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Lost Cities of the Ancient Maya:
A Journey through Guatemala’s Remote Petex-Batun

with epigrapher Stanley Guenter
January 31 - February 9, 2015

The Petex-Batun region is the most inaccessible and rarely-visited area of Guatemala. Today it remains lightly populated, and yet more than 1,500 years ago Maya rulers jockeyed for supremacy as they created immense cities here. Today, the glorious remains and the texts written on carved stone monuments affirm the power of these kings. Journey with Far Horizons on a 10-day expedition through out-of-the-way areas of Guatemala and discover some of the most influential cities of the ancient Maya. 

We begin our adventure in Guatemala City’s National Archaeology Museum to study the monuments from the Petex Batun region. Then it’s on to Cancuen and Dos Pilas, the most remote cities in this region. The road to Ceibal and Aguateca is the Río Pasión, or Passion River, and we will travel by river boat along the waterways to these splendid sites that have stood silently in the jungle for over 1,000 years. We will travel by truck to Holmul, where recent discoveries provide tantalizing connections to the Snake Kingdom, the powerful dynasty that challenged Tikal for control of the Maya world. At Uaxactun, we will view pre-classic buildings that were aligned in an astronomical configuration to function as an observatory.  Our final stop will be the enormous Maya center of Tikal, the largest and most spectacular of the Maya capitals. Here, amble through the myriad of trails that lace the park to observe the roof combs of magnificent temples towering high above the jungle canopy. 

'Without a doubt, this was the best group trip I’ve ever taken. That was a function of the convergence of an excellently planned trip, two great guides, and a group of people that was quite congenial and who shared common interests and values.' - Thalia Darwick

 

Itinerary

Click here to request a Lost Cities of the Ancient Maya brochure

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Day 1: Fly from Houston to Guatemala City. Overnight at theHotel Westin Camino Real.

Day 2: Begin this morning in the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The museum contains some of the most important monuments that relate to the Petéx-Batún sites, and we will spend the morning viewing them as a background for the sites we are going to visit. In the afternoon, drive to San Jerónimo to view the ruins of the Hacienda de San Jerónimo that, under the administration of the Dominican Order in the 16th century, reached its ultimate splendor. The mill was a great center of sugar cane processing from which evolved the production of rum that continues to be famous to this day. Today the mill has been converted to a museum. Time permitting, we will stop to see the impressive display of Maya artifacts at the Principe Maya Museum. The museum’s highlight is a hieroglyphics panel from 656AD, depicting the royal history of Cancuén. Overnight at La Posada Coban. (B/L/D)

Day 3: An all day trip takes us to the Classic Maya center of Cancuén, first discovered at the turn of the century.  The remoteness of the region and civil strife left it abandoned for several decades until Dr. Arthur Demarest and his Vanderbilt University team arrived. Their investigations were the first large-scale excavations at Cancuén or in the vast, archaeologically unknown zone of the southwestern Petén. Their work has revealed a sprawling city surrounding the monumental royal palace and a strong economic focus based on its control of Pasión River trade. We then motor up a primeval lagoon to Punta de Chimino, where the ancient Maya built a settlement on the tip of a peninsula jutting into the mighty Petéx-Batún Lagoon.  Our home for the next three nights is a series of lovely bungalows built within the site center.  (Single supplements cannot be honored here.) (B/L/D)

Day 4: Our route to Dos Pilas, capital of the Petéx-Batún confederacy, takes us by truck (and perhaps foot) through six miles of jungle. Recent excavations show that at the end of the classic period hastily-built fortification walls were erected around the city's center, and some actually climb up and over the temples in order to protect the most sacred areas.  Hundreds of spear points found within the walls suggest intense warfare, and the inscriptions on recently discovered hieroglyphic stairways tell the story of an audacious 21-year-old prince of Tikal, B’ajlaj Chan K’awil, who in 648AD defeated Tikal’s army and established Dos Pilas as his ‘royal court in exile.’ Through military conquest and marriage alliances, he and his descendants gained control of much of the southwest Peten until his grandson was ousted from Dos Pilas in 761 by angry former vassals.  Archaeological work has proved that "blood was the mortar of ancient Maya life" (to quote Dr. Linda Schele), and the city-states were constantly at war to acquire royal victims needed for blood sacrifice to the gods. Today we picnic among the boldly carved monuments scattered throughout these memorable ruins. (B/L/D)

