Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya: Honduras, Guatemala & Mexico Tour
Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya: Tour Maya Ruins of Honduras, Guatemala & Mexico: Copan, Quirigua, Tikal, Yaxchilan, Bonampak, Palenque with two full days in San Cristobal de las Casas
February 4 – 16, 2018
Why Take This Tour?
- Tour Maya Ruins with a hieroglyph specialist who will translate Maya history
- Specially arranged tour and dinner at historic Na Bolom
- Spend the day in San Cristobal with Maya textile expert, Walter F. Morris Jr.
- See Quirigua, Tikal, Palenque – UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Two full days in the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas
- Maximum 14 participants
(click to enlarge)
Day 1: Depart the USA. Arrive San Pedro Sula. Transfer to Copan.
Day 2: Tour Copan.
Day 3: Cross into Guatemala. Visit Quirigua.
Day 4: Boat trip on Rio Dulce. Castillo de San Felipe. Transfer to Tikal and overnight.
Day 5: Tour Tikal.
Day 6: Tikal Museums. Transfer to Belen. Boat on the Usumacinta to Frontera Corozol.
Day 7: Boat transfer to Yaxchilan with all day on site.
Day 8: Bonampak. Drive to Palenque.
Day 9: All day Palenque.
Day 10: Tonina ruins. Transfer to San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 11: Tour San Cristobal de las Casas. Private tour of Na Bolom with textile expert Chip Morris.
Day 12: Tour San Cristobal de las Casas. Fly to Mexico City.
Day 13: Fly back to the USA.
Travel with only 13 others on an exceptional journey through Central America and Mexico’s Chiapas state to explore the Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya, including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Copán, Quiriguá, Tikal and Palenque. More than archaeology awaits as we encounter dense rainforest teeming with wildlife, ferns, orchids, and bromeliads. Our itinerary begins in Copán and Quiriguá, two breathtaking sites that have attracted explorers and scientists for more than 150 years. Continue to the enormous Maya center of Tikal where, swathed by a cacophony of jungle wildlife sounds, we will walk through the myriad of canopy-shadowed trails that lace the park.
Move deeper into the remote area of Guatemala to cross the mighty Usumacinta River into Mexico. Here, travel by river vessel to Yaxchilán, where, surrounded by uncut forest, explore buildings with exquisite carved limestone lintels telling stories of intrigue and power. Then it’s on to Bonampak with its fabulous painted murals. End up in Palenque, arguably the most beautiful of the ancient Mesoamerican cities. Many scholars believe that the height of Maya artistic achievement occurred at Palenque, and certainly the remains of magnificent painted frescoes and sculptured stucco friezes decorating its buildings show brilliant artistry. For a taste of the culture of modern Maya, the trip will end in San Cristóbal de las Casas located in the Chiapas highlands and one of Central America’s most beautiful colonial towns. Nearby villages are inhabited by indigenous groups that speak their own language, practice their own unique customs and can be identified by their traditional dress.
Stanley Guenter was first introduced to the Maya culture and ancient script at the age of ten. He has been studying the Mesoamerican cultures ever since. He obtained his undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary, his Master’s Degree at La Trobe University, in Melbourne Australia, and 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: The Regional Archaeological Investigations of Northern Petén, Guatemala (RAINPEG), and the Southern Methodist University El Peru/Waka’ project. Dr. Guenter is one of the outstanding rising stars of Mesoamerican writing systems and has taught and presented at many 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 readings on mesoweb.com). His knowledge of the written history of the ancient Maya brings sites to life!
