Guatemala / Itineraries

Complete Guatemala

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No single itinerary can ever succeed in being entirely comprehensive but the 3-week, Complete Guatemala comes pretty darn close and even provides the option of quick detour into Honduras.

  • Day 1 — Guatemala City

    On arrival in Guatemala City you will be transferred directly from the airport to the nearby hotel of your choice.

    As flights arrive in the evening, after a long journey most clients will want to relax, perhaps have a bite to eat and then get a good night’s sleep.

    Suggested Accommodation: La Inmaculda Hotel
    • — Guatemala City
  • Day 2 — Guatemala City

    Although most visitors to Guatemala tend to skip the nation’s capital (and you can too if you wish), you can’t really say you’ve done the complete country without spending at least a day here.

    Accordingly, after a leisurely breakfast, you’ll be collected from your hotel for a near full-day tour of the city.

    The tour begins with a visit to the National Museum of Archaeology, where you will admire the country’s most important collections of pre-Hispanic ceramics and stone carved monuments as well as the jade collection. Next, you will proceed to the fascinating Ixchel Museum of the Mayan Textiles, where you will learn all about the pre – Hispanic weaving process and view an impressive collection of traditional costumes.

    After a break for lunch, the tour continues to the city’s historic quarter where there will be visits to the National Palace of Culture and the Metropolitan Cathedral, both located in Constitution Square.

    Suggested Accommodation: La Inmaculda Hotel Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Guatemala City
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    • — Guatemala City, museums
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    • — Guatemala City, Casa Mima
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  • Day 3 — Guatemala City to Livingston via Quirigua

    After an early start to try to avoid the worst of the rush-hour traffic, and leaving the fumes and concrete of Guatemala City well behind you, the road heads downhill as you drop from the highlands of Guatemala towards the coast.

    En-route to Livingston, you will stop at the Mayan ruins of Quirigua that were occupied from the 2nd to 8th century.

    One of only 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Guatemala, and therefore on a par with Tikal, the ruins at Quirigua cover a comparatively tiny footprint and can be easily explored in under an hour.

    Unlike other Mayan sites that are famous for their vast scale and grand buildings, Quirigua is principally famous for its collection of detailed and surprisingly well-preserved stelae that have provided scholars with a vital source of information on Mayan history.

    After exploring the ruins, and having lunch at the on-site restaurant, you will continue to the port of Puerto Barrios from where it is a thirty-minute boat ride to Livingston.

    (If you wish, today you can add even further to your itinerary by taking a brief, 2-night detour to the wonderful town of Copan, just across the border in Honduras).

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Villa Caribe Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Quirigua
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    • — Quirigua, stelae
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    • — Quirigua
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  • Day 4 — Livingston

    While the vast majority of Guatemala’s population can be described as indigenous Mayan, Spanish descent or mixed, Livingston is home to the Garifuna.

    The Garifuna, sometimes also referred to as Black Caribs, are the descendants of Carib Indians and black African slaves. In 1635, two Spanish slave ships were shipwrecked near St Vincent in the Caribbean; the escaped slaves were welcomed by the island’s indigenous Carib Indian population and the resulting inter-marriage led to the creation of the Garifuna.

    Due to Livingston’s relative isolation – it is still only possible to access by boat – Garifuna culture there has been remarkably resilient if not quite as dominant as in years gone by.

    While there is not a whole lot to see and do in Livingston (there are beaches nearby if you fancy dip in the sea) it’s a charming, intriguing place to spend a day. It’s also the start point for the magnificent boat journey down the Rio Dulce.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Villa Caribe Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Livingston
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    • — Livingston
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    • — Livingston
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  • Day 5 — Livingston to Flores via Rio Dulce

    Leaving Livingston and heading inland, the two-hour plus boat journey from Livingston along the Rio Dulce is right up there amongst the most memorable trips you will take in Guatemala and, for some, the highlight of their holiday.

