Guatemala & El Salvador: Lost Cities of the Ancient Maya Tour

Why Take This Guatemala & El Salvador Tour?

  • Led by a popular Maya specialist
  • Stay in Suchitoto, named “Cultural Capital of El Salvador” by the United Nations
  • Enjoy “African Queen” boat rides on jungle rivers to many of the sites
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Joya de Cerén, the Pompeii of the Americas
  • See new excavations at Ceibal
  • Limited to 14 participants
Guatemala & El Salvador

Guided Tour Led by:

Dr Stanley Guenter
University of Calgary
La Trobe University in Melbourne Australia
PhD in Archaeology
Guatemala & El Salvador

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    • TBA
    • 11 Days
    • TBA
    • Single Supplement: TBA

    Explore the History of Guatemala & El Salvador

    Tour Guatemala and El Salvador, two Central American countries that have much to offer the resolute Maya enthusiast. Fascinating Maya remains, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Joya de Cerén, are found here.

    Although way off the tourist trail, the architectural remains in these two Central American countries have much to offer the resolute Maya enthusiast.

    This newly designed 11-day tour begins in the Petéx-Batún region, the most inaccessible and rarely-visited area of Guatemala. Today it remains lightly populated, and yet more than 1500 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. Our explorations take us to Dos Pilas, the most remote city in this region. The road to Ceibal and Aguateca is the Río Pasión or Passion River, and we will travel by riverboat along the waterways to see these splendid remains that have stood silently in the jungle for over 1,000 years. We will also visit Ceibal, where recent radiocarbon tests have pushed the dates for the city back to 1,000 BC, the enormous Yaxhá, and the island of Topoxté.

    Located in the south of the Mesoamerican cultural area, El Salvador is home to significant archaeological finds including the remains of several Mayan settlements. One such site, Tazumal, features large, mostly intact structures that date to the first century. Cihuatán was an immense post-classic city that controlled trade with Honduras and the Caribbean.

    Like Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, Joya de Cerén was buried under layers of ash from an eruption of a volcano in about 600 AD. The remarkable preservation formed a time capsule of exceptional scientific value.

    Join us to take in these amazing sites!

    (For more explorations of Central and South American culture and history, explore our full range of Tours to the Americas.)

    If you have any questions, please get in touch.

    Tour Itinerary

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

    Day 1Fly to Guatemala

    Fly to Guatemala City and overnight at the Hotel Westin Camino Real.

    Day 2Travel Tropical Waterways to Aguateca

    An early morning flight takes us to Flores, Petén, where an “African Queen” boat ride takes us through lovely tropical waterways to the Maya city of 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 761 AD, 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 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 two nights is Chiminos Lodge, a series of lovely bungalows built within the site center. (Chiminos Lodge only has five large bungalows, and singles may not be available. (B/L/D)

    Day 3Explore the Ancient Petéx-Batún Confederacy

    Our route to Dos Pilas, capital of the ancient Petéx-Batún confederacy, takes us by truck (and perhaps by 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 648 AD 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 southwest Petén until his grandson was ousted from Dos Pilas in 761 AD 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. Picnic among the boldly carved monuments scattered throughout these memorable ruins before returning to the hotel for an 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 4Walk the Center of Ceibal

    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, we will travel back down the river and drive to Lake Petén-Itzá and the Villa Maya, our home for two nights. (B/L/D)

    Day 5Visit the Yaxhá Lagoon

    Our drive east takes us to Yaxhá, a lovely site overlooking a lagoon of the same name. The location of terrible battles between Tikal and Naranjo in the 8th century, this huge center now lies in the shadow of a jungle canopy.