‘Stanley Guenter is a marvelous study leader, and his ability to read Mayan writing added a whole new dimension to our understanding of the ruins. He ran us ragged, closing up the sites every day, although he will tell you that Charlotte’s and Pat’s adventurousness contributed to the long days. We left typically with “Vamanos!” ringing in our ears or–in one case–a site guard showing us to the exit. To add to our pleasure, the weather was marvelous, the sights beautiful, and Stan’s enthusiasm infectious. Stan is the best!’ – Peter Temin
“Stan is amazing! He was full of information and attentive, and was always so quick to share. He was very attentive and patient with questions. He had a great sense of humor too and a very pleasant, easy going personality. I hope you can entice him to lead future trips!” – David Westphal
“He’s a great tour leader – smart, articulate, and considerate. I would give him an A+++” – Elizabeth Wray
“Stan is fantastic! I am very impressed by the depth & breadth of his knowledge of the Maya.” – Ben Azman
“Stan really made the trip for us. He is flexible, accommodating, kind and considerate – AND (and this is a huge ‘and’) knowledgeable, excited, passionate, and caring about the Maya, their structures, their art, their history… His excitement and enthusiasm are contagious. Keep him!” – Pat Meany
“Stanley is an excellent leader. He managed by his presence and manner to make the group a cohesive unit while allowing for individual differences in ability and pace. We also respect his knowledge and willingness to share his opinions and back them up with facts and logical arguments.“ –Anne and Joe Frankel
“I enjoy Stanley’s information very much and especially his enthusiasm about all things archaeology. He is always ready to go deeper into the glyphs and the history.” – Ann Higgins
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Fly to San Pedro Sula, Honduras and drive to Copán. Spend the next two nights in a charming, colonial-style hotel with swimming pool encircled by lush tropical plants, located on the central plaza of Copán village. Gather for our festive welcome dinner at a lovely hacienda nestled in the hills overlooking the ruins. (D)
Day 2: Upon viewing the stunning art and architecture of Copán, archaeologist Sylvanus Morley proclaimed it the Athens of the New World. This UNESCO World Heritage Site represents one of the most spectacular cultural achievements of antiquity. Recent work has helped restore the magnificent hieroglyphic stairway to its former grandeur, and art historians are reconstructing the elaborate facades on the buildings. Throughout the site, finely chiseled inscriptions tell us of the powerful kings in the Copán lineage, from the founder, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’, to Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil (Ruler 13 known as 18 Rabbit). The day will be spent exploring this exquisite city. (B/L/D)
Day 3: Begin in the Copán Village Museum located in the town square, and then depart Honduras and cross the border to Guatemala and Quiriguá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quiriguá’s stelae are the tallest and most intricately carved in the Maya world. The Great Plaza contains zoomorphic sculptures and elaborately carved stone monuments honoring K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat (commonly known as Two-Legged Sky), who freed his city from Copán when he captured and beheaded 18 Rabbit in 738 AD. Drive to the Rio Dulce, flowing from Lake Izabal, in the eastern part of Guatemala, to the Caribbean Sea. With graceful birds soaring overhead and edged with tall cliffs teeming with verdant flora, the waterway is extraordinarily beautiful. Overnight at the Villa Caribe in Livingston and enjoy a glimpse of the unique Garifuna culture. These descendants of West and Central African, Kalinago and Arawak people have their own language and customs and reflect Guatemala’s multi-cultural heritage. (B/L/D
Day 4: This morning explore the town of Livingston and continue on to El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. This structure was built by the Spanish in 1644 as protection against pirates, mostly English. Strategically located at the narrowest point on the river, this small fortress was used for several centuries in order to prevent buccaneers from robbing ships and pillaging villages along the lake’s shores. We will take a short boat ride to view the fort and to experience the beauty of the lagoon. In the afternoon, transfer to Flores with time to shop and explore the brightly painted buildings of this charming island town. Continue to Tikal and overnight for two nights at the simple Jungle Lodge, located within the national park. (B/L/D)
Day 5: Tikal has been a national park since 1955 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The 222 square miles of protected forest is home to wild pigs, or peccaries, raccoon-like coatimundis, jaguar and other cats, along with brilliantly colored turkeys and other tropical birds. Here, in the shadow of the magnificent pyramids, discover the royal families of Tikal through their stories on the carved stone monuments. Learn about the wars of conquest that rocked the region for centuries and begin to understand how the ties of blood created an allegiance between this impressive city and the other sites we will visit, and how these ties were often frayed by battles between the powers that ruled these royal centers. (B/L/D)