Day 5: An "African Queen" boat ride takes us through lovely tropical waterways to Aguateca.  Eons ago a huge fissure split the area, and the ancient Maya built a bridge across this immense crack in the earth that still stands today. While Aguateca had been a military refuge for centuries, in the early 8th century it became a twin capital with Dos Pilas.  After the fall of Dos Pilas in 761AD it became the main royal capital for the last king of this dynasty, Tan Te’ K’inich, ruling until the city was overrun by enemies in a fiery cataclysm. Aguateca was the last center in the Petéx-Batún to fall.  We return to the hotel for lunch and in the afternoon walk through Punta de Chimino. More than 2,000 years ago, this fortified town was well protected from invasion by three moats and we will see these immense trenches and the islands created from the soil that was removed to create them.  (B/L/D)

Day 6: Today we visit the ceremonial center of Ceibal.  Along the forest paths and within the site center beautifully carved monuments tell of the installation of a new ruler and an important gathering of leaders from nearby cities to commemorate this event. Finely carved stelae, or carved stone monuments, stand at the edge of the rainforest clearings and scarlet macaws can often be seen soaring along the ridges above the canopy. After a picnic lunch seated among these exquisite buildings, and to the sound of howler monkeys, we will travel on to Lake Peten-Itzá and the Hotel Camino Real. (B/L/D)

Day 7: Holmul was discovered in 1909 but archaeologists avoided the site in the decades that followed, probably because no texts had been found. Looking for clues to the early development of Maya civilization Tulane University’s Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli formed the Holmul Archaeological Project and returned to the site in 2000. Many exciting finds followed, including carved stelae, tombs, painted murals, stunning monumental masks, and most recently a unique stuccoed building dedicated to the re-establishment of the local dynasty through the offices of Naranjo and the Kan kings. This discovery confirms the hypothesis that Holmul was a small but strategically important kingdom on which both Tikal and Kan kings exerted their hegemony at different times. To reach the site, we will travel by truck and join Dr. Estrada-Belli for a private tour of the excavations. (B/L/D)  

Day 8: A few miles north of Tikal through lush selva lies Uaxactun.  Pre-classic buildings here are aligned in an astronomical configuration to function as an observatory.  The rising sun can be charted on the spring and autumn equinoxes and at the summer solstice.  Archaeologists have excavated a number of new buildings in the past few years, and we will see the result of their work. Upon return to Tikal, enter two truly remarkable museums. The new sculpture museum contains the finest of Tikal’s carved monuments, and the Tikal Museum displays stunning artifacts from the many years of excavation. (B/L/D)

Day 9: Tikal National Park has been a national wildlife refuge for more than 30 years, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The park’s verdant forest is teeming with birds and wildlife. Families of spider monkeys swing through the tangled treetops, dazzling ocellated turkeys walk the trails, and the tracks of jaguars and mountain lions show their territories. Breathtaking discoveries here have revealed the Maya kingship as one of the great institutions of antiquity.  In the shadow of towering temples, and accompanied by the distinctive call of the howler monkey, learn about the royal families of Tikal as told by their carved stone monuments and displayed in their imposing palaces, and about the wars of conquest that rocked Tikal for centuries. We will consider the ties of blood and allegiance between this impressive city and the other sites we have visited, and how those ties were often frayed by battles between the powers that ruled the jungle cities. In the afternoon drive back to Flores in time for our flight to Guatemala City.  Gather this evening for a gala dinner party in one of the city’s best restaurants. (B/L/D)

Day 10: Transfer to the Guatemala airport for our flight back to Houston. (B)

'It was a fantastic trip!' - Mitchell Penberg

 

