ACTIVE GUATEMALA: TREKKING IN STYLE (10 DAYS)
This is an invigorating guided trek in remote highland Guatemala, where you will ascend lofty mountains and descend to sultry valleys, all in just a few days. Every detail has been carefully thought out to balance challenging trekking with style and comfort: it’s definitely more than a relaxing stroll but you benefit from fantastic facilities and service. You’ll rest every night in a spacious safari-style tent with comfy mattress, while the overland support truck is equipped with a hot shower and toilet. You’ll savour superior cuisine served in three full meals a day, and you are accompanied by attentive and knowledgeable guides. You can relax and enjoy your walk, each day you’ll travel light with your day pack while the camp and your gear is moved from one camp site to the next.
Along the way, you’ll walk through cloud forest canopy and coffee fincas. As a backdrop to all this is the rich culture, a blend of Mayan and Spanish colonial; pre-Columbian religion and ritual blended with Christianity – see it in the markets at Antigua and the pocket-sized rural communities on the fringe of Lake Atitlán.
Day 1 Arrive in Guatemala City and transfer to colonial Antigua.
The city is a colonial work of art, with cobbled streets, overhanging tiled roofs and a beautiful, leafy central plaza. There’s an abundance of huge ruined churches, convents and monasteries, testament to a time when Antigua was the country’s capital and its main religious centre. It seems that every doorway opens onto a fragrant tiled courtyard. A dramatic backdrop of smouldering volcanoes and ruined churches and convents surrounded by parkland bear witness to the city’s destruction a volcanic eruption in 1773.
Day 2 Guided walking discovery of Antigua.
You’ll have plenty of time to absorb this fascinating city, including on a walking tour of the historic centre, accompanied by a resident of the city.Take a two hour stroll round Antigua accompanied by an English-speaking inhabitant of the city. This experience offers a unique insight into local life and opens doors which are usually closed to visitors, from the scents and flavours of the Guatemalan kitchen to your guide's favourite haunts. Take a look beyond the façades of the lovingly restored buildings to see what a day in this graceful town really feels like. Your companion offers a programme that can vary depending on your own interests, but usually comprises a visit to a market, an introduction to street food and a home visit to someone involved with the Semana Santa (Easter) organisation.
Day 3 Optional hike up Pacaya volcano.
Fancy the idea of climbing a volcano, and being rewarded with magnificent countryside views punctuated by the conical forms of sister volcanoes, there’s an optional guided hike up Pacaya, 2,552m high, a climb which only takes about 90 minutes. The climb is not technically demanding, but the pine forests on the lower slopes give way to scree and ash underfoot so you will need to be in reasonably good physical condition. The sulphurous vapour emitted from the cone is sometimes accompanied by small flows of lava: indeed there was an eruption in 2014, but it is still safe to climb. On a clear day it is possible to see all the way to El Salvador.
Day 4 Transfer to the trailhead of the walk to your first camp site.
You will be collected in Antigua and driven to San Andrés Itzapa, famed for being the home of the Mayan deity known as San Simón, or Moximón. But this is no saintly fellow: frequently his effigy is dressed in a dapper suit and he is more than inclined to enjoying a quiet cigarette, and is recognised as a womaniser and all-round rogue. In the various communities where he is venerated, he is carried from one resident’s house to another and you will be able to visit him and watch local people paying their respects.
From there it’s another short drive to the first camp site, ascending through kitchen gardens, orchards and plantations of snow peas, coffee and avocado trees on near vertical inclines. Hike past smallholdings before entering lush cloud-forest, from where you descend to arrive at a scenic grassy saddle between two mountain peaks. Today’s hike is only 11km long but you ascend to 2,650m above sea level, and may be a little breathless.
Day 5 Trek through mountain peaks and valleys.
Today you start the more challenging part of the trek, and will cover a distance of almost 15km Climb up into a protected area of pristine landscapes before descending through forest and pocket-sized fields into the La Vega river valley, over 915m below. Ascend through coffee farms to your lunch spot, and after your deserved break you cross a rustic hanging bridge over the river canyon and follow your upward trail fringed by trees smothered in bromeliads and sheltering orchids before you arrive at the second camp, where you will be welcomed with a drink before settling down round the camp fire to enjoy the views – you may even see plumes of smoke and molten lava lightening up the sky.
Day 6 Visit Mayan villages.
Today you’ll witness some of the finest natural scenery that Guatemala has to offer. A morning push takes you to the highest point of the trek, just over 2,745 m. You follow a ridge with panoramic views of six volcanoes and cloud forest which reveals unique plants enlivened by abundant bird-life. Along the way, you’ll be able to talk with local farmers as they work in their terraced fields and learn about traditional agricultural practices. A long, gradual descent leads you to your trail lunch location (and a short siesta) before you end the day at your campsite, which has views of Lake Atitlán in the distance below.
Later, venture into the Mayan community of Chuinimachicaj to visit a women’s cooperative which specialises in traditional back-strap weaving, an art practiced for centuries in Guatemala and still employed to weave fabric for clothing and other household textiles.
Day 7 Trek through coffee farms to Lake Atitlán.
The final day of the trek begins with a 820 m descent into the La Madre Vieja river valley which weaves through a patchwork of traditional agricultural fields and small villages. Visit a picturesque coffee finca to learn about the planting, harvesting and processing of small-batch specialty coffee, and avail yourself of the opportunity to savour the end product.
Cross the river by another hanging footbridge before a short ascent which takes you up to the rim of ethereal Lake Atitlán with extensive views of the clear waters below and the three massive volcanoes which surround it.
From there, a final descent through terraced fields bursting with flowers and vegetables takes you to the lakeside village of San Antonio Palopó to conclude the trek. San Antonio Palopó, about 10km from Panajachel, lies in a natural amphitheatre formed by the mountains behind it. The village is composed of narrow streets of adobe houses with roofs of thatch or corrugated iron and there’s a fine 16th century church. The village inhabitants are known for their colourful costumes and headdresses.
Day 8 Optional visit to San Juan de la Laguna.
Lake Atitlan appears before you on the last day of the trek where you’ll be able to put your feet up and enjoy what must be one of the world’s most incredible views. The lake is peppered with small villages. We suggest a visit to see one of the local communities or if you’ve not had enough adventure kayaking and stand up paddle boarding can be arranged locally.
Alternatively, we can arrange an optional excursion across the lake. A private boat will transport you across the full length of the lake from Panajachel to the village of San Juan La Laguna on its western edge. Here you will have a unique opportunity to interact with the local indigenous people and gain first-hand insight into and understanding of the Maya Tzutujil way of life. You will visit a number of artisans and workshops that still use traditional methods, including natural dyes to colour their vibrant textiles.
Day 9 Return by road to Antigua.
Once back in Antigua, you have the rest of the day at leisure.
Day 10 Transfer to the airport for your international flight.