    The start of the journey, lasting around 30 minutes, takes you through a narrow, steep sided gorge, covered on either side and from top to bottom in thick forest.

    Eventually, the sides of the gorge begin to level out and you will glimpse the first signs of human life on the riverbanks. A brief diversion up a side tributary leads to a traditional Mayan village where you will be able to get off the boat, go for a short stroll through the village and surrounding forest and peruse the locally made handicrafts.

    Upon returning to the Rio Dulce, the river begins to widen out considerably as you enter Lake Golfete. An odd, but popular, feature of the lake are the natural hot springs that are both safe and fun to have a soak in. Next to the springs is a simple restaurant serving snacks, light meals and cold drinks.

    Continuing after this little break, the next point of interest is Bird Island. As soon as you get within sight, you’ll understand where it gets its name from! As you stop to look up for birds, have a look down too, as you may be able to spot crocodiles in the water.

    Your journey along the River Dulce finally ends as you approach the mouth to Lago de Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake by far. Disembarking from the boat, there will be time to visit the impressive colonial era fort, Castillo de San Felipe, before continuing your journey by road to Flores.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Rio Dulce
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    • — Castillo San Felipe
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    • — Flores
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  • Day 6 — Flores (Day trip to Tikal)

    After an early breakfast, you will depart for Tikal, aiming to be there before 9am.

    Together with Lake Atitlan and the colonial town of Antigua, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal is undoubtedly one of Guatemala’s ‘Big Three’ tourist draws as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Located in an almost entirely flat and jungle covered region, Tikal was inhabited from as far as back as the 6th century BC although it only really came to prominence from around 200 to 900 AD, an era known in Mayan history as the Classic Period. At its height, Tikal is thought to have had a population not far short of 100,000 – a staggering thought when you consider how remote it feels today.

    Although the largest and most powerful of the Mayan lowland cities, Tikal was by no means alone. It was frequently at war with neighbouring Mayan cities such as Yaxha & Calakmul (the latter located across the border in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula). Quite why the city went into such speedy and total decline is still a source of mystery and disagreement.

    It takes a good 3 to 4 hours to explore Tikal although, if one wanted, you could spend a day or two there without any problem.

    After lunch at one of Tikal’s onsite restaurants, you will return to Flores. En-route, there will be a stopover at Las Lagunas hotel where you will take a boat trip to Monkey Island.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tikal
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    • — Tikal
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    • — Tikal
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  • Day 7 — Flores (Day trip to Yaxha)

    Another day, another great Mayan city to visit. After another early breakfast, you will be collected from your hotel and transferred by road to Yaxha.

    Although roughly similar in size to Tikal, and although not excavated to anything like the same extent, one of the most appealing aspects of a visit to Yaxha is the comparative lack of crowds.

    Tracing its history back to 1000BC, Yaxha (which is pronounced with a soft x, so Yasha), was the third largest of the numerous Mayan cities in the Peten region. The city reached its peak from around 250 to 600 AD but, like Tikal, fell into terminal decline thereafter.

    The word Yaxha literally means ‘Green Water’ in Mayan and refers to the large lake that the city was built next to. Mayan sites next to lakes are a comparatively rare occurrence and the presence of one here only helps to enhance the overall experience.

    Another feature of Yaxha, and one that is related to both the increased level of tree cover and fewer visitors, is the presence of large groups of howler monkeys. Although there is a very good chance that you won’t spot them in the trees, there’s no way you won’t hear them.

    Returning to Yaxha in the afternoon, the rest of your day is at leisure.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Yaxha
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    • — Yaxha
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    • — Yaxha
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    • — Flores
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  • Day 8 — Flores to Ceibal & Aguateca

    Departing Flores shortly after breakfast, it’s a drive of just over an hour to the town of Sayaxche from where you will catch a small, private boat for the beautiful journey along the Pasion River to Ceibal.

    A Ceiba is a tree that is endemic to the Peten region and the national symbol of Guatemala. In traditional Mayan custom, the Ceiba is considered to be sacred and, because of their vast size, a connection between earth and sky.

