AIA Tours: land

Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya

Tour Dates: January 14-27, 2023 (14 days)

Tour Leader(s): Ben Thomas ,

This tropical adventure provides the best-paced itinerary available to thoroughly explore ancient Maya sites in the lush jungles of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Maya art and architecture will “come alive” as you encounter enormous stelae (carved monoliths), painted frescoes, stucco friezes, carved lintels, and huge temple-pyramids that soar above the rainforest. Explore, in-depth, the sites of Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilán, Tikal, Yaxhá, Copán, and Quiriguá (four are UNESCO World Heritage sites); with free time to go bird watching or simply relax, reflect, and enjoy our comfortable hotels and remote jungle lodges. Maximum of just 12 guests.

“I enjoyed this trip and learned more than any other archaeological experience I have had. Our tour manager was excellent with every detail of the tour executed perfectly and with charm and friendship.” – Dee, Florida

Tour Prices per person:

$8,845 (10-12 participants) double occupancy
$10,045 (7-9 participants) double occupancy
$1,245 Single Supplement

With fewer than 7 participants, a small group surcharge may be added. Single room supplement will be charged when requested or required.

Palenque, Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Myay - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski

The Courtyard of the Warrior Chiefs at Palenque, Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski

Yaxchilán, Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski

Tikal’s Main Plaza, Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski

AIA travelers on a river boat ride down the Usumacinta River to Yaxchilán. © A. Enyedy.

Ballcourt at Copán, Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski

Temple XI at Copán - Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya - Travel with AIA Tours and Mayanist Jeff Karl Kowalski


Saturday, January 14, 2023- Fly from the U.S. to Villahermosa, Mexico
Sunday, January 15- Comalcalco | Hacienda visit | Welcome dinner
Monday, January 16 – La Venta Park | Palenque
Tuesday, January 17 – Palenque | Jungle trail walk | Palenque site museum
Wednesday, January 18- AM at leisure | Bonampak | Frontera Corozal
Thursday, January 19 – Yaxchilán
Friday, January 20 – Tikal, Guatemala
Saturday, January 21 – Tikal
Sunday, January 22 – Optional pre-dawn hike | Tikal site museum | PM at leisure or Yaxhá
Monday, January 23 – Rio Dulce | Southeastern Petén Regional Museum, Dolores
Tuesday, January 24 – Quiriguá | Motagua Valley | Paleontology and Archaeology Museum, Estanzuela | Copán, Honduras
Wednesday, January 25 – Copán
Thursday, January 26-Sepulturas Group | Rastrojón | San Pedro Sula | Farewell dinner
Friday, January 27: Fly home

View Detailed Itinerary

(B)= Breakfast, (L)= Lunch, (D)= Dinner

Saturday, January 14, 2023: Depart home for Villahermosa, Mexico
Depart home for Villahermosa International Airport (VSA) where, if traveling on the suggested flight, you will be met upon arrival at the airport and transferred to our hotel. For those arriving independently, a taxi can be hired for the short drive into town. Overnight at the 4-star Hyatt Regency Villahermosa for two nights.

Sunday, January 15: Comalcalco | Hacienda visit | Welcome dinner
Set out for Comalcalco, the westernmost known Maya site, and the only Maya city built with bricks of baked clay instead of stone. The site comprises the North Square, Great Acropolis, and Acropolis of the East, and it thrived as an agricultural center specializing in cacao (the seeds from which cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate are made). After lunch we visit a hacienda to learn about modern cacao production, returning to our hotel late in the afternoon for some time at leisure before our welcome dinner. (B,L,D)

Monday, January 16: La Venta Park | Palenque
Visit La Venta Park to see a magnificent outdoor collection of stone sculpture that originally came from the Olmec site of La Venta. The Olmec were one of the earliest cultures developed in Mesoamerica, preceding the Maya by centuries. Their monumental stone carvings and strange mythological beings puzzle archaeologists to this day. After lunch, drive to Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the great western capitals of classic Maya civilization that some have called “the Paris of the Maya.” We will check-in to our charming hotel and have time for relaxation, exploring the surrounding lush forest, and swimming in the unusual pool. Overnight at the 3-star Chan-Kah Resort Village for two nights. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, January 17: Palenque | Jungle trail walk | Palenque site museum
Explore Palenque’s many exquisite examples of 7th– and 8th-century Maya architecture, including the Temple of the Inscriptions, Palace, Temples of the Cross Group, Temples XIX and XXI, and much more. We finish the morning walking a beautiful downhill jungle trail, across waterfalls and hidden ruins, to get a true sense of the rainforest and all its beauty. After lunch at an outdoor, palm thatch restaurant, visit the Palenque site museum, with many world famous pieces of Maya ceramics, jades, and stone carving. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, January 18: AM at leisure | Bonampak | Frontera Corozal
Enjoy some time at leisure, perhaps to stroll around the resort grounds, do some hiking, take a swim, or relax on our bungalows’ individual verandas, before departing for Bonampak. Lunch today will be in a rustic jungle restaurant. The discovery of the painted murals at Bonampak in the 1950s changed the way the world saw the Maya. Although the murals are faded and difficult to view, they remain a sight to see. The site is run by Lacandon Maya, and we may get a chance to interact with them during our visit. Continue on to Frontera Corozal, a Chol Maya community on the banks of the Usumacinta River, the famous “river of ruins.” Along its banks, classic Maya civilization built some of its grandest cities. We are now traveling deep into the heart of Maya country, and we will stay at a remote, rustic jungle lodge. Overnight at Escudo Jaguar Lodge for two nights. (B,L,D)