    Today the remains of this once-great city are hidden under a lush rainforest canopy. Punctuated by the loud calls of howler monkeys proclaiming their dominance over the territory, this remote national park is teeming with wildlife, including a myriad of colorful and raucous birds. Nearby is Topoxté, an island site in the Yaxhá Lagoon that has been studied and consolidated by a joint Guatemala-German project. During excavations, huge jars filled with human bones were found along with an extensive tunnel system connecting chaltunes, and underground storage containers. (B/L/D)

    Day 6Travel into El Salvador

    Fly back to Guatemala City this morning and drive across the border into El Salvador to Suchitoto, a picturesque colonial town perched on a hillside overlooking a beautiful lake. Founded in 1542 by Spanish explorers, the historic center has been designated a national cultural heritage site. Overnight in the charming Casa 1800 Suchitoto. (B/L/D)

    Day 7Uncover Mesoamerican Culture

    Begin this morning at Cihuatán, an immense Post-classic city located in the extreme south of the Mesoamerican cultural area. Built in the 8th century on a low ridge in the center of the Acelhuate Valley, it could control trade between the Caribbean, Honduras, and the rich river basins and coastal plain of El Salvador.

    Located at the base of Guazapa Volcano, the fertile soils were utilized extensively for cacao as well as staples like corn, squash, and beans. The site was surely picked for defense as well as the Western Ceremonial Center is surrounded by a low wall that probably supported a wooden palisade. Return to Suchitoto which has a thriving arts scene. Named “Cultural Capital of El Salvador ” by the United Nations, Suchitoto attracts artists from all over the world to its annual art festivals. We will stop to browse galleries showcasing the works of El Salvadoran artists. (B/L/D)

    Day 8 Wander Through Casa Blanca

    Our all-day tour takes us to Tazumal, surrounded by the modern city of Chalchuapa, one of the most important pre-Columbian Maya archeological sites in El Salvador. First excavated in the early 1940s by archaeologist Stanley H. Boggs, the remains are spread over a large area with the major pyramid rising 75 feet. The site also displays remnants of tombs, smaller pyramids, a ball court, and a complex drainage system. Found here is an interesting carved basalt monolith standing 8 feet tall that depicts a handsomely adorned character with definite Olmec features. The site museum exhibits some of Stanley Boggs’ early finds.

    At Casa Blanca, another large Maya site, several pyramids have been excavated and partly restored. Most of the artifacts in the site museum are from Casa Blanca’s Late Preclassic. Nearby San Andrés served as the provincial capital over the smaller settlements in the Zapotitán Valley between 600 AD and 900 AD. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Maya of San Andrés were trading with people from Honduras, Mexico, and Belize. Next, depart for the charming village of Concepción de Ataco, located in the western mountains of El Salvador and surrounded by coffee fields. Salvadoran mural painting has existed for decades. Influenced by Mexico’s mural legacy, while reflecting El Salvador’s own cultural and political identities, Concepción de Ataco showcases this striking street art. The walls of the town are covered with vibrant paintings, many representing the local ceremonies and traditions of the villagers, and we will stroll along the streets to view some of these fascinating canvases. Overnight for one night at the Casa 1800 Ataco in Concepción de Ataco. (B/L/D)

    Day 9Joya de Cerén, UNESCO Site

    Today we visit Joya de Cerén, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Like Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, it was buried under layers of ash from an eruption of a volcano in about 600 AD. Although a warning earthquake apparently gave residents time to flee, the ash preserved their personal belongings, from garden tools and bean-filled pots to sleeping mats and religious items, essentially freezing the agricultural village in time. The exceptional condition of the artifacts that were left behind, along with municipal structures and communal baths, provide an insight into the daily lives of a 6th-century Mesoamerican farming community. In the nearby valley of Zapotitán, lie the remains of San Andrés.

    First established around 900 BC, it was destroyed in the 3rd century by a volcanic eruption. In the 5th century, the people rebuilt their city and for more than 300 years the powerful lords ruled over the area. Ceramics excavated from the site suggest that the city was an important trade center. In the afternoon, we drive into the Cerro Verde National Park, nestled between three volcanoes, to enjoy panoramic views including the crater lake Coatepeque, celebrated as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The lush forest here is teeming with flora and fauna and is a bird watcher’s paradise with migratory species like woodpeckers, jays, emerald toucanets, and 17 species of hummingbirds. Continue to San Salvador, the capital of the country, where we overnight for two nights in the Hotel Barceló San Salvador. (B/L/D)

    Day 10The City of San Salvador

    Our city tour of San Salvador begins in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia David J. Guzman. This excellent museum has a range of artifacts to view, both Pre-Columbian and post-conquest, along with an exhibit on local handicrafts.