Study Leader

Stanley Paul Guenter was born in the prairies of Canada and was first introduced to the Maya culture and ancient script at the age of ten. He has been studying the Maya ever since. He obtained his undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary, and completed his Master’s Degree at La Trobe University, in Melbourne Australia, with Dr. Peter Mathews. He is now ABD (All But Dissertation) for his PhD in Archaeology from Southern Methodist University. He has worked on archaeological projects in eastern Tabasco, Mexico and is currently an epigrapher and archaeologist with two archaeological projects in Guatemala’s Peten: The Regional Archaeological Investigations of Northern Peten, Guatemala (RAINPEG), and the Southern Methodist University El Peru/Waka’ project. Stanley is one of the outstanding rising stars of epigraphy (writing systems) and has presented at conferences in Canada, the United States, Australia, Germany and Denmark. He has done a full study of the inscriptions of Dos Pilas in relation to Tikal (you may see the article on the mesoweb.com site - http://www.mesoweb.com/features/guenter/DosPilas.html). His knowledge of the written history of the ancient Maya will make the trip a fascinating one.

'Even with an expandable field in which to write, there is not space enough to tell you how excellent  Stanley is as a guide.  He is a born teacher.  He is clear, interesting, thorough, repeats key information without sounding bored about it, answers questions about things he’s already talked about without saying “I told you that yesterday”, makes eye contact, keeps his audience in mind at all times (and it was an audience with varied backgrounds in things Mayan).  He is knowledgeable in his field and in other areas.  He has boundless energy.  And he is a nice person.  What more can I say?'  - Thalia Dorwick

'Where to start? Stan was amazing. As a working archaeologist and epigrapher, he brought invaluable experience to the job of leading the trip. His knowledge of the places and monuments we saw were so cutting edge that even the local guides talked about how much they learned. In short, he was fantastic!' - Jan Austin


Trip Dates

January 31 - February 9, 2015

 

Trip Cost

$7,395.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes international airfare from Houston; all hotels and most meals (as noted); ground transportation; entry fees.

Cost Does Not Include: the donation check; passport or visa fees; airport or departure taxes; beverages or food not included on regular menus; laundry; excess baggage charges; personal tips; gratuities to guides and drivers; alcoholic drinks; telephone and fax charges; or other items of a personal nature.

Single Supplement: $495.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged. The single supplement cannot be honored at one of the hotels on this itinerary.

Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.

Note on Donation: As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural projects and museums we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person and is made by check directly to the donation project. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable. We will be designating a donation project for this trip shortly.

 

Registration

A deposit of $500.00 is required along with your completed and signed registration form. Final payment is due 75 days prior to departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent initial trip documents including a reading list and a travel bulletin containing travel information. Prior to the trip, we will send links to various websites of pertinent interest to the trip. Click here to download our Registration Form.

 

Cancellations and Refunds

Cancellations received in writing at least 75 days before departure will receive a refund less a $250.00 administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 75 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation.

 

Air Ticketing

If you do not fly on the group flight, you are responsible for all flight arrangements and transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. If you issue your own international flight, please send the complete schedule as soon as you have it.

 

Please Note

This trip is for the hardy! The adventurous nature of the itinerary makes it essential that you be in good physical condition. Long walks may be required to reach some areas, including walks over steep gradients and over poorly maintained paths. To reach some of the site centers entail long walks, as much as three miles or more each day. Participants, unassisted, must be able to walk on rough trails and keep up with group members. To reach the top of some of ceremonial centers steep climbs up tall, uneven stairs are necessary. The roads in this part of the world are frequently dirt, and may involve long drives over uneven terrain. To reach Holmul, we will be riding in the back of trucks on dirt tracks. Meals will not be haute cuisine and several lunches will be picnics. Remember that bellhops are seldom found in the jungle! A flexible attitude, team spirit and a good sense of humor are essential! If you have questions about your ability to handle this sort of challenge, we suggest you carry the brochure to your physician and discuss your abilities. If you have further questions about the strenuousness of the trip, please call us.

THIS TRIP IS LIMITED TO 12 PARTICIPANTS