Start off in Cancun with an airport pick-up on Day 1 and transfer to Tulum on Day 2 to relax on paradisiac beaches. On Day 3 travel to Merida and go visit the spectacular ruins of Chichen Itza and the Uxmal and Kabah archaeological sites on Days 4&5, before taking a night bus to Palenque to see Agua Azul and the Palenque, Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins deep into the jungle on Days 6&7. Go to San Cristobal and learn about the local Indigenous communities before taking a boat ride through the amazing Sumidero Canyon on Days 8-10. Cross the border into Guatemala and experience a Mayan Homestay in Panajachel on Day 11, and see Lake Atitlan by boat on Day 12. Transfer to Antigua on Day 13 and trek the active Pacaya Volcano. Immerse yourself in the deep jungle of Lanquin and enjoy the mysterious caves of Semuc Champey on Days 13-15. Go to Flores and visit the Tikal ruins on Days 16&17, before traveling to Caye Caulker on Day 18, a small island in Belize where you will have a free day on Day 19. Make your way back to Cancun and end your trip with an airport drop-off on Days 20&21.
Day by day itinerary:
Day 1 - Airport Pickup in Cancun
You will be picked up at the Cancun Airport upon arrival and taken to your accommodation for check-in. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at your leisure. Overnight in Cancun.
Day 2 - Transfer to Tulum
Take a bus transfer to Tulum. Take advantage of a free day to relax on Tulum's stunning beaches or take a trip on your own to see the superb Tulum archaeological site, located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Overnight in Tulum.
Day 3 - Transfer to Merida
Take an afternoon transfer from Tulum to Merida, a beautiful colonial town with a relaxed pace. Overnight in Merida.
Day 4 - Chichen Itza Day Trip
Today you will take a day trip to Chichen Itza, one of the most well-preserved Mayan archaeological sites in the country. This ancient site once stood as a mighty citadel of the Maya civilization in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., serving as its political and economic center. One of its most legendary structures is the Kukulkan pyramid, also known as El Castillo, which is a giant Mayan calendar with exactly 365 steps divided among 4 staircases and the pyramid’s highest platform. During both equinoxes (around March 21st & September 21st) the sun’s shadow cast on this pyramid at a perfect angle creates the illusion of a serpent creeping its way along the structure’s northern staircase.
Don’t miss the Gran Juego de Pelota, in which ancient Maya warriors battled to the death in this ceremonial game, or the Plataforma de los Craneos (Skull Platform) and the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cave). Check out the impressive stone carvings on other pyramids and temples of jaguars, flowers, birds, trees, eagles and among the more gruesome, human sacrifices and human hearts in the clutches of bird claws. The observatory, El Caracol, named The Snail for its spiral staircase, was once an important point from which priests determined important dates for ceremonies and rituals. Overnight in Merida.
*NOTE REGARDING LUNCH: We will make a stop for a buffet lunch at a cost of $150 pesos to be paid locally.
Day 5 - Day Trip to Uxmal and Kabah & Night bus to Palenque
Today you will go on a day trip to Uxmal and Kabah. We will pick you up from your hostel and drive you an hour south to the spectacular Uxmal ruins, where we will walk around for a few hours. Uxmal is a grand model that depicts the classic Maya architecture. Designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, this outstanding temple of the mystic is one of the most outstanding architecture of the Maya culture. The brilliance of the Puuc style architecture is clearly exemplified at the Nuns Quadrangle. The Governor's Palace, the Ball Court, as well as House of the Tortoises are some of the most stunning Mayan buildings to watch out for. After the tour of Uxmal, we will have lunch and then make our way 30 minutes south to explore the Kabah Pyramids, another classic Maya archaeological site, known for the temple of the rain god chaac also known as codz poop (rolled matting). It also boasts of a number of palaces, low stone buildings, and step pyramid temples. In the early afternoon, we will make our way back to Merida, where you will catch a night bus to Palenque.