Thursday, January 19: Yaxchilán
After breakfast, travel by small boat down the Usumacinta River to the great classic Maya site of Yaxchilán, whose high-crested temples and palaces climb the steep hills above a large plaza upon a terrace by the river. We will spend all day at this fantastic site, enjoying a picnic lunch under the forest canopy. Beautiful monolithic stelae (standing stone monuments) and lintels spanning the temple doorways display intricate reliefs. Howler and spider monkeys and many tropical birds may accompany us as we explore the steep jungle trails, climbing to the higher elevations overlooking the ancient Maya landscape. We return by boat to our lodge late this afternoon. (B,L,D)

Friday, January 20: Tikal, Guatemala
Journey upriver and cross over into the heart of Guatemala, to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal. As with most Maya sites, Classic Period constructions cover those from earlier times, and ancient structures are scattered for miles in every direction from its center. Overnight at the 4-star Jungle Lodge Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Saturday, January 21: Tikal
Spend a full day at Tikal, which contains thousands of ancient structures, the majority of which remain unexcavated. This vast site has spectacular pyramids, numerous plazas, a sprawling main palace and several lesser royal residences, multiple ball courts, causeways, dozens of stelae, and much more. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people lived at Tikal in its heyday, and the story of the city and its rise and fall mirrors the larger story of Maya civilization itself. Following the glories of the Classic Period, the site was largely abandoned by A.D. 900. (B,L,D)

Sunday, January 22: Optional pre-dawn hike | Tikal site museum | PM at leisure or Yaxhá
Weather permitting, there will be an optional, pre-dawn hike for breathtaking sunrise views from Tikal’s Temple IV—the site’s tallest pyramid at 230 feet, and the largest Maya shrine built in the 8th century. After breakfast, we will visit the Tikal site museum. The remainder of the day is free for you to revisit Tikal, relax, or join our study leader on a 1.5-hour drive to Yaxhá, a large and important ancient Maya site that is infrequently visited. Located in dense jungle on a ridge overlooking turquoise Lake Yaxhá, the vast site includes numerous altars and stelae, nine temple pyramids, and two ball courts. Boxed lunches will be enjoyed at the site. (B,L,D)

Monday, January 23: Rio Dulce | Southeastern Petén Regional Museum, Dolores

Depart Tikal for Rio Dulce, where we enjoy lunch and get an overview of the area, including viewing a 17th-century Spanish fortress, the Castle of San Felipe de Lara, located where the river meets Lake Izabal. Also visit the Southeastern Petén Regional Museum, in the town of Dolores, with a significant collection of Classic Maya artifacts. Late this afternoon, we check-in to our waterside hotel. Overnight at the 3-star Hotel Catamaran. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, January 24: Quiriguá | Motagua Valley | Paleontology and Archaeology Museum, Estanzuela | Copán, Honduras
After a short boat ride, continue to Quiriguá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the tallest Maya stelae—one weighs 65 tons and is 35 feet above ground and eight feet underground. Sculpture here is like no other place, with spectacular cosmograms in the likeness of divine crocodiles and jaguars carved in the round from huge boulders. Here we also find a rare description of mythical events which took place at the origin of the calendar Great Cycle that ended in 2012. After leaving Quiriguá, we have lunch in the Motagua Valley, the primary jade source for all of Mesoamerica; and stop in Estanzuela to visit the small Roberto Wookfolk Saravia Paleontology and Archaeology Museum. Continue on, crossing the border into Honduras, and check-in to our hotel. Overnight at the 4-star Hotel Marina Copán for two nights. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, January 25: Copán
A short drive brings us to the archaeological site of Copán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as Hux Wintik (translation uncertain). If Palenque was the “Paris of the Maya,” then Copán was the “Athens of the Maya.” The magnificent acropolis, plazas, courtyards, and standing sculptures are the hallmarks of this southernmost Maya capital. Enjoy a splendid picnic lunch at the site and then visit the excellent site museum, which has a full-scale replica of the funeral shrine of the founder of the Copán dynasty and many fabulous pieces of Maya sculpture. Dinner is on your own this evening in Copán; restaurant suggestions will be available from your tour manager. (B,L)

Thursday, January 26: Sepulturas Group | Rastrojón | San Pedro Sula | Farewell dinner
Tour the Sepulturas Group, located a few miles from the site of Copán, which also housed a residential area for non-Maya (perhaps foreign merchants) around A.D. 800. Also visit Rastrojón, a defensive site with panoramic views of the valley that is the latest Harvard University-sponsored archaeological project at Copán. We have now traveled from the western capital of Palenque, through the heartland at Tikal, and on to the southern capital of Copán, giving us a sense of the enormity of ancient Maya civilization in its heyday. After lunch at a local restaurant, drive to San Pedro Sula, where we check-in to our hotel, get settled, and then gather for a farewell dinner. Overnight at the 3-star InterContinental Real San Pedro Sula. (B,L,D)

Friday, January 27: Fly home
Transfer to the airport in San Pedro Sula (SAP), Honduras, for flights home. (B)


For reservations or questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884). To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

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