Day 6: Spend the morning in Tikal’s two museums where the finest stone monuments are preserved along with other artifacts from the many years of excavation. After lunch, drive to the village of Bethel, located on the banks of the Usumacinta River, the largest river in Central America and the border between Guatemala and Mexico’s Chiapas state. Here, we board local lanchas for an “African Queen” boat ride that takes us through lovely tropical waterways to the village of Frontera Corozol. Overnight for two nights in a remote, simple jungle lodge. (B/L/D)
Day 7: Located deep within the rain forest on an oxbow of the Usumacinta River, Yaxchilán was until very recently almost inaccessible. Here, in the 6th century, the rulers Itzamnaaj Bahlam (known as Shield Jaguar) and his son Yaxuun Bahlam (Bird Jaguar) built towering memorials to themselves. There are more than 125 carved monuments at Yaxchilán, including altars, thrones, steps, walls, and stelae. However, the door lintels are the site’s claim to fame. Sheltered from the elements, these great stone slabs spanned the tops of 56 doorways, and on many of them, the incised hieroglyphs are still fresh after more than 1,200 years. Here, we will learn the history of the elite and their blood sacrifice to the gods. The howler monkeys hanging from the trees, scarlet macaws soaring overhead, and the rushing river make the overall experience at Yaxchilán very special, even for the seasoned traveler. In the afternoon, return upstream to our jungle lodge. (B/L/D)
Day 8: To reach the small ceremonial center of Bonampak, travel through the Lacandon Rainforest, some of the last of the uncut jungle in this area. Within a palace are three rooms with walls covered with stunning murals telling of the accession of a new king of Bonampak in 790 AD, whose un-translated name is “Man-eating Jaguar.” The city collapsed about this time and these vivid multi-colored paintings were never completely finished. Bonampak is well known for its frescoes, but the immense standing monuments are equally lovely and the texts written on them tell of the center’s close relationship with nearby Yaxchilán. Transfer to Palenque and overnight for two nights at the Chan Kah Resort, where private bungalows are situated amidst a pristine jungle environment and clustered around an immense, free-form swimming pool. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)
Day 9: Set like a jewel in the lush jungle-clad emerald foothills of the mountains of Chiapas, Palenque is certainly one of the most beautiful of the Maya sites. The tomb of the great ruler, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, was hidden deep inside the Temple of Inscriptions until 1952 when, after four years of excavations, Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz discovered it and raised the 4.5 ton sarcophagus lid with truck jacks to uncover the king wearing his mosaic jade death mask. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palenque is unusual in having almost no carved monuments, but stucco sculptures depicting the city’s royalty decorate many of the buildings while lengthy hieroglyphic texts can be found on tablets inside the palaces and temples. The three temples in the Group of the Cross are the most magnificent buildings in the city. Built high on the side of a hill, these beautifully decorated sanctuaries dominate the surrounding countryside. In their interiors, massive, finely carved hieroglyphic panels tell the history of the kings and the glorification of their gods. In the afternoon, tour the Palenque Museum containing an outstanding collection of artifacts. These include breathtakingly beautiful incensarios, or ceramic incense burners, some as tall as three feet high and richly adorned with masks of Maya gods. Dinner will be at one of Palenque’s finest restaurants. (B/L/D)
Day 10: An early departure leads to Toniná, overlooking a stunning valley and one of the last great Classic Maya sites. Toniná is distinguished by its well preserved stucco sculptures and particularly by its in-the-round carved monuments, produced to an extent not seen in Mesoamerica since the end of the Olmec civilization. Toniná centers on the immense Gran Plaza and a series of seven stone platforms on the hillside above that comprise one of the tallest pyramidal structures in the Maya world. Continue to the colorful and historic city of San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the most picturesque towns in all of Mexico. It sits high in the mountains 7,000 feet above sea level, and is the marketing center for the Maya villagers living in nearby mountain communities. Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1528, after they had conquered the Maya strongholds of the highlands, and listed as one of the Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, the city has tranquil cobblestone streets flanked by houses with red tile roofs and yards full of flowers. Here, discover Colonial architecture and vibrant indigenous culture as well as a thriving art scene. Overnight for two nights in the Posada Diego de Mazariegos, housed within an 18th century hacienda. (B/L/D)
