and Belize are always six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and do not observe daylight-saving time. Therefore, they are two hours behind New York from April to October, and one hour behind New York from October to April.
The Guatemalan quetzal and Belize dollar are the currencies you’ll be using on your tour. Better rates of exchange are usually available at your destination, although it is worth ordering some currency from your local bank to use when you first arrive. You will most likely want a supply of small bills in local currency for any souvenirs you wish to purchase. We also strongly advise that you take a combination of debit/bank cards and credit cards, which may be exchanged at local banks for cash as needed. You can use most debit/credit cards at ATMs on the international networks Cirrus and Plus, but make sure to check with your home bank about withdrawal fees. We suggest that you inform your bank and credit card company of your travel plans, so that they won’t confuse your international purchases for fraudulent charges.
At the conclusion of your tour, it’s customary to offer your Tour Director and driver a gratuity. We recommend tipping in your tour country’s currency, the equivalent of $3USD/CAD per person per day for your driver and $6USD/CAD to $9USD/CAD per person per day for your Tour Director. If applicable, we also recommend the equivalent of $2USD/CAD per local guide. Tips can only be paid in cash. Please keep current local currency exchange rates in mind when tipping.
MAKE AN IMPACT
Get to know some of the communities and organizations you'll meet that are helping to make a difference in Guatemala and Belize.
San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala
In the language of the indigenous Tz’utujil Maya, the term Rupalaj K'istalin means "crystalline face". It refers to the rocky profile that’s formed by the nearby mountain, overlooking Lake Atitlan. Rupalaj K'istalin (or Rostro Maya, as it’s translated in Spanish) has always been a sacred place to the Maya, for its incomparable beauty and its proximity to the heavens. When a group of local tour guides formed a cooperative association in 2003, they strove to exemplify this respect and awe for nature; and so they took the name Rupalaj K'istalin as a tribute to the Maya and the mountain. Nowadays, the association guides lead travelers on tours that focus on traditional weaving and dyeing done by a local women's cooperative, the healing powers of medicinal plants, traditional fishing on Lake Atitlan and other aspects of indigenous culture. In addition to preserving and promoting the Tz’utujil culture, Rupalaj K'istalin plays an active role in reforestation, planting and maintaining some 20,000 plants of native species that are in danger of extinction. In 2007, Rupalaj K’istalin Community Guide Association achieved the Green Deal Sustainable Tourism Certificate. A decade after its founding, Rupalaj K’istalin is an impressive model of how tourism can play a role in conservation, both natural and cultural.
AS GREEN AS IT GETS
Next time you're sipping a cup of fresh-brewed, shade-grown organic coffee, taking in its rich aroma and feeling the energy boost, think about where it came from. You'll appreciate it even more if you know that a hardworking farmer and his family are benefiting from your indulgence. As Green As It Gets (AGAIG) supports a collective of small, independent coffee growers, helping them to secure financing to purchase property, to implement environmentally friendly agricultural practices and to pursue local and export markets for their high-quality coffee beans. About two-dozen farmers have started and grown their coffee business (and now lead guided tours and coffee demonstrations that supplement their income), thanks to AGAIG resources and expertise. The community organization also supports artisans and entrepreneurs who are producing other marketable products, from all-natural cosmetics to burlap tote bags to sustainably harvested hardwood furniture. So sip away—not only is your java invigorating and delicious, it's also guilt-free. You're doing a good deed, just by drinking it.
RIO DULCE NATIONAL PARK
Rio Dulce, Guatemala
The Rio Dulce is not only a "sweet river,” it's also a sweet national park, encompassing some 17 acres along a 19-mile stretch of river. Connecting Izabal Lake with the Caribbean Sea, the river is an important biological corridor for the endangered Caribbean manatee and other marine life. In fact, within the national park, the Chocón Machas Biotope is a reserve set aside specifically to protect the resident manatees. You probably won't see them, however, since this gentle sea mammal is wary of boats. Instead, train your eye on the river banks' dense jungle and towering cliffs, both teeming with life.
COCKSCOMB BASIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Stann Creek, Belize
In the 1980s, people were worried about jaguars. Animal advocates were worried that jaguars were in danger. Citrus farmers in Stann Creek were worried about encountering these cats in their orchards, as their natural habitats were shrinking.
To determine how to address these interrelated problems, Belize Audubon Society conducted a survey of the region's jaguar population. The scientist who did the survey was Alan Rabinowitz, then a graduate student, who would later become such an advocate for big cats that Time Magazine dubbed him “the Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection.” Dr. Rabinowitz determined that the density of jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin was among the highest in the world. The Belizean government acted fast to declare a "no hunting" zone in this area, but enforcement was a challenge and the cats were not really protected. Rabinowitz worked tirelessly to make the land's protected status official; and in 1986 it became the world's first jaguar sanctuary. The sanctuary has since expanded from 3,600 to 28,000 acres and is a refuge for hundreds of species of plants and animals, each playing a reciprocal role within the complex ecosystem of the tropical rainforest.