    We will then see the city’s cathedral and the National Theater, the oldest in Central America. Built in the French Renaissance style, it was declared a national monument in 1979. Our final stop will be in the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías in search of gifts to bring home. Our final dinner party will be in one of San Salvador’s best restaurants. (B/L/D)

    Day 11Depart El Salvador

    Transfer to the airport for our fights back home.

    Tour Information

    Tour Cost & Inclusions

    Price is based on double occupancy and includes:

    • Internal flights during the trip (if applicable)
    • The accompaniment of your scholar throughout the entire trip
    • Local English-speaking guide
    • Hotel accommodations (3 or 4 stars; or best available based in the area)
    • Ground transportation
    • Airport transfers for arrivals and departures
    • Most meals as noted in the itinerary
    • Entry fees to all included sites and museums
    • Gratuities to guides, drivers, and restaurant and hotel staff
    • Coordination for any private presentations or tours

    Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.

    Single Supplement

    Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.


    • International round trip airfare
    • A separate donation check of $150.00 per person to a designated donation project
    • Passport or visa fees
    • Required vaccines or tests
    • Airport or departure taxes
    • Alcoholic drinks, beverages or food not included on set menus
    • Excess baggage charges
    • Personal tips and hotel incidental expenses
    • Laundry or other items of a personal nature

    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 sites and projects which 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 donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.

    Exchange Rate Fluctuations

    Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.


    A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.


    Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 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. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.

    Air Ticketing

    International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. 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. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.

    Private Tours and Talks

    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 on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.

    Walking and Standing

    Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. 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.

    Expectations During Travel

    This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. Sometimes we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.

    Itinerary Changes

    Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.

    Travel Insurance

    We strongly recommend that you consider purchasing travel insurance. Should illness or an unforeseen event force you to cancel your travel plans after your final payment or during your trip, it would be doubly unfortunate to incur a significant financial loss. Trip cancellation protection will enable you to be reimbursed for the loss of your payment if you are unable to travel for any of the covered reasons in the “Outline of Coverage” section, or should you have an accident or suffer from any medical conditions during the trip.  
    Far Horizons offers customized protection plans through Travel Insured International (a Crum & Forster Company) with the following benefits:
    • Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption for covered reasons
    • Trip Delay
    • Baggage Loss and Baggage Delay
    • Emergency Medical Expenses and Emergency Medical Evacuation
    • 24-Hour Accidental Death & Dismemberment
    • 24-Hour Travel Assistance & Concierge Services
    • Option to upgrade to ‘Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR)’
    We recommend reviewing the language in detail so you are aware of specific parameters; Depending on the policy, to waive the Pre-Existing Medical Condition Exclusion or to upgrade to CFAR coverage, the plan must be purchased within 14 to 21 days of the initial trip deposit, full trip cost must be insured, and traveler is medically fit at time of plan purchase. Otherwise, coverage may be purchased at any time prior to departure. 
    To obtain a personalized quote and/or purchase a plan through Far Horizons/Travel Insured International, simply click HERE. For specific questions regarding the Worldwide Protector Plan, please contact Travel Insured International’s Customer Care Center at 1-800-243-3174 or by email at, and refer to Far Horizons’ account number: 54070.

    Travel in Guatemala and El Salvador

    To reach the top of some of the ceremonial centers steep climbs up tall, uneven stairs are necessary. Participants, unassisted, must be able to walk on rough trails and keep up with group members. The roads in this part of the world are frequently dirt, and may involve long drives over uneven terrain. Meals will not be haute cuisine and several lunches will be picnics. Remember that bellhops are seldom found in the jungle! If you have further questions about the demands of the trip, please call us.

    Tour Map