    Ceibal, which takes its name from this tree, is one of a number of smaller (compared to Tikal at least) Mayan cities clustered together in this part of Peten, including nearby Aguateca and Dos Pillas.

    While Ceibal was the largest of these cities, very little of its major structures have been excavated, bar a single pyramid. However, and as with Quirigua, there are a number of intact stelae that have helped historians to better understand the history of the region.

    Returning along the Pasion River, you will pass through Sayaxche and continue to the open waters of Lake Petexbatun and your accommodation for the night. Arriving in time for a late lunch, the rest of the day is at leisure.

    Suggested Accommodation: Chiminos Island Lodge Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    • — Ceibal, Pasion River
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    • — Ceibal
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    • — Ceibal
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  • Day 9 — Aguateca to Candelaria

    This morning, you will continue across Lake Petexbatun to the ruined Mayan city of Aguateca.

    Of all the Mayan cities in the Peten region, none could boast such a strong defensive position as Aguateca. Not only did it have Lake Petexbatun as its first line of defence, but the city itself was built atop an elevated limestone plateau with steep cliffs offering yet further protection.

    Yet, despite this, Aguateca was successfully attacked and largely destroyed in a single attack around 820. Indeed, such was the apparent suddenness of the attack that buildings were left half-built and numerous private possessions were left behind.

    Leaving Aguateca behind, you will return to the road for an approximate and very pleasant 2-hour drive to Candelaria. After checking in at your hotel, and a spot of lunch, it is then just a short drive to the Candelaria Caves.

    The Candelaria Caves are amongst the most extensive anywhere in Latin America and are located in the picturesque Chama Mountains. In total, the entire cave network is said to extend for 80kms with 12kms of caves following the subterranean passage of the Candelaria River.

    For visitors to Candelaria, the main draw is undoubtedly Tzul Tacca, a vast cave some 60 metres in height, 30 metres wide and 200 metres in length. With numerous stalagmites, Tzul Tacca is often referred to as cathedral-like because of the natural windows that flood the cave with light.

    Suggested Accommodation: Candelaria Lodge Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Aguateca
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    • — Aguateca
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    • — Candelaria
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  • Day 10 — Candelaria to Semuc Champey

    Departing from Candelaria after breakfast, it’s an approximate 3-4 hour drive, the last part along unmade roads, to your next destination, Semuc Champey.

    Considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in Guatemala, Semuc Champey consists of a series of tiered limestone pools that form a ‘bridge’ over the River Cahabon.

    Perfect for a relaxing swim, and surrounded by beautiful vistas all around, Semuc Champey would attract a great deal more visitors (and lose much of its appeal) were it not for its relative isolation.

    Arriving at your accommodation in time for lunch, the rest of the afternoon is free for you to relax in the pools.

    For those feeling fit, a 45 minute trek (known simply as El Mirador) to the top of the valley overlooking Semuc Champey affords stunning views of the both the pools themselves and the surrounding, verdant valleys and hills.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hostal El Portal Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Semuc Champey
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    • — Semuc Champey
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    • — Semuc Champey
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  • Day 11 — Semuc Champey

    It really is too beautiful to spend just half a day here so today is free for you to relax or explore the area further.

    If you enjoyed your visit to the caves at Candelaria, there is another cave system nearby at Lanquin.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hostal El Portal Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Semuc Champey
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    • — Semuc Champey
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    • — Semuc Champey
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  • Day 12 — Semuc Champey to Coban

    Leaving behind the beautiful surroundings of Semuc Champey and returning to the road, which continues its climb into the Guatemalan Highlands, it is an approximate 3-hour drive to Coban.

    Originally home to the Rabinal Mayans, in the 19th century the region around Coban was settled by German immigrants who appreciated that the combination of cool climate and hilly countryside was ideal for growing both coffee and cardamom.

    Having checked in at your accommodation, there will be an opportunity to explore Coban on foot as well as take in visits to a local orchid farm and coffee visitor centre.

