- Wonder at steep, granite steps that reach into the sky while exploring the temples and monuments of Tikal, the seat of Maya power that collapsed mysteriously in 950 AD
- Learn a little Spanish during an informal lesson in old-world Antigua, then put it to good use during the rest of your Central American adventure
- Sip a rum and coke and munch on barbecued seafood with a backdrop of aquamarine waters on Caye Caulker
- Explore Livingston, a unique riverside town where the local culture is heavily influenced by the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna population
- Walk along cobblestone streets and shop for local handicrafts in the tiny island town of Flores
Travel from the cobblestone streets of Antigua, through blissed-out Belize and along the Yucatan Peninsula to the beachside delights of Playa del Carmen on this adventure from the jungles of Guatemala to the beaches of Mexico. Crane your neck to gaze up stone temples with steps that lead into a jungle canopy in Tikal, discover relaxed island life in Caye Caulker and sink your feet into white sands and clear waters in Tulum. From volcano studded Antigua to the chilled out charm of Mexico's coast – this tour delivers a slice of action, a dose of history and culture, and some well-deserved relaxation.
Day 1: Antigua
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Antigua. Surrounded by three volcanoes, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the city became the tourism hub of Guatemala. Today, the city is filled with coffee shops and international restaurants, and is always buzzing with live music and salsa classes. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and travel group. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. If you arrive with time to spare, why not get a taste of local tradition with a chocolate-making workshop in the ChocoMuseo, or perhaps tour some of the coffee or macadamia nut plantations tucked into the hills that surround the city.
Day 2: Antigua
As the seat of the Spanish colonial government, Antigua was once the most important city in Central America. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, but many of the colonial-era buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be admired. Take an informal Spanish lesson and enjoy a guided wander around the city with your leader in the morning. Walk through the quiet cobblestone streets past heavy, carved-wood entrances, then take the afternoon to explore at your own pace. There are many fascinating markets and museums to explore, or if your tastes run to more active adventures, hire a mountain bike and ride through the countryside – the views of mountain peaks and deep valleys, covered in lush vegetation, are simply beautiful. Otherwise, just grab a coffee from one of the many cafes in central park, sit back and enjoy the beauty of this incredible city. Foodies won't want to miss trying tamales, a local dish usually prepared on the weekend and served in a corn leaf. Pepian – a meal consisting of a rich dark sauce and three meats (chicken, beef and pork) – is also worth a try. Local tip: you'll find the best value food next to the artisan market close to the bus station.
Day 3: Rio Dulce
It’s a long day of travel as you make your way to Rio Dulce by private minibus. Depart early for the eight-hour journey, arriving in the middle of the afternoon. Rio Dulce, which means 'Sweet River' in Spanish, refers to both the Guatemalan river that flows from Lago de Izabal (Lake Izabal) to the Caribbean Sea and the town of Fronteras, which sits at the east end of the lake. Upon arrival, the rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Maybe stretch your legs on a jungle walk, rent a kayak for a bit of exploration or simply curl up in a hammock and enjoy the tropical surrounds.
Day 4: Rio Dulce
Use a free day in Rio Dulce to take advantage of the optional activities on offer. Perhaps take a boat ride down the river to Livingston, a laid-back, Afro-Caribbean town that offers a unique taste of Garifuna culture on the shoulder of Guatemala. Located 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Fronteras, the boat ride is quite scenic, taking you past waters clogged with water lillies, tropical forests and a spectacular canyon before arriving in Livingston one and a half hours later. The Garifuna population here are descendants of a community forcibly removed from the Caribbean by the British in the late 18th century. Livingston was one of the towns the displaced Garifuna settled in, and it's relative isolation means the culture has remained undiluted by Guatemalan norms. Spend a little time here and perhaps grab a Garifuna meal like tapou, a creamy soup made with fish.
Day 5: Flores
Travel about four hours to Flores – your base for exploring the Maya ruins of Tikal tomorrow. Upon arrival, enjoy a free afternoon to explore Flores. This tranquil island had a long history before it was colonised by the Spanish in 1697, most significantly as the capital of the Itza people after the fall of Chichen Itza. Perhaps use your free afternoon to wander the town's cobblestone streets, taking in its pastel-coloured buildings and shopping for local handicrafts. It's a tiny island, and walking the whole thing will take less than an hour. At around 4 pm, the lakefront starts to hum with street food vendors, making it a good place to grab a bite and watch the world go by.
Day 6: Tikal Ruins / San Ignacio
Embrace an early start for a guided exploration of Tikal National Park. Among the thick, evergreen jungle are some of the most significant remnants of the ancient Maya civilisation. Wonder at the towering granite temples and other monuments set among the thick, green jungle while pondering the mystery of the ancient city's demise. Spend a few hours playing archaeologist and then say goodbye to Guatemala and head across the border to Belize. As the only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize is a great place to get chatting with locals. You'll reach San Ignacio after a three-hour drive, and since you're leaving tomorrow it's a good idea to plan which optional activities (if any) you want to join before you get there. Nature lovers may be interested in a trip to the Green Iguana Conservation Project, where the scaly beasts are protected. Or perhaps stretch your legs with a short walk to the ruins of Cahal Pech, which was once the residence of a well-heeled Maya family. Tomorrow, you have the option of travelling to Belize City via Actun Tunichil Muknal. In order to take advantage of this optional activity, you will need a group of at least four people, so start asking around now if you’re interested.