Day 6 - Agua Azul, Misol-Ha & Palenque Day Tour
You will be picked up early in the morning and transferred to the Palenque ruins. The ancient Mayan city of Palenque is one of Mexico's most breath-taking archaeological parks surrounded by lush tropical forest and jungle. This site has a serene, mystical atmosphere. From the moment you enter, you feel engulfed by a sense of history, timelessness and awe. Explore the site on foot and climb up the pyramids for great views of the ancient city and the jungle. You will have 2 hours to visit these beautiful ruins hidden in the jungle on your own.
Next you will be transferred to Misol-ha (meaning "Streaming Water") in the "Chol Maya" tribe area of Chiapas. This river creates one of the state's most wonderful natural sights as the river glides off the edge of a cliff and 40 meters down into a deep pool of water surrounded by lush vegetation. Swim in the deliciously refreshing water and be impressed by the sight of the fall from below. A small walkway will take you behind the water curtain created by the waterfall where you can walk inside the caves, taking about half an hour in total.
The last stop will be at Agua Azul, where you will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to freely explore the beautiful area. Rio Xumul-Ha (meaning River of Blue Water, or in Spanish, Agua Azul) features a series of torrential cascades and fast flowing waters rolling down a limestone ridge to form pools and small streams. Take a one-hour walk next to the falls in the breath-taking green valley and swim in one of the calm parts of the refreshing blue river.
After seeing these 3 beautiful attractions, you will be taken back to Palenque for overnight.
Day 7 - Bonampak & Yaxchilan Day Trip
Immerse yourself deep in the Lacandon jungle to see the impressive Yaxchilan and Bonampak archaeological sites, which are only accessible by boat. These remote and mystical archaeological sites are both unique for their architecture, history, murals, engravings and lintels.
You will be picked up from your accommodation in Palenque early in the morning for a 2-hour drive to the Bonampak Ruins where you will have the chance to explore the magical archaeological site and see ancient frescoes firsthand. Here you will have lunch and then continue on for a 20-minute drive to the Yaxchilan Archaeological Site buried deep in the Lacandon Jungle. Here you will have a few hours to discover this secluded site with plenty of time to take photos and relax listening to the sounds of nature. From Yaxchilan you will return to Palenque and be dropped off at the city center. Overnight in Palenque.
Day 8 - Palenque - San Cristobal Transfer
Take a transfer from Palenque to San Cristobal. Enjoy a free day in this picturesque colonial town to walk along the cobblestone streets and mingle with local people in the marketplace on your own. Overnight in San Cristobal.
Day 9 - Indigenous Communities Day Tour
We will pick you up at your hostel at 09:30am and will take you to visit the local indigenous communities of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan where you will have plenty of time to wander around the local artisan markets and peek inside the beautifully preserved churches. A local guide will explain the history of the region as you drive through the beautiful and peaceful countryside to reach these remote towns. Discover firsthand the ancient native traditions and ways of life. Observe how ancient Mayan traditions are now intertwined with modern day Catholic practices. Please bring extra money for souvenirs and snacks along the way. Remember to be respectful of the local people as they are usually very shy and don't like having their picture taken. Ask politely or have your guide ask for you. Overnight in San Cristobal.
Day 10 - Sumidero Canyon Day Tour
This tour starts in the morning when we pick you up from your hostel and drive you 45 minutes from San Cristobal, through the mountains along the scenic highway towards Tuxtla Gutierrez. Keep an eye out on the beautiful panoramic views as you drive through the clouds to reach the canyon. You will arrive at the colonial town of Chiapa de Corzo, from where you will embark on a boat trip that will take you on a 2-hour ride down the river, where the steep walls of the canyon tower overhead. Look out for stunning waterfalls, caves and the dramatic cliffs. You may have the chance to glimpse a crocodile and tons of other natural wildlife, especially birds. Take your last photos as we make our way back to the dock where we will meet our van again.