    Suggested Accommodation: Casa Gaia Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Coban
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    • — Coffee beans
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    • — Orchid
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  • Day 13 — Coban to Ixil Triangle

    The journey from Coban to the Ixil Triangle takes at least 5 hours, parts of it on rough, bumpy, unmade roads. The one plus point about juddering along at slow speeds is that you certainly won’t miss the beautiful, surrounding countryside.

    This Highlands of Guatemala are home to a number of different Mayan groups, each with different customs, beliefs and, most noticeably, dress. Perhaps nowhere is this traditional way-of-life more engrained into everyday existence than in the Ixil Triangle, high in the Cuchumatanes Mountains.

    Generally speaking, the Ixil Triangle is normally defined as encompassing the traditional towns of Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul, together with a series of even smaller villages including our favourite, and your final destination today, Acul.

    Arriving in time for a late lunch, the rest of the afternoon is free for you to relax, take in the beautiful natural surroundings or perhaps go for a stroll into nearby Acul.

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Mil Amores Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
    • — Ixil Triangle
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    • — Ixil Triangle
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  • Day 14 — Ixil Triangle

    With your car and guide, you will spend the morning exploring the surrounding valleys and villages of the Ixil Triangle before returning to your hotel in the afternoon.

    The rest of the day is at leisure.

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Mil Amores Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner
    • — Ixil Triangle
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    • — Ixil Triangle
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    • — Ixil Triangle
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  • Day 15 — Ixil Triangle to Quetzaltenango

    After slightly doubling back on oneself, and returning to the junction at Sacapulas, it’s a lovely drive through rolling, green countryside via Chiantla and Huehuetenango before joining one of the world’s most iconic roads, the Pan American Highway, as it winds its way to Quetzaltenango.

    Romantic notions aside, as an important business route, the Pan American Highway does suffer from significantly more traffic (especially slow, lumbering trucks) than you will have experienced thus far, so ‘Highway’ is possibly a bit misleading.

    Approximately 5-6 hours after setting off this morning, you will arrive in Quetzaltenango.

    Xela, as the city’s name is abbreviated to (and pronounced Shell-ah), is Guatemala’s second largest city after the capital, Guatemala City, but is a far more appealing place to spend a little time.

    At an altitude of almost 2,500 metres, Xela can often feel distinctly chilly and the weather seems to have influenced the city’s architecture that is distinctly hard, sombre and serious.

    After checking in at your hotel and a chance for a late lunch, there will be a short, walking tour of the city’s historic centre.

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Pension Bonifaz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Quetzaltenango
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    • — Quetzaltenango
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    • — Quetzaltenango
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  • Day 16 — Quetzaltenango

    Today begins with a visit to two very traditional villages. First off, you will visit Zunil, one of Guatemala’s prettiest and most colourful villages, located in a lush valley, surrounded by steep hills and a towering volcano; then Almolonga, a traditional, indigenous market town which is famous throughout Guatemala for its huge vegetables!

    You will then continue to San Francisco El Alto Market, where indigenous people from the surrounding villages come to shop and exchange goods. Considered the largest market in the country, it is perhaps slightly less touristy than Chichicastenango.

    Returning to Xela you will have the opportunity to visit a local textile cooperative and learn the traditional blackstrap loom-weaving techniques used by indigenous people.

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Pension Bonifaz Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Outside Zunil
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    • — Vegetable market
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  • Day 17 — Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan via San Andres

    Departing Xela in the morning, you will make a brief visit to San Andres de Xecul before continuing to Lake Atitlan.

    Throughout the ages, visitors to Lake Atitlan have been mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the lake, its surrounding countryside and the numerous indigenous Mayan villages dotted around its shores. Boat trips on the lake are the principal activity here but there are also opportunities for watersports and hiking.