Day 7: Caye Caulker
This morning, you can choose whether you would like to pay a visit to the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal (the ATM cave), relax in San Ignacio or take part in some of the other optional activities on offer. A living museum of Maya relics, the ATM cave system is home to ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons, preserved by the natural processes of the cave for over 1400 years. If you choose to explore the cave system (and it is highly recommended), you’ll spend most of the day there before re-joining your fellow travellers at the water taxi in Belize City. If you do not wish to explore the caves, you’ll leave San Ignacio behind in the late morning and head north to Belize City on a local bus (about 3 hours). There are very few official stops in Belize and the driver will pick up passengers along the way as they hail the bus, so be prepared for a journey that moves in fits and starts. Use this time to make conversation with the person next to you; Belizeans love to talk about their country! Arrive in Belize City and take a one-hour water taxi ride to Caye Caulker. From here, it is possible to arrange day trips to other nearby cayes (islands). Each island has its own unique character, but all of them have an unmistakable Caribbean pace and charm.
Day 8: Caye Caulker
Good morning! Take a deep breath and let it out, you've got two whole days of sandy shores, crystal waters and no schedule to speak of. The beach is calling, of course, but mybe start your day with a Belizean breakfast classic – the fry jack. These deep fried dough pieces are served up with whatever you like, and they go well with everything from fruit to eggs. Then, maybe explore the calm waters on a stand up paddleboard, or rent a bike for a fairly inexpensive way to explore on land. Just remember to follow the super-relaxed law of the island and 'go slow', no matter what you choose to do.
Day 9: Caye Caulker
Enjoy another free day on beautiful Caye Caulker. Perhaps hire a local boat and head to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley for a chance to snorkel among colourful corals, tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You could also choose to go manatee-spotting – these huge, peaceful creatures are often quite curious to meet their visitors. If you're interested in sampling local cuisine, Caye Caulker is famous for its lobster. Not the cheapest meal you can find on the island, but still way less than you'd pay back home! If lobster isn’t available (regulations stipulate lobster can only be caught between June 15 and February 15), some of the best meals on the island are cooked on the road side. How about some grilled shrimp and a lovely rum and coke made with the local fire water?
Day 10: Tulum
Rise, shine and shake off the sleep with a 6.30 am water taxi to Belize City. Today you're leaving one paradise behind for another. Hop on a public bus and head for the Mexico border, a journey that will take about four hours. Deal with formalities at the border and then continue to Chetumal, where you will swap buses and hit the road again for Tulum (3 hours). A long day of travel will see you arriving in the afternoon with some daylight to spare. Why not use what's left of the day to soak up the sun on one of the city's many beaches? While Paradise Beach is the most well known of the sandy stretches, it can get a little crowded. Las Palmas Public Beach is (in our opinion) just as beautiful, but with far fewer people.
Day 11: Tulum
Enjoy a day on the Caribbean coast. The ruins that Tulum is famous for sit on a cliff-top plateau that overlooks the glittering water below. Choose whether to explore the small site, or find a spot on one of the white-sand beaches and get horizontal with a cocktail. This cruisy resort town is stuffed with cafes and restaurants serving up seafood-heavy Mexican fare, often in the great outdoors so you can catch a sea breeze while you eat.
Day 12: Playa del Carmen
The last leg of your journey is a short one. Hop on a local Mexican bus and travel about 1.5 hours to Playa del Carmen. With azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city similar to Cancun, but with a less intense party atmosphere. Take a brief orientation stroll with your leader to get your bearings, then take your pick of a bunch of optional activities. Maybe take a snorkel in the fresh waters of Dos Ojos Cenote, a flooded cave system. Or perhaps head further afield on a ferry ride to Cozumel, where the colourful reefs are perfect for scuba diving. If you'd prefer to stay where the margaritas are cold and close by, you might want to rent a bike to explore Playa on two wheels.
Day 13: Playa del Carmen
This tropical adventure ends today after breakfast. There are no activities planned for the final day. In order to make the most of all Playa has to offer, we strongly recommend that you extend your stay by a couple of extra days. Please contact us if you need assistance booking additional accommodation.
- Hotel (12 nights)
- Caye Caulker - Sunset sail
- Antigua - Salsa lesson (per hour)
- Caye Caulker - Stand up paddle board rental (per hour)
- Dos Ojos Cenote - Fresh water rock pool (Entrance fee with snorkelling gear included)
- San Ignacio - Cahal Pech Ruins (Entrance fee)
- Tulum - Bicycle rental (per 24 hours)
- Playa del Carmen - Bicycle rental (per day)
- Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip)
- Antigua - Coffee/Macadamia nut plantation tour
- Tulum - Archaeological Site (Entrance fee)
- Caye Caulker - Bicycle rental (per day)
- Caye Caulker - Manatee tour
- Caye Caulker - Sea kayaking (half day)
- San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project (Entrance fee)
- Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop
- Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (half day)
- Chichen Itza Ruins - Entrance Fee
- San Ignacio - (ATM Caves) Actun Tunichil Muknal (Entrance fee, Guide, Transport & Lunch) [Includes transport to Belize City afterwards]
- Caye Caulker
- Playa del Carmen
- Tikal Ruins / San Ignacio
- Rio Dulce
Intrepid Travel is the world's largest small group adventure travel company. Intrepid trips are of the grassroots type and include travel via public transport, local food, and locally-owned accommodation Intrepid Travel has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1989. A company that began with two bearded backpackers, a typewriter and a kitchen table now leads 100,000 travellers across the globe each year. And although we’re a bit larger these days – with 1,000 local staff based around the world and over 800 different trips across every continent (not to mention multiple kitchen tables) – our mission remains the same. We still get a kick out of responsible travel, small groups and very (very) big adventures.