Day 11: Today, Walter F. Morris Jr., the world’s foremost expert on the Chiapas Maya, will join us. The fascinating Tzotzil Maya village of San Juan Chamula is famous for its unique religious practices that blend Catholic and Maya beliefs. Today’s cultural exploration includes a visit to the church, where Catholic prayers and traditional healing rituals can be observed simultaneously, the cemetery with its Maya crosses scattered on the hillside and a walk through the daily food and handicraft market in the village. Considered the region’s finest weavers, the women of Chamula are distinctive in their colorful ‘huipiles’ (blouses) and heavy woolen skirts pin-striped in red and grey. White calf-length pants and shirts covered by black and white woolen tunics make the men as impressive. Continue to San Lorenzo Zinacantan. Zinacantan’s role as a regional center for the flower trade is reflected in the brilliant red, blue and purple flowers embroidered on the huipiles of the local inhabitants. After lunch, the afternoon will be spent visiting the sites of San Cristobal de las Casas. The city was the capital of Chiapas until 1892 and is still considered the cultural capital of the state. Best explored on foot, the historic center is laid out in a grid pattern with narrow cobblestone streets and colonial-style buildings made of concrete and stone with red clay tile roofs and wrought iron balconies. The Colonial heritage of this city is evident in its ancient churches, built by Spanish settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and maintained by their descendants for more than 400 years. Visit Santo Domingo church which is the gathering place for the city’s daily market offering produce, household items, textiles, and more. Inside the front door of the carved-stone plateresque façade (a heavily decorated architectural style fashionable in 16th century Spain), there’s a beautiful gilded wooden altarpiece built in 1560, walls with saints, and gilt-framed paintings. Attached to the church is the former Convent of Santo Domingo, housing a small museum about San Cristobal de las Casas and Chiapas. Dinner will be held in Na Bolom, built as part of a seminary in 1891, and the former home of anthropologist Frans Blom and his photographer wife, Trudy. (B/L/D)
Day 12: This morning gives us time to continue our explorations of San Cristobal de las Casas, including the Museo de las Culturas Populares, the textile museum. After lunch in a local restaurant, there will be time to explore on your own or view the many shops and Santo Domingo Market. In the late afternoon, transfer to Tuxtla Gutierrez and fly to Mexico City. Overnight at a Mexico City airport hotel. Dinner is on our own this evening. (B/L)
Day 13: Transfer to the airport and fly back to the USA. (B)
CALL (per person, double occupancy) includes round trip airfare to San Pedro, Honduras and returning from Mexico City, Mexico; internal flight in Mexico from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Mexico City; all hotels; meals as noted; ground transportation; guides; entry fees and gratuities.
Single Supplement: CALL. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost Does Not Include: A separate donation check of $150.00 per person to a designated donation project; meals other than those listed in the itinerary; food, alcoholic and other beverages not on set menus; passport and visa fees; airport fees and taxes; excess baggage charges; email, telephone, and fax charges; laundry or other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: 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.
A deposit of $500.00 and the separate donation check for $150.00 (made out to the designated project) are required along with your registration and credit card authorizations forms. Final payment is due 90 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent a reading list and a tour 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.
Cancellation and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 90 days before departure will result in an administrative fee of $300.00 per person. Cancellations received less than 90 days before departure will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the tour, we will not reimburse any fees. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage.
Note About Itinerary Changes
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations and transportation schedules may occur. A flexible attitude and a sense of humor are essential.
If you do not fly on the group flights, 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.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be onsite when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Travel in this Part of the World
We will often travel through unpredictable territory with a will of its own. If its itinerary changes… so does ours! Hotels and transportation in remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available. We spend two days traveling by 4×4 into remote areas and some hiking will be required. At times we will be walking over uneven terrain for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. All participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our very full touring days. Keeping up with the group is each participant’s responsibility; please do not expect assistance from the other group members or staff. Several days will include long drives in the bus. A flexible attitude, team spirit and a good sense of humor is helpful! If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.