From here we will make the return trip to San Cristobal passing along the curvy mountain roads to reach the colonial town of San Cristobal for overnight.
*Note: Today do not worry about wearing your swimsuit as swimming is not allowed (due to the crocodiles!).
Day 11 - San Cristobal to Panajachel transfer and Maya Homestay Experience (D)
Take a transfer to the lakeside town of Panajachel for your Maya homestay experience. The home stay will give you a genuine insight into the everyday lives of a local family during your trip by staying one or more more nights with a family from the Kakchiquel Indigenous group in San Jorge La Laguna. Maya Experience Home Stays has started this program in the village to give something back to the communities around Lake Atitlan and to give you a very genuine experience of staying with a local Mayan family to experience their culture and customs. This experience is very new to the village and families who welcome foreigners into their homes. As a responsible traveler, we as guests must be aware of and sensitive to the culture by behaving respectfully during our time with the family and in the village.
Although shy at first, the villagers are very friendly and welcoming people. Make sure you ask permission to take photos of the people in the village. You will most likely find the housing situation in San Jorge La Laguna basic, but the reason for partcipating in this home stay is to enjoy a real insight into Guatemala, so you can experience the culture firsthand and interact with the local community on a personal basis. We hope that you enjoy this very unique experience.
*Note: A small gift for the family would be a nice gesture of appreciation for the family welcoming you into their home. Cooking or kitchen materials such as pasta, rice, sugar, fruit, vegetables or kitchen utensils are very much appreciated ($3 USD per person approx). Other materials from your home country or children's books (coloring, basic english, workbooks, almanacs) would be a great addition to the family library.
Day 12 - Lake Atitlan Boat Tour around Maya villages and transfer to Antigua (B)
Say goodbye to your host family and hop in a boat for a tour of Lake Atitlan and a visit to its colorful indigenous villages.
The word "atitlan" is translated from Maya as "the place where the rainbow gets its colors" and accordingly you will understand why so many people have been drawn to this magical lake for hundreds of years. Panajachel alone is an 800 year old town home to mostly Cachikel Maya and an increasing number foreigners from every corner of the globe, all coming together to soak up a piece of that serenity and originality that this place provides. Visit 3 different local villages.
San Pedro La Laguna, much like Panajachel has a large population of bohemian tourists and ex-pats, however the indigenous people of the town still preserve their original ways of life and wear traditional dress, remain very conservative and practice the same style of subsistence agriculture that their ancestors practiced years ago. Santiago Atitlán is the largest of the communities around the lake with a population of over 32,000, 95% of which are indigenous Tz’utujils. Traditionally, it is a fishing and farming town; it is also known for the manufacture of cayucos, wooden canoes. San Antonio Palopo is one of the most interesting villages around lake Atitlan and the best place to really get an idea of how these traditional indigenous towns used to feel. Walking through the village one can see people wearing intricately designed "huipiles" (woven tunics) and women weaving fabric made of wool and cotton. Take in the views of this tranquil town.
After your boat tour, transfer to Antigua for overnight.
Day 13 - Free Morning & Pacaya Active Volcano Trek
Spend some free time getting to know the colonial streets of Antigua this morning and then enjoy a half-day trip to trek up the active Pacaya Volcano. Get up close and personal with an active volcano. Hike up the Pacaya Volcano slope for an hour and then trek onto dry lava. Look up to catch an eruption from the active volcano if you're lucky (depending on the activity of the volcano you may or may not see eruptions or lava). Take unforgettable photos in a landscape so surreal that you'll feel like you are walking on the moon. Admire the breathtaking landscape and views of neighboring volcanoes peeking through the clouds around you. Take your time returning to the base of the mountain as you make your way down the slippery, muddy slopes.
(Note: Horses can be rented for the trip up and back.)
Overnight in Antigua.
