Nature and Culture: Revealing the Spirit of Guatemala & Belize Vacation

A 8 day trip to Belize & Guatemala 
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Picture the colorful life of the largest Barrier Reef in the Western Hemisphere; now imagine yourself looking into the steaming crater of an active volcano to find molten lava rumbling down the mountainside. The Mayan civilization thrives in the highlands as the welcoming Garifuna culture highlights the tumultuous past along Belize’s Caribbean coast. The calls of the Howler monkeys’ echo past the riverbanks; the manatees laze near the warm shores. Spanish architecture brings a piece of Europe to the mountains of Central America as this vacation showcases the culture, people, and land that embody the enduring spirit of Guatemala and Belize, and what you always imagined comes to life. 

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General Information

Photos
Shark swimming over tropical coral reef.
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Belize City, Placencia, Placencia Peninsula   

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Antigua – Arrive in Guatemala and Transfer to the Colonial City of Antigua

As your flight descends into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City, look out over the volcanic peaks that outline the city. The lush trees and summits contrast with the high-rise buildings and spreading urbanity. Guatemala City has many treasures hidden in its large size, from upscale shopping centers to celebrated museums. The Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena displays textiles and clothing from the 120 indigenous communities that live in the country.  The museum, named for the Mayan goddess of fertility and weaving, features various forms of huipiles,  traditional loose-fitting tunics for women and are featured in the variety of heritage pieces showcasing the cultures of the country.

Your private transfer will greet you upon your arrival, and will be ready to take you into the charming colonial city of Antigua. The historic streets provide a relaxed ambiance compared to those of the bustling Guatemala City. Shingled rooftops slope over pastel-colored buildings; the scent of roasting coffee beans emanates from the garden cafes. Three distinct volcano peaks surround the former Guatemalan capital. The central plaza of Parque Central is busy in the evening as you stroll along the verdant grass. Shoe shiners polish footwear and school kids linger beneath the trees as mermaids adorn the central fountain beneath the gaze of Catedral de Santiago.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer

Day 2: Antigua – Tour the Historical Streets and Exciting Landscape around Antigua

The history of Antigua accentuates the charm of this relaxed city. In the morning, the enticing aroma of roasting coffee beans fills the air, and the flavor of the locally produced coffee is remarkable. Your guide will meet you at the hotel after breakfast and escort you through the city streets to the Pre-Columbian and Glass Art Museum, located in the half-ruined, half-renovated edifice of Casa Santo Domingo, a former monastery complex. The exhibits provide a unique comparison of the artistry of these ancient cultures. Artifacts depict human figures, animals, faces, and pots. Similar, contemporary objects cast in glass complement the ancient figurines. The combination creates a stunning ambiance in the historic building.

One of the artifacts depicts a traditionally dressed Mayan blowing into a horn. The glass figurine rises on a dark, wavy platform with the two images adorning the plateau. The turquoise and emerald figures in the glass illuminate the subtle colors that decorate the Mayan sculpture. After your tour of the city,  make your way to the densely forested mountains that overlook scenic coffee plantations. Visit a working coffee farm to learn how coffee is cultivated and processed to bring a perfect cup. Began in the 1800s, the plantation maintains its connection to tradition.

The earthy aromas are different from the coffee scent you may have expected. In the milling section and drying patios, find the beans separated from the stems and dried for packaging. It isn’t until the end of the tour, when the familiar aroma of roasted coffee returns, that you find the scent you expected on the plantation. Roasting the beans helps release the natural oils, along with the pleasant aroma people associate with coffee. At the tour’s end, your will present you with a freshly prepared cup of coffee using beans from the farm you just explored. The full-bodied texture and rich flavor compliments the slight bitterness.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, dinner

Day 3: Antigua – Traverse the Rolling Landscape with a Trek up Pacaya Volcano 

The buildings of Antigua rise subtly above the cobblestone streets but are rarely more than three stories tall. Erected in the 16th-century, the cathedral, and its bell towers, rise above the entire city. Yesterday, you chose to explore the coffee plantation, but today you choose to adventure with a trek to the summit of Pacaya Volcano, located more than 30 miles from the city. The peak ascends to an altitude of 8,373 feet and acts as an active vent in the Cerro Grande-Pacaya-Cerro Chino volcanic complex as it releases the pressure stored beneath the earth. Your guide will lead you up the gentler trail and begin at San Francisco de Sales.

The steep ascent takes you along the rim of the Pacaya cone. Ash tumbles away from your feet with every step you take as the ground is grainy and ashen. The trees have faded into a lunar landscape as you reach the volcanic highland. Depending on the activity of the crater, look into the peak for a magnificent view as the cones of volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango are visible through the passing clouds. Your guide tells you to pull out your stash of marshmallows purchased from a shop at the base of the trail. Move some rocks away from the trail, and find the ground is steaming. The heat from the crater roasts your marshmallow to a desirable golden brown.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 4: Antigua – Discover the Mayan Market at Chichicastenango and Enjoy a Day at your Leisure 

A traditional market opens its doors near the gateway to Antigua’s city center. Wooden sculpture and colorful bags overtake the open space, as large as a warehouse. Masks hang from the walls and porcelain figurines depict the chicken buses, for which Guatemala is famous for filling their display cases. After breakfast, make your way to the town of Chichicastenango, known for its colorful native market where Mayan vendors have sold their products for centuries, from medicinal plants to textiles, fruits and vegetables to leather goods. The town is located at an altitude of 6,446 feet above sea level and the white stucco walls glint in the sunlight.