    On arrival at your accommodation, the remainder of the day is free for you to relax and enjoy the views.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Atitlan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — San Andres Xecul
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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  • Day 18 — Lake Atitlan

    After breakfast, you will be collected from your hotel for a private boat trip on Lake Atitlan enjoying the beautiful views, exploring local Mayan villages and simply experiencing a slice of traditional life in Guatemala.

    Largest of these lakeside towns is Santiago de Atitlan where, for many, a visit to Maximon is high on the agenda of slightly unusual things to do.

    Returning to your hotel, the rest of the afternoon is free for you to relax at your hotel or perhaps take in a spot of shopping in Panajachel.

    Depending on the day of the week, it might also be possible to visit the lively, twice weekly market that takes place in the nearby, lakeside town of Solola.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Atitlan Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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    • — Lake Atitlan
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  • Day 19 — Lake Atitlan to Antigua via Iximche

    Departing Lake Atitlan, you will proceed to Antigua, stopping off en-route at the ruined Mayan city of Iximche.

    Having experienced Mayan cities in the hot and steamy Peten region of northern Guatemala, the site at Iximche is something of a contrast, located on top of a steep plateau with far reaching views all around.

    From 1470 to 1524, when it was sacked by the Spanish, Iximche was the capital of the Kaqchikel Mayans and, although the site is no longer lived in, their descendants still view the city as being a sacred site and it is not uncommon for visitors to stumble across traditional ceremonies.

    The entire city can be explored in little over an hour after which it is a drive of similar duration to the historic colonial town of Antigua.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Iximche
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    • — Iximche
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    • — Iximche
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  • Day 20 — Antigua

    Your final destination in Guatemala is also one of its most beautiful, the mesmerising city of Antigua, located in a natural bowl and presided over by the looming presence of the Agua volcano.

    Before a series of earthquakes in the 18th century led to the capital being moved to nearby Guatemala City, Antigua was Guatemala’s seat of power and this is evident in the countless beautiful streets, plazas and buildings that date back to the colonial era.

    One of the most beautiful towns in Latin America, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua is known as the city of ruins and, accordingly, your day begins with a with a relaxed, morning walking tour of Antigua, taking in the main, historic sites including the large central square.

    The rest of the afternoon is at leisure for you to explore further on your own, take in one of the local markets, engage in the best shopping in Guatemala or relax at your hotel.

    In the evening, Antigua has a great selection of bars & restaurants to choose from, all within an easy walk of your hotel. One local dish you should definitely try while in Guatemala is Chicken Pepian. 

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast
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    • — Antigua, La Recoleccion
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    • — Antigua
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  • Day 21 — Antigua (Morning visit to coffee estate)

    Your penultimate day in Antigua begins with a morning visit to the nearby Azotea Coffee estate that has been in operation since the end of the 19th century.

    You will be collected from your hotel after breakfast and dropped at Azotea for one of their set tours. These begin in the Coffee Museum that covers the history of coffee before you head outside with the guide to see how coffee is grown, harvested and finally processed into the brew we all love.

    Naturally, there will be an opportunity to sample a cup of coffee and, should you wish, to buy the estate’s very own coffee for yourself or as a gift.

    The Azotea estate is also home to K’ojom House, a non-profit museum and research centre that is dedicated to the preservation of traditional, Mayan music.

    Returning to Antigua, the remainder of the day is at leisure.

    Alternatively, if you would like your final day in Guatemala to be a bit more active, we can arrange a trek up nearby Mt Pacaya to witness a volcano at close quarters.

     

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — La Azotea
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    • — Antigua, San Jose El Viejo
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    • — Antigua
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  • Day 22 — Antigua & Home

    Depending on flight schedules, you will be collected from your hotel in Antigua and transferred back to Guatemala City airport for your overnight flight back home.

    Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Antigua, shop
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    • — Heading home
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Please Note

This itinerary is no more than a sample idea which can be tailor made to your exact requirements.

The 'From price' is for travel in September and is based on two adults sharing the same room throughout. Supplements apply for sole occupancy / transport.

The quoted price does not include international flights.

Suggested Accommodation

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