Day 14 - Transfer Antigua - Lanquin
Take a transfer into the lush jungle of central Guatemala to the town of Lanquin for a free afternoon and overnight.
Day 15 - Semuc Champey Day Trip
Take a hike through the mysterious caves of Kanba, filled with extraordinary limestone formations distributed among an endless stretch of different chambers housing a sharp pointed rock altar where ancient Maya once performed sacred rituals. The Maya people of Guatemala continue holding spiritual ceremonies here and believe that the cave is the "heart of heaven" where the secrets of many centuries are held.
Enjoy free time to swim and go river tubing in the crystalline waters of Semuc Champey where there are natural pools filled with fresh mountain spring water above a 300-meter long limestone bridge. Flowing underneath the bridge is the Cahabón River where you will have time to swim in the cool waters in a beautiful natural surrounding immersed in native flora and fauna. At the end of the bridge you will visit waterfalls over 40-feet in height where the water from the pools rejoins the Cahabon River. The color of the water is constantly changing depending on factors such as the season, sun and rainfall, a characteristic of the national park that makes this place an idyllic and awe-inspiring setting to experience and take photographs.
*Important Note: Participation in these activities is 100% at your own caution. You can choose to participate in them if you wish, but you must understand that they can be dangerous due to the unstable nature of the landscape. You are responsible for your own safety while participating in these activities. Use caution while hiking in the caves and swimming in the waterfalls, wear comfortable shoes or hiking sandals and bring an extra flashlight to light the way. Bring a towel and warm clothing to wear after the activity. If you have any concerns about your ability to complete this activity, please do not participate.
Overnight in Lanquin.
Day 16 - Lanquin - Flores Lake transfer
Take a transfer to Flores in the Peten Jungle for a free afternoon and overnight.
Day 17 - Tikal Morning Tour
Depart Flores at 4:30 am this morning for your early morning experience to Tikal archaeological site. Walk among giant pyramids towering over 200 feet at dawn to feel the magical vibration of Tikal and its historic splendor. Listen to the jungle sounds of exotic birds, monkeys and small mammals and feel the humid jungle air on your skin as the Maya inhabitants of this site felt it 2000 years ago. Immerse yourself in the jungle at dawn for an early morning tour through the archaeological site to experience the jungle come alive as it wakes up at sunrise, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in touch with nature and marvel at the majestic pyramids hidden away in the jungle.
Your guided tour will end at 10:00 am with time to have breakfast on your own and then return to Flores at 11:00 am. Enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Overnight in Flores.
Day 18 - Transfer from Flores to Caye Caulker via Belize City
Take a bus transfer from Flores to Belize City followed by a water taxi transfer to the island of Caye Caulker for a free afternoon to lounge on pristine beaches and overnight.
Day 19 - Free Day in Caye Caulker
Enjoy a free day to go snorkeling or scuba diving (optional activities) at the Belize Barrier Reef to see manatees, manta rays, sharks and sea turtles in an unbelievably beautiful natural scenery. You can take part in other optional activities today or simply rest on beautiful beaches and do nothing. Overnight in Caye Caulker.
Day 20 - Transfer Caye Caulker - Chetumal - Playa del Carmen/Cancun
Take a water taxi to Chetumal and then catch a bus to either Playa del Carmen or Cancun for a free afternoon and overnight.
Day 21 - Airport Drop-off in Cancun
Your unforgettable adventure will end with a transfer to the Cancun airport in order to catch your flight back home.
Recommendations on what to bring: Clothing suitable for humid/tropical weather, Shorts & Pants, Comfortable shoes, Swimsuit, Sunscreen, Hat or cap, Camera, Sun glasses, Backpack, Towel, Mosquito Repellent, Flashlight.
*Note: Please be aware that transportation in Guatemala is often informal and unregulated. Drivers may try to squeeze in a few more passengers than allowed to gain extra income. But rest assured that this is culturally very normal and that they will always get you safely to your destination.