On Thursday and Sundays, vendors from around the region arrive representing Guatemala’s linguistic groups, including Kaqchikel and Ixil. The portable booths begin in the main plaza as women’s blouses overflow with vibrant hues: various shades of pink, blue, orange, red, and yellow. Woodcarvers display elaborate masks dancers used in traditional ceremonies to portray gods, demons, and animals. The 400-year old Church of Santo Tomas watches over the festivities on a platform in the main square. The traditions of the Mayans have amalgamated with the church in Central America. Shamans continue to burn incense and light candles in the church. The 18 stairs leading to the front door harkens back to the Mayan calendar.   

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, tour

Day 5: Placencia – Travel to Guatemala City and Fly to Placencia Peninsula, Belize

Belize is a country the straddles the white sand of the Caribbean coastline and the emerald jungle that rolls across much of Central America. Descend onto the tarmac at Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City as the sweeping turquoise water meets the edges of the jade canopy. Canals run alongside the airport and add to the fishing village ambiance of the city’s past. Board your connecting flight from Belize City to Placencia and the plane takes you over the shimmering Caribbean Sea before landing at the small airport located on the peninsula.

The gentle sea breeze carries the aroma of fresh coconut and rustles the surrounding palm fronds. Your private transfer meets you at baggage claim and will escort you to the comforts of your luxury resort. Your room overlooks the lulling waves as they wash up on the shore. Dip your toes into the soft sand as the palm trees shade you from the tropical sun. Lounge chairs provide both rays and views, as you look out into the horizon. Although Guatemala sits beside Belize, look at the glistening crystal clear water and feel as though you have traveled worlds away. The scent of fresh lobster cooked over an open grill helps to settle you into the splendors of Belize.   

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast, dinner

Day 6: Placencia – Explore Laughing Bird Caye and Experience Garifuna Culture

In the morning, step out onto your private deck and watch the waves as they crash against the powdery sand. Pelicans perch atop the thatched-roof hut to crown the end of the jetty that connects to your resort. At breakfast, find the semi-salty aroma of the sea carrying the scent of freshly grilled tortillas, a scent that will soon be familiar during your time in Guatemala. After breakfast, your guide will escort you to the marina to make your way to Laughing Bird Caye, an island located 11 miles off the coast of Placencia Village.

The long, narrow isle connects to the angular atoll on the continental shelf, creating a unique abundance of coral and marine life. The outer rim rises an average of 100 feet from the lagoon floor, while the inner rim reaches a depth of 16 feet. Before you even reach the atoll, your skipper will point out a group of bottlenose dolphins that swim in the distance. As they poke their heads from the water and dive back down to play, the island morning glories blossom bright purple along vines that form a latticework around the island.

Strong palm trees shade the beach and cast shadows of their fronds on the sand. In the water, find a school of fish feeding on the hard coral. Tubular soft coral resembles bamboo reeds that peek out of the seafloor as you find a rock lobster blending into the rocks. Return to shore and venture to the village of Seine Bight to participate in the traditional cookery and music of the Garifuna, a cultural group of peoples derived from escaped slaves and the people from surrounding Caribbean islands.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, dinner

Day 7: Placencia – Travel along Monkey River on a Belizean Aquatic Safari

In the morning, find the aroma of fresh coconut enticing. Men carry buckets along the sand filled with fallen fruit, opening the shell with a machete before drinking the milk. The aroma has a subtle sweetness, but it is unmistakable. After breakfast, your guide will meet you at the hotel and escort you south to Monkey Village, located at the mouth of Monkey River. In the cool atmosphere of the early morning, howler monkeys call out in the canopy with cries that are heard up to three miles away as they scour the treetops in search of nuts and berries.

Lobster fishers glide past and wave as you board your expedition boat, eager to sail up the river. The banks cut into the rainforest where exotic birds and crocodiles make their home. It isn’t long before you can see a crocodile lazing on the shore, basking in the spreading sunlight. An occasional turtle peaks its head out of the water before it continues its exploration beneath the surface. Your boat docks and your guide takes the lead in chopping at the dangling vines with a machete.

Your guide soon grabs a handful of leaves from a medicinal plant. The herbaceous aroma reminds you of allspice as termites build mounds near the trees and eat away at the tender bark. Hear the calls of a keel-billed toucan, best known for its yellow breast and lime bill tipped with red. Travel back down the river and keep your eyes focused for manatees as they often feed on lagoon grass.  Watch as they lounge and float up to the top of the water while asleep, take an unconscious breath and then sink back down beneath the wake.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 8: Placencia – Depart for Home

The pastel painted buildings and tranquil sounds of crashing waves remind you that the eastern shores of Belize brim with Caribbean culture. The cuisine has more spice than your days previous, and the air contains a mixture of sweet fruit and salty sea as you settle down into the relaxed pace without a care in the world. At breakfast, delight on the possibility of fusing Mayan staples with Caribbean flavors. In the breeze, hear the reverberating calls of howler monkeys, and listen to the water once more. Your private transfer meets you in the hotel lobby after breakfast and escorts you to the Placencia airport for your flight to Belize City. After landing, join your connecting flight and begin the journey home.

What’s Included: breakfast, transfer 

Price

Starting Price 

$2,795
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.