Immerse yourself in the native traditions of Guatemala and Chiapas.
In the highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, native traditions are alive and well. Immerse yourself fully in the local way of life on this one-of-a-kind cultural exploration. You’ll learn about the ancient art of weaving on the shores of gorgeous Lake Atitlán, and infuse your senses at one of Central America’s largest produce markets. You’ll visit colorful churches that blend Catholic and Mayan beliefs, meet local artisans and folk heroes, and travel to indigenous villages that follow centuries-old traditions. With in-depth tours of colonial Antigua and San Cristobal, and plenty of activities, from horseback rides to cloud forest treks to hands-on cooking lessons, our trip shows you the true heart and soul of this captivating region.
- MTS is the only company to offer this unique cross border itinerary—hike village to village and kayak
- Meet weavers, chocolate makers, and other artisans to learn about their ancient Mayan traditions while exploring colonial capitol settlements
- Experience San Cristobal de las Casas’ vibrant market with a local chef and get a hands-on cooking lesson
Duration: 12 days Start Location: Guatemala City End Location: Villahermosa, MexicoDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Guatemala City
Upon arrival in Guatemal, your Guatemala-based trip leader will greet you at the airport upon arrival. Depending on the hour of your arrival, there may be time to visit one of Guatemala City’s fine museums before transferring to Antigua, about an hour away.
At Antigua engage your five senses with an artisan chocolate maker who will bring you through the stages of fine Guatemalan chocolate from bean to bar. Gather for a light tapas style dinner and an informal briefing on the adventure-filled days ahead.
Day 2 : Monuments, Markets & Highland Cooking
A morning walking orientation of Antigua brings this colonial city’s historic monuments, evocative ruins, beautiful churches and shady plazas alive. Delve into the bustling market for an aromatic introduction to Guatemala’s local produce & seasonal fruits, including: zapote, huisquil, chipilin and loroco.
Continue herbs in hand to Santiago Zamora, a small indigenous village (pop. 1,500) where 95% of the population belongs to the K'akchiquel ethnic group, with a local economy focused on vegetable and coffee production. Our local hosts prepare Pepián, one of Guatemala's signature dishes, recently incorporated into Guatemala's national patrimony. Help with the finishing touches of the Pepián (which requires hours of prep time before your arrival) and try your hand making fresh corn tortillas. While the home-based setting is quite modest, the food is simply delicious and the welcome genuinely warm.
Day 3 : Concepción Maximón and Hike at Lake Atitlán
Today we'll transfer from Antigua to the stunning Lake Atitlán, famously described by Aldous Huxley as the most beautiful lake in the world. Caution: the ride, around 2 ½ hours from Antigua, is on paved, but curvy mountain roads. If you’re sensitive to car motion, take Dramamine or another motion sickness medication.
En route, visit the traditional indigenous community of Concepción to meet with the family caretakers of Maximón. The cigar-smoking, rum-drinking folk saint Maximón (aka San Simon) who is venerated in dozens of towns in rural, highland Guatemala. After arriving by private lancha (a small motorized boat) to Santa Cruz, strike out for a village-to-village trek along vertiginous agricultural pathways with breathtaking views of the beckoning jewel that is Lake Atitlán.
Day 4 : Morning Kayak & Indigenous Roots Rescued
Start with an early morning kayak session across the glistening surface of breathtaking Lake Atitlán. After refueling over a hearty breakfast, take our private lancha to the nearby town of San Juan Laguna where the president of the local weavers cooperative, Doña Socorro awaits our visit.
Doña Socorro is responsible for rescuing the ancient weaving art of San Juan Laguna by re-introducing the use of natural dyes. Due to her weaving virtuosity, she was chosen to create the table mantel upon which Guatemala’s peace accord, ending decades of civil war, was signed in 1996. She has been awarded the Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala highest civilian honor.
Day 5 : Markets and Churches
Travel overland further west into the highlands to participate in one of Central America’s largest weekly produce markets in Almolonga. The bustling scene is bursting with local color, not only from the riot of regional fruits and vegetable produce, but also from the rich tapestry woven into the women’s breathtaking indigenous garb.
Stop for lunch and a quick visit of Guatemala’s second city, Quetzaltenango, commonly referred to as Xela, then continue to the iconic church in San Andrés Xecul, known for its bright painted façade and a unique blend of Christian, Mayan and agricultural adornments.
Day 6 : Sacred Pascal Nebaj
Drive through the majestic Guatemala highlands to Chichicastenango at the peak of its bustling market day activity. Start with a visit to the church of Santo Tomás to witness the fascinating syncretism between Catholicism and Mayan beliefs, both of which are practiced inside and outside its walls.
Nearby Pascal Nebaj is regarded as a sacred ceremonial site by many in the region. Hike 30 minutes to reach the plateau where you’ll find evidence of ceremonies or perhaps by fortunate enough to witness one yourself. Continue northwest into the foothills of the dramatic Cuchumatanes mountain range to bucolic Chiantla, our base for the next two nights.
Day 7 : Horseback Riding through the Cuchumatanes Range
The foothills of the Cuchumatanes mountain range offer some of Guatemala’s most dramatic and scenic backdrops. Enjoy a morning of horseback riding to absorb the full splendor of this natural, unspoiled setting. Enjoy an afternoon relax at the lodge or join an optional ethno-botanical hike through the mountain meadows nearby.
Day 8 : Journey to San Cristobal
There’s no getting around it, today is the longest driving day of the trip with between 5 and 6 hours of road time. However there are a couple of adventures en route, starting with the border crossing at La Mesilla.
Break for a picnic lunch and a walk along the shores of one of the beautiful lakes belonging to the Lagunas de Montebello National Park before heading on to colonial San Cristobal.
Day 9 : Walking San Cristobal
San Cristobal is the perfect city for walking. Enjoy an in-depth waling exploration of its colonial churches, shady plazas and colorful local markets, including some under-the-radar neighborhood and workshop visits, such as the hand-made paper co-op Taller Leñateros, the only indigenous- owned publishing house in Mexico. Another visit is to the recently opened Pellitzín Collection, the most important repository of Maya textiles in Mexico, housed in the beautifully restored Santo Domingo convent.
Later meet Sergio Castro, a beloved folk hero in Chiapas, having dedicated his entire adult life to altruistic work. An agronomist by training, these days, he dedicates himself primarily to treating indigenous burn victims free of charge. Note: donations from visitors to his ethnographic museum help support this philanthropy and MTS will make a contribution on your behalf.
Day 10 : Mayan Mysticism
Today begins with a scenic drive past the village of Milpoleta to the staunchly traditional indigenous community of San Juan Chamula. Here, centuries-old traditions are fiercely maintained, from the Tzotzil language to typical dress, from customs to religion. A highlight of a visit to Chamula is its utterly mystical church whose surreal interior if filled with faithful who combine Catholic and animistic beliefs and practices. Note: photography inside the Chamula church or of the town’s residents is strictly forbidden. We’ll also stop by the home of a Mayordomo, a rotating official charged with safeguarding some of Chamula’s most sacred objects.
From Chamula, trek through the countryside to Zinacanta?n, another Tzotzil-speaking community renowned for its flowers, both the ones it exports from local greenhouses as well as those embroidered on its vibrant textiles. Enter the rustic home & workshop of a local friend, whose family has prepared a simple, yet delicious lunch for you.
Day 11 : Culinary Chiapas
Led by a local chef, visit San Cristobal’s bustling open market to discover Chiapas’ rich variety of regional, seasonal produce. Continue to your host’s lovely home. Pick fresh herbs from her organic garden before rolling-up your sleeves together for a hands-on, home-hosted, cooking class in which you’ll create vegetarian twists on classic Chiapanecan dishes. (Meals: B, L)
Work off your delicious, home-hosted lunch with an invigorating walk through the nearby Huitepec cloud forest reserve. This reserve is the habitat for native and migrant bird species, including: blue jays, wrens, robins, mockingbirds, motmots, and more. Our woodland stroll introduces you to the habitat & microclimates of varied cloud forest dwellers.
Head out this evening to Na Bolom, a living museum and research center that documents and defends the historic, cultural and natural legacy of the Lacando?n indigenous communities of lowland Chiapas. This living museum is also the site of our celebration dinner, with ingredients from their organic garden served at a festive, communal table.
Day 12 : Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound or optional Yaxchilán / Palenque Extension
For those returning home today, a morning transfer will be arranged to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. Those continuing the journey should prepare for 4 to 5 hours of road time today, making it the 2nd longest drive of the trip.
Yaxchilán / Palenque Extension
Day 12 ~ Agua Azul
Wind down from San Cristo?bal at 7,000 feet, to the tropical lowlands of Chiapas near sea level. Along the way, explore the dramatic ruins of Tonina? and its outstanding on-site museum. Enjoy a picnic lunch near the ruins before continuing on to the spectacular waterfalls of Agua Azul. Bring a bathing suit and take a refreshing dip!
Lodging for three nights in Palenque will be at the elegantly appointed boutique hotel Quinta Chanabnal (or similar).
Day 13 ~ Bonampak & Yaxchilán
Start early (6 am) and stop for breakfast en route at Valle Escondido. Transfer from land to water, taking a boat on the Usumacinta River for the one-hour ride to Yaxchilán. The stele, carved lintels and beautiful temples appear even more magnificent with the backdrop of the jungle, in the midst of tropical forest, monkeys and toucans. Our second site, Bonampak, is sometimes called the ‘Sistine Chapel of Mexico’ for its marvelous frescoes. Note: both Bonampak and Yaxchilán are protected biosphere reserves and terrific bird watching destinations. Return to Palenque in the early evening.
Day 14 ~ Palenque
Our trip leader, a resident expert on Palenque, regales us during our visit with a mixture of deep, academic knowledge and riveting personal anecdotes. Enjoy a walk around these lush ruins including some off-the-beaten-path sectors that few visitors access, plus a visit to its small, adjoining museum. Finish before the afternoon heat and sun are at their fiercest. This afternoon, relax and wind down by the pool before reconvening for a celebratory farewell dinner.
Day 15 ~ Villahermosa, Parque La Venta & Homeward Bound
Rise early for a two-hour drive to the Villahermosa airport in time for your flight to Mexico City and international connections home. Boxed Breakfast to be eaten on the drive.
Those travelers with afternoon flights may visit Parque-Museo La Venta with our trip leader. This leafy park is home to a fabulous collection of giant carved heads from one of Mesoamerica’s earliest civilizations, the Olmecs. Some of these sculpted heads measure more than two meters (6.6 feet) tall and weight over 15 tons.
DATES: Best time to go: January - February, November - December Departures: Jan 17 - 28, 2015 Feb 28, 2015 - Mar 11, 2015 Jul 11 - 22, 2015
2015 LAND COST
$4,295 (8-16 members)
EXTENSION - VILLA HERMOSA/PALENQUE
Conceived as a tranquil and quiet retreat for your relaxation and rest, Hotel Cirilo is located at the Candelaria neighborhood, one of the most peaceful areas of the original urban area of La Antigua Guatemala, close to everything yet far enough from the hustle and bustle.
Surrounding the recently restored ruins of a colonial church from the eighteenth century. All rooms are different and spacious and all have fireplaces.
Lomas de TzununáSanta Cruz
An upscale and ecological ecological hotel located in the community of Tzununá.
El Unicornio AzulSierra de los Cuchumatanes.
This place is not and has not been created as a "hotel” but rather as a place where nature and horse-lovers can meet in a simple but cozy and family-style atmosphere. Is part of the “Central American guest houses net”. The buildings are made in the nice traditional style of the region with adobe walls and tiled roofs.
Guayaba InnSan Cristobal de Las Casas
Guayaba Inn, a converted traditional home in the historic district of EL Cerrillo, is located in remarkable colonial San Cristóbal de las Casas. The Inn is certainly its own relaxing destination, but it also caters to those wishing to explore Chiapas.Outstanding orchid and bromeliad gardens wrap the Inn’s central patio in which guests may enjoy a Mexican or European breakfast. Each spacious room has an en suite bath, mini–bar, Wi-Fi and cable-linked LCD TV. Fireplace in all rooms for cozy winter nights.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Jim Kane is recognized leader in the field of sustainable travel and the former Community-Based Travel columnist for Transitions Abroad magazine. In 2003 he founded Culture Xplorers, a specialty travel company with a simple vision: to foster an immersive, participatory travel experience by connecting travelers and local people through a celebration of their living culture and traditions. Jim is a frequently invited speaker on the subject of transformative travel at conferences and educational institutions throughout the U.S., amongst these, the Educational Travel Conference (ETC), the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, the Luxury Expo and the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). “Crafting this active, meaningful, one-of-a-kind Guatemala adventure hand-in-hand with MTS is a dream collaboration distilling my two decades of relationship building in Central America with MTS’ 40 years of adventure travel expertise. Jim will lead the first departure of 2015 accompanied with qualified leaders in Guatemala and Mexico.