Magical Guatemala

la ruta maya: guatemala plus Within Guatemala’s borders lies the greatest assemblage of archaeological sites in Central America and while important pre-Hispanic discoveries have been made from the highlands to the coast, it is the northern district of El Peten that is considered the Cradle of Maya Civilization. The centerpiece of sites is the vast archaeological complex of Tikal, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its plethora of palaces, altars, shrines and soaring temples. Clients would do well to leave time to visit other ceremonial centers rising above the El Peten rainforest—Yaxha, Ceibal and Aguateca, to name a few—to get a full panorama of Mayan civilization. And nowadays, good roads to neighboring Caracol in Belize, Copan in Honduras and even Palenque in Mexico permit travel planners to link the Cradle of Maya Civilization into one fascinating archaeological adventure.

The 7-night Heart of the Mundo Maya tour is offered by Clark Tours of Guatemala City. Tours start on Sundays on arrival at Flores airport, where travelers are met and transferred to the Camino Real Tikal Hotel for a 3-night stay. One day is devoted to visiting the wonders of Tikal, another visiting Ceibal, and a third at the Yaxha site. (One of the nice things about this corner of Mayaland is that its wildlife and birds can be as intriguing as its ancient mysteries.) From here, travelers move on to the Rio Dulce for a river cruise amidst islands that are nesting grounds of thousands of aquatic birds, ending the day at Puerto Barrios for the night. The extraordinary carved-stone monuments of Quirigua are the next stop before crossing into Honduras to explore the ancient city of Copan, whose Grand Plaza displays the grandest collection of Mayan sculptures in Central America. Accommodations with breakfast, some lunches and all transportation and sightseeing with English-speaking guide are included in the $1,069 pp dbl tour cost.

Wildland Adventures takes history-minded clients to the trio of the most essential Maya sites: Copan, Tikal and Palenque, following the Maya trails from Honduras to Guatemala and Mexico on its Great Cities of the Maya Tour. The list of Mayan highlights is long on this 11-night tour, starting in Honduras and ending with the flight home from Villahermosa in Mexico: Copan, Tikal, Bonampak and Palenque, and including Antigua and Lake Atitlan, as well as a trip on the Usumacinta River from Guatemala to the Mayan site of Yaxchilan in Mexico. Departures are scheduled monthly, and arrangements include all overland and local air transport, top lodges, escorted tour and excursions and most meals. The tour cost is $3,494 for four or more persons, $4,095 for a party of two.