Mysteries of the Maya

  • Trip Type: Land
  • 9 Days | Mérida to Guatemala City
  • Group Size: Max 25

Extension Details


Antigua and Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Post-Trip, 5 Days

Discover the Guatemalan highlands, from the volcano-ringed shores of Lake Atitlán to the charming colonial city of Antigua. Take part in Mayan spiritual rituals, and visit small artisan villages where locals still celebrate their culture’s ancient handicraft traditions. Stroll Antigua’s cobbled streets past colorful colonial Spanish buildings, and meet with coffee farmers, weavers, and musicians.

Itinerary - 5 Days

Day 1 — Guatemala City/Lake Atitlán

After landing in Guatemala City on the last day of the main expedition, take a scenic drive through the central highlands, stopping en route at the archaeological site of Iximche. Tour the ruins of this fortified hilltop city, which served as the capital of the Cakchiquel Maya during the Spanish conquest. We’ll also have the opportunity to observe a traditional shaman ritual amid the ruins. Continue to the town of Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlán. From your waterfront hotel, take in spectacular views over the lake, framed by three towering volcanoes and lush rolling hills.
Hotel Atitlán (B,L,D)

Day 2 — Lake Atitlán

This morning, take a boat ride across the lake, disembarking in Santiago Atitlán for the town market day. Browse colorful stalls brimming with traditional Mayan wares. Then visit the shrine to the Maximón, the venerated Mayan god, and learn about the spiritual beliefs of the Tzutuhil Maya. Continue along the lake to San Juan la Laguna to visit with local artisans, including the renowned naïf painters. Return to our hotel and enjoy an evening at leisure.
Hotel Atitlán (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Antigua

Drive to Antigua, Guatemala’s capital from 1543-1776. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua is celebrated for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture as well as its dramatic setting: three soaring volcanoes define its horizon. Set off on a guided walking tour of the old city, where picturesque churches and colonial homes line cobblestone lanes. Visit the convent of Las Capuchinas, La Merced church, and the main square, and then enjoy an afternoon to explore the city on your own.
Hotel Casa Santo Domingo (B,L)

Day 4 — Antigua

Travel outside the city to visit some of the area weaving communities, and hear about the history of this traditional art from a textile specialist. Meet with local weavers and learn the meaning behind each village’s distinct colors and patterns. Return to Antigua and visit Casa K’Ojom, a museum featuring exhibits on traditional Mayan music. At the nearby Azotea coffee farm, learn how the crop shaped Guatemala’s history and hear about its continuing impact on the country’s economy. Enjoy a farewell dinner this evening.
Hotel Casa Santo Domingo (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Antigua/Guatemala City

Transfer to the Guatemala City airport and catch your return flight home.

El Mirador, Guatemala

Post-Trip, 4 Days

Head into the field to explore the massive Pre-classic Maya metropolis of El Mirador alongside archaeologists from the National Geographic-funded Mirador Basin Project. Deep in the Guatemalan jungle, Dr. Richard Hansen and his team of scientists are actively excavating the structures of this fascinating city, which have included elaborate architecture, intricate artistic carvings, and burial chambers for early Maya kings. Explore the site in depth, and discover what the researchers’ findings here have taught us about the enigmatic early Maya.

Richard Hansen or a member of the El Mirador Basin research team will host visitors at the Mayan site of El Mirador on all departures of this post-trip extension.

Itinerary - 4 Days

Days 1 & 2 — Flores/El Mirador

On the last day of the main expedition, instead of transferring to Guatemala City, continue to the Flores airport. Board a helicopter and fly deep into the remote reaches of the Petén rain forest to the extraordinary archaeological complex of El Mirador. This is a unique and rare opportunity to spend time with Richard Hansen and his team of archaeologists. It is a two-day walk to El Mirador, and the research camp is closed to most visitors. Upon landing, enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the site’s pyramids.

We’ll spend these next two days taking advantage of this special opportunity to explore the ruins, which date back to around 600 B.C. This sprawling site features the largest concentration of religious and civic buildings in the Mayan world, a 2,200 year-old carving, and one of the tallest known Mayan pyramids: La Danta, which reaches 230 feet. Richard Hansen and his team team of archaeologists are regularly making new discoveries here that they have not yet publicized. Following dinner in camp, evenings will be spent under the stars, engaging in discussions of El Mirador’s history and hearing about recent findings at the site.
Research Camp, Bunglaow (B,L,D)

Day 3 — El Mirador/Nakbe/El Tintal/Flores

Enjoy a final morning to explore the El Mirador site before boarding a helicopter bound for Nakbe, another large Mayan site excavated by Dr. Hansen. Nearby limestone quarries played an important role in the construction of the temples, which were linked to other cities in the Mirador Basin by a series of causeways. Continue by helicopter to El Tintal, the second largest site in the basin. In 2004, archaeologists from the Mirador Basin Project began excavating El Tintal’s pyramids and plazas, as well as the causeway linking the site to El Mirador. Fly to Flores, arriving in the late afternoon, and celebrate your journey through the Mirador Basin during a farewell dinner.
Camino Real Tikal (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Flores

Drive to the Flores airport and fly to Guatemala City, where you’ll catch your connecting flight home.