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.

    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 and 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 small Mayan ruins of Quirigua, one of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guatemala.

    Set amidst a huge banana plantation, Quirigua takes around an hour or so to explore and is best known for its impressive and intricately carved stelae. The site was first inhabited around the 2nd century AD and, by the 8th century, during the reign of its most successful leader, Cauac Sky, had grown into an important state.

    The ruins that one sees today date mainly from this time and, in addition to the stelae, include sculpted calendars that provide historians with a valuable source of information about 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 ship-wrecked 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’s 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 definitely the most memorable trip you will take in Guatemala and, for some, the highlight of their holiday.

    The first part of the journey is through a beautiful, steep sided gorge which is covered in dense, lush vegetation. After 30 minutes or so the sides of the river flatten out and you will begin to see the first evidence of human habitation.

    A short diversion up a side tributary eventually leads to a Mayan settlement where there is the opportunity to get out, stretch your legs with a scenic walk through the jungle and check out the handicrafts the villagers make.

    Returning to the main river, you then enter Lake Golfete, home to a series of natural hot-springs alongside the bank. Make sure you bring your swimming stuff as the water is clean and paddling about in the cool lake with sudden blasts of hot water is a fun experience; a small restaurant is on hand if you feel thirsty or peckish.

    As the boat continues inland, usually via the aptly named Bird Island, look out for possible sightings of crocodiles; and keep your hands in the boat!

    As the journey comes to an end, your final option is a visit to an old Spanish castle, Castillo de San Felipe, which guards the access to Guatemala’s largest lake, Lago de Izabal.

    From here, you will be picked up and continue your journey by road to Flores.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Isla De Flores Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Rio Dulce
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    • — 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 stop-over 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.

    Yaxha (pronounced Yasha) was the third largest Mayan city in the Peten region and, with its origins dating as far back as 1000 BC, was at its height during the Early Classic Period, circa 250 – 600 AD. At its peak it would have covered some 92 square miles and had a population of over 40,000.

    The name Yaxha comes from the Mayan for ‘Green-Water’, explainable by the fact that the city was built on a ridge overlooking a large lake. Very few Mayan sites are located near a lake and this is one of Yaxha’s most appealing attributes.

    For many visitors, the relative lack of restoration (compared to Tikal for example) is half the appeal of a visit to Yaxha. Numerous buildings have been cleared and restored but most of the city remains buried under dense jungle. This same jungle, untouched by large scale tour groups, also means that wildlife is more prevalent at Yaxha, including large groups of howler monkeys. Sat on the top of a pyramid, looking out over a sea of green and listening to their cacophonous howls, is one of the great experiences of a holiday to Guatemala.

    You will then return to Flores where the remainder 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.

    The name Ceibal derives from the Ceiba, a tree endemic to the region and the national symbol of Guatemala. Ceibas were also considered sacred by the ancient Maya who believed that these enormous trees somehow connected the earth and sky.

    Historically, Ceibal was just one of a number of important Mayan cities in this part of Peten, including nearby Dos Pillas and Aguateca.

    Although Ceibal was the largest city in the region, the current site is almost entirely covered in dense jungle with only 1 pyramid having been restored. Although incomparable in scale and restoration to either Tikal or Yaxha, Ceibal is noteworthy for its numerous stelae which relate much of the city’s history. It also attracts very few tourists so there is a good chance you will have the site to yourself.

    Returning back 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.

    Abandoned shortly after being attacked and ransacked around 820 AD, such was the speed and totality of its abandonment that a large temple under construction was left half built while personal possessions, such as porcelain vases, were left behind in many of the private residences.

    Defeating Aguateca would have been no mean feat as it had some of the best natural defences of any Mayan city. The main part of Aguateca, home to the key religious and government buildings, as well as the homes of the city’s elite, was built on top of a limestone plateau with steep cliffs offering a natural defensive position.

    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 Candelaria Park.

    Located at the foot of the Chama mountain range, the Candelaria Caves are considered amongst the largest and most impressive anywhere in Latin America. The total length of the cave system is estimated at some 80kms of which 12kms follows the underground passage of the Candelaria River.

    The main cave, known as Tzul Tacca, is some 60 metres high, 30 metres wide and 200 metres long and features vast stalagmites that are lit up by cathedral-like, natural ‘windows’.

    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 which 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 just spend 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 begins its climb into the Guatemalan Highlands, it’s an approximate 3-hour drive to Coban.

    Once the powerbase of the Rabinal Mayans, in the 19th century the hilly countryside around the small town of Coban was settled by German immigrants who built up vast estates 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.

    Due to its isolation, the Ixil Triangle is not an area one stumbles upon or visits on a casual day trip. For us however, this is more than made up for by its beautiful scenery and fascinating, traditional culture of the Ixil Mayans.

    The Ixil Triangle itself is made up of the small towns of Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul, as well as a number of small villages including our favourite, Acul, located in a truly picture-postcard valley setting.

    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, is Guatemala’s second largest city after the capital, Guatemala City, but is a far more attractive, pleasant and relaxed place to spend a day or two. Unlike ‘pretty’ Antigua, and in keeping with the often-chilly weather, the architecture of the city centre feels harder and more serious, perhaps a reflection of the influx of German settlers who moved here.

    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 to be 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 backstrap 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 Quetzaltenango 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.

    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.

    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 Iximche.

    Iximche was the capital of Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 till 1524 when it was destroyed by the Spanish. Located on top of a high plateau with steep-sided ridges, the ruins of Iximche are still held to be sacred by local Mayan villagers and it is not uncommon to witness traditional ceremonies taking place. The entire site can normally be explored in little over an hour.

    Leaving Iximche, it is an hour or so’s drive to Antigua where you will be dropped off at your hotel.

    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

    Originally Guatemala’s capital, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Antigua is one of the most beautiful towns in all of the America’s, a must on any holiday to Guatemala and a fitting end to your tour around the country.

    Having been almost destroyed by a series of devastating earthquakes, Antigua is home to a large number of hugely atmospheric ruins, the vast majority of which can be visited on foot.

    Appropriately therefore, your day begins 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 on your own or relax at your hotel.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Casa Encantada Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Antigua, Cerro de la Cruz
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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 which has been in operation since the end of the 19th century.

    Tours begin at the Coffee Museum which details the history of coffee before heading outside and walking amongst the coffee trees where guides will explain how coffee is cultivated, harvested and processed. Of course, no tour is complete without a visit to the toaster where you can see, smell and taste the coffee for yourself.

    In addition to the Coffee Tour, the Azotea estate is also home to K’ojom House, a private, non-profit museum and research centre dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of traditional, Mayan music.

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

    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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When to visit Guatemala

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  • June

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  • July

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  • September

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  • November

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