From Guatemala City we’ll whizz you to the gloriously relaxed and sophisticated charms of Antigua. The ancient capital of colonial Guatemala oozes laid back charm. Make no mistake: this is one of the prettiest, and oldest, cities in Central America. Take in the volcano backdrop, cobbled streets, sun-kissed painted buildings and whitewashed monasteries before you bed down for the night in the restored splendour of a history-soaked, converted convent.
Spend the day snapping away as you stroll through this UNESCO world heritage city’s terracotta coloured buildings, sparkling fountains and dreamy courtyards. The Central Plaza is not to be missed, and do keep an eye out for the Mayan markets that pop up seemingly at random. After visiting the Cathedral and San Francisco Church, browse the museums, galleries, boutiques and craft-filled stalls. Most of all take advantage of those chic cafes that line the atmospheric streets.
Take a scenic morning drive into the highlands and magical Lake Atitlan appears. Surrounded by three volcanoes and many Mayan villages, Lake Atitlan is a photographer’s dream. At the colourful market villages of Solola and Comalapa gaze upon the lake's shores: Mayan women wash colourful clothes and fisherman bring in the day's catch. But, be warned: heavenly as it seems, for the ancient Maya the lake was a door to the underworld.
It’s time to take a cruise across the waters of Lake Atitlan to its southern shore and the ancient village of Santiago, home to the cigar chomping folk saint, Maximon. He moves house every year so ask around if you want to make an offering. Mayan beliefs hold strong here and there is a palpable sense of spirituality here. Women wear traditional purple skirts and embroidered clothes while men wear lavender or striped, embroidered trousers.
You’ll drive through dramatic mountain landscape to reach the remote village of Chichicastenango, which houses the country's largest, traditional market. Smoke drifts as Mayans gather from nearby villages. Barter with local traders selling a dizzying array of arts and crafts, woven textiles and delicious fruits and vegetables. The village is also a rich cultural hub with a real mix of Mayan beliefs mingling with Catholic ceremony. The big city now calls as you head for the capital.
Take a short flight today to land in Flores, marooned in the Impressionist waters with its colourful Cubist houses tumbling down to the waters of Lake Peten Itza. You’ll take an unforgettable boat ride downriver, deep into the forest to visit the archaeological site of El Ceibal, once the centre of Mayan power. Jumbles of jungle vines, the howls of monkeys and screeching rainforest birds give way to the Mayan ruins, which are perched just above the river. You’ll sleep well in your jungle lodge tonight.
The jungle parts once more as the majestic pyramids of Tikal tower over the surrounding canopy. This is one of the most important historical sites in Guatemala and like arriving on an advanced alien culture that has set up in the deepest, darkest woods and then vanished. Some mysteries will be explained on your guided tour through the ancient ruins.
Collect another exotic passport stamp today as you cross the border into romantic Belize. The Cayo district is brimming with holiday activities set in a landscape of winding rivers, waterfalls, caves and mountains. The Xunantunich Maya ruin is one of the main attractions in the region but it’s also a favoured destination for eco-tourists with its verdant jungle landscape and diverse wildlife.
Accompanied by our expert guide, create your own itinerary over two adventure-packed days. You can explore the Rio-Frio Cave system, whose huge 70 ft arches lead to a vault of dripping stalactites. Or there’s Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, home to The Crystal Maiden’s skeleton aglow with crystals. Did she die or was she pushed into a sacrifice? Other Mayan sites reveal more mysteries and answer some questions about this fascinating ancient culture: Xunantunich and Caracol should not be missed.
After all your adventuring, it’s time for a rest as you head to the tropical island of Ambergris Caye. Enjoy a myriad of watersports and beautiful beaches while you kick back and relax. The island is a magnet for scuba divers - it’s home to the world’s second largest barrier reef as well as three superb reef atolls waiting to be explored. If you fancy something a little less energetic, watch the world go by in San Pedro and enjoy a fresh from the waters seafood dinner.
Take one last look at the azure waters of Ambergris Caye before you fly to Belize City for your connecting flight home, hopefully sun-kissed and relaxed and with a head full of plenty of awesome Mayan facts with